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The Confusion of Economics vs. Politics

Registered Architect, 40 years experience, investigative forensic specialist, engineering trained, college teacher, NCARB mentor, MBA.

The Circle of Life

The Circle of Life


I want to begin by laying some “ground rules” for this discussion. To begin, this is not a politically biased discussion; being red/blue, “R” / “D,” or any other political alignment has absolutely nothing to do with what is about to be discussed. This discussion is NOT about indicting, condemning, guilting, shaming, or anything towards any one person or any particular group. This discussion is not about middle-class versus wealthy class, the haves versus the have nots, or anything remotely connected to this type of thought process. This discussion is only going to focus on facts, and possibly even abstracts of observations I have made towards our world, and even society.

I want to begin by being open and honest with all about my perspective. I am a person of faith, believing in a monotheistic God. I believe that this world as we know it was created by God, and was created in a perfect state. That perfect state became broken by imperfect choices made by human beings. I do not believe that humans are neither inherently good nor inherently evil. I believe that because humans were created in a perfect state, they possess good inside them, but the free will humans have been appointed with has brought forth a humanistic nature of self-serving rebellion that has caused a fallen and imperfect state for human beings. I will not say more as this is not a discussion of religion, but in the name of complete openness, I wanted all to be aware of just exactly where my point of view is developed.

Words Have Meaning

I mentioned in another article how many people seem to confuse economic capitalism and political capitalism, blurring the lines of understanding in the minds of the common people of society. So, let us begin with the foundation that there are many systems in the world. This discussion will focus on two of those systems, economic systems, and political systems. The main drive I want this discussion to have is transparency, being true to the accuracy of the words used. Like lawyers, a specification writer, such as myself, carries extreme weight on the words chosen to be used. In the English language, many words can be used to describe the same thing. Some of these words carry slightly different implications or connotations that can evoke strong feelings or responses from those that hear these words used. Sometimes that shift has been a result of marketing or a change in societal views. For instance, 150 years ago the “n” word was a commonly used word, yet today it is taboo, except if it is used in a song or lyric, and then only if it is used by the correct artist. Another example I want to use here is a very extreme example to illustrate this shift by marketing. “Pro-life” and “anti-abortion” are very good examples of these types of polarizing response words. They basically mean the same thing, but we, as a society, have been conditioned to respond to these two words in extremely different manners.

At one point in time when I was younger, I remember the extensive use of the word “anti-abortion,” yet through very effective political marketing, the word was successfully made to be quite villainous, so it was then avoided. The term “pro-life” was developed in response to the villainization of the term “anti-abortion” and became the mainstream term used to replace that term. As a result, those that wore this less villainous term actually opened their position to a different attack from opponents, the attack of inconsistency, since many of these “pro-life” supporters actually also supported capital punishment. The argument then became how could one protect the life of the unborn and not the life of the living and still be considered “pro-life”?

We now come to the issue of attempting to cross terms over categories that were intended for use in one system but now would be used in another system category. Originally capitalism and communism were terms used to describe only economic systems. Capitalism referred to a system that recognized private ownership, while communism held all things in common for the whole. On their own, one is cannot “good” and the other “bad,” they are just economic systems of some sort.

Economic Systems

I view communism as a “utopian” system where every person will excel out of a sense for the greater good. As I first learned about communism, its most basic concept is that everyone in society will work on behalf of the great good of the whole and will step in to do whatever, whenever it is needed for the whole to function. That may mean one day you will function as a doctor, the next a trash collector. Eons ago that might have been possible, but with today’s technology, this probably would not be so successful. I cannot even conceive how that would work with so much specialized knowledge in this world today. I also find it difficult to see how communism would drive towards excellence and how would excellence reign supreme when we are working with imperfect beings.

