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A cheerleader for capitalism

READER ALERT: Political subjects below. If you think reading this post would endanger your blood pressure, perhaps you could turn on public radio and listen to some music instead.

There are things you ought to know better than to do, and one high on the list is not to enter into a political discussion on Facebook.

But a Facebook acquaintance posted this: “Capitalism is the most fair, right, and opportunity-driven system possible. Anyone who does not support capitalism is either misinformed, prejudiced, jealous, or power-seeking” and followed up with "My question to liberals, and it's a sincere question: Is your belief in liberalism based on not seeing that's it's really socialism in disguise, or is socialism actually okay with you?”

In my most presentable faux naif tone, I started an inquiry into how she understood those terms, socialism and capitalism, having pointed out some time back a point that I took from Harry Golden forty years ago, that the Socialist Party platform of 1912 is pretty much mainstream today.

For my impudence, I got the standard treatment, being labeled a collectivist or a redistributionist, one of the people who “don't really care about gays, blacks, women, old people or kids. They only care about finding ways to redistribute money from the group that earned it to those that don't work.”*

Before long, someone started quoting Ayn Rand. I have leaned over the years that when they begin to quote Ayn Rand at you, it’s time to make sure you have an unobstructed path to the door.**

But really, I had an actual question to pose. I’m not sure what people are talking about when they denounce socialism. If it is President Obama’s health care plan, which leaves profit-making insurance companies intact and assures them of additional profits, then it is a very odd form of socialism. If it is President Obama they are calling a socialist, they should seek out some actual socialists to hear them hoot at the thought.

Is it governmental meddling in industry though regulation of food and drugs? Or the various attempts to regulate the financial industry from the time of Franklin Roosevelt to the present? Or if we’re simply talking about money and the redistribution of it, is it governmental taking of money from those who work to prolong the lives of a lot of old people through Social Security and Medicare? (The latter, you know, are the real threats to the federal budget, not public radio or scientific research.)

For that matter, I’m not at all sure what people mean when they talk about capitalism. I suspect it’s not the mercantilist capitalism of the sixteenth century, though I get doubtful when the protectionists chime in. I wonder if they mean the corporate capitalism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. If so, a capitalism so dependent on tax breaks and subsidies from government is a very odd species as well.

The rough equilibrium between left and right that existed from the Eisenhower era of Modern Republicanism, which grudgingly accepted the new Deal and a mixed economy, to the recent past, is apparently gone. The country has come again to a point of debating what the appropriate role of government is in many areas, and that is a healthy debate—or would be if it could be conducted by people who try to explain clearly what they mean and make an effort to understand contrary positions without immediately resorting to mere slogans and name-calling and denunciation.


*Three subsidiary points:

1. Though I am a damned NPR-listening registered Democrat and journalist, I am also a taxpayer and homeowner, respectably married, a mower of grass and ironer of my own shirts, an investor in stocks and bonds though a 401(k) plan, and very nearly as complete a bourgeois as you are likely to find in captivity. (None remain in the wild.)

2. Redistributionist is an ugly term, but it occurs to me that if you attend a church and make an offering, you are partaking in redistributionism, much like those crypto-socialists in the Acts of the Apostles. Better be careful.

3. If I were inclined, though I am not, to respond in kind, I would ask the anti-redistributionist gentleman whether he is the kind of capitalist who thinks that it is impertinent of the government to forbid him to employ ten-year-old children in the mines for twelve hours a day, six days a week—an infringement on his freedom. (He did complain, after all, about children being unproductive.)


**If it is undiluted libertarianism that you’re looking for, let me recommend H.L. Mencken, who knew how to write.



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:42 AM | | Comments (24)


"appaently"? Here? *faints*

Prof. McI, I love a man who, although happily married, irons his own shirts. Oh, and i also agree with everything else you wrote here.

Bert, it's fixed. Snap out of it.

I’m not sure what people are talking about when they denounce socialism.

Why, that's easy; they are talking about whatever they don't like. I'm sure you can find a place on the Web where Michelle Obama's dress styles are denounced as socialist.

Now I wrote that sentence before checking anything, and sure enough, it turns out that googling ["Michelle Obama" fashion socialism] shows about 1.6 Mghits. Some of these are certainly accidents, reportage, or irony, but others are as plain as a fart.

Hey Dahlink,

Are you implying that being a happily married couple, and the husband ironing his shirts are pretty much mutually exclusive? HA!

Personally, having neither a steam iron, or for that matter, an ironing board, is likely one of the myriad reasons I'm no longer wrapped in the embrace of married bliss. ( Officially divorced in 1980).

Usually, when a woman I've been dating eventually comes to the realization that I possess neither of those aforementioned utilitarian items in my humble abode, they eventually run quickly in the opposite direction, never to be seen on my front doorstep again. (Sob!) Talk about shallow, or what?

