In a recent op-ed, “I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked,” conservative columnist David Brooks wrote, “We ran that social experiment [between capitalism and socialism] for 100 years and capitalism won.” But did capitalism really win? As I indicated in a chapter (“Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism”) in my An Age of Progress? Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces, history tells a more complicated story.
As sociologist Max Weber and conservative economist Milton Friedman have told us, the primary purpose of capitalism is earning a profit. Friedman even believed it was business’s main “social responsibility.” Sociologist Daniel Bell wrote that capitalism has “no moral or transcendental ethic.”
Nineteenth-century capitalism provided no adequate answers for how to deal with such problems as unsafe working conditions, unfair business practices, pollution, public health, slum housing, or the abuse of child labor. Nor did it deal with the distribution of income and left unanswered if great poverty should exist along with great wealth.
At that time socialism, especially Marxist socialism, arose as the major challenger of capitalism. By 1917, socialism had split into two principal types, the communist variety led by Vladimir Lenin–later formalized in the name Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)–and a revisionist type, more common in western Europe, that advocated democratic, reformist means of obtaining power. The goal of such socialism was primarily greater economic equality through such steps as government ownership of at least the chief means of production. In general, democratic socialists wished to control and regulate the economy in behalf of the entire population. In the German parliamentary election of 1912, the German Social Democratic Party received more votes than any other party.(Walter G. Moss)
Posted by The non-Conformist