Capitalism (also referred to as a free market), should provide an incentive for performance and would seem to be more conducive to use with imperfect humans. However, that has proven to be just as problematic. I remember one of my closest friends saying to me some 35 years ago that capitalism’s greatest asset is also its greatest liability, greed. He said greed makes it great, but unchecked it will destroy it. The enlightenment of capitalism comes with a heavy price for each person, that of personal responsibility. As Stan Lee profoundly wrote in Amazing Fantasy #15, “with great power comes great responsibility.” We have had great American businessmen that recognized this, one being Andrew Carnegie. I remember hearing that Carnegie once said that the first half of a man’s life should be dedicated to becoming educated and making money, and the second half of his life should be reinvesting that money into the future of society. As I recall it was said that Carnegie had kept only two-percent of what he made, and created a foundation with the other 98%, and we still see that foundation doing work, in his name, around the world building libraries, museums, colleges, etc. This was a man that really lived what he believed.

Regardless of any one person’s views, neither of these economic systems is inherently good nor bad, they are just economic systems, and to maintain intellectual honesty, they both have assets and liabilities. By the way, that is true with all things, anyone saying something different is ignorant or lying to you. The question is, which benefits outweigh the risks. The determination of a system as being “good” or “bad” can only be perceived through an ethical or moral view. It is how they are implemented that these systems take on what can be perceived as “good” or “bad, “positive” or “negative,” etc.

Political Systems

Now to address the political systems. First, let us begin with what is most commonly known as “capitalism,” which used to be referred to as “democracy,” and is the system the USA was founded on. Democracy is the actual title for our form of government, however, the term I hear most commonly used in the media and news is “capitalism,” which actually is an attempt to redefine the term for an economic system “capitalism” into a term for a political system. When capitalism was first used, it simply meant that it was a person or means to monetize on a void in the market or society. Henry Ford did this when he took an invention that existed (internal combustion engine) and found a way to produce it so everyone could afford to buy it (assembly line). A democracy is where the citizens elect officials to represent them in the government. A related system is the “Republic” where everyone gets a say in everything about government. The U.S. is actually a cross between the two, where some areas are delegated to public vote (local, state, and county issues most commonly) while other issues are decided by elected representatives.

In contrast, the political system that is referred to as “Communism” may actually be closest to the definition of “fascism,” where a single dictator rules. That was essentially what the old U.S.S.R was really about. Yet it has been given a newish title of “Communism” because Stalin really did not want to be equated to Hitler after the second World War, but the two Government styles were not really all that different. Does this sound kind of reflective and really similar to the anti-abortion versus pro-life discussion previously taken?

While there are many political systems I want to close this section off with a discussion on only one more political system. That system is “socialism,” which is the only system discussed here that can really fit into both categories of economic and political because it was a stage in Marxist theory transitioning between capitalism and communism. This hybrid nature is what really makes Socialism fit in both system categories.

As I mentioned with the economic systems, none of these systems are inherently good or inherently bad. I once again state, the determination of a system as being “good” or “bad” can only be perceived through an ethical or moral view. It is how they are implemented that these systems take on what can be perceived as “good” or “bad, “positive” or “negative,” etc.

The Mixing of Terms

So why do we see these terms mixed and blurred? It is called marketing. In society’s attempt to gain immediate gratification, society has become very susceptible to manipulation towards this re-defining of existing words. How often have you seen a product advertised as “new and improved,” just to see no difference in looks, and performance? How about the fact that “sugar-free” does not necessarily mean without any type of sugar? Carbohydrates, other types of disaccharides are sugar, so a product that contains no sucrose (common table sugar) is said to have no sugar, while it may still contain vast amounts of glucose may still be deemed sugar free by federal law.

Often this mixing and blurring is intentional and contrived to shift societal opinion away from one thing towards another. For instance, in the 1300’s “awful” meant inspiring wonder or full of awe. What comes to your mind when you hear the word? When you hear the word “catfish” do you think of a fish or person? Ask a young child what “cloud” is, bet you do not get a weather-based answer. This is just a few examples.

Businesses often attempt to shift perceptions in order to shift buyers’ habits. This occurs in a blatant marketing attempt. This is done politically to shift acceptance of an opponent’s position, thereby strengthening their own position by default. This is founded on the basis that if I discredit the messenger of the news, I, therefore, reduce its credibility. Often this is attempted with motives, not by accident.

