Socialism? Seriously? I take my cue from my years in Vietnam.

I’m sorry, but I can’t take socialism seriously. Blame it on my ten years living in Vietnam when I received a first-hand lesson of what socialism really is and what it really does.

And what it doesn’t do.

The political left in America is giddy with idealistic hope that the dawn of the Democratic Socialist United States of America is right around the corner.

I have to laugh. Poor JFK must be doing some serious flips in his grave. Same with FDR. They might have to rename his hometown to Hide Park instead of Hyde Park by the fact he would hide in embarrassment from these people espousing the death of capitalism, mostly from his own party! It’s ironic that I point out FDR because he was the most socialist president – in terms of nationalizing the state’s economy – America ever had. But he was, thankfully, no Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cortez, the new poster child for the Bernie Sander’s democratic socialist bandwagon, says that capitalism will not always exist.

Let’s hope that isn’t true.

Let me backpedal just a moment in case you think I’m trying to be political here. I am not. I have my personal political beliefs, of course, but I greatly respect other points of view. I am a strong proponent of rigorous debate between both sides of the political aisle. One of the greatest features of America is its pluralism, which pushes us to consider new ideas while defending our own points of view.  No one party has the exclusive claim on truth or good ideas. I hope any two Americans could easily agree with that statement.

Furthermore, every country uses socialism to one degree or another.  FDR, of course, introduced social security in the 1930s as a means of taking care of the nation’s elderly. It was the state mandating people to pay a portion of their earnings to the government so that the government would manage it and distribute it back to retirees. We don’t need to get into a debate about how well it works, but it has been functioning successfully for 80 years. My parents have been using social security benefits as a key means of income during their retirement. In addition, the U.S. has long used Public Utilities as a means to expand access to electricity and water systems throughout the US. Public Utilities continue to be a bedrock of American energy management.

Government control of certain parts of society is good. Needed. Even desirable at times. Governments, when well-managed, can achieve things that private citizens mainly cannot. (Now this wasn’t always the case. If you need a historical case study, look up J.P. Morgan or JD Rockefeller.) There’s a small community about 25 miles north of New York City where the local government decided to create a gorgeous park around a lake. It has a raised walking path which creates a stunning setting and a terrific place for the entire community to come together and enjoy the outdoors. This is an example of government at its best. Seeing a need and creating something for the community, through tax dollars, that gives citizens tangible benefits. Every government will take at least a part of the nation’s economy and manage it directly.  How much control should the government have? It’s clearly a debatable point.

I say all of this to clarify that I not hear to bash the need for a functioning government. We all need governance, but there should be a healthy, on-going debate about its role and how much of the economy, and what part of the economy, it should have control over.  After all, it will never be zero, nor should it be.

But what I’m hearing from the far-left is a departure of the America of the past. The death of capitalism? Really? You sure you want to go there? What would take its place? Government control over the entire economy? (As a side note, look into Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act. A proposal for the government to have direct input (control?) over companies worth over a billion dollars.)

And this brings me back to Vietnam.

I arrived in Vietnam to teach English in August of 1994, just a few months after the US lifted the trade embargo against Hanoi. That was 19 years after the fall of Saigon. Thirty years after LBJ ramped up US involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1994, Vietnam was dirt poor. A GDP of barely a $1000 per capita. I arrived in Haiphong, a city near the coast due east of the capital, and everyone I met worked hard to make ends meet. There were very few foreign products — no Coca-Cola besides an occasional flat bottle brought in from China. Westerners were still referred to as “Lien Xo” – Soviets, because since 1979 nearly any expat in the country was Russian. I was apprehensive about being there, not completely sure how a young American man would be viewed. But I can’t tell you how many times I saw the faces of the Vietnamese I met light up when they heard I was a “Nguoi My” – an American. They would smile from ear to ear and put their finger in the air and say “America number 1.” I was shocked, actually. And so very welcomed into their community.

Why was America number 1 in their eyes? I came from a country, after all, that spent billions of dollars and many years fighting against the communists in Vietnam. (And remember, I was living in the communist north – no sympathetic Saigonese there.) But America was number 1? Why?

