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Economic Systems

Sunday, August 17, 2008
I've been thinking, lately, as I listen to and read political arguments, about the "free market". The concepts of capitalism and the free market are very much intertwined and every time I think about them I'm reminded of a line from the book "The Undercover Economist". It goes something like, "3rd class travel is only there to scare 1st class passengers into paying more." And it dawned on me that, in many ways, that's the great failure of capitalism. That it elevates the few at the expense of the many - and that, since money begets money, the best advantage to have in a capitalistic society is to be born into wealth.

"But Burton," you might be saying to yourself, "you should have called the blog 'Why I'm a Socialist'!".

Well, gentle reader, the things is that I'm not one. I see socialism as a response to capitalism; the idea of raising the average from the middle instead of from the extremes. But, as history has shown, that doesn't tend to work very well because it depends on, among other things, a level of altruism that doesn't really exist.

Where I think I fall is the idea of "controlled capitalism". Free markets can be a wonderful thing, but there are arenas in which "we the people" shouldn't be forced to compete. Take, for instance, health care. I think it's a fairly universal belief that if we all had health care we, as a society, would be better off. This, however, may not be the most economical profitable situation for businesses, but it's the best moral decision as a people.

The idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor is loved by the poor (of which there are many) and despised by the rich (of which there are few.) However, in many cases that's what a system of taxation does. A progressive income tax takes more from those who make more and funds services that can often be enjoyed by all. And I think that's what a government should do; it should moderate free markets and define areas where competition should be free and fierce and where services should be provided equally to all. It's a line of moderation, neither socialist nor purely capitalist.

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