Friday, October 30, 2009

Capitalism vs. Communism, part 1

The range of possible things I could say on this topic is nigh endless, and both your time and mine is valuable.  So, I will begin at the beginning, and end at a reasonable place, and save whatever remainder for another day.

At the fundamental core of this debate is the question of human nature.  How do we behave?  How dependent is our behavior upon our upbringing or our genetics?  These are, admittedly, questions to which I do not have the answer.  Well, noboby does: if someone knew the answer to the nature/nurture debate, a substantial number of psychologists would be out of a job.  However, I have an idea of what the answer might be, at least for the purposes of this debate.

I think that people are greedy by nature.  This is seen in children, who need to be taught not to snatch, to share, that all they see is not theirs...very basic stuff.  If we look at other primate societies, there is a well established pecking order in which the top monkey has first pick of whatever there is to be picked.  From a genetics perspective, this makes sense: our "prime directive" so to speak is to pass on our DNA.  Long story short, this leads to a slew of competitive behaviors even in fundamentally cooperative societies.  Ok, you don't buy the genetics argument: imagine a company has one position and one hundred people applying for it.  Imagine a ballet troupe has one position and one hundred people vying for it.  Imagine an auction house has one (particular) painting and one hundred people bidding on it.  I could go on.  The point is, where ever there is scarcity there will be competition.  And there will always be scarcity.

How do capitalism and communism deal with scarcity?  Capitalism essentially says, "Scarcity?  Fight for it", and so sanctions what realistically would have happened anyway.  Communism says...what?  I'm actually not aware of how communism deals with scarcity.  However, one central tenant of communism is fair and equal distribution: to each according to need, from each according to ability.  Sounds nice, doesn't it?  What if there was a water shortage?  Everyone needs it, so who gets the water?  There are two responses: based upon a fair decision making process, some get water and some don't.  Or, everyone gets an equal share of what is available, which needless to say is not enough.  Or, more likely, those with connections and who play the political game are well-stocked, whereas the common people are left high and dry, no pun intended.  In the end, in any of the above scenarios there will probably be mass rioting and looting as people attempt to secure water by any means possible, and so communism breaks down into anarchy.  How does this work in a capitalist system?  Water becomes VERY expensive; only the rich can afford it.  The poor start rioting and looting to get their water, and anarchy ensues.

I would argue that the above anarchy is capitalist in nature: it is still competition for a resource.  There is no benevolence: any sharing involved will be from mutual benefit, and in the absence of that benefit the partnership will dissolve in a flash (excluding family or other strong relationship bonds).  In the end, those that were the most successful survive.  The dead won't be able to condemn any underhanded tactics the living used to secure the water.  Who was right?  Is there any final judgment more compelling than life or death?

That's it for today; I'm sure that I will revisit this topic in the future from different perspectives.  There's just so much to say...and once again I find myself lamenting the passage of time.  Maybe I'll talk about that tomorrow :-).  Take care!

1 comment:

Better Man said...

I enjoyed reading this post. Very thought provoking. I look forward to when you get to finish it.