“Say that civilization is a tree which, as it grows, continually produces rot and dead wood,” President Franklin Roosevelt famously began. “The radical says: ‘Cut it down.’…The conservative says: ‘Don’t touch it.’” This problem and the belief in a best-fit solution is the driving force of the institution of any and all economic systems. Do we, like the conservative, leave the economy alone and embrace capitalism, or do we, like the radical, constructively chop the tree at its base and embrace communism? This is the age-old question, certainly a tough one to answer, of economics—to plan the economy or not to plan the economy. This dilemma faced by economists both historically and currently, is the burden of nations: having to choose between what some consider the lesser of two evils. In their own ways, capitalism and communism are good in their purest desire to effectively serve to population as a whole. Economists tirelessly strive and have strived to accurately predict which system of economics adequately and honestly produces stability and success for a nation, and the patterns of history have made clear a victor in the realm of economic ideologies.
Radical economics is most easily recognized in the ideology that is the brain-child of Karl Marx, a man who, to some, is the father of corruption more so than he is the father of communism. While undoubtedly and deservingly infamous, Marx can be applauded for his dedication to and passion for his beliefs. Marx, an outsider to the class struggles of the industrial world, witnessed in his modern society the continuation of a sad truth rooted in history: the division of power and wealth between “two hostile camps[,]two classes directly facing each other—Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.” From the fires of revolutions and the remnants of the feudal system, the modern bourgeoisie were born, monopolizing industries and exploiting the Proletariats, or the common workers at the disposal of those who own the capital in society. The collective body of proletarians, although at the mercy of their oppressive elites, had more power than they realized: the power to overthrow the bourgeoisie. But could a reversal of fortune mean an end to all conflict? Marx believed that communism was the solution to the issue at hand—struggles between classes in society would be eradicated. In the most convenient terms, communism is the public ownership of all factors of production, theoretically creating a classless society in which all people share equally in the wealth produced by their shared labor.
In its idealistic framework, communism undoubtedly promotes equality and unity through a common purpose to provide for the needs of all the population to the extent that a society’s wealth allows. Unfortunately, the error of communism is that it describes a desired result rather than a system that comports with human nature. This experiment of history has seen time and time again that communism begins as a platform of fairness and equal opportunity but becomes a vehicle for tyranny and corruption—placing any government at the helm of an economy has proved to be utterly destructive. More than half of Eurasia has seen the ill effects that communism can bring upon a state seeking the benefit of its people; from the Soviet Union to Vietnam, countries have fallen under hyper-controlling dictators and tyrannical leaders who abuse the economic system of communism for their own benefits and institute nothing but inequality. Furthermore, even the Republic of China, a hailed state applauded for its “successful” practice of lasting communism, has seen greater success in more recent years in the absence of communism, implementing a system of pseudo-capitalism under controlled circumstances. In short, communism operates under conditions of diluted competition and focuses on actively reversing the misfortune seen in history, but if the radical, sweeping changes so enshrined by Marx in the Communist Manifesto have taught society anything it’s that a little laissez faire can certainly do some good.
Despite its intrinsically competitive nature, it is through capitalism, not communism that the needs of the common man are met and preserved, a concept that Ludwig von Mises understood very clearly. He explains that “the characteristic feature of capitalism that distinguishes it from pre-capitalistic methods of production [is] its new principle of marketing,” describing this incomparable economic system as “not simply mass production, but mass production to satisfy the needs of the masses.” However the notion of privately owned factors of production rarely conjures the image of appealing to or acting for the masses; oftentimes, capitalism is disdained for its unfortunate origins in which countless individuals experienced the truth of the class struggle perpetuated by exploitative employers and businessmen described so vehemently by Karl Marx. But to quote Mahatma Gandhi, “If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” That is to say that, while capitalism has seen periods of dishonesty, it remains, as a whole, a system worthy of trust. Mises asserts that “private property of the material factors of production is[…]the means to stimulate a nation’s most enterprising men to exert themselves to the vest of their abilities in the service of all people.”
Capitalism does not seek to rob others of their success; quite the opposite, capitalism seeks to further the individual in every way by offering to the common man a powerful tool foreign to other economic ideologies: competition. Through capitalism, the masses gain control of their economic lives and possess the potential to fully realize the opportunities at their fingertips. Mises explains that “the market is a democracy in which every penny gives a right to vote,” so that capitalism is economic power given freely to the people, and “the people” can progress from rags to riches with the knowledge that “there is under capitalism one way to wealth: to serve the consumers.” In this way, it is the common man who fuels the economy, and the success of the American economy is proof of this phenomenon. Capitalism notices and respects the everyday person because it fails to exist without a common man’s function as both a consumer and producer—the system of a free market as a whole cannot operate without proper recognition of the individual, coinciding with the nature of man to improve, to progress, and to provide.
Ultimately, that which separates communism and capitalism is not simply ownership of the factors of production or the hands in which economic power is held; rather it is the understanding that there is an exponential difference between success in theory and success in practice. Nothing is inherently corrupt within the realm of communism as an ideology, but it fails to truly ensure and to adequately provide economic success for the individual. Instead, communism fundamentally focusses on a social problem and targets deeply-rooted aims toward the eradication of classes in society. More importantly, the goal of communism has never lastingly benefited the proletarian fraction of society, let alone effectively solved the issue of inequality it so relentlessly attempts to erase from history. Admittedly, the shortcomings of communism do not ensure perfection in capitalism, they do, however, make capitalism a better economic system in every way. Capitalism is, quite simply, everything that communism is not. Where communism focusses on making the rich poorer, capitalism aims to make the poor richer. Where communism undermines liberty, capitalism embraces a free market. Where communism forces a level economic playing field, capitalism embraces the winners of society who carry the less fortunate. Essentially, capitalism is the head cheerleader who dominates the hallways of her high school, while communism sits alone at lunch, known as the weirdo in the marching band. Even worse, communism would probably play the tuba.
Ludiwig von Mises, Liberty and Property
Marx, Karl, and Engles, Friederich, Manifesto of the Communist Party