Capitalism and Socialism Redistribution of Wealth and Fairy Tales for “Self Made Men”
Once upon a time… Once about a time… as they say: “back in the day.” Once about a time… way, way “back in the day” of 1966 to the very first day at the University of Detroit Law School. On that very memorable first day of law school, I had (…to put it kindly) a “personality conflict” with fellow law student, Irish John Conlon… a “conflict” based on my “first glance” perception of Irish John Colon as a New York City kid doing his best to project an image of a first day law student who knew more than the rest because he was born with the best… an “all knowing certitude” of both “world affairs” and all things “legal.” (See my book, Children of the Greatest Generation: An Emotional History, page 418).
Based on my background of growing up in the City of Detroit with a “forced humility” driven into me by my “take no prisoners” Irish mother, I was immediately ready to “throw down” in the law school parking lot with my new law school acquaintance… the “all knowing,” Irish John Conlon. Back then, I relished the idea of “throwing down” the law books and “throwing up” some hands (some fast and explosive hands and fists I had developed in my youth on the streets of Detroit)… with the intended target, Irish John Colon, and the intended mission, rearranging the lofty vision he had of him- self. Even today (almost 50 years later), that “let’s get it on” emotional memory from 1966 still resides in the half awake—half asleep recesses of my mind. And, leave it to Lord Conlon to periodically stroll through the recesses of my mind, and fully awaken that almost 50-year-old emotional memory, and move it from the recesses to the fore- front of my mind as he announces his updated litany of new, self assured, “all knowing” comments… comments about how today, in 2012, the “poor” in the landscape of American “capitalism” have only themselves and their lack of work ethic to blame for their dire financial condition and poverty. But, Irish John Conlon’s latest self assured version of “capitalism” doesn’t ring a bell with my view of reality, nor does it ring a bell with the historical perspective of “capitalism” in America and in other countries.
When I reflect back on my own dear father… Frederick Valentine Lauck, I remember an uneducated child of the 1930’s Great Depression who (despite his childhood challenges of hunger, weakness, headache, heartache, malnutrition and a painful, progressive and debilitating arthritic condition) always put herculean effort into his bleak economic environment as he strove to support himself and, later, his family… in his own capitalistic landscape of very “limited opportunities.” But, apparently, my father’s biggest “missed opportunity” in life was not knowing of Irish John Conlon’s economic philosophy… as captured in the historic words of Captain John Smith:
“John Smith believed that if a man had nothing but his hands he could in the United States through personal industry grow quickly prosperous.” (so says the ever confident John Conlon, paraphrasing Captain John Smith, A.D. 1580-1631… boyfriend and paramour of Pocahontas?)
Irish John Conlon
Had my father known of Irish John Conlon and the “nothing but hands” formula of Captain John Smith, my father would have been miraculously transformed by those two giants of “laissez faire,” “self made man” capitalism, and my long suffering father would have been restored to healthy vigor… to redouble his unrewarded effort, increase his non existent opportunities, and make something more of himself financially in the “capitalistic” world of “nothing but hands.” In fact, that same “self made man” formula of the two Johns (Conlon and Smith) should definitely encourage those with “nothing but hands” to overcome limited IQs, autism, attention deficit dis- orders, hyperactivity disorders, prenatal drug addiction, inherited mental illness, severe emotional impairments, learning disabilities, unending cycles of poverty, systemic discrimination, glass ceilings and… well… well even missing limbs. Hey, if the guys with “nothing but hands” can do it, why shouldn’t those without hands also be required to “roll up their sleeves” and “just do it”… !!! In the capital- istic landscape of Michigan where Irish John Conlon practices law, his Republican cohorts on the Michigan Supreme Court recently threw out a “blind” man’s slip and fall case against a corporate fast food chain… because the negligently created danger that seriously injured the blind man was (as the Republican majority said) “there to be seen” (the defense of “open and obvious” conditions… callously and cruelly applied to the blind). (See Children of the Greatest Generation page 369). If the blind must legally see what is there to be seen, I don’t know why those without hands shouldn’t just “roll up their sleeves,” and make something of themselves in the American system of “capitalism.”
