Beer is all the proof we need to the enduring benefits of cooperative and collective endeavors.
There are all kinds of simple and complex definitions of socialism and countless reasons for embracing or rejecting a socialism. I am going to ignore nearly all of them here and start with a simple definition that also provides my reasons for embracing socialism. I am especially not starting with a conventional definition: that it is centralized control or social ownership over the means of production. I really don’t even care if we want to bag the term especially since it evokes strong visceral reactions for many and is a ready-made tool to stir up outrage here in America. We could use the term I came up with while writing this article. I am an inclusive, collective advantagist.
I embrace socialism for the basic reasons that: 1) I am a social creature 2) Everyone else is a socialist. The real distinction is only in the kind of socialism we are talking about, and 3) the Bible tells me so.
First, I am a social being. My existence from the cradle to the grave is inextricably tied to other human beings. But it goes further. All of humanity is inextricably tied to the global environment.
We can be conditioned or indoctrinated into acting as if we are completely self-interested beings, but the loneliness and isolation of our current life reminds us that we are social beings and for eons of time we have learned that an individual’s self-interest is bound to and relies on interaction with other human beings in cooperation, coordination and competition and on reasonable and responsible stewardship of natural resources.
As much as we like to think of ourselves as lone wolves, we must realize that wolves survive because of the pack. They are wired that way and are incredibly good at self-giving for the sake of the whole.
Second, being a social creature makes me and everyone else a socialist, or if you like, we all have powerful socialistic tendencies. This should be obvious, even though many perform amazing feats of mental gymnastics to argue otherwise, all usually whirling about under confused and contradictory expressions of liberty and freedom.
The issue, then, is not whether we opt out of socialism for some other “ism,” but rather and only, what kind of socialism we embrace. Rest assured a myriad of socialisms exists, many do not go by that moniker or even believe they are against it.
In this regard, I work with a fundamental notion of social existence that comes from our primitive awakening. Living on planet earth is a precarious endeavor. What was realized nearly 10,000 years ago was the collective advantage—by cooperation, coordination, and regulated amounts of competition, we humans could diffuse danger and maximize benefits. The profound evolutionary leap we made from hunter/gatherers to sedentary farmers proves our socialistic tendencies correct. Beer, being the first product of the collective advantage, is all the proof we need to the enduring benefits of cooperative and collective endeavors.
This is emphatically the case regardless of what kind of radical capitalist one may think he or she is. If you have insurance of any kind, then you are a socialist of some kind. All insurance, whether auto, life or social security is based on the collective advantage—the greater the cost of the risk is spread over the whole, the less devastating is the individual loss. If you enjoy NFL football, with their heavy emphasis on league parody and fair competition, then you are a socialist. Rest assured, no one plays football alone. If you buy anything, you are a socialist in that a whole collective of individual players absorbed parts of the cost to supply a single person with a product. Regardless of how cheap or expensive the product was, rest assured that you bought it at a fraction of the total cost. This, by the way, is a classic capitalist point; ironically, it proves socialism just as easily as capitalism.
My ex-employer, whom I considered to be particularly business savvy, was fond of saying: “There is no such thing as a $1 dollar hamburger or a $2 dollar burrito.” The price was low, but there is a mountain of cost behind it. This is not necessarily bad. In some ways, this is how collective advantage works. An individual can enjoy the benefits of a collective endeavor. Capitalists, in fact, regularly employ this socialistic feature to defend the benefits of the system. Ignoring the fatal flaw of capitalism—that it inevitably devours its self—and still uncomfortable with the “S” word, many in our political economy advocate variations of a modified capitalism. Joseph Stiglitz, for instance, prefers “progressive capitalism.” Nick Hanauer coins the phrase “evolutionary capitalism.”
Let me reiterate: everyone is a socialist of some kind. There are a variety of socialisms, and they quite often clash with each other, but the differences nearly always center around who benefits from the collective advantage and to what extent. Is it socialized risk and privatized profit or socialized risk and socialized profit? Or is it socialized risk and benefit within a tightly controlled and defended subgroup.
For instance, there is pirate socialism. Pirate culture was surprisingly communitarian. They elected their captains, and if the captain performed horribly, he was ousted. They divvied up the plunder evenly, each according to his need and ability. They shared all things in common and generally shunned authoritarian hierarchies. Their judicial system tended toward leniency. Similar kinds of limited socialism exist with gangs, the mafia, clubs, societies, tribes, corporations or any kind of institution that is generally closed off to the public. It works precisely because of its exclusion. As it is with pirates, the collective advantage is limited to a tiny ship on the ocean. it can be ruthlessly predatory towards other subgroups.
Here the critical second adjective to my definition must be added—inclusive as opposed to limited or exclusive, and based on extraction. We can just as easily modify socialism rather than capitalism to get to where we need to be. Democratic socialism as opposed to communism for instance.
Admittedly, there are those, our beloved libertarians and free marketeers, who like to spend a good deal of energy trying to convince themselves and others that all of us go it alone. This narrative comes exclusively from those who have already allotted for themselves a lion’s share of the benefits at the exclusion of others while hiding and denying the real and full cost that so many others incur.
The socialists who most aggressively cloak and deliberately distort the collective advantage are the wealthy. They are not deniers of the collective advantage, but master manipulators of it. They know damn well that they don’t go it alone. They rely on a whole network of power players to game it and to cordon it off. They love the collective advantage and tirelessly nurture the communal comradery, albeit exclusive, of their collaborative endeavors.
