Election 2016 is a year away yet with the first GOP presidential debate behind us we can safely say the race to the white house has begun. 16 Republicans and a handful of Democrats are vying for position. Personally, I have already marked a few candidates off my list of contenders and certainly have my favorite. Still, I look forward to future debates and hearing what these would-be presidents think are the most important issues facing Americans. That said, the airwaves and blog-o-sphere have already been a buzz with “news” of what the candidates are saying and doing. The closer we get to the primary and general elections and the more heated the races become we can expect to be overloaded with negative rhetoric and inflammatory fear mongering. Listening to a few of the talking-heads one might begin to wonder if our whole way of life is in peril. The subtext of the title question is just one of many attempts to stir up anxiety among voters. So instead of jumping off political cliff into the pool of fear let’s just take the question at face value.
The short answer to the title question is, yes. These two concepts are not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, the question: can capitalism and socialism co-exist puts us on the correct page. Both Capitalism and Socialism are economic theories. Capitalism advocates for private ownership and free (as in unencumbered by oversight, regulation, and taxation) markets. Socialism prefers public ownership and strong government oversight of the market in order to compensate for economic inequality. Some see socialism as kissing cousins to communism in which the government owns everything and wealth in the form of goods, services and property is distributed equally among the people. Others would point out that the United States already has both socialist and capitalist principles at work within our economy so continuing with these principles in their checks and balances relationship gives us nothing to fear.
For further clarification of the question: a Democracy is a political theory concerned with the method of governance. In this theory the populous votes in order to determine their representatives. Those individuals who are elected then act on their behalf to make policy and establish law. Elections in a democracy happen on a regular schedule and the representation changes by the will of the people. An oligarchy, a term we are likely to hear during this election cycle, is another political theory concerned with the method of governance. Oligarchies are a concentration of power within a small group of people. Often these people are influential due to their wealth, family ties, corporate influences, education, and or religious affiliations. Extreme oligarchies maintain their power with military force and monetary control rather than by elections. The extreme form might better be understood by studying fascism or totalitarianism. Under fascist or totalitarian power the people are absolutely subject to the centralized authority of the State which maintains its power by force. These extreme forms differ from oligarchies in that oligarchies tend to want freedom from government control or accountability for their privately owned businesses and corporations but aren’t quite as concerned about the individual freedoms of its citizens.
In the United States, our form of government is a democracy. Our economic system is primarily capitalist. However, low voter turnout–57.5% according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute for the 2012 presidential election and the massive amounts of money spent on the campaigns have some people worried enough to suggest we may be heading toward an oligarchy, if indeed we aren’t already there. The growing chasm between the extremely wealthy and the middle class also has some people waving caution flags. Just as an FYI , also according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute voter turn out for those making over $100.000 was 79.6%.
So what am I actually trying to say? First, Americans need to vote. If our democracy is going to function the way it was intended increasing voter turnout is a must. Next, don’t be put off by name calling and labeling. For example, since Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialism it’s probably a good idea to find out what HE means when HE used the term socialist instead of allowing those who want to see him fail define the term. I can pretty much guarantee you will hear a very different explanation depending on who is doing the talking! Finally, insist those running for office have something of substance to say. Snarky retorts and bashing the other candidates might work for 30 second sound bites but we don’t need school yard bullies, elitist who don’t think they should have to answer to anyone, or ego maniacs who think the world revolves around them. We need policy makers and problem solvers. We need leaders with vision and a record of taking on the difficult challenges.
We live in an increasingly interdependent world full of diverse cultures and belief systems. And I’m not just talking about within our borders. We need to figure out how to co-exist, work together, and encourage everyone’s success!