Socialism was tried in many countries in various forms and found to fail. It failed more because of the assaults it could not withstand from capitalism than because of its conceptual non-sustainability. Socialism is more broad-based in outlook than capitalism. It seeks to ensure the welfare of the whole society. Consequently it makes more demands on certain individuals particularly those who are more ‘capable’. Capitalism focuses on individuals. It is always easier to look after one’s own affairs than those of a group. In other words, capitalism is easier to practise than socialism. It is only natural that an ‘easier’ theory supplants the more difficult one.
Capitalism is a highly limited system. First of all, it deals only with economy. But man does not live in an economy; he lives in a society. The total neglect of the social dimension of man is the most severe handicap of capitalism.
But it is at the same time the greatest advantage of capitalism too. It is always easy to save oneself and capitalism gives us that easy option.
Capitalism asks us to produce things, consume them as much as you can (not as much as you want), sell your products for the highest profit and keep on amassing the profits. An individual’s place in the capitalist hierarchy is marked out by the profits he accumulates. The ‘capitalist’ obviously accumulates the maximum profit. He employs labourers – skilled and unskilled. He pays them according to their contribution to the profit-making process. But who are the real profit-makers: the unskilled labourers who toil for hours or the skilled ones whose jobs may be much easier or the decision-makers such as the MBAs or the ‘capitalist’ who doles out his money? The answer is too obvious to be mentioned.
Michael Albert, who is promoting an alternative to capitalism named Participatory Economics, says that “capitalism violates all the basic values; it does not promote equity, solidarity, efficiency, environmental sustainability, self-management, or diversity. In fact, capitalism does the contrary. Capitalism generates atomized, self-interested behavior, not solidarity. Capitalism generates inefficiency since it is based on individual actors. Capitalisms’ environmental record speaks for itself; it destroys biodiversity. Capitalism generates huge income and wealth differentials. Capitalism does not promote self-management but instead generates a situation where a few make decisions for the many. Capitalism does not generate diversity, it pushes people into boring and repetitive jobs, and creates a consumer culture based on a few brand names.”
Socialism may not be the appropriate alternative to capitalism. Albert puts forward Participatory Economics as a better alternative. (For more information on Participatory Economics, please click here.)
Perhaps capitalism is not as popular today as it was a few decades ago. People are increasingly being disenchanted with the economic depressions and huge disparities in wealth engendered by capitalism. Being neither an economist nor even a student of economics, I cannot present an alternative theoretical framework. But I do believe that the present capitalist system will sooner or later give way to a more humane, more cooperative (rather than competitive), and more inclusive economic system. My optimism is bolstered by the success of endeavours such as the Wikipedia which bears testimony to man’s readiness to contribute freely (and anonymously too) towards the betterment of the species.