Historically, I think Irish John Conlon completely misses the new-world (no- aristocracy) “context” (and hence the “content”) of Captain John Smith’s supposed words. After Thomas Jefferson inspired the new-world American colonists with the “inevitable truths” and “unalienable rights” doctrines in the Declaration of Independence, and after George Washington successfully concluded the American Revolutionary War, the American colonists, once and for all, triumphantly rid themselves of all remnants of English rule—including the “mercantile system” (that the British used to greatly enhance their economy to the severe economic detriment of the colonists), and including the remnants of the “caste system” of British “aristocracy” with its Monarch and its royal blue bloods, Princes, Dukes and other “noblemen” and “noblewomen” who held the economic privileges of wealth, land and titles… wealth, land and titles that the British aristocracy endlessly passed on to their descendants while each generation of English “commoners” passed on their “badges of servitude” to their offspring—generation after generation of offspring who were hopelessly locked into dead-end positions of servitude attending to the caprice and whims of English aristocrats and their families. Captain John Smith’s supposed words of growing “quickly prosperous” in America “with nothing but hands,” when put into an overall, historical context (before and after the American revolution), simply meant that the badges of servitude in the old-world order of the British empire’s caste system did not govern new-world America, and, therefore, “commoners” were no longer consigned to an endless future of servitude to the British aristocracy… generation after generation after generation. That new-world America is the “context” that gives historical meaning to the “content” of Captain John Smith’s supposed statement about what you could do with “nothing but hands”… when you were no longer held down by the old-world, British caste system.
I also wonder if the “self made” Johns (both Conlon and Smith) aren’t also missing the “historical perspective” of world economic systems. The Great historians, Will and Ariel Durant, wrote volumes of history over the course of their long and productive lives—Our Oriental Heritage, The Life of Greece, Caesar and Christ, The Age of Faith, The Renaissance, The Reformation, The Age of Reason Begins, The Age of Louis the 14th, The Age of Voltaire… and Rousseau and Revolution (those volumes of history… my sole inheritance from my beloved, genius father). The Durants finished up their lives’ work of reflection, deliberation and writing by asking… if history was just a non stop sequence of millions of meaningless “random events,” or whether there was some “predictable” rhythm and rhyme or some “practical” reason, season and time for “les- sons” to be learned from the study of those past historical events? In The Lessons of History, Will and Arial Durant show that “capitalism” and “socialism,” although competing economic theories, have an inevitable common flaw that, eventually, dooms both of them. From an historical perspective, both capitalism and socialism are inevitably overrun by: 1. “unlimited” greed of the few at the top of the economic pyramid, and 2. by “limited” opportunity for the masses at the bottom… which invariably creates a disproportionate concentration of wealth for the few at the top of the economic pyramid. That disproportionate concentration of wealth at the top then (as it always does) sows the seeds for change… with history telling us to take our choice—either peaceful change or violent change. As Will and Arial Durant show… from an “historical perspective,” it matters not whether the disproportionate amount of wealth at the top of the economic pyramid is in the hands of the government ruling class via “socialism” [as it was for ancient Egypt 323 B.C.—30 B.C., ancient China 145 B.C., Rome A.D. 301, the Incas of Peru until conquered by Pizarro in A.D. 1553, Russia all through the “Cold War” of much of the Twentieth Century, modern Libya under Gadhafy in the Twentieth Century through the first decade of the Twenty First Century, and as it is today in Saudi Arabia]… or whether that disproportionate concentration of wealth at the top is in the hands of the wealthy, ruling class oligarchs via “capitalism”—as it is today in America. The competing economic theories (and labels), “capitalism” versus “socialism,” matter not. Both generate the same disproportionate concentration of wealth at the top of the economic pyramid, and both generate the same “response options”… either peaceful change like present day Saudi Arabia’s partial redistribution of wealth and resources to the Saudi people by a “ruling class” desperately trying to avoid an “Arab Spring” revolution… or, on the other hand, the option of violent upheaval, revolution and restructuring of government (many times for the worse) like the “Arab Spring” revolutions still percolating this very moment in Egypt, Yemen, Lybia and Syria.