Frankly, i've managed to almost master the crumpled, disheveled look perfected by the likes of TV's Det. Columbo, "Seinfeld"s Kramer, and seemingly perpetually rumpled actor Gary Busey.

As a longtime in-studio TV animation artist, we creative 'wrists' (designers and such) had the option to wear casual attire. I favored the T-shirt, shorts and high-top sneaker, or sandals fashion approach, as did most of my artist peers. Management types, clearly, had to be a little more workplace-formal, (no shorts, or T-shirts), but ties were generally optional, and long pants pretty much de rigeuer.

For me, ironing the starched, stiff collars, and sleeves of say Van Huissen, or Arrow dress shirts, or leveling out the wrinkles in a silk tie was never, and still isn't, in my quotidian range of chores.

I'm sure our natty, sartorially formal Prof. McI. would label me as a workaday slob, or part of that legion of laissez faire types, "the great unwashed". (Boy there's a blast from the past. I think Pres. Dick Nixon may have coined the term.HA!)

Yet in terms of my own personal hygiene, and being at least fairly presentable to the outside world............. no 'probs' there. Floss twice a day.HA!)

Hmm......... guess in a pinch I could use my surfboard as an ironing board. But, alas I don't have one of THOSE either. Yet another reason why those cool L.A. surfin' chicks avoid me like the H1/N1 virus. Even if I had an ironing board and iron, they'd likely give me the cold (tanned) shoulder, anyway. HA!

Ducky "Hangin' Ten" Isaksson..................... wash & wear rules!

Quite the contrary, Ducky Alex. I think that a husband who does his own ironing is the key to a happy marriage. Works for us, anyway!

Hmm........Dahlink, I'm just wondering if the ironing hubby=a happy marriage equation works as merely the exception to the rule, or is it a fairly common phenomenon? I would imagine there are some marriages out there, where even w/ the husband ironing his own shirts doesn't necessarily guarantee a blissful, harmonious union.......... but as veteran comedian Jackie Mason might opine, "It couldn't 'hoit.". HA!

Clearly our fastidious, bow-tied Prof. McI., w/ more than a smidgen of the persnickety in his core character makeup, believes that if he alone irons his shirts, he'll get the optimal crisp and smooth perfection that only he feels he can consistently render......... no disrespect intended to the prof's dear wife, Kathleen, who i'm sure is more than merely competent in the clothes ironing department.

Perhaps if i'd volunteered for active military service back home in Canada as a youth, I would have gotten more into the spit-and- polish, ironed uniform mode. I'm sure many a gent of the boomer-and-beyond generations who have honorably served in the U.S. military, got into the (dutiful) habit of ironing their own uniforms, as well as all the other day-to-day obligatory military protocol.

And, possibly some actually found, in ironing their military duds, a certain meditative satisfaction, pride in appearance, order, and sense of being in control (most, likely finding it to be more of a necessary drudge), and when these guys eventually married, (or were already married), didn't think twice about ironing their own 'civies', giving their hard-working wives a bit of a welcomed respite.

Dahlink, you are, indeed, a lucky gal. I'm sure your hubby's ironing his shirts is just one of a myriad of good reasons why you consider him a first-rate 'keeper', and most worthy mate. HA!

Ducky "Surf's Up!" Isaksson.................. what's this got to do w/ "socialism", pray tell? HA!

Alex, are you sure it is the lack of ironing board that discourages the women? Perhaps instead, it is that New Guinea tribal mask peering down from the bathroom wall which gives them pause.

@Laura Lee, you just said a 'mouthful'!

Indeed, the plethora of both authentic African and New Guinean tribal art pieces 'inhabiting' my abode, from impressive animistic wood-carved Dogon masks from Mali, sub-Saharan West Africa, to the fancifully decorated Asmat, (west Papua New Guinea/ now part of Indonesia), penis, and war shields, plus my own ofttimes erotically charged semi-abstracted figurative carved wood, stone, or cast/ patinaed bronze sculptures, might scare off most potential lady friends........ other than maybe the likes of say a Lady Gaga, the wild avant garde performer Grace Jones, or alt-singer Courtney Love. (Boy, there's a formidable, wacky threesome. HA!)

Truth be told, almost every square foot of wall space in my rather 'cosy' home (OK, small HA!) is completely covered w/ artwork of one variety, or another. But admittedly, tribal art and myriad visual exotica tend to dominate my interior decor.

Ironically, about 5 months back, my dear adjunct prof girlfriend of some 18 years chose to move out of her single bedroom apartment unit, into a much larger two-bedroom, within the same complex. After having settled in after a few weeks, I took the risk of asking her if she would like a couple of my prized tribal masks to kind of liven up (HA!) her new digs.

