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The Search for a Just Society



     The issue of capitalism arouses strong feelings. I am worried by WAISers who think that the call for a just society is somehow un-American. After all, Theodore Roosevelt's battle cry was "A square for all." The Pope, visiting the Middle East, is expressing the essence of Christianity when he calls for a just society. The problem is how to achieve it, given human nature, about which John Wonder is pessimistic. Alluding to Jesus, David Crow expresses his viewpoint:
     "That same man also said, "The poor will always be with us." My hermeneutic guess, though, is that He intended this statement more as an empirical description of persistent inequality rather than as a policy prescription. Interestingly, the bulk of empirical research suggests that democracy is highly correlated not only with high growth rates, but also more equal income distribution. Whether such equality is a condition for or effect of democracy is up for debate. Mr. Zertuche is certainly right in emphasizing not redistribution of income, but of public goods as the true long-term solution.
     I would respectfully take issue, however, with a recent contribution from Diana Hull, in which she states, "The poorest person under capitalism is much better off than the poor in the third world." While factually true, the underlying premise is, of course, that Third World countries are poor because they aren't capitalist. On the contrary, most Third World countries are capitalist; their poverty stems from insertion in the capitalist system on unequal terms.
     This harks back to colonial days, when the metropolises controlled economic activity in its colonies, which exported primary sector goods they then imported as finished products (Lenin's well-known thesis on imperialism, which shouldn't be dismissed just because Lenin said it). Industrialization of the Third World was hampered by its dependence on imported capital and capital goods, technological monopolies in the First World, and so on. The experience of capitalism has been, by and large, good for peoples in the First World. That same experience (indivisible from capitalism in the First World) has been less fortunate for underdeveloped or undeveloped countries.
     Balzac also said that, "Behind every great fortune lies a crime." Perhaps "crime" is an overstatement, but certainly, one constant in human history has been that some groups of people dominate others for their own benefit."


     My comment: This is the old dependency theory which was so popular in Latin America. Now the complaint of American workers is that capitalism is promoting the industrialization of the underdeveloped world at their expense.

Ronald Hilton - 3/22/00


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