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The most important goal of all human societies is fostering the human development and given a choice between capitalism and socialism, the latter offers better chances for reaching this supreme goal.
Capitalism implies an economic system characterized by individual ownership of means of production, accumulation of capital and free markets. In capitalists systems, governments do not interfere with markets or property rights (Panitch, 2005). Advocates of capitalism claim that it encourages economic growth. In reality, it is difficult to find pure capitalistic economic systems. Instead, the most common economic systems are mixed economies where a certain degree of the economy is controlled by the state.
Socialism ideally implies a form of economic system, where production of goods and services occurs with the view to satisfy human needs of people in a society, as opposed to the production of goods and services for the private profit-accumulation of capital. As a result, accounting in socialist economies focuses on the quantity of goods and services produced, as opposed to profit generated from such goods and services, the primary concern in capitalist economies (Panitch, 2005). There are three main kinds of socialistic economic systems: market socialism, state socialism and libertarian socialism. All forms of socialism exhibit a mixture of market and planned economies.
Under the market socialism, the means of production in a society are owned by institutions like cooperative societies. The aim of such a system is to avoid accumulation of capital among a few individuals in the society (Panitch, 2005). The cooperative societies which are the owners of the means of production also undertake the production of goods and services themselves without employing the external members.
State socialism is achieved through nationalization of essential industries, redistribution of income through taxes to promote the social welfare, and state regulation of the market system part of the economy to achieve social justice (Panitch, 2005). Thus, state socialism basically involves both active and passive participation of the government in the production of goods and services and promotion of social welfare.
In libertarian capitalism, the means of production in the economy are owned by the working class who also carry out the production of goods and services. Further, this system is opposed to the government ownership of the means of production and state involvement in the production of goods and services.
Occupy Wall Street Movement
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) refers to demonstrations which started on 17 September, 2011 in the Wall Street financial hub of the New York City. The movement was triggered by a Canadian activist outfit known as Adbusters, and it caused similar protests to arise in other places around the world. The OWS demonstrations were opposing the social and economic disparities, greed, corruption, and the de-facto manipulation of the US government by corporate bodies, especially financial institutions. Moreover, the actions of OWS were based on claims that the largest proportion of the US economy is controlled by a mere one percent of individuals through corporations. Because of the influence of corporate bodies on government through lobbying, this meant that the welfare of the rest ninety-nine percent of the population was at the mercy of the wealthy one percent. OWS advocated for activism to promote the social justice, rather than petitioning government officials. Organization of the protests relied heavily on the social media.
Economic issues were the main factor underlying the OWS protests. Income disparity which refers to the differences in wealth between the upper economic class and the rest of the population has been on the rise in the US since 1960s. In addition, around 15 percent of the population does not have food security, which means that they face difficulty purchasing adequate food. Moreover, around 50 million households lack healthcare insurance, while more than 42 million live below the poverty line. Despite this situation, salaries of senior management in the US largest corporate firms have increased in four times, since 1970s, while subordinate employees are paid ten percent less. The statistics showing the widening economic gap between the rich and the poor in the US began to be issued by economists in the 1990s. OWS demonstrations were specifically focused on income disparities, greed and corruption of financial institutions, and transnational firms.
A nationwide survey carried out in 2010 indicated that a majority of the US citizens irrespective of political affiliation favored more equitable distribution of national income. Statistics released after the Great Recession of 2007 showed that the top one percent of the US citizens owned 37.1 percent of the national wealth. Moreover, the top 20 percent of the population owned cumulatively 87.7 percent of national wealth, meaning that the rest of the population, the poor, was left to share only 12.3 percent. Further, the statistics showed that the tax rates charged on the top 20 percent of the population are lower compared to rates charged on the rest of the population. The phenomenon of the rich paying lower taxes than the poor is a result of government policies encouraging wealth accumulation and loopholes in the tax regime which enables the rich to exercise the tax avoidance.
