Let’s say you were to play a video game where you run a planet. Imagine it’s like Sims: Planet Earth. And the goal of this game — the way you win — is by keeping your population alive and thriving.
You start out with a small tribe and you have to keep them alive as they go through their life cycles and are replaced by subsequent generations. Centuries pass in minutes. Your tribe expands its numbers in geometric progressions. They fan out around the globe. They encounter different environments and you must ensure they thrive in each one they face.
Also, your Sims are just like us. They suffer from the same desires and fears, they seek joy and education, they avoid shame and disappointment. They must manage and wisely use the resources where they live. When they don’t, or sometimes when calamity strikes, they might come into conflict with their neighbors. Or they can cooperate with their neighbors. It all depends on what choices and behaviors you incentivize.
Now, since you don’t have time to micromanage all your many bustling population centers around the world, you choose to give the societies certain codes of conduct — a system of socio-economics to guide how they manage their resources and interact with their neighbors. If your goal was to keep all your populations alive and thriving which system of incentives and economic thought would you pick: capitalism, or socialism?
I know some of you reading this are no fans of socialism, some of you may be steadfast against it. I get it. It does have some bad advertising in the West. All I ask is you read this with an open mind, and answer this next question honestly.
If you were to pick a system of economics to win the game Sims: Planet Earth, which do you think would give you a better chance of winning: running the world according to the laws of the cutthroat jungle of capitalism, or following the codes of conduct in a well-manicured garden of socialism?
Okay, let’s step outside the game. Next question: where would you rather live?
Capitalism is a scam. There can be no true realization of the goals of feminism, or racial justice, economic justice, or decolonization under capitalism. There can’t even be true democracy under capitalism, not when corporations are legally considered people and are given the same right of free speech as citizens. Capitalism is incentivized against all of those other systems of thought and value. It is a singular way to run our world, incompatible with fundamental aspects of each of those other systems. In fact, capitalism is incentivized against life itself.
The air should not be a partisan issue. The environment should not be a storehouse of raw resources to be managed based on a model of maximizing profits for a tiny group of shareholders. How do you defend privatizing water? How do you legislate how much poison can be pumped into the air when profits are measured against human lives?
Under capitalism, profits always come first. How can we allow those who seek to control markets to also buy politicians, rent law enforcement, and corrupt business regulatory bodies? And then, in the same breath, we listen as they say that capitalism is also responsible and sustainable? How can they possibly justify its toxic impact on life? Capitalism does not care about how it affects life if its profits are at-risk. It will always side with profits.
Capitalism is a church of greed. Profits are good, while loss is evil and to be avoided at all costs. Exploitation is its gospel of salvation. And this is the system that runs our world.
You can also think of capitalism as a game. It’s a rigged game. And there are winners and there are losers. The model we call capitalism isn’t even pure capitalism. It’s not like the dictionary definition of it. What we have is a form of managed capitalism, or mixed capitalism. If our system was pure capitalism, no banks would have been deemed “too big to fail” back in the Financial Meltdown of 2008. Pure capitalism would’ve let those bloated old beasts fall over and die as they deserved to, according to the merciless and immutable laws of the jungle of capitalism. Their carcasses should’ve littered the ground, where they could become fuel and building blocks for new growth.
That’s what capitalism wants — to grow. That’s all it ever wants. That’s its core concern, its organizing principle, its one true value: profit. Chasing dreams of perpetual growth.
Capitalism’s cheerleaders like Milton Friedman argued that capitalism is like life itself, natural in its desire for growth and betterment. But he was selling bullshit. His real economic philosophy was simple. Friedman often argued that “a corporation’s responsibility is to make as much money for the stockholders as possible.” Being focused on profit is not the same as life. Constantly growing is not always healthy. Cancer constantly grows. But it’s too easy and too cliche to compare capitalism to cancer, no matter how suitable the metaphor is. We’ve compared capitalism to a jungle. That’s a natural system, and it’s also defined by a persistent desire for growth. Do you want to live in a jungle?
Besides, the metaphor that conflates growth with life is sloppy, anyway. Lots of things grow. Crystals grow. Mountains grow. And, before capitalism, icebergs and glaciers grew. But capitalism’s growth is more like that choking hyper-productivity and robust vitality of jungle plants. And again, I ask, it may be described as akin to life, but do you want to live in a growth-obsessed capitalist jungle?
Let’s instead return to the more fitting and apt analogy for capitalism: it’s a game. It is played like a game by its most powerful adherents. It is a cutthroat game of privatization and profit maximization. Make money work for you is its best advice. But it is a game that, as it goes on, fewer and fewer can win, and it only gets harder to play. It’s a stressful existence.
