The Social Capitalist equation and the breakdown of civil society

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In my last column, I wrote that I thought that “income inequality” was the biggest problem and threat that our society was currently facing. An example of how large the income gap really is is the fact that the top 10 percent of wage earners receive 50 percent of all income. The inequality is exacerbated if you factor in race, with Blacks and Hispanics getting the short end of the stick. Another major factor is higher education: The more you learn the more you earn.

Why do I think this problem is a “threat” to our society? It’s not that I think there will be a violent revolt; the “unwashed” masses will not rise up and kill off the oppressors. I think the militarization of our local police forces has pretty much eliminated that threat. What I fear more is the breakdown of “civil society” because of the desensitization towards the plight of the less fortunate and the anger towards the more fortunate.

That breakdown is already happening — just listen to the rhetoric coming out of Washington. How about here, locally? How is it that we have homeless encampments down by the creek? And I’m not asking how we allowed them to camp there; I’m asking how we allowed them to become homeless in the first place. Or at least that’s the question as a society we should be asking. Isn’t one of the goals of a society to look out for the safety and wellbeing of all its members?

So how do we make the system more equal without tearing it all down and starting over (not that we really have that option)? And exactly what system are we talking about? One of the main systems that need changing is our current model of Capitalism with its primary focus on the accumulation of wealth at any cost. Now as I’ve said before, I tend to lean left towards Socialism, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like money or the things it can provide, like food, shelter and entertainment.

What if we could find a compromise or hybrid system? A system that still allows us to earn money and own things but also allows us to be socially responsible. Kind of like an economic Prius, you use fewer natural resources, feel good about it, and still get where you want to go. Well there is. It’s a movement towards what’s being called “Social Capitalism”.

So what is Social Capitalism and how do we participate? One definition is: A socially minded form of capitalism, where the goal is making positive social improvements, rather than focusing entirely on accumulating capital. It is a utilitarian form of capitalism with a social purpose.

Any action that lifts up the bottom while still respecting capitalism, liberalism, individualism and democracy, any “social form” of “capitalism” is social capitalism. In a nutshell, it’s using the free market (your dollars) for the greater good of society. Many of you are already doing it by installing solar panels, driving a hybrid car and buying organic foods or by boycotting businesses like Chick-Fil-A, and Walmart. It’s also about where you invest or don’t invest your time and resources.

So philosophy and economic theory is all well and good but how can any of this help us with the social discontent that’s festering because of income inequality? The first thing we need to do is rethink the whole “greed is good” mentality. We are seeing a little of that in the way that “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli was vilified after astronomically raising the prices (for no good reason) of the drugs his company sold.

We also need to stop blaming the poor for their lot in life. We need to be more empathetic because so much of where we all are in our socio-economic standing is just the luck of the draw. Some are born a Trump and some are born a Dump — we don’t get a choice. We may not get to choose our social birthplace but what we do get here in America is opportunity, and it’s that opportunity that needs to be equalized for us to fix the problem of income inequality.

I’m talking about equal opportunity for health care, education and a safe environment to live in. If we as a society make those things a priority for all our members then we provide them the opportunity to succeed and contribute. But how do we do this in the real world? Well I don’t have all the specific answers or enough room in this column to spell it all out, but in my next column I’ll give some examples of how it could work using Social Capitalism.

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