Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Praise to the writers for taking the first and most important step--a frank declaration that there is another side, and that they need not mince words or favor euphemisms for the change that we, the people, need for survival.

Praise for the unapologetic declarations that there is another way, a better way and a brighter future for regular Americans.

Praise for the common sense that shreds the shrill noise and fear-mongering of the dead-ender finance capitalists.

And finally, praise this magazine for some bold editing.

Mark Deneen

Eureka, CA

Mar 8 2009 - 8:32am

Web Letter

Since at least as far back as Plato's Republic, philosophers have reasoned for a world governed by the just. But whether it is called capitalism, mercantilism, feudalism or pillagism, wealth will always flow to the most ambitious. The secret to acquiring wealth is not innovation and it is certainly not truth, justice and the American way: it is single-minded determination.

There are those who inherit great wealth and there are those who steal it; there are some who work hard and accumulate some measure of wealth. But those at the very top of the heap are the rentiers who amass great wealth from the labor of others.

Not since the Gilded Age has the possession of wealth in this country been as lopsided as it is today. According to Forbes, the top 400 wealthiest people in America have now amassed $1.5 trillion in net worth--that's one and a half million, million dollars for 400 people!

Though we live under a capitalist system, it doesn't mean that we are all of us capitalists. Only 1 percent of all Americans are truly considered such--multimillionaires who earn well in excess of $500,000 annually. Generally they are top-level corporate executives, high-rung politicians, mega-celebrities and heirs and heiresses.

For the most part, the beneficiaries under capitalism are large corporations and the people who run them. Additionally, we have a government that favors this class to such a degree that it removes all constraints to their voracity, subsidizes their endeavors and cuts their taxes--putting the greatest tax burden on the middle class.

Farm subsidies are of little help to small family farms because they are primarily awarded to large corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and ConAgra. Along with other big businesses in the communication/information, defense, banking and energy industries, they feed greedily at the government trough while people are losing decent-paying jobs that are being sent overseas, losing their homes and their savings and losing their American Dreams.

Executives from Shell Oil, Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips and BP America have stated that their record profits are merely the result of market conditions--supply and demand--and that they are justified because they pay for exploration and offset leaner years. Meanwhile, people who earn $8 an hour cannot afford gasoline to drive to work.

How can a system that benefits so few so greatly continue to exist? It is accomplished through the exploitation of the commoners' fear. Whether it be Hun, Bolshevik, terrorist or gay couples getting married, plutocrats in America are able to maintain control of the government by declaring the threat and then presenting their candidates and programs as the safeguards.

Will this change under the Obama administration and a more liberal Congress? One could hope. But will it change significantly or for the long term? History says otherwise. The meek have yet to inherit the earth--that is why the priests invented heaven.

Michael D. Kerrigan

Kaneohe, HI

Mar 7 2009 - 2:03pm

Web Letter

With all due respect, "Reimagining Socialism" demonstrates with dismal clarity the full extent of the human capacity for self-delusion. What is failing is not "capitalism." No, we are witness to the simultaneous and synergistic collapse of the entire web of Keynesian Ponzi schemes that has served as the American Welfare State's foundation for nearly a century. Chief among these is the Federal Reserve and its debt-based fiat currency. Other elements include Social Security, Medicare, the income tax and deficit spending.

The American experiment was based on the idea of individual freedom, including individual economic freedom. It is the massive statist effort to control and manipulate the free marketplace within which that freedom is exercised that has failed, and it has done so with a vengeance.

Frank Brady

Kansas City, MO

Mar 7 2009 - 12:14am

Web Letter

Hybrids are in. Here's one that embodies both socialism and the free market (with participatory planning providing the guiding policies).

Identify our "lifeline" systems--those networks that are essential to our health, safety and general welfare and that tend to form monopolies because they (a) are expensive, (b) occupy unique territory or (c) are fundamental to economic and social order and, therefore, a juicy target for private takeover. These would include the energy grid, highways, railroads, transit, telecommunications, water lines, water sources and sewer systems, among others.

Nationalize all of these networks so the profit motive does not act as a barrier to essential traffic as it does now. Pay for their operations and maintenance by inviting the private sector to supply services over them (much like the British rail system).

To ensure "highest and best use" of the public networks, participatory planning, both from the top down and bottom up, would become a national citizenship event, like elections, resulting in five-to-ten-year budgeting priorities along a twenty-five-year pathway to a vision of the future. Public priorities as stated in plans and budgets would have the force of policy and law. Use pricing policy over each network to ensure that public (not individual) priorities have preference, not the other way round.

The result: news and public interest information would not be crowded out by entertainment on the airwaves; alternative sources of energy would be able to compete with fossil fuels; freight and passenger traffic could transition to rail; water would be allocated to priority uses, first; new development would not go where it becomes too expensive to provide transportation, water and sewer lines; public services to the poor like health, education and security could be subsidized by market services like entertainment, luxury goods, etc.

We cannot have socialized or nationalized systems without a public consensus on how they will be used in the best interests of all citizens. This is the job of the planning process--a process that has taken a beating in the past thirty years.

Planning is one of the defining characteristics of humans. It takes advantage of our abilities to reason from fact in order to see possible futures. In theory, through planning, we would choose a path that leads us to the version of the future that best comports with our values. The advantage of planning is to allocate scarce resources like land, water and mineral resources well in advance of their use, so that we are assured that they will be available to help attain a sustainable future. The "free market" tends to be wasteful of these resources, using them up just when they are needed for social purposes.

Yet we ridicule and even fear planning--the highest order of human social and intellectual endeavor--because it gives preference to the community rather than to the individual. There is no argument: national, state or local planning is a social tool that proscribes individual action. In some cases it prohibits action by individuals, and even by social groups, by closing off undesirable pathways to the future. In a capitalist system, this is the function performed by regulation, hence the aversion to regulation by devout free marketeers. But regulation on a day-to-day basis does not provide any particular vision of how scarce resources are to be used to create a collective future.

If we are going to reintroduce socialism of a kinder, gentler type, we must embrace an inclusive and powerful planning process in order to govern both socialism and the market. Any talk of socialism, in other words, must include a discussion of planning as the essential foundation for a New New Deal.

Jay Moor

Bozeman, MT

Mar 6 2009 - 6:30pm

Web Letter

It's nice to see self-described socialists now agreeing increasingly with survivalists (like me) about what "finance capitalism" has produced. (Though even here, the true nature of a genuinely free market is grossly misunderstood by the authors. A "corporation" in and of itself is government intrusion into a truly free market. It amazes me that this obvious fact is missed by those on the political left and right.)

Good luck with that "collectivist vision" thing. So long as we survivalists will still be permitted to opt out of participating, hunker down in our bunkers with our arsenals, deep freezers and generators, and not be forced into the "glorious future" à la every other socialist dictatorship that's ever existed on this planet with any modicum of political power, then who am I to tell someone else how to expend his or her time and energy?

Just grant me and my handful of like-thinking survivalists the option to secede from the resulting "utopia," and surely we can "all get along."

John Bickle

Cincinnati,, OH

Mar 6 2009 - 5:57am

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