Will and Arial Durant’s scholarly and highly informative Lessons of History traces the history of numerous governments and economic systems of the past (including Sumeria, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, South America, Germany, Russia and America) with the Durants telling us “why”… “why,” even in the “all are invited to play the game,” open invitation system of “capitalism,” only a very few will find financial success and accumulation of wealth. In short, history tells us that not all are born equal into the economic landscape of “capitalism.” As the Durants point out… the “myth” of capitalism is that “anyone” can participate, play the game of “capitalism,” work hard and get rich. But the “historical reality” is far different because the greater majority of men and women cannot and will not succeed in the most rigorous, demanding and highly competitive economic system known as “capitalistic enterprise.”
“Since practical ability [to produce] differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men” (The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant–1968, page 55).
The clear historical record showing a distinct lack of financial success for the masses in the economic system “capitalism”… mirrors life as we know it today in the modern world of sports. There may be 100,000 fans sitting in a magnificent “state of the art” stadium wishing they were on the field playing and competing in the “big game,” but they have no chance… because they were not born with the same commanding “physical presence” nor with the same “athletic gifts” as the “major league” athletes who participate on the “fields of glory” and take home millions. Since only a small per- centage of God’s children can make a financial “go” of it in the highly competitive and highly productive system of “capitalistic enterprise,” the great disparity of wealth that inevitably occurs in “capitalism” (or “socialism” for that matter) must, periodically, be redistributed… either peacefully (on a partial basis) through taxes and “social pro- grams” (as is ongoing in Saudi Arabia at this very moment), or, if not peacefully, then, eventually, through a bloody, “helter skelter” redistribution of wealth in the upheaving earthquake of violent revolution… as is ongoing in Syria and Egypt today:
“The struggle of socialism against capitalism is part of the historic rhythm in the concentration and dispersion of wealth.” (The Lessons of History, page 58)
“We [Will and Arial Durant] conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial re-distribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.” (The Lessons of History, page 57)
“The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet.” (The Lessons of History, page 67)
So, my “self made man” friends, Irish John Conlon and Captain John Smith, and many of my other “self made men” contemporaries, history informs the Durants and us that “come hell or high water” wealth will disproportionately accumulate at the top of the human pyramid in both the economic systems of “capitalism” and “socialism”… after which “come hell or high water” that disproportionate wealth at the top of the human pyramid will have to be redistributed—either peacefully (and partially) through so- cial programs and a system of supporting taxation (without, hopefully, damaging the “profit incentives” of the capitalists) or, alternatively, redistributed in a violent, “helter skelter” fashion with governments, oligarchs and a wealthy ruling class tumbling down from the top of the “economic” pyramid to that guillotine of a violent, revolutionary overthrow that inevitably beckons to them from the bottom of the “human” pyramid. As the saying goes: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make vio- lent revolution inevitable.” But, many of my capitalist contemporaries face this reality of inevitable redistribution of wealth just like they face the abstraction of their own “death”… a denial that subconsciously cries out that death is always the other guy’s problem, not theirs, so let’s hoard our wealth because there will be no “redistribution” during our non-ending lifetimes. I wonder if those (“it ain’t going to be me”) words were the same words echoing around in the minds of the despotic rulers in the Middle East just before the reality of “Arab Spring” sealed their fate?
Irish John Colon and many of my contemporaries who identify themselves as “self made men” who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” refuse to make generous allowance for the indispensable role that serendipitous, unearned “opportunity” and “luck of the draw” played in their financial success and accumulation of wealth. For those who don’t share my belief that serendipitous “opportunity” and “luck of the draw” (such as being born into the right family, in the right country, at the right time in history, with the right gifts of intellect, physical health and emotional control… and not just hard work) play a large (even dominant) role in opening the door to financial success and accumulation of wealth… for those who do not share my beliefs (about the role of “opportunity” and “luck of the draw”) then I ask you:
If I, hypothetically speaking, made more money and acquired more wealth than John Conlon and others of my contemporaries in my capitalistic endeavors… does that mean that I am “smarter” than John Conlon and others?… or that I “worked harder” than John Conlon and others?… or that I am a better “self made man” than John Conlon and others?… or that I was “stronger” and “more determined” at pulling myself up by my bootstraps than John Colon and others were? Or, does it simply mean that those of us blessed with good physical and mental health, a strong enough intellect and the skill to “focus”… all worked equally hard (by and large), but that those blessed with more overall “opportunities” than others fortuitously acquired more money and more capitalistic wealth????