Simple. An enviable economy. America had built themselves into a superpower through decades of innovation and economic achievement. That’s what the Vietnamese people I met those years wanted. They wanted opportunities to work for a better future. They wanted opportunities to have “luxury” items they could never afford. A bicycle. A washing machine. Dare they dream- a motorbike? A reliable food supply. Consumer products like toothpaste and soap and laundry detergent. In 1994, when I arrived, Vietnam was just beginning to awaken from nearly twenty years of a post war economy driven by what? Socialism.

If you visited Vietnam today, you’d hardly recognize it. The country is engulfed by commercialism, entrepreneurship, and dare I say it? Capitalism.

What happened?

Over the first several years of living in Vietnam, I came to learn a phrase which was frequently used, “thoi bao cap.” A literal translation is something like “the time period when the government supplied everything.” That sounds kind of frightening, doesn’t it? This phrase was always, and I mean always, followed by another phrase “ghe lam,” which means “truly miserable.”

As I lived there and delved into their history and listened to their stories, I began to understand how miserable that time really was. Here are a few examples:

  • During “thoi bao cap,” if you happened to be rich enough to own a bicycle, you might be stopped and harassed by the police. Why? Because they would want to know how you had enough money to own a bicycle.  It was that rare. Poverty was the expectation.
  • During “thoi bao cap,” Vietnam did not grow enough rice to feed its own people. There were bouts of famine in the countryside. The government imported low quality grain from eastern Europe to try and make up the difference. Can you imagine a Vietnamese meal without rice? My friends and neighbors didn’t have to imagine. They lived through it, telling me how truly insufferable this grain was. But they had no choice to eat it because there wasn’t enough rice. (My first thought was how in the world could there not be enough rice ? Have you been to Vietnam? Have you seen the expansive rice fields? Hello, what about the Mekong Delta? What’s going on?)
  • During “thoi bao cap” each family would line up and wait for hours to receive their monthly rations from the state run stores. It was referred to as “the brick years” named for the people who would write their names on a brick and place it on the ground to reserve their spot in line at the state stores so they wouldn’t have to stand for hours on end. Of course the stores had no supplies and the amount of food and goods received was extremely paltry. There were no other options. No corner stores. No “pho” stalls on the evening streets. No shops or markets. They lived on the basics of basics.
  • During “thoi bao cap: if a family was lucky enough to raise a few chickens, and if they were lucky enough to slaughter one in order to have a luxurious chicken dinner, they would shut their house up as tight as possible and eat in the back, hoping no one would smell it and then question where the meat came from.

There are many more examples, but I think this illustrates the point of how poor Vietnam was throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.

What changed? Cause this is not the Vietnam you will experience today if you travel there. (And you should.)

The answer is simple. Vietnam slowly allowed elements of capitalism to creep into their economy. Once it starts, good luck stopping it.

Wait a minute. A communist government that allows capitalism? (Have you ever wondered what has made China rich today? It wasn’t their unyielding grasp on Maxist-Leninism.)

Famed North Vietnamese General Nguyen Vo Giap even said that a socialistic society needs capitalism (he said for a time) in order to build its economy. Hmmm, I wonder if the Vietnamese themselves have had enough time. It’s 2018 now. Are they ready to go back to “thoi bao cap?”

And here, to me, is the proof in the pudding. Or the water in the rice paddy.

Both Vietnam and China have followed the same model. Renovation. And when it came to economics, that meant giving the individual more control over their own personal economic activity. Allowing the citizens to innovate and create things which previously didn’t exist. It’s called capitalism, and it has pulled millions of people out of desperate poverty in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember the years when Vietnam couldn’t grow enough rice to feed its citizens? Well, in the 1980s, the government changed their policies. For the first time under their communist government, farmers could keep their own products once they had fulfilled their yearly government quotas. Well, can you guess what happened? The farmers suddenly had incentive to grow more rice and more vegetables and more everything. The surplus could be used to sell in the local markets, to feed local families, to help increase their monthly income. An increased income meant they had money to spend on consumer products which in turn created a market for yet more consumer products. This is capitalism 101. Even working under the strict economic constraints of a socialist government, capitalism proved to be an amazing force to combat poverty.