What do we know about humans when they’re stressed?
Studies show, over and over again, we don’t make our best decisions when we’re stressed. Whether it’s someone in poverty or someone on a diet, stress urges us to make short-term decisions with often bad long term consequences. A person only has so much mental willpower. Diet science will tell you this. So will prison studies. Or early childhood education research. It’s the same wherever you look.
We have a finite amount of willpower, and it takes willpower to handle frustration, agitation, humiliation, and all of the various stressors of life. If you’re on a diet, all day long the act of resisting your desire to cheat takes mental energy. If you have a particularly bad day, if there’s added stress, you’re likely to cheat and break your diet. Or if you’re in poverty, you might make a criminally bad decision. But if you weren’t so stressed you wouldn’t cheat your diet or steal that beer from the store.
Stress reduces our mental acuity. We know this. This should not be controversial, debatable, or even partisan. Regardless of party affiliation we should be able to agree a stressed person is not at their best.
There are also studies that show how we handle decision-making. Mostly they’re framed in terms of how we perform at school or at work. They’re productivity-minded, business-focused studies of human achievement. Yet these studies, with their emphasis on what’s good for succeeding at work or school, indicate the same thing as the dieter’s failure of willpower or the person living in poverty stepping outside the law.
What they all show is that our environment is critical. Clean desk, clean mind. Dress for the job you want. These business-minded aphorisms recognize the deleterious effects of stress. They just talk about it a little differently.
There is also the returning soldier. Many of our young men and women return home from conflict with PTSD. They suffer a discombobulating blow from the greatest form of stress to the system: trauma. There are studies that have compared living in poverty with the PTSD that soldiers experience. Soldiers and the poor, both traumatized by shock and the stress of their environment. And some people are both — poor and a soldier. Both groups exist on the front lines of capitalism’s quest for growth. Both suffer for it. Both make self-destructive decisions to cope with it. Slow and fast suicides. Studies have shown we’re losing 22 soldiers a day to suicide. That’s almost one an hour. In the United States, suicide is now the “fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.”
Stress kills, indeed.
Now, over in the world of best-selling pop psychology, self-improvement, and self-help books and popular blogs, you will find more and different studies cited. They use science to sell wellness. There are countless wellness guides for anxious Americans, ones that detail how to get-ahead in this rat race and offer ways to increase one’s fitness to compete in the jungle of capitalism. This industry of advice for a better life recommends ways to manage stress, to de-stress, to maximize productivity, and diversify one’s perspective, to expand the mind to overcome the challenges of living in a merciless capitalist society. They sell lots of ways to claw at increased wellness, whether it’s ways to get ahead, or just feel better where you are. Because as pop science tends to say it over and over again: stress kills. We know this.
But what is making you stressed? It’s…capitalism. That’s what’s stressing everybody out. At fundamental levels, you know this. You see it everywhere in our society. It’s the chief source of stress in our lives. Capitalism is stressing us all out. Or, there’s another way to put it: Capitalism kills.
Think of it in terms of wellness, not productivity.
How much better would you feel if you didn’t have college loans to pay back? That would mean that possibly you could be working a different job. You could feel free to try something new if you didn’t have the chain of debt repayment keeping your range of options limited and your movement restricted. Imagine if college was free. It is in many other industrialized nations. Just not in America. Instead, it’s getting more expensive, and with fewer full-time professors.
Imagine if you had healthcare, like, a Kaiser or Blue Cross health plan for free. Everyone. No more fear of huge medical bills that can bankrupt anyone who isn’t a millionaire. No more living in pain. No one you love is lost to a condition or disease where preventative care can make all the difference between life and death. Imagine everyone free from the stress of living without healthcare.
And what if there was free access to high quality mental health care? How much less stressed would everyone be? How much safer? How much happier and better equipped to be in society?
Now imagine everyone also had access to housing and guaranteed food. Food is our first medicine. And we all need a home.
Imagine how much less stressed everyone would be if their basic needs were guaranteed. How much more productive would you be if you had no more school loan debt and you had free healthcare? Even the skeptical capitalists have to admit, we’d all be more productive with such increases in our wellness. No rational person can argue against that. Yet, capitalism does. Not the capitalists, the people. The system itself does. It relies on stress to motivate you and compel your participation. That is, until it kills you.
Why is socialism the only logical answer for the majority of the ills of our world? Isn’t it becoming obvious?
We’ve seen lots of models of socialism throughout history and in the present day. Critics of socialism, defenders of capitalism, like to point at Venezuela and with an accusatory and superior tone, they ask, “Do you want us to live like that? There’s your socialism.” First, off, no. No one wants to live like that. Second, that’s not my socialism. That’s not what I’m recommending.
