It’s not enough to oppose • what do you propose?

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By Wendy Binnie

Most Americans, rich and poor alike, have an unexplained fear of Socialism and link it to Communism.

If Americans don’t like Socialism, that’s their business.

If they don’t understand it, that’s their business too.

But we all know what unbridled capitalism can lead to, don’t we?

Behold the economic downturn and credit crunch we are all witnessing. Socialism is very well understood in Europe and among the most socialist of countries is, of course, Sweden. You never hear people screeching “those pinko Swedes.”

At the moment, in the U.K., the Labor Party is in power – hardly a socialist government. It owes more to the Methodist Church than it does to Karl Marx.

That last sentence was found on the web when the author was searching for something else. It is, fortunately, an orphan.

In the U.K., if the banks don’t start lending soon and get their act together, there will be public demand for them to be nationalized. Another Socialist method?

Yet it is socialist thinking and methods which are being employed to try to save the situation. The people’s money is being used to bolster the banks and help to encourage them to lend. One wonders if the average American who shudders at the word Socialism really knows what it means. This fear is the biggest fraud, sham, bugbear and frightening tactic ever visited upon a people with the exception of the color changes of the ridiculous ‘terror alerts.’ We should remember Avon Willie – “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Socialism came about in Europe under conditions that have never been present in America. The first factor is that most, if not all, European countries were once ruled by monarchies, and a workers’ revolution was seen as the way of toppling that, as happened in France and Russia; such a system also created the vast inequalities that Marx described, so his argument was more valid in Europe than in the fledgling United States. Secondly, and this was certainly the case in Britain, socialism was used to rescue a country ravaged by World War II. British cities were in ruins and the country was bankrupt. The view at the time was that the state needed to intervene to spur the recovery.

One long-term solution: a hybrid system realizes the benefits of both; this idea is unpopular, particularly in America where cold war anti-communism is still engrained in the psyche. But their country has not been pounded into the ground and the benefits of capitalism are quite obvious. Over the last 100 years, it has been a successful economic system. It is compatible with the western vision of ‘freedom’ meaning that one’s entrepreneurial abilities are encouraged and rewarded. Therefore, in general those with the strongest abilities tend to gain power at the expense of those with weaker abilities.

The weaknesses of capitalism are becoming ever more apparent now. Economy is based almost entirely on consumer confidence and as we can see from current events, the system is fragile and prone to snowballing; lack of confidence fuelling greater lack of confidence. Actually this snowball effect is responsible for the system’s success in the first place but can be just as ‘effective’ in reverse. Also, if left unregulated, greed based polarization will occur; the elite will become evermore powerful and cut-throat at the expense of the masses. Capitalism is still too young for this to be, but without regulation, in 50 years it is quite conceivable that there will be individuals with more money and power than have the States. This is a frightening thought – especially when it is a system meant to promote freedom for the individual. It will end up as freedom for the elite to control and destroy the freedom of others. The reflex response to this will be the masses revolting against the elite and martial law being declared.

The benefits of communism may be less obvious due to the failure of the Russian system and the recent shift toward a form of capitalism in China. However, communism in theory protects the weak from being dominated by those more able. It is regulation designed not so much for economic growth but long-term economic stability. Communism attempts to suppress the innate human vice of greed in favor of virtuous community rationing. Naturally it fails as in practice, those who excel at corruption, gain at the expense of all others who work within the law. Long-term stability needs to be married with individual gain in a way which allows a limited form of capitalism. Great leaders are judged on their ability to serve the weakest and help their fellow citizens. Charity must be a virtue of those in power for the situation not to escalate beyond control. After all, without the community those in power would have no power at all. And the tradesman has no customers.

In a global economy, two factors above all need to be considered when evolving new economic/political systems: economic prosperity and social stability. A hybrid system would essentially be the best and possibly only way to achieve both. It’s a fair point. Even within Europe there are lots of different interpretations of Socialism. The predominant model at the moment is the Scandinavian variant in Sweden and Norway, which, so he claims, Alex Salmond would attempt to copy in an independent Scotland.

There’s also a comparatively high amount of state ownership in France. It was also once present in Britain, but the Thatcher administration and subsequent migration of the political center rightward pretty much killed that version off. It returned when needed and was discarded when no longer useful. In looking at these countries and their efforts to come up with a fair system which rewards the ones destined to be rich or well-to-do, but does not crush the poor and, quite frankly, unambitious. They have a constant fluidity which is quite apparent when measured against the rigidity of the U.S.

As I was saying …

Wendy England Binnie a novelist and op/ed columnist lives in Oak Trace Villas.