Capitalism isn’t a cure-all. It has its weaknesses. It has its excesses.  But of all economic systems and theories, what’s better at giving people freedom to achieve their goals and reach their potential? As Milton Friedman said long ago on the Phil Donahue Show:

” … the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.”

So, I’m sorry. I can’t take this thought of “killing capitalism” seriously because the results would be catastrophic.

And that’s my opinion based on my years living in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

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The Future of Discrimination: White Male

I’ve been waiting for this article. Perhaps there have been others espousing similar points of view, but leave it to some brilliant graduate student of philosophy, of all things, to express what I’ve been guessing at all along: the blame the white narrative is getting much more pointed.

Here’s the article if you want to read it. Not at all a surprising addition to the back list of of Huntington Post. You may want to read it before eating, though it might prove an effective means of losing one’s appetite. HUFFPOST South Africa

If you want to be spared the gross negligence your eyes may suffer while reading it, let me summarize. This forward-thinking philosophy student is posing the question of whether it’s time to put a moratorium on white male voting. This is coming from the post-Apartheid South African context. The reason for disenfranchising the white males, even for a period of 20 years as she suggests, is to redistribute wealth that white males have stolen over the years (stolen through capitalism, cronyism, white male privilege and other such ways, I suppose) so that a fair and equitable society can emerge. It would be a positive, long overdue step to help right the wrongs of the past.

I’ve seen this coming, this philosophy, this radical departure from sanity. And it won’t take long for some far-flung politician to pick it up and throw it in the debate arena. The push will be slow and steady until one government, undoubtedly democratically elected, will inch towards compensation, demanding a wide range of actions meant to address historical grievances against the white male.

In full disclosure, I am a white male. I’ve lived the last twenty years in different cultures, working alongside people from all backgrounds, creeds, and ethnicity. I’ve been in schools where diversity isn’t lauded, it’s a simple backdrop of life. My first child was five years old when she finally realized that all her friends had black hair. There is a movement in the world, there are people in the world, there are day to day interactions in this world which have come to the point where differences and backgrounds and colors and creeds and social envy means nothing because everyone is treated the same.

This is what real progress looks like. I’ve seen it, and yes, I know the world is not a dreamy-eyed utopia and it never will be. There are problems. But hearkening backwards looking for villains who happen to be white and male is the essence of anti-progress. You do not compensate historical grievances by stripping people of rights. You can not further progress by ripping apart one of the modern world’s founding tenets of progress: universal suffrage.  I just wish a certain graduate student would realize that philosophy is dead if this is the best you can come up with. Heaven help us if this is the future of education. Heaven help us if this is the future of our world.

Perhaps I’ll discover it was all a mistake. A piece of brilliant satire. But I doubt it, because I knew it was coming.

On a brighter note, this world of ours continues to be an unending source of new writing materials. I guess I should thank her for that. Now let me get to work on that new play. A satire, perhaps.

A Rebuke of Capitalism and a Counterargument

Capitalism has taken its hits in recent years and not without cause. A while back I read Harry Braverman’s thought-provoking and thorough work about labor and capitalism. As I mention in the essay below, it should be required reading for all capitalist. Though his analysis of labor cannot really be argued with, I found myself questioning some of his premises. So as I give an overview of what Braverman wrote, I felt compelled to add a critique of my own. I’d appreciate your feedback.

 

Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital gives a scathing rebuke of capitalism in his landmark, in-depth study of labor in America.  Braverman sees capitalism as a raging beast of prey which has dehumanized and degraded the work force through demanding complete control of the production process.  Braverman contends that these are the unavoidable consequences of the capitalistic system which offers no greater purpose than producing a profit.  In essence, capitalism in its incessant drive for efficiency and production perfection has bankrupted the labor force, impoverished family and society, and has entrapped millions in a system which ultimately is concerned with nothing more than the accumulation of additional capital.

