04 July 2016

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

There is an oft-repeated but utterly fallacious argument that Democracy and Capitalism go hand in hand. Capitalism is about 'voting' for what goods and services you want and is thus an extension of the democratic system.

This is a rather simplistic if not overtly misleading view. Capitalism is about profits and return on investments. It's about creating markets and then manipulating them. That's what marketing and advertising are all about. Those who sit atop the Capitalist pyramid don't actually want the consumer to make choices. They want them to purchase and behave as they're told. This is the manipulative premise of the marketing industry. With it we find commitments to efficiency and maximising profitability. These give rise to the monopolistic tendency which also necessitates cronyism or state-private sector synthesis. These are all inherent components of the Capitalist system. The democracy angle is really part of the marketing deception. The academics who promote this aspect aren't approaching the issue as disinterested investigators or even theorists... but as apologists.

Investors and the elements within finance capital want stability and security. The last thing they want is for the system to be shaken, to stumble and to enter an era of uncertainty.

The Brexit vote was a democratic referendum and the markets have demonstrated their apprehension and angst over the decision. We have yet to appreciate the full impact. The markets were trembling before the vote and now that it has happened, the markets have been plunged into seeming chaos and uncertainty. They're waiting on pins and needles to discover how it will all play out. The figures atop the financial pyramid would have never wished for average people to have that kind of power or the ability to put their investments and stability at risk.

In the United States, Socialism is viewed as anti-democratic. I always chuckle about this. Those that assert this are obviously wholly unfamiliar with Socialism. Socialists in fact would argue that it is only in the context of socialism that you can have true democracy and civil rights. Those who oppose them would point to the various failed examples of socialism... but they always seem to miss the successful versions.

This is further complicated by the fact that true socialists disavow the USSR and will (at times) even disavow the socialist governments of Scandinavia or some of the other European countries. It depends on how strict you want to get with the definition. The same thing happens on the Right-wing side of things.  

Of course Capitalism (it could be argued) necessarily leads to imperialism and thus war. And once again there are examples that clearly demonstrate this tendency and other instances where the case is not so strong. Capitalist academics will critique regimes for not being 'truly' capitalist and so on. Some are critical of the 'Crony' variety, others would argue cronyism is an intrinsic and necessary development of the system.

The reasons for these discrepancies are pretty simple. Both the Left- and Right- wing versions and accompanying visions exist on paper, but then they have to function in a context which is never pure or neutral. This is why many politicians (who actually have to make it work) roll their eyes at their academic critics.

As a Christian I don't subscribe to Capitalism or Socialism and I have little confidence or hope in democracy for that matter. It certainly is a morally dubious premise and in fact can be quite dangerous both socially and in terms of ethics. Ask the Ancient Greeks. With the fall of Athenian Democracy, the idea itself was largely discredited and not seriously taken up again until the Enlightenment. The Swiss might represent the one exception, but their context was and is unique. Even secular versions of democracy require something of a social consensus to really work. When that breaks down, there's no answer, just anxiety about a future point in which a big enough faction refuses to acquiesce and go home. Instead they go for their guns and it's all over.

For all the talk of democracy in our day, the truth is that it doesn't work very well and the powers that be are more concerned with a stable world order than being ruled by the whims of the people. One of the mechanisms for accomplishing this is providing the illusion of democracy. Most of the time, the choices are rigged and thus so are the results. The recent British referendum on EU membership was dangerous because there was the possibility of an undesirable result. And this is why politicians (who mostly rely on Establishment backers) are falling like bowling pins. Things didn't go the way they were supposed to.

Power in the end (whether in a Capitalist or Socialist economic framework) corrupts and becomes anti-democratic. It's not really that surprising. The profit-system can become hierarchical and tyrannical. Generally speaking the Capitalists don't seem to understand that money is wedded to power. On the Socialist side there's the tendency toward bureaucratic tyranny and a different form of hierarchy. There are still budgets and in a bureaucracy the departments that have the largest tend to wield the most power. It's inescapable. Your society will have some form of wealth or currency and it's always wedded to power.

But what is perhaps a little disappointing is that there continue to be a great number of people (and in particular Right-wing Christians) who argue that Capitalism is the Biblical system and that it leads to freedom.

They are ignorant of Capitalism's phases of development, its outworking in history and certainly the teachings of Scripture. As I've argued repeatedly the Scriptures don't teach a macro-economic system that is applicable to the whole of society. Those who argue for a 'Biblical' view of economics are in fact arguing for a rationally ordered system of economics deduced by synthesizing very selected (and often out of context) Biblical concepts with the 'science' of economics. Their claims are dubious all down the line and the end result is anything but 'Biblical'.

The Scriptures provide a view of money and possessions... for Christians living as a remnant, as strangers and pilgrims in a hostile world. This ethic that we are called to live by is foolishness to the world. It will be deemed as idealistic, reckless, wasteful, shortsighted and defeatist.

Most Christians refuse to follow the Scripture on this point (and many others) and instead try to find peace with the world, and in seeking power they (in the end) overthrow true Biblical economics.

Sadly many have also confused democracy with Christian theology and ethics. They don't go together.

This is further frustrated by their attempts to weave these hybrid doctrines in with contrived historical narratives and other worldly systems. And now the Church is absolutely infiltrated by these false teachers who think godliness is gain. By no means am I merely speaking of the 'Prosperity' advocates. They are but the consequence and culmination of an extant trend within historical Protestant theology. Many teachers (even within confessional Protestantism) are little more than Balaam reborn, prophets for hire, loving the wages of unrighteousness and presuming to take the reins of God's Kingdom and redefine it.

Don't be fooled by their arguments. They're not Biblical nor do they reflect reality in any form. All systems have their promotional lines and the Christian-Capitalist synthesis is no different. Sometimes the arguments are buffoonish and laughable, but they use them because they work. The people in the pews want their ears tickled. They embrace lies and love to have it so.

The real world is more complicated. It's dark and foggy and shrouded in uncertainty but the Scriptures provide us a light that we might find our way.