Editorial: People’s Capitalism
It had to come and here it is—”People’s Capitalism,” the description given to the U.S.A. in an advertisement of General Electric (New Yorker, June 16, 1956). We have had “peoples’ democracies,” the name given by Communists to Russia and her East European Satellites—now admitted to be thug-ridden police-states. We have had “people’s courts” in the same countries, where framed-up victims of political and personal vendettas “confess” to non-existent crimes. We have been told that this is the century of “the common man,” in which the common man is not only exploited, conscripted, intimidated and humiliated—just as he was in the century before—but in which, in addition, he is now expected to take pride in being master of his fate. Oscar Wilde’s definition of democracy seems to be particularly appropriate, “bludgeoning of the people by the people, for the people.”
The General Electric claims that American Capitalism is quite different from Capitalism anywhere else:—
“Around the world me term ‘capitalism’ has been applied to economic systems which bear little resemblance to each other. Our American brand of capitalism is distinctive and unusually successful because it is a ‘people’s capitalism.’ All the people share in its responsibilities and benefits.”
The advertisement goes on to list the ways in which the American brand is supposed to differ from the others—and in almost every particular the list shows the falsity of the claim. Those who run Capitalism in London, Delhi, Moscow, Warsaw, governments in all the continents, all the Powers, big, medium and small, make almost identical claims. Here are the eight principles in which Americans are said to believe:—”We believe in providing opportunities for the individual to develop himself to his maximum potential mass production and low prices; high wages, high productivity and high purchasing power; “we in America believe in innovation and in scrapping the obsolete”; instalment buying; shorter hours and more leisure; “broad share ownership of American business . . . and almost everyone indirectly owns shares through insurance policies, savings banks, pension plans, mutual funds, bank accounts and other investments ”; “and finally, we in America believe deeply in competition versus the cartel.”
So little does Capitalism in the different countries differ from the above eight-point declaration that an all-in conference of Governments in United Nations would probably vote unanimously for a resolution embodying them—and then each Minister would go home to preserve the realities of Capitalism, poverty for the mass, and wealth and privilege for the few. Capitalism takes on many masks and disguises, and ingenious party vote-catchers have invented innumerable names and slogans to make capitalism acceptable to its victims, but everywhere its economic features (production, for sale and profit, the system of wage-labour, and capital investment in company shares and government bonds) sufficiently conform to a common pattern amply to justify the common destination capitalism.