Braverman in meticulous fashion outlines the historical development of industry which led to the degradation of labor through the step-by-step division of labor process. Skilled craftsmen and tradesmen who once owned the entire production process have become just a small cog in the wheel of capitalism.  The men who owned the capital became more and more interested in controlling the entire production process in order to maximize efficiency and increase profits.  An independent craftsman once retained all the skills to produce a product on his own.  But under the employ of another, the skills became divided and specialized.  Modern manufacturing techniques such as the assembly line further broke down labor into small repetitious actions which require modest training or knowledge.  Braverman shows how a worker’s skill has been completely degraded to the point that they scarcely need any skill at all.  The laborer has become a mere object who sells his labor – not skill, knowledge, or product – but labor to the capitalist. The capitalist in turn buys that labor at the cheapest wages possible. Furthermore, Braverman boldly claims that this subdivision of the individual “is a crime against the person and against humanity” (51).  It not only de-skills the workers, but it also de-humanizes them.  Laborers, in Braverman’s view, have become so degraded that they are no longer essential to the whole industrial process as they have been stripped of their intelligence making them nearly mindless machines.

Braverman goes on to show that through the influence of Fredrick Taylor’s turn-of-the-twentieth century theory of scientific management, this degradation of labor was purposefully done.  As industries grew, a whole new layer of management was required to coordinate the industrial process.  The truly revolutionary thing about management was that it codified procedures not leaving anything to the judgment of the laborer.  Under Taylor’s influence, management would require nothing less than complete control of the production process.  Where at first management might say to an employee  ‘do this in this amount of time’ they would now say ‘do this exactly in this way, this many repetitions in this much time.’   The purpose was control.  Control brought a never ending drive for efficiency because the greater the efficiency, the greater the profit.  The ones who are in control are the owners and managers of capital.  Braverman contends that all the benefits of the capitalist system are for the capitalist alone, and they have gained these benefits on the backs of laborers who have been de-humanized and forced to follow the capitalistic model of production.

In Braverman’s view, all of this creates an unavoidable tension between the capitalist and the laborer.  One is always trying to control.  The laborer is always trying to do as little as possible to gain as much as they can.  From this point of view, capitalism becomes an extremely inefficient economic mechanism. The owner of capital can never tap the potential of the laborer in such a system. Competition between companies creates the need to hide knowledge and “steal” customers.  It seems that Braverman is claiming that the contentious capitalistic climate puts all of society at the mercy of the almighty dollar where one cannot even enjoy recreation without bowing your head to the capitalistic endeavors of the ones who are pining for your entertainment dollars.  Braverman’s scathing rebuke of capitalism leaves one wondering how anyone could possibly derive any enjoyment out of work in such an environment where the capitalists seemingly hold all the cards.

Braverman presents formidable arguments and solid evidence in his critique of labor under our current capitalistic economic model.  Braverman’s analysis of the division of labor is undisputable and can be seen in every manufacturing process.  It is also not difficult to point out the degradation of the American employee’s knowledge.  A quick glance at the fast food industry can attest to that fact. Anyone who has worked at McDonald’s has not walked away with the proper knowledge of how to fry potatoes. The McDonald’s worker has learned the mindless task of knowing how to pour a bag of frozen potatoes into a batch of hot oil and then be able to recognize the sound of the buzzer telling the worker to remove them. Despite these facts, however compelling they may be, I cannot quite bring myself to wholly accept Braverman’s dreary and hopeless assessment of capitalistic society.

Braverman seems to claim that society is caught in the capitalistic system, and there is no way out as long as capitalism goes unabated.  However, I would first argue that this system has provided an unprecedented high standard of living for millions.  More people have more free time than generations before them ever had.  More people are free to travel and enjoy other leisurely pursuits previously unattainable.  In my view, the capitalistic system provides the ultimate in freedom.  The technological advances in computers accentuate this freedom by empowering people with information and unprecedented opportunity.  Even a computer novice with a few simple clicks of a mouse can start their own business.  Education is widely available and easy to obtain. Through community colleges or on-line classes, nearly anyone can improve their education, move to a new job or even start their own small business.