Other historic models of socialism I don’t recommend: the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Angola, North Korea, Ethiopia. Not even Cuba, although they probably got the closest. No authoritarian communism or socialism is what anyone needs. I oppose authoritarians. We all should. Always.
To identify the socialism I propose as an answer to the ills of our world, think more at the level of community. Start small like a seed. The redwood, for all its height and the weight of its mass, may be impressive, but all that was needed to grow it was once held inside the shell of one tiny seed.
The socialism I recommend functions the same way.
It’s a seed of an idea that can be scaled-up as the environment allows. It’s a fractal by design. How it works in one community is how it could work in each community as you scale up, all the way to the national level. And on up to the international level, if you so desired.
But people shy from talk of a world government, no matter how much it’s clear that our problems have outgrown the borders of nations and now exist on the international plane and require governmental oversight and regulation at the global level. This model of socialism could be scaled-up to the size where it could answer the problems we face and do so with good, fair, and lawful governance. And it works so well because it’s as simple as the seed needed to grow the redwood.
So, what will be our seed? How do we start at the community level? What’s the healthy model of socialism for us to emulate? These are the right and proper questions to ask. And they’re simpler to answer than you might imagine.
You ready to have your wig flipped? No, for real. This may permanently rearrange how you look at the structures of America, the goals of capitalism, and even the fears of old J Edgar Hoover.
Do you know why the legendarily paranoid former head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, was so obsessed with the Black Panthers? It wasn’t because brothers in berets and leather jackets were toting shotguns as they followed the police around at night on neighborhood patrols. And it wasn’t because they looked so damn cool carrying those shotguns. They did. If you can believe it, he wasn’t even worried that young black people would see the Panthers and also want to pick up shotguns. He didn’t fear any Race War. Hoover knew that was a bullshit scare tactic for white voters, and more importantly, he knew he could always do what he ultimately did do –– use violent suppression to destroy the Panthers. Shoot ’em all down if he had to. You’re not gonna win a gun fight against the US government. Nah, son. That’s their business.
If Hoover wasn’t afraid of a bunch of brothers with guns, what did he fear?
The Black Panthers offered the neighborhood kids free breakfast every morning before school. They recognized the same thing numerous studies have shown since then: children who aren’t hungry learn far better than those who are distracted by the rumble of their empty stomach. So they fed the kids. They attended to their wellness.
But why would Hoover be afraid of that? Was he afraid of healthy young black kids growing up to join the revolution?
Not really. He knew he could shoot them down when they were adults. What Hoover saw in the Free Breakfast for School Children Program was how much support the Black Panthers were garnering from people outside the community, white people, who also saw what a big difference it made for a community when you gave kids a free hot breakfast. People wanted to ensure school kids were fed so they could go to school and learn. This was the idea Hoover feared. Not the food, but the focus on wellness. A community tending to its most vulnerable, putting wellness first, is antithetical to capitalism. That’s socialism right there.
If no one ever told you, the Black Panthers were Socialists. Or, if you want to split hairs, they were a black nationalist liberation party led by socialist-minded thinkers. But it’s no less true to say they were socialists, and that’s why Hoover feared the Black Panthers. We all know Black America leads a lot of, if not most of, America’s social trends. Black people stay busy on the next wave. And black people make everything we do look cool. Hoover couldn’t have the Black Panthers out here making socialism look cool to the white kids who were already openly rebelling en masse during the crush of the late Sixties. Suddenly, people were wondering: will America’s kids go from Woodstock to a socialist uprising? Nope. Because of Hoover.
You see, Hoover didn’t give a shit about black liberation and a bunch of brothers with shotguns. He was afraid white kids would go for socialism. And America could not abide that; the powers-that-be would do all they could to ensure that never happened.
Nothing scares capitalism more than demands for wellness. The system can’t provide that. If it’s tested, it will lose out to what socialism can provide a population of people in pursuit of wellness. Capitalism only promises wealth, not wellness. J Edgar Hoover was the defender of the most powerful capitalist nation on Earth, the United States, the leader of the Free World. When the nation was battling communism in Vietnam abroad, he was staying busy squashing socialism at home in his fight with the Black Panthers.
But there it is. There’s our community model. The Black Panthers Free Breakfast for School Children Program. That’s our seed of socialism. We focus on wellness of our most vulnerable and work our way out from there.
Let’s say, we start with free breakfast for school kids. There are, of course, questions to answer. Practical ones. Who serves the kids? The Black Panthers relied on volunteers from amongst the Panthers. We’d need a dedicated staff. So, you’d create some jobs. (Know how capitalists love job creation.)
