Socialism, Capitalism, Capitalocialism
In the recent controversy over Health Insurance, it occurred to me that I remain an incorrigible Jekyll-and-Hyde when it comes to public services. On the one hand, I want my roads to be fixed, my DMV to have short lines, my Social Security Office to answer its phone. On the other hand, I complain every time an interstate highway toll is increased or when my real estate taxes go up.
In the same way, now that I’m on Medicare, I want to be assured that my doctors (for the most part, specialists required for old birds like me) will give me the same care I had when my private insurance was my primary insurance. As one of the lucky ones who got under the wire because of my age, being born at the right time, and choosing the right career, my drug copays are chump change in contrast to what I would have had to pay out of my pocket—$7,000-a-year—if I didn’t have my private insurance drug plan. Medicare Plan D? No thank you.
As I look at the full range of the capitalism-socialism debate in America (I’m using the very broad notion of socialism as any economic model that relies on “public finances” and “public oversight”), I also realize that I have always liked the idea of being my own boss. That’s why I chose to be a teacher. It’s a profession that gave me an autonomy that I could have never had in the corporate world.
On the economic side, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that, historically, the entire merchant class was a group of small entrepreneurs who had the bug to make a profit by selling all kinds of wares in a public marketplace—silk from the East, tobacco, glassware, carpets. It may seem like a jump to some, but the entire small business industry is part of that merchant-class history.
Even in my own community—a small urban village inside of a New York upstate city—there is always excitement when any new small shop opens for business. It adds to the public pride and there’s a strong sense of vitality and community that is always enhanced when a new shop opens.
But I also like the idea that a federal government will protect small businesses from monopolies, even though I know I can get something cheaper from Home Depot than from a small, independent lumber company (some would argue, of course, that Home Depot is not a monopoly because it sells a variety of products; however, its sheer size and its ability to sell one product at a potential loss, knowing that the books will show a profit with other products, certainly gives it an edge over small, product-specific independent stores)
Who would have thought that the Internet is also part of the capitalism-socialism debate. Cyberspace? Who owns it? Does everyone have free access to it? If it is open to all regardless of income or status, then it surely can be called a socialistic venue in the same way that a socialistic, single-payer model for health insurance is open to the unemployed as well as a CEO.
Now that doesn’t mean that the money-grubbing parasites aren’t going to try to commodify Web sites and blogs. There will always be a the once-in-a-lifetime hucksters who will have something to sell or spam your tweeter venues with.
Some of you know me from my blog writing and my two Web sites. I am a firm believer in the wonderful, sometimes wacky democratization of the social media—more and more people are in the act of expressing opinions and twittering to their heart’s content (not a bad thing until some not-so-gentle soul starts screaming headlong into a debate with nothing but venom and raw testosterone energy)
But the internet is also being invaded by marketers—both slime and divine—and other raving capitalist functionaries. While the majority of internet users could be compared to a socialist venue for the masses, money makers seem to want to step at the front of the line with advertising and the promise of sharing the wealth by putting up an ad on a site.
Now the ethical issue hits home for me.
I am a freelance writer. I don’t want to sell my writing through Amazon.com which has become both a boon and a bane for writers. If you have high sales from Amazon.com, it doesn’t matter that you only get about three dollars on a book that sells for twenty (Amazon swallows the majority of the profit).
But if you’re an independent, self-published writer without a reputation or high sales volume, you might as well paste your walls with the inventory of your books sitting fallow in the trunk of your car.
And how much money are you going to make when Amazon sells your twenty-dollar book for half or less than half of that price? (I must admit my double-standard is alive and kicking when I order a book from them. After all, I like a bargain as much as the next guy).
I also don’t want to put google ads on my sites in spite of someone telling me “you need a steady stream of money coming in to support your labor-intensive work.” I make it very clear on the “about” section of my alcohol-recovery site that I purposely avoid cluttering my site with ads. I want to have an environmentally clean site.
I am a freelance writer trying to make a living from my writing without having to resort to a secondary source of Internet income (the stream-of-income buffs always run the risk, it seems to me, of overloading themselves with secondary income projects). Anyway, it would be like working as a waiter while trying out for a Broadway play, or being a Juilliard voice major singing as a section-leader in a high-endowment church—a sometimes necessary evil I would like to avoid.
A Web-site-savvy author once said in an NPR interview that he offers all of his writing for free as PDF files on the Internet (the socialistic, open-to-all model). Anyone can download those files and read any of the author’s works online. He pointed out that once people trust you, they will order a hard copy (the free-market model).
According to the author, readers will read three or four pages knowing, of course, they can finish the entire work online, and yet they will still order a hard copy. Once readers trust you and like your work, they will take the next step and commit themselves to ordering a book—a counterintuitive world in action here.
I still don’t trust the premise. But I’m going to give it half a shot.
Over the next two weeks, I will be working with my Web site coach—my free-market overhead, by the way. We will be dismantling all the paypal accounts for my ebooklets and opening them up online for free for anyone to read (the socialist paradigm). The ebook, however, will remain as a paypal-purchasable book online (I’m still a free-market coward at heart).
It also occurred to me that my social-justice, support-the-working class instincts seemed to have gone into hiding. There are people out there who cannot afford to pay for any luxury—especially somebody else’s words—once they pay the rent, the utilities, and buy food (I am particularly cognizant of that with those in alcohol and drug recovery, many of whom have literally lost their last best shirt to their addictions)
Being the capitalocialist I seemed to have become, I am hoping that those who cannot afford my ebooklets can somehow benefit from them free-of-charge (that’s the socialist in me, guys). I suppose it would be somewhat pretentious of me to say it’s an artist’s version of doctors-without-borders.
Those who judge themselves as having some discretionary funds to use in exchange for somebody else’s labor-intensive word-crafting can also benefit by helping to give access to others the things that they equally enjoy—a form of leveling the field. And I continue to believe that a healthy market is big enough to allow generous gifts to the economically strapped.
It’s also kind of a cap-and-trade system: if someone has the financial resources to buy an online book or PDF file, there is no reason why a writer can’t give up a certain amount of profit to give balance to the economic ecosystem. If others have enough disposable income to be part of this economic model, we can kill two birds with one stone by making the written word truly accessible to all.
It’s certainly better than taking a huge profit loss from a megacompany like Amazon and continue to support the corporate world that will always find a way to skim off the most profits from a writer’s productivity. And, most of all, it allows a writer to maintain some of her innocence on the Internet by not cluttering up a Web site with environmental eyesores.
So I want to be a little shop in the market of the Internet. My shingle goes up on twitter, facebook, and all the google search tags. I am in the democratic mainstream of the new social media. I say things. I communicate with like-minded and hearty souls out there. I write essays. I write fiction. I write poetry. I write about international film and alcohol recovery. Occasionally, I slip into the role of social, political pundit.
Here’s my shot at trying to change the free-market exchange system. Maybe, just maybe, others will help me truly work against-the-grain of the old formulas.
Feel free to open up the debate on how the two economic models–capitalism and socialism–affect your own lives.