On a personal note, I have experienced very little of the degraded labor of which he often speaks.   Every position I have ever held from warehouse employee to office worker was nothing but an opportunity for me.  I’ve never felt held back or dehumanized.  In fact, I have felt emboldened to move on and pursue my own dreams and desires.  Perhaps this is where Braverman’s analysis is at its weakest.  Capitalism offers freedom to the individual to learn, gain experience, get more education and leave the confines of a dead-end job for something more meaningful.  Braverman seems to put little import into a person’s happiness as if it does not exist or is not real.  He would also scoff at the idea of someone pursuing additional education in order to advance in a more fulfilling career because in his view education leads to “conformity to routines” (199).  But capitalism is not a conspiracy to rob humans of their true purpose in life.  Every society conforms to routines; it is called culture. And while capitalism might define a lot of the motivations of people concerning work in this modern age, it does not take away from the routines of humanity which have given people purpose, enjoyment, and societal bonds.  Braverman may not like the looks of the modern capitalistic culture, but he most likely was a beneficiary of it.

One could learn a lot from Braverman, and it should be a required read for every capitalist.  There should be more humanity in the work place.  Compassion and respect for the laborer should be given its proper due.  I think there is a proper way to balance the balance sheet with a healthy work environment in which the laborers feel empowered, though I doubt Braverman would think so.  Ultimately, besides giving us a formidable history of labor, Braverman seems to be giving us a nostalgic plea to go back and work the land on the family farm – something that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

 

 

Works Cited

Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth

Century.  New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998.

Fast Food, Globalization, and Culture (Part III)

Here’s part III (the final segment) in this series. The most interesting part (in my opinion) of this post is the fascinating way that fast food has helped change and mold certain parts of modern China. 

Read Part I HERE!

Read Part II HERE!

The new fast food culture that has been introduced into many countries over the past thirty years has also had a profound impact on society at large. Many bemoan the presence of fast-food as the homogenization of the world.  Rightly or not, these behemoths of tidy restaurants with standardized food have become the symbol of American cultural imperialism overseas.  They are often the target of activists who complain of the loss of traditional culture at the expense of corporations pushing low wage “McJobs” and low quality “McFood.”  Whether these criticisms are justified or not, these trans-national corporations have changed many countries.

China provides an interesting study of how the fast-food industry used its’ foresight, capital, and perfect timing to impact a nation.  American fast-food has done nothing less than start a consumer revolution in China which has been led by children (Watson 125).  This is not by accident.  McDonald’s took its playbook from Disney when franchise founder Ray Kroc began successfully marketing to children (Schlosser 33); the franchises in China have done the same thing but merely adapted their approach to local circumstances.   Birthday parties, which never existed a generation or two ago in most parts of East Asia, have become commonplace and the fast food industry has become at the center of it (Watson 126).  McDonald’s has become the ‘hang-out’ for grandparents and the study zone for high school students.  McDonald’s and other like-minded places have taken advantage of the changes in Chinese family life and have adapted their offerings to meet the changing needs of society.  In Hong Kong, McDonald’s has become such a part of the fabric of life there that it is difficult to see exactly where the transnational corporations ends and the local begins (Watson 134).  Chinese scholar James Watson claims that fast food did not create a new market but responded to opportunities which were presented by “the collapse of an outdated Confucian family system” (127).  Even the success of KFC in China is largely due to how it has become local in focus (Phillips 41).  Some contend that societal changes brought about by the rise of fast food is not all bad.  Watson cites cases where fast food restaurants have contributed to teaching Chinese mobs how to properly queue while encouraging other restaurants and eating establishments to raise their standards of restaurant cleanliness to match those of the big franchises (Schlosser 128-129).  Whether fast food has improved or degraded society in China and other countries is a matter of opinion.  However, what is clear is that these corporations have used their vast influence, their tax incentives, and their capital to create a fast food niche supported by a massive food production system which previously did not exist.

