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World Futures: Some Definitions Or Lack Thereof – Last Part

on February 6, 2019 - 7:56am
Los Alamos World Futures Institute
In the previous column we asked how do we pay for capitalism and socialism. To delve into this question it is good to start, again, with what is the difference between them. Is it about the individual and his or her existence or is it about a collective body of people, a community, a business, a government entity or the entire world?

 Is it about equality of opportunity and freedom of the individual or is it about equality of existence among people? Note that equality of existence may or may not include freedom.
According to Merriam Webster, socialism refers to various economic (and political) theories advocating collective or governmental ownership of making and distributing stuff. There is no private property and, according to Marxists, it is a transitional step between capitalism and communism. Also according to Merriam Webster, capitalism is an economic (not political) system with private or corporate ownership of capital goods, production and distribution, and competition in the free market. Very straight forward and “easy” to understand and judge except judgment is influenced by perspective.

George Bernard Shaw wrote the play “Pygmalion,” named after a Greek mythological figure. It was first presented on stage in 1913 and included two characters named (Professor) Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Forty three years later the musical “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway (NYC) starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.

Andrews’ part was Eliza Doolittle, a very poor woman, perhaps homeless, and clearly of the “lower” class. In contrast, Henry Higgins was a “well off” professor of phonetics, the study and classification of sounds. Early in the musical Andrews sings “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” including the following words from the song by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe:
“All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Lots of chocolate for me to eat
Lots of coal makin’ lots of heat
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Oh, so lovely sittin’
Abso-bloomin’-lutely still
I would never budge till spring
Crept over me window sill
Someone’s head restin’ on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?”

Eliza Doolittle was a poor person mainly focused on the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (physiological and safety), yet looking for a companion or life partner (belongingness and love).
Henry Higgins was not a poor person. While not super wealthy, he was “comfortable” because of birth and personal achievement. His position in life was similar to that of Shaw or Lerner and Loewe, more focused on belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization. And the setting is capitalism.

Under socialism, Elisa and Henry would have had equal stakes in the society, but it is unclear how they would have had or controlled money or another medium of exchange for acquiring or distributing stuff.

The debate of this topic has been raging since the concept of socialism emerged and, since the 1920s, has been called the socialist calculation debate. The reality is that under socialism everyone must or should work or provide services and so on. The question becomes how much do you get?

According to REUTERS, on June 7, 2018, the total household wealth in the United States was $100.8 trillion. Remember this includes all those rich people. On Jan. 31, 2018, according to, the United States population was 326,358,973. Doing the math, the “average” wealth of an individual was $309,000 per person.

But this is “wealth,” not cash in hand or some other tradable medium. At this point in time, the single person poverty level was $12,400 in income per year. Again doing the math, any citizen could “survive” for about 25.5 years at one dollar above the poverty level per year.

Of course, this implies that nobody would work, nothing would be produced, no services would be provided, and the “wealth” would be converted, if necessary, into a tradable medium.
If we create a scale with pure socialism on one side and pure capitalism on the other, as a society are we looking for balance? As we debate issues that collectively allow us to control our society while ensuring individual liberty under a collective body called government, we are seeking progress.

We are also looking for individual happiness which is directly related to our individual contributions and effort. Collectively we are seeking advancements in science, technology, economic development and social organization to improve the human condition for all.

A final note is appropriate. Previously I described the United States as a liberal democracy and, hence, we are all liberals no matter our political persuasion. But it important to recognize that the United States is a republic. If it was a pure democracy every new proposed law or regulation would require a vote by all citizens.

Every state is a separate entity making their own laws and regulations as are every county and city or whatever the state wants to call them. In all of these cases we elect representatives to act on our behalf. And they are compensated “appropriately.”

They may be socialists, conservatives, liberals, progressives, independents, Republicans, Democrats or of other political persuasion, but they all have a perspective that aligns somewhere on the capitalism-socialism scale. Find out, in detail, where they stand and compare their positions with yours. Then do your duty and vote. The next election will arrive sooner than expected.
Start now.
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