Where will we serve the kids breakfast? We’d need a space. We’d need a dedicated community center with a working kitchen. Along with our dedicated staff, we need food to cook and serve. We’d need suppliers. One benefit for the suppliers is that we can guarantee steady business. So, perhaps, there’s a little more job creation.
Now, who runs this community center? We’d need a board or a council. And to ensure they do a good job, each year, the community can re-elect the members of the board. The board’s primary job will be to disperse money to the community center and its suppliers. If the staff wants to create, say, an after-school program, they could petition the board with a proposal. The board could vote on it. And they’d approve the funds from a discretionary fund.
Who would be on such a board? The ideal candidates would be the newly-retired, as they transition out of the workforce. The work would be light but engaging for them, they’d have worked in a similar capacity before, and would have a sense for what needs to be done and how much it should cost. The younger staff running the community center could make their proposals to the board, or council, as they come up with new ideas and new programs they want to try. The council would likely be more conservative due to age and experience, but they would also likely recognize a good idea when it was presented. If they didn’t, if they were too stodgy, they could be voted out in the next yearly election.
This layering of democracy with budgets, while also creating a dynamic where everyone benefits from the experience and wisdom of those transitioning out of the workforce, is a smarter approach to getting something done well than capitalism would ever or could ever offer. The difference is there is no profit motive. Instead the focus is on dignity and shared wellness. The modes of operation are informed by experience and wisdom, while still efficient and effective, due to the how the board remains accountable to the community. As the kids say, “Capitalism would never.”
This is how a cooperative works. This is how democracy can function at the local level in economics and in the distribution of goods and services.
Now, our model is based on just one community center giving free breakfast to schoolchildren. But you see how you could scale that up and make it work for an auto body shop in Oakland, a state college in Kansas, or a design firm in Manhattan. You see how it’s locally-focused. It’s regionally-specific. The board of the community center is answerable to its community, not some mandate or dictates from some central planning office, as many imagine, it’s also free from a CEO’s master plan devised to maximize profits for his corporation’s stockholders. This model acknowledges economics as a locally-occurring dynamic. That’s smart.
When you incentivize community wellness and productivity as part of the same inseparable dynamic, when those are inherent goals of industry, and if you relieve decision-makers of the stress of profit maximization, you can start to redesign the whole process. And you don’t need any bloody revolution to do it. All you need to do is put down the whip of capitalism and focus on the carrot.
When you invert the values and make wellness your first goal and profit your second, you will also manage your resources better. They will have more intrinsic value to you. Capitalism is terrible for resource management. Its case history is littered with evidence of that. When you make profit second in importance after wellness, you will still have profit. It doesn’t go away. It’s just second in importance. Once you secure your health as your primary wealth, then you also pursue additional profits. We’d still have iPhones and new Jordans and BMWs and expensive sushi restaurants under this model of socialism. And Flint would have clean drinking water. We would have both.
You probably have heard or read about how 8 people control the same amount of wealth as 3 billion people. Eight people. Eight individual humans. That is obscene. That idea makes one feel vomitous. It’s offensive like a slap. It’s morally, ethically and professionally repugnant. That is counter to all of the values of life and diversity and ecology. No ecosystem could thrive with animals like that living in it. That sort of staggering inequality can not continue. Its time is done.
But what do we do once we kill capitalism?
We can do the thinking about that now. We can start small. We can start in our communities. We can seek out cooperative businesses. Support them, help them thrive. Start one. Because we must start now and begin to move into our inevitable socialist future. Together. It’s the only way we can live in wellness on this planet. We must do this if we are to have any chance to survive, let alone thrive. Stress is killing us.
If you’re the type to read all of this and still wonder: How we can afford this all? Well, how do we currently spend our federal dollars? If we revise the various federal corporate subsidies and tax breaks, if we use the collective buying power and incentive-setting power of our safety net programs, and if we scrape off one-tenth of the Pentagon’s annual budget to use for wellness instead, we could pay for our newly-devised socialist nation and offer the basics of life to all its citizens.
If you’re already rolling your eyes at the idea of taking money from military spending then perhaps you should know that even the military says they don’t need budgets as big as what Congress approves and allocates to them. When the Pentagon got its last few budget increases, they said they didn’t request the money, they don’t need the money; they will take it, but it’s not vital to national security. The Pentagon even asked Congress to stop buying equipment the military doesn’t need or use. If that’s the case, let’s use those funds for national wellness. That’s vital. That’s national security. Let’s safeguard the security of our greatest wealth — our health and wellbeing.
Everything changes when you adjust what your incentives are — what your goals are.
Everything changes when the most important thing is giving a child breakfast.
Wellness first. Profits second.
This simple switch will change the whole world.