How should we properly evaluate these trans-national fast food corporations?  Certainly they have impacted food production, labor, and culture.  But they could not have done it all on their own.  It was a combination of government policy and consumer approval which ultimately had its way. Phillips cites various studies that show that the corporate power and impact of food related trans-national corporations is not a “given” but is a byproduct of many different stake-holders including growers, laborers, investors and marketers (41).   Watson adds that global issues must take the consumers’ perspectives into account (134).  Throwing a brick at a McDonald’s in Mumbai to protest globalization seems to be missing the point.  The corporation is just one of the stakeholders that brought it into existence.  The fast food restaurants have become the cultural domain of Muslims in Malaysia, Buddhists in China and Hindus in India.  When you attack their McDonald’s, you are attacking them, and not a foreign entity. The world has asked to have their burger their own way, and the corporations have gladly provided it.

But what ultimately can be expected from these trans-national food corporations?  Can food globalization ever be proactive to spur on competition, protect labor, and purposefully reduce poverty?  Or is production consolidation, degradation of labor, and more power in fewer hands merely the nature of the capitalistic beast which precludes it from productively contributing to a more equitable society?  It may be foolhardy to presume that profit driven corporations would willingly make the right choices concerning the vulnerability of workers and poverty at large when profit is the driving force.  These powerful corporations are the ones receiving the tax breaks, trimming labor costs and consolidating their grip over supply and distribution.  Many trans-national firms do have social responsibility policies that have been built into their corporate framework, but they have mainly come to fruition in order for them to avoid bad publicity which might ruin their name (Jenkins 528); these policies make sure the corporations are avoiding human rights violations rather than positively moving to reduce poverty in their locality (Jenkins 528).  These token gestures are more smoke screens rather than positive steps which might raise wages, ensure health coverage and safe working environments which would ultimately do a lot to help alleviate global poverty.

The fast food corporations are an easy target to criticize. They are big; they are powerful; they are slick marketers, and shrewd managers of capital.  They seem to represent the best and worst of the capitalist system.  By pushing efficiency, standardization and expansion, they create a marginalized workforce and a depleted market for competition especially in the area of food production.  They have globalized common brand names, yet have adapted the brand to suit the local environment.  Whatever the ultimate verdict on their impact will be, it is clear that there is no stopping their expansion. But the world’s governments would do well to scrutinize their food production policies and determine how “… food citizenship may be developed as a sustainable politics to include everyone, not just the privileged” (Phillips 48).

Works Cited

Jenkins, Rhys.  “Globalization, Corporate Social Responsibility and Poverty.”

International Affairs 81, 3 (2005) 525-540.

Krugman, Paul. “We Are Not the World.”  New York Times  13 February 1997, A33.

Phillips, Lynne. “Food and Globalization.” Annual Review of Anthropology 35.1 (2006): 37-57.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Shari, Ishak. “Globalisation and Economic Insecurity: A Need for a New Social Policy in Malaysia.” Asian Journal of Social Science 31.2 (2003): 251-270.

Watson, James L. “China’s Big Mac Attack.” Foreign Affairs 79.3 (2000): 120-134.

A Reminder of How Fast the World Can Change

I grew up in the Cold War. I missed the height of hysteria of the 1950s and the many bomb drills and shelters which were common. I wasn’t around for the Cuba Missile Crisis, but I remember clearly the feeling that the United States was constantly staring down “the evil” Soviet empire.

I remember the controversial made-for-TV movie “The Day After” which aired on network TV, talking about the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaust. It seemed like the world would be forever divided by ideology and rhetoric. Communism vs. Capitalism with no end in sight.

And then suddenly everything seemed to change – quickly.

Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down the wall” at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin in June of 1987. Twenty-eight months later, the Berlin Wall came down, igniting jubilant and ecstatic people from Romania to Poland to stand up and be counted. The world was changing right before everyone’s eyes.

Two years later, the Soviet Republics themselves, from Kazakhstan to Estonia declared their freedom and the USSR could do nothing but acquiesce, as Russia itself went through a drastic make-over.

The seemingly impossible happened overnight. The Cold War had ended. The world would never be the same.

So this is a reminder to those who look at world politics in the present, noting the daunting tasks and great obstacles which need to be overcome – whether it be the repressive North Korean regime, the threat of a nuclear Iran, or the unsettled relations between the west and the Arab world; the world can indeed change quickly.