She's a died-in-the-wool minimalist when it comes to her personal living space preferences, so her actual acceptance of my mask(s) offering was a most pleasant surprise, since she always gets a little skittish about staying over-night at my little 'house of tribal horrors' (HA!), let alone even setting foot in my visually intimidating,( for most folk), domicile.

Both masks are now hanging side-by-side in her living room, often peering down at us two going at it, tooth-and-nail, playing Scrabble, while perhaps watching a new installment of the charming BBC series, "Dr. Martin", or some CBS "48 Hours" blood-sotted real-life murder mystery. Hmm........... I'd kill for one of those two blank Scrabble tiles. (HA!

Incidently, one gifted mask is a relatively large (roughly 3-and-a-half foot long), hand-carved wood, imposing, slightly scary (for most) Sepik River/ New Guinea beauty, in the typical chalky off-white/ red ochre (w/ charcoal black accents), and course raffi (dried grass material) tied into holes dotted along the entire mask's outer rim. The absolute crowning touches are the dual-pointed, roughly 8-inch actual bone 'spike' piercing the prominent, flared-nostrilled nose, and finally cowrie shells representing the spiritual figure's eyes.

Let's just say, I wouldn't want to meet this fellow in a darkened back-alley,,,,,, or my own bathroom, for that matter? Who needs prunes when you have this frightening, bug-eyed dude staring you down at you precarious perch on the commode. HA! Just sayin'.

The other, an African mask, is an aesthetically striking Fang tribal piece (from Gabon/ West-Central Africa), displaying exaggerated elongation, a soft, chalky grey surface texture, minimal incised design patterning, w/ an almost Modigliani-esque, stretched, very simplified overall feel.

This particular mask is a fine example of the characteristic economy of form and intrinsic projected power of African tribal art that so attracted the likes of Picasso, Braque, Lipchitz, Gris....... and Modigliani----the early European modernists------who incorporated the basic simplified aesthetic of so called "primitive art" ,(hardly!), and created revolutionary works, initially in the cubist mode, which later evolved into so many novel expressions of the the modernist sensibility.

I've concluded that tribal art, for most non-aficionados, is more appealing in small doses, as opposed to an entire house populated by oodles of the stuff. HA!

So Laura, even though my tiny bathroom is currently maskless, I'll give it some thought , regards hanging a tribal piece in the loo. What's to lose............ I'm already long-spoken-for, so scaring off the ladies shouldn't be a major concern. HA!

Ducky "The Collector" Isaksson......... BOO!

As for redistributionism: The bonus money for the big bankers derived from the public's bailout money was just good capitalism at work?

John McIntyre: I just wanted to say, whenever you write on politics I want to jump on to my chair and cheer. Thanks for being a voice of sense in a wilderness of inanity.

In the political discussions with my friends, I try to point out that we have two opposing goals that we are trying to satisfy at the same time. First, we want the greatest possible liberty for ourselves and others. That means government keeps out of my business. Second, we want to be compassionate with those who can't take care of themselves. That means government entitlement programs, environmental programs, and so forth.

Politics is, and always has been, the argument for one position over the other at any given time. It's not easy to agree on a middle ground.

If Mr Obama is planning the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange - or even simply to establish a command economy - then he would certainly be well advised to heed the lessons of history. From this side of the Atlantic, however, he looks about as socialist as a Churchillian Tory Democrat or a Cameronian Conservative. And to trumpet the fairness of capitalism is a little odd, given its propensity to hand wealth to power, power to wealth, and its tolerance of a vast disparity of living standards.

What we can say for capitalism is that while it certainly does not guarantee political freedom, it is at least compatible with it, and that while it is grossly inefficient (as our banker friends have shown) it is at least better than any other system we have tried at raising living standards over a long period.

What I find odd is that people don't recognise the areas where it is at such odds with freedom: if you work for a corporation in the private sector you spend most of your waking day in an environment over which you have almost no control, following the instructions of what is in effect an oligarchy or dictatorship.

Meanwhile much of the political debate in the democracies is about the extent to which we can curb the worst excesses of capitalism without compromising too much its ability to generate wealth. Would that there were a better system. I had high hopes of the co-operative movement once, but it has made no real effort to ride to our rescue. Nonetheless we should not be too dewy-eyed about the Market. It has its dark side.

It's never been clear to me why conservative republican types think that they claim the mantle of "capitalism," and thus own it, such that liberals are "socialist" by default.

I suppose we could play the same trick: Liberals like kittens and puppies. I wonder why conservatives hate our little furry friends?


by: William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

THE world is too much with us: late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -- Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Give young Willie a tight form like a sonnet and he can write like an angel.

People who keep carping about socialism make me tired. When they drive to their precious jobs, do they pay for the road the whole way? How are taxes for roads and police protection any different than taxes for food safety and education?