The phrase “communism of the rich” was coined nearly as early as capitalism itself. “Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.” “Lemon socialism” was another term coined around the turn of the twentieth century, and it essentially refers to one part of the collective divvying up the costs to another part of the collective and keeping the profits as their part. Hence the term: “socialized losses, privatized profits.” Crony capitalism is another synonym for lemon socialism.
The recent disclosure of the gross lack of taxes Amazon is paying—zero—demonstrates yet one more time another twist of lemon socialism—a government who not only requires no taxes on 11.2 billion in profits, but also divvies out 129 million in tax refunds. Comrades indeed!
In this regard, let us dispel the abused threat of “centralized economy.” Pointing to the defunct Soviet regime or the “state capitalism” of China, the argument appears to reasonably move from too much government control to control…by whom? We are not really talking about centralized as much as control.
Even our free-wheeling libertarians believe in managed and designed economies. It has always been that way. The very fact that we even attempt economics—to design economic outcomes—regardless of who is doing it is centralizing it to some degree. The threat of a centralized economy has been a particularly euphemistic devise of the lemon socialists. Again, everyone understands and participates in the collective advantage. It is simply a matter of who pays and who benefits and who governs it.
“Raid and trade” go as far back as human history itself, and the ancient free-marketeers always covet and compete for control of society. They do this either by synthesis with political forces or seizure of it. There will be government, period, and history is the story of who will govern? Aristocrats, corporations and oligarchs or monarchs or republics.
The problem has always been, ever since neo-lithic times, that the planners, organizers, and managers of the collective part presume an exaggerated importance to their own contribution. It is as the old childhood trick of divvying out the jelly beans. “One for you (allotting one) and one for me (allotting one). Two for you (allotting another one) and two for me (allotting two),” and so on. Suddenly, the distributor has amassed a disproportionate pile of jelly beans.
The astute observer inevitably objects to such a distribution, not because of his own pile but because of the larger pile of the administrator. Envy, jealousy, or lust, whatever we want to call it, proceeds, and it is here where another critical element of lemon socialism injects into the proposition—protecting and policing the disproportion.
Protecting the pile has always been accomplished by force. So, when the little brother objects to a measly share of jelly beans, the big brother says “Too bad. That’s the way it is, and if you tell mom, I’ll beat the life out of you.” The threat of physical harm becomes quite convincing.
The preferable way of policing is through the storyline. If there is a commonly held story that explains the disproportion, then there is less internal anxiety. If the disproportionate distribution is to be maintained, then the story—myth, ideology, religion, corporate handbook—must be cunningly designed to mask certain parts of the truth while exaggerating other parts.
One of the most enduring aspects of disproportionate storytelling is to create massive amounts of self-loathing and doubt upon the one holding the five jelly beans. Isn’t your portion enough or are you greedy? Look what I have given you and you are ungrateful? What have you done to deserve even those five jelly beans? Said while the 15 jelly beans sit in a pile cordoned off by surrounding arms.
Another critical part of the story is to inescapably draw those on the minimal end of the distribution into the protection racket. The one holding the 15 jelly beans offers, out of the goodness of his heart, to protect the one holding the five. The problem with “I have a deal you can’t refuse” mob economics is that the one holding the lesser amount must opt into the protection racket in order to be protected! Even here, the lesser absorbs more of the cost than the greater.
My socialism by whatever name you want to call it “collective advantagism” is bottom up and not top down. It does not hoard first, trickle down later or not at all. It does not depend on the fickle, self-serving and idiosyncratic whims of those already drugged by opulence. It also pushes inclusive socialism, rather than limited, restricted or exclusive socialism, especially when it comes to not only shared profits, but even more so, the definition of profit.
Most importantly, and here is a critical fissure in the lemon socialism argument, my socialism starts from the presumption that the most valuable resources on the planet are given and to all. Those resources are still fundamentally the same as ancient peoples even in our technological age: land and all that is associated with it and humans—labor and human ingenuity that creates capital.
Here, I bring in my third reason and definition of socialism. It starts from what is the definitive biblical perspective. There shall be no poor among you (Deut. 15:4). This biblical verse leaves no wiggle room, nor for that matter does the declaration of independence: liberty and justice for all. It does not start from: now that I have secured my own liberty and justice (inevitably by depriving others of the same), let’s see what we can do to dole out a few morsels of the same to everyone else. One jelly bean for you.
It does not start from “how can I get rich”, but how can everyone have enough. One biblical scholar calls it enoughism, another communitarianism, another egalitarianism and another sabbath economics. The label does not matter as much as the starting point and goal. You can even call it modified capitalism if the capital we are after is solution creation, not exploitation.
I will not labor too long with the biblical aspect since most of my writing deals with this. Here, I gladly excoriate the rampant heresy among Christians who emaciate the faith with their prosperity gospel. It is merely a makeover of mythologies through the centuries to cloak theft and power. The Bible and especially Jesus in the gospels makes clear the “bottom up” economic starting point despite the endless interpretive gyrations to not only get out of it but turn it into a gross opposite.
Jesus assures that only the poor will posses the kingdom of God (Mt 5:3). I don’t get out of this verse by granting myself some inner “spiritual” poverty while advocating for or ignoring systems and governments that bless the rich and curse the poor instead. At this point, I am forced to participate in the latest version of counter-kingdom idolatry, but I am not “free” in this regard nor am I liberated.
What I can and must do is seek first the kingdom of God which definitively starts at the bottom, pushes for inclusion, and advocates that the wealth of God’s creation be sustained by and enjoyed by all.
As one journalist poignantly states: “every generation, everywhere, shall have an equal right to the enjoyment of natural wealth.”
I advocate for Inclusive, collective advantagism. What kind of socialism will you advocate?