No one knows what will be right around the bend. It is, however, probably not what most pundits are predicting.

A Presidential, Federal, Capitalistic, Representative Democracy

What type of government is the United States of America?

A presidential, federal, capitalistic, representative democracy!

A mouthful, for sure.

Can’t we just say republic?  Nope!

Can’t we just say democracy? Serious lacking!

Can’t we just say federal? Think again.

All four of those descriptions are needed to truly understand how our government works because the forms of government are complicated and don’t easily overlap. Let’s take them one-by-one:

Presidential: This shows that the executive branch is a co-equal and separate entity from the legislative branch. The president is the head of the government, but not a member of congress (or parliament). This is a very important distinction.

Federal: This shows how power is divided geographically between the central government (federal) and the state governments. Some powers are specifically expressed and given to the federal government. Other powers reserved for the states. This is opposed to a unitary government where one central government makes all laws for everyone.

Capitalistic: This shows how the economy is organized. The government functions as a regulator of the economy but typically not an actually controlling any segments of the economy. This is different from a socialist government where many segments (healthcare, education, utilities) are owned and controlled directly by the government. Is this one changing in America? Yes, I believe it is in some respects.

Representative Democracy: This shows how we have a republic. Everyone has a vote and voice – but only through their elected representatives. Multiple parties are allowed to participate. This is in opposition to an authoritarian government which limits the number of people able to participate in politics.

So there you have it. To accurately describe the US Government, you should call it a presidential, federal, capitalistic, representative democracy.

Poor Edward Bellamy

Edward Bellamy was a writer who wrote the Utopian novel 2000-1887: Looking Backward,where Julian West wakes up in a Utopian society in the year 2000 where everyone is equal and everyone is wealthy. A while back I did an essay on the Robber Barons, the ruthless capitalists who ruled America during the Gilded Age of the 1900, and I included a short critique of Bellamy’s views which I felt were very insufficient.  Here’s an excerpt of that essay. I’d appreciate your feedback. As usual, complete references are available on request.  – Mark

It may be a tempting proposition to suppose that the Robber Baron era did not have to occur and that there were any number of different ways in which society could have more effectively evolved.  Certainly no one relishes the struggle that the workers of this era had to endure.  They were squashed at gun point by Fiske and his band of armed thugs (Josephson 150).  They were put on trial for defending their jobs at Carnegie’s Homestead works.  But some of the alternatives that have been espoused seem severely lacking in both substance and reality.  One such idea espoused by Edward Bellamy in the utopian novel Looking Backward 2000-1887 shows the vision of a utopian American society gradually forming out of the continued concentration of capital into the hands of a few until one day the government becomes the sole capitalist for the benefit of everyone in society.  Bellamy’s socialist ideals which may have profoundly attracted many who were being torn under the cogs of the industrial giants’ great economic wheel seem overly naive from a modern day perspective.  But of course, Bellamy did not have the benefit of hind-sight.  Nor did he have the opportunity to feel the effects of a modern regime which tried to partially duplicate his utopian society.  Vietnam in the mid 1980s had nationalized everything from heavy industry to beer halls, and all of them lost money (Lamb 115).  Food was scarce, starvation was not uncommon, shoes were too expensive for most, and personal freedom was non-existent except for the communist elite (Lamb 115).  Bellamy’s criticism is well founded, but his solutions are sorely lacking. I suppose if Bellamy’s protagonist Julian West would have awoken in the year 2000 as we know it, he equally would have been impressed to see a wealthy nation with unparalleled freedom, incomparable choice in consumer products, and matchless wealth for a citizenry which was one of the most prosperous of the world.  And would it not have been interesting for him to see that the giant corporation did not go the way of a sole nationalist capitalist entity but that they had spurred on technological innovation and legitimate competition both locally and globally.  He also would have seen a reformed government structure which had worked to regulate the business community and to ensure the rights of all workers.  In fact, Julian West would have seen a more fair society which still had direct roots in the Gilded Age.