It seems we have forgotten entirely the lesson of the founding fathers, many of whom were well-to-do or just plain wealthy. They risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to found a nation. They led by example. Now, to make the nation better and stronger, no one should risk anything more than the price of lunch unless they're serving in the military?

Where is the honor in denying health care to the poor or to those who work for small businesses? Where is the honor in having much and keeping much instead of making the workplace safe or keeping people in the country employed? Where is the honor in cutting education spending after one has already received the benefits of a public education?

We've had the Founding Fathers, who were the greatest generation in our history, we've had abolitionists and soldiers who opposed slavery, we've found ways to help provide for the poor and the elderly, we've had the "Greatest Generation." And lately, we've outsourced jobs and want to outsource taxes to some nebulous other.

What is the legacy of the 21st century in the U.S. so far? The Cheapest Generation? The Lobbyist Generation? The Me Generation? The Let-George-Do-It Generation? The Paranoid Generation?

Where is the honor - or the use - in spending taxpayer money on a system which continually fails to teach too many children the rudiments of reading,writing, speaking and understanding basic English? Clearly money is not the answer. If it were, the entire country would be at the top of the literacy list. Get over this. It doesn't work, regardless of some people's high-sounding moral principles.

Are you proposing an end to public provision of education, Patricia?

Not a bad idea, Picky old sock. The current system is, in many cases deplorable and chews up money like nothing else. It costs more to run the Syracuse Public Schools than to run the City of Syracuse. (And the Schools don't even have to plow the streets and collect the trash!) How are you, Picky? Still looking for someone to pick up your liquor tab?

Laura Lee,

I've been mulling over that wonderful, thought-provoking piece of Wordsworthian poesy you earlier cited, for the past four days, and now realize how very relevant, and prescient these ominous, and cautionary words are to these best-of-times-worst-of-times that we are living thru today.

For all the scorn, antipathy, and gnashing of teeth that the much maligned, ungodly pagans, and animists of old (and new) have engendered from the so-called 'true believers' ( read monotheists), for me, Wordsworth is essentially saying in his "The World is Too Much With Us", that perhaps we should get back to more pagan-like notions of Mother Nature--------appreciating the ever-changing seasons, the orderly rotation, and orbiting of the heavenly spheres, the fixed position of the myriad stars, the sun, the sheer abundance, and variety of her glorious flora and fauna.

The ancient Greeks, although far from monotheists, did have a profound reverence, and enduring fear of unbounded Mother Nature, appreciating her seeming limitless bounty, but also her unfettered power and ofttimes vengeful wrath; thus creating a mythic pantheon of gods, goddesses, sprites, and spirits embodying all the varied aspects, good and bad, of the natural world writ large.

Poet Wordsworth, in his day, standing at the very threshold of the nascent Industrial Revolution, could sense that his so-called 'modern' world was alarmingly moving further, and further out of balance, w/ this novel species, 'homo industiralis', becoming more and more preoccupied with, as he put it, "getting and spending".

Wordsworth, in his poem, is in a sense, pleading w/ the everyman of his 'progressive' age, to embark on a renewed appreciation of Nature----the simple, enriching pleasures and heartfelt emotional rewards gained from stopping to literally smell the roses. He's urging mid-19th century man, IMHO, in not so many words.....worth HA!, to periodically step off modern life's virtual treadmill (assembly line?)---the entrepreneurial workaday rat-race of social climbing, and making pecuniary profits, for profit's sake alone.

Wordsowrth is almost scolding God, the Creator, saying that the enlightened pagan view of Nature and man's place in it, is much needed, as more secular-leaning, 'modern' man, has in a sense, forsaken the natural realm, its inherent sanctity, for purely ungodly, mercenary, capitalistic avarice, and unbridled commerce. He longs for those halcyon yesterdays when man was not so "out of tune' w/ Nature. When, indeed, we could easily imagine both Proteus and Triton rising from the green-azure depths to assure us that Mother Nature had never really forsaken us, yet we had sadly forsaken Her.

Laura, once again, you gave us much food for thought w/ timeless, well-chosen poetry. Thanks!

Ducky "Nature Boy" isaksson...... folks, smell those roses...... darn it!

I fail to see what ironing one's own shirts has to do with anything. I suspect that many 'bad' husbands have been ironers of shirts, removers of trash, etc. This is just preening.

The ancient Greeks, although far from monotheists, did have a profound reverence, and enduring fear of unbounded Mother Nature, appreciating her seeming limitless bounty, but also her unfettered power and ofttimes vengeful wrath; thus creating a mythic pantheon of gods, goddesses, sprites, and spirits embodying all the varied aspects, good and bad, of the natural world writ large.
Thank You

This happily married husband lives in a NYC apartment, which is to say a couple of closets by other people's standards, and consequently sends out his shirts for washing and pressing at what used to be called a Chinese laundry, though mine is in fact owned and run by a Korean.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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