Key Goals of the Movement
The OWS movement has been accused of lacking clear explicit goals. However, the main demands made by the participants concerned increasing the level of national employment, ensuring equitable distribution of national income, reforming the financial industry, and curtailing the influence of corporate bodies on politics. The movement lacked a charismatic leader to articulate their goals. Basically, its objective was to promote the social justice in the American society. Due to the use of social media as the means of organization, the protests were initially carried by the youth, but as time went on, older activists began to join the group.
Analysis of Occupy Wall Street Movement from Various Perspectives
In order to understand the dynamics behind the OWS protests, it is important to look at the movement from different perspectives. The view points are based on three works by different authors: Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman, First as Tragedy and then as Farce by Slavoj Zizek, and Living in the End Times alsoby Slavoj Zizek. Each of these literary works contrasts capitalism and socialism, but from different points of view.
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
Terror and Liberalism, authored by Berman, attempts to explain the ideological causes of terrorism. According to Berman, terrorism is ideologically a rebellion against liberalism. He argues that advances in the promotion of human freedom around the world have led to global terrorism, as we know it today. Moreover, terrorism, according to the author, is an expression of the desire for a totalitarian system of government which is the exact opposite of a liberal government (Berman, 2003).
Berman also contends that initially every totalitarian movement is based on logical ideas, but as time goes on, it loses contact with humanity engaging in murder, suicide, and other forms of death. The author compares modern terrorism with past totalitarian regimes like the Nazism of Germany and Stalinism of Russia. Furthermore, he argues that the anti-liberal uprising expressed by terrorism results from both weaknesses and strengths of liberalism (Berman, 2003).
Though Berman seemed to have been advocating for the use of force in the war on terror, his ideas may be used to explain the OWS protests. Clearly, these demonstrations were caused by the weaknesses of a free market system which is a key aspect of liberalism. Although the protesters did not explicitly advocate for a totalitarian government, they, nevertheless, called for considerable amount of government control in the economy, which can equated to a desire for some degree of political dictatorship (Berman, 2003).
Living in the End Times by Slavoj Zizek
Living in the End Times by Slavoj Zizek is based on biblical apocalypse. The author supposes that the world is already coming to an end, as evidenced by global income inequalities, growing environmental concerns, failures of capitalist systems, and introduction of genetically modified organisms (Zizek, 2009). Zizek claims that all these phenomena were foretold in the bible and would come to pass.
Although, it is difficult to substantiate Zizek’s claims, it is possible, however, to agree with him that capitalistic economic systems have shown inherent weaknesses that have called for government intervention to prevent the total failure of the systems. It is such failures that led to the rise of the OWS protests (Zizek, 2009).
First as Tragedy and then as Farce
This work by Slovaj is based on Hegel’s famous idea that history necessarily repeats itself. At first, it occurs as a tragedy, and secondly, as a farce. The importance of history occurring twice is to enable humans to experience something fully before its goes into oblivion. In the context of capitalism, Slovaj equates the current attempts to run controlled market economies to a farce which will be brought to an end by the eventual death of capitalism (Zizek, 2009). According to the author, the tragedy of capitalism was manifested by the Great Depression of the 1930s, as well as the Great recession of 2008.
In the book, Slovaj makes a very valid accusation of capitalistic systems that they are based on speculation, as opposed to the real economy of producing goods and services to meet real human needs. The issue of speculation does not arise in socialistic economies. As a matter of fact, the 2008 Great recession, one of the events preceding the OWS movement, was caused primarily by speculation in the housing industry.
Socialism vs. Capitalism
The happiness of human beings is subject to the happiness of others. Thus, promoting human development should be the objective of all the societies in the world. All people, irrespective of their country of origin, should have access to adequate food, good health, decent education, and should be given freedom to decide for themselves on key matters. Capitalism promotes accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few individuals living the majority to suffer in poverty. To avoid this situation, it is important to implement socialistic economic systems, where government will ensure more equitable distribution of the national income.
The persistent failure of capitalistic economic systems suggests the need to replace them with more equitable and sustainable models. Socialistic systems seem to offer a better solution, since they can eliminate the inequalities of capitalism and promote human development.