My answer… to those hypothetical questions—if I got more wealth out of the economic system of “capitalism” than Irish John Colon and others of my contemporaries did, it means (by and large) that I had more “opportunity” and more serendipitous “luck of the draw” than John Conlon and others. And, that belief, coincidentally, is the root of all “non (moral) judgment” of others and “inclusion” of all others in God’s vineyard… which we all share with one another.
I wonder how John Conlon would answer those questions? I wonder how my other “self made men,” capitalist friends and contemporaries would answer those questions? I think I know their answer. Same as my answer… but (from them) a belated, begrudg- ing admission that serendipitous “opportunity” and “luck of the draw” do, in fact, play an indispensable role in financial success and in acquiring wealth in the system of “capitalistic enterprise.” Does their belated, begrudging answer to those questions now finally lead us the point where we can all begin to humbly acknowledge the role that serendipitous “opportunity” and “luck of the draw” necessarily plays in life in general and financial fortune in particular? (See Children Of The Greatest Genera- tion, pages 76-80… Preparing To Be “Lucky”). Does the answer to those questions now, finally, lead us to the point where the fairy tale and the ego of the “self made man” begins to recede? Is this also the point where we finally begin to have a humble affinity for, and an acceptance of, all of God’s children across the globe… especially those poor souls that were not born with the gifts to succeed in the highly competitive, cut throat world of “capitalism,” or who (for a multitude of other reasons) were not afforded the “opportunities” and “luck of the draw” that some like me and my blessed generation (Children of the Greatest Generation) were afforded? (See Children of the Greatest Generation, page 305 and 407-409). Is this the point of “acceptance” where all of us finally begin to realize that we are all children of God first, and then a member of some beloved religious organization second? Is this the point of “inclusion” where all of us finally begin to realize that we are all citizens of the world first, and then citizens of some patriotic, postage-stamp parcel of land second? Is this the point where we be- gin to identify with all of God’s children by seeing ourselves in all others across the globe… and seeing all others in us? Is this the point where we finally begin to breathe life into the words: “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat… thirsty, you gave me to drink… ”? Is this the point where we can really mean it when we say: “May the ‘Peace’ of Jesus be with you”? Is this the point where we truly begin to understand the words of the Sermon on the Mount? Is this the point where America can assume the role of “world example” and lead the quest for “world peace” by living the example of “acceptance,” “inclusion,” “non judgment,” “non violence” and “respect for life” before birth and respect for the “quality of life” after birth? Or, alternatively, are we Children of the Greatest Generation—the blessed, serendipitous winners in the economic system of “capitalism,” inevitably, destined to repeat, echo and pontificate our mantra: “‘I’m a self man’… in my beloved system of ‘capitalism”’ ???
Whoa! I got a little carried away. I have to (as they use to say in the Northwest Detroit neighborhoods of my youth) “mellow out.” But, I go to bed tonight a non violent “capi- talist,” and I’ll awake tomorrow a non violent “capitalist.” But, don’t let the ever-confi- dent, Irish John Conlon or Captain John Smith or any of my contemporaries recite the fairy tale of the “self made man” to you, or tell you that all those who suffer through life without financial success are invariably “slackers” who just won’t use their hands to “roll up their sleeves,” pull their weight and work hard for the financial rewards of “capitalism.” I will always believe my “inevitable truths” 1. Capitalism is, by and large, the best producer of goods the world has ever known, and 2. Hard work, graced with “opportunity,” is a winning combination for anyone. But, hard work without “opportunity”???… well… well that’s a “little”… no make that a “lot”… more “iffy.” Or, as Jesus might say, as he multiplies the fishes and loaves… “Amen Brother.”
Author of Children of the Greatest Generation: An Emotional History
copyright ©2012 Frederick W. Lauck