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Socialists Should Cheer Up

January 20, 2021 (784 words)

For some reason every critic of capitalism seems like a sourpuss. As if they are never able to get a good night’s sleep, or their sciatica is always acting up.

The cause of social justice is a noble one, and the motivation of its crusaders unassailable. But the constant wagging of the accusatory finger is not a good look. The average citizen is pre-occupied with his or her daily grind, and tends to dismiss those who have forgotten the adage of attracting more flies with honey.

Contrarians determined to save the world from craven capitalists may want to step back from the barricades for a moment, take a deep breath, and count to ten. Capitalism, per se, is not the problem. If it weren’t for the dramatic increase in material well-being capitalism is directly responsible for, there would be no grand economic windfall that needed to be more equitably distributed in the first place.

If one is committed to an all-out assault on movers and shakers for their sometimes pronounced lapses in the realm of empathy, it should always be prefaced by acknowledging the vision and organizational ability these inspired souls bring to the table. In this they have been touched by God. They are the reason we, the great unwashed, have come to enjoy an array of conveniences now considered commonplace.

While things could be better when it comes to social justice and equitable distribution, it wouldn’t hurt to remember things used to be a whole lot worse, and not that long ago, either.

Given the hard-scrabble existence many of our immediate forbearers faced, we have come a long way, baby. One might even say we are more than halfway home, if a just and equitable society is the agreed upon objective.


The root cause of social injustice is no big secret: Each of us is fundamentally flawed. What starts out with high hopes and the best of intentions can be easily sabotaged by a flagrant omission or an inadvertent oversight. This goes for quiet followers as well as boisterous leaders.

It’s okay to prosecute the 1% for their crimes against humanity, assuming the trial is conducted from a broadly informed perspective more charitable in its orientation. The juggernauts of modern commerce have an infinite number of moving parts, generating unexpected incongruities that defy easy resolution. If the critics of capitalism were to find themselves at the helm one day, it’s highly unlikely any of them would acquit themselves noticeably better.

Come to think of it, there is really nothing wrong with how capitalism has been practiced for the last couple of centuries that a healthy dose of Christian “do unto others” wouldn’t cure. This seminal fact has so far escaped the notice of the most vociferous critics, which may explain why they always appear so grouchy.

Those seeking to advance the cause of social justice would improve their chances if they could liberate themselves from the problematic label of ‘socialist.’ And they should push back hard when others try to tar them with that brush. It is the silent majority’s outright rejection of anything remotely associated with ‘socialism’ that sidetracks a much-needed re-write of certain portions of our economic playbook.


Without getting too technical, let’s flesh out a few broad strokes. Unfettered capitalism has fueled the natural tendency toward avarice on the part of the lucky few who find themselves with leverage. But socialism’s stated goal of abolishing private property in an attempt to end exploitation of the masses actually undermines the dignity of the very people it sets out to protect.

Then again, maintaining and honoring the concept of private property should not automatically extend to allowing ‘the means of production’ to accumulate in private hands. Especially when that develops into monopoly power and eliminates the competition that’s designed to keep the masters of the universe honest.

While it may run counter to our nation’s founding principles, any sober society will make room for calibrated government intervention in the economy. The “when” and the “how much” will always be subject to legitimate debate.

Enthusiastic capitalists must own up to this reality, and admit a measure of outside restraint on their more reckless impulses is warranted. As things stand now, gleefully pointing out the occasional waste and corruption in government’s attempts to balance the scales does not excuse the vagaries of laissez faire capitalism that necessitate balancing those scales to begin with.

This short piece is not aimed at getting successful capitalists to act a little less smug. It’s a pointed suggestion for crusaders of social justice to walk away from the ‘socialist’ moniker, once and for all. Doing so will lift their spirits, and help persuade the general public.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
January 20, 2021

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