The Social in Political/Economic Society
One of the dominate themes in American society is that of rugged individualism. Individualism is a key to American society, but it exists within social perimeters. We exist in a social environment in thought, property ownership, economy, and innovation. We are not isolated individuals carving out our lives on our own intelligence, talent, and initiative. Instead, we exist, and operate in, a functioning society. A functioning society means a legal framework, social investments, and a knowledge base that allows people and businesses to operate within consistent, and predictable boundaries. It is this societal framework that allows personal and business success.
Individual brains are not like computers. Our brains are not built to hold huge amounts of information, and cannot match the capacity of contemporary computers. But, we do excel in social knowledge. We do not need to know how complicated things like organ transplants, or jet engines work because we have experts who have studied those things. Our society is constructed so that we do not need to know how even simple things, like zippers, or bicycle chains, actually work. What we do know, is how to contact people who have that specialized knowledge.
Society is like a giant neurological network, with our individual minds interacting with a vast memory bank of expertise. Our social knowledge is at the disposal of individuals in a variety of ways, some for free as a member of society, some for profit. Modern society is possible only through the specialized expertise of experts in various fields. Therefore, society depends on a free flow of mainly honest information in a critical environment where what is blatantly false is exposed. Control of information is a target of extreme political groups. Liberals and conservatives debate what is a reasonable middle ground that maximizes freedom of individual expression with social responsibility. That is a difficult, and important, compromise.
Property ownership is a function of society. One must follow the social organization to claim ownership of property. For land and buildings, one must have a deed. A deed is an official social recognition of an individual’s right to property. That right is not absolute, as society maintains the right to regulate and tax property. Property is regulated through laws passed by government. Without property laws possession of property would go to those strongest and most violent. Without the social organizations of police and army private property would be at threat from within and without. Anarchy and chaos would result, and individual ownership of property would be precarious.
In the economy, if we operated on a full free enterprise system, individuals would have a number of challenges to building their businesses. Roads are a social investment, as are septic systems, and utilities. Public education provides a steady supply of educated workers. In an individualistic society businesses would have to educate their own workers, build their own roads, etc. There is also a social legal framework of laws and enforcement that make business deals predictable and fair. Government organization and regulation of the social aspects of capitalism is not socialism, it is in fact, the essence of what makes a capitalist system work.
Innovation and entrepreneurship come from businesses manipulating socially provided assets as capital in order to secure profits. Yet, we have some corporations, and one percent wealthy individuals, using their power and influence to reduce
their taxes. Taxation is needed for the necessary funding of the social assets upon which all capitalist enterprise is based. Capitalist politics is based on a contest between liberal capitalists who seek regulations that create a more equitable society, and conservative capitalists who are basically satisfied with the social structure as it is, but also have an interest in keeping social investment at a healthy level. Compromises between these two political/economic positions should result in a workable capitalist economy.
Socialism is a system where some political group obtains enough power to control the major economic transactions of an economy. Under Marxism, Karl Marx thought those who labor should have that control, and under Fascism/Nazism, it is large corporations and the wealthy class. In practice, these ideologies are predicated on having dictatorial powers over economic decisions. Marxism is an extreme of the left, and Fascism/ Nazism is an extreme of the right.
A workable capitalist economy is one where reasonable regulation prevents individuals and corporations from monopolizing social assets to unfairly accumulate political and economic power to serve their own economic and political welfare. In a capitalist system, enterprises have a great deal of latitude in developing their business, but are regulated by the interaction between liberals and conservatives. Healthy capitalism is the dynamic product of compromises between liberals and conservatives who seek a middle ground between the role of private enterprise and social responsibility to form a functioning society. The three “C”s, cooperation, compassion, and compromise are the basic virtues of a healthy democratic capitalist society.