Applying Morality

These systems take on a tint of “good” or “bad” only when a standard of morals or ethics are applied, and then those views are applied based on the perspective of the moral or ethical standard. For instance, for those “Trekkies” out there, a base founded in Vulcan values, consequential ethics of the benefits of the many outweigh the benefits of the few, would be found as the “good”. Yet, under more rigid, rule-based ethical values it may hold that the ends do not justify the means. Since these two could contradict each other at times, which is “good”?

Now we start to see how these systems can take on a value of “good” or “bad,” based on a person’s beliefs or values held. Does that not make this a lot less absolute? Is this all but the core of personal liberty? Can a person have absolute personal liberty? Quite possibly, but that person would have to exercise personal responsibility. If you are free to do anything, then you must also be aware that you have a responsibility to not infringe on others’ personal liberties. How often does that work in our cities and towns today? If this total personal liberty and responsibility really existed, then would it seem that DUI laws would not be needed? If a person did all their drunkenness in their own home and did not go out, exercising this personal responsibility, then society would never require DUI laws because another person would never be in danger of a drunk driver. Is it just me, or does that sound really kind of simple?

The hitch to this is that someone will always find a justification for driving after drinking even a little bit, not understanding the physiological ramifications of delayed reactions, and thus may place others in harm’s way as they have less than total control of the vehicle. Now placing a requirement of no drinking and driving does limit someone else’s personal liberty, society has deemed that this is a reasonable restriction on personal freedom. Now, how does that change the game? It kind of changes it a lot, does it not? Now this is starting to get really complicated.

“Good” and “Bad” Systems

Now let us apply this same reasoning to the political and economic systems we have discussed previously. These systems can now be made heroic or villainous based on these value systems held by the people and society. So, the question becomes, which side is “right”? Would that be different than if I said that anyone that does not like the color orange is “wrong”? We have lost our ability as a society for civil discourse. It has become politically incorrect to have an opposing idea at times. We have reverted back to the middle ages with the “shoot the messenger” mentality in lieu of reasoning and argument. When did it become acceptable to attack the person saying something and not having discourse on the arguments being presented?

Just this past weekend there was a big deal made about an Administration spokesperson about making a family pie for Thanksgiving and social media blew up because it was questioned if the pie was really homemade? To be blunt, who the hell really cares? Why was that even a political attack? Not that I am defending this Administration, as they all have done not so good things the last few decades I have been around.

The great Winston Churchill is credited with a saying that goes something like this, “Democracy is the worst form of government on the world, but there’s none better.” How true that can be, but that is true for everything. What about oxygen; humans need to breathe it to live, but too much oxygen leads to oxygen toxicity. In my profession, I have found that one of the most corrosive chemical compounds is called water, but most people do not realize it. If you doubt me, try leaving a hose bib drip onto a concrete slab for a time and see what happens to the concrete.

The “good” and “bad” in the systems is not inherent, it only becomes evident when morals or ethics are applied. If the ethics are “win at all costs,” then we see things like the recent banking woes or the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) in professional sports. If the leadership is founded on moral and ethical principles, then we will see less of those accusations and charges. That is where the real “good” / “bad” comes from. These systems are often having rules written by those on power, and they will always write the rules to favor themselves. Only when there is a truly level playing field can an equal opportunity for all be established. Anything else just leads to marketing that will provide the desired view for those in the power position.

Closing Thoughts

To close, let me once again state that none of these systems are inherently good or bad. They are systems found for specific uses. Only when we introduce the element of imperfect humans and against standards found in morals and ethics do these systems take on some type of good / bad attributes. The Reagan era of “trickle down” only becomes successful when the hand holding the money is open. If the hand is closed, money will not flow through as readily, defeating the very goal. Those in power must have an attitude of personal responsibility, or the rest of the system will be at risk.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Dan Demland