Are you a capitalist or a socialist? Don't be too sure. As the years pass, they become both more and less alike.

Modern capitalism had its beginnings in 18th century Britain when "The Wealth of Nations" was published by Adam Smith. Before then, each family and locality produced almost everything it needed, and what they couldn't produce themselves could usually be obtained by barter at primitive local exchanges. Division of labor was almost unknown, and everyone had to master an endless variety of skills as a natural part of life.

The capitalist market system, on the other hand, relies on specialization of labor wherein each person develops a set of skills and supplies his needs through the market. One person might make mufflers while another makes gas tanks, and another makes wheels, and another might put everything together, but when they want a car, they all go to a dealership.

Among the basic principles of capitalism, you will find the idea that the means of production are always privately owned, and that companies exist to earn profits for their owners. In pursuit of this goal, everyone must be free. Prices are determined by whatever value a willing buyer and a willing seller agree upon, which is influenced by supply and demand. Then everything is wrapped up in a package called free and open competition.

Capitalism offers such advantages as efficiency, progress, incentives for everybody to work hard, focus on goals, and individual challenges, but at the same time, it involves the uncertainty of creative destruction, career disruption, and great gaps between poverty and wealth. It also grinds up people and spits them out with no thought for consequences.

Capitalists assume, of course, that government exists primarily for the benefit of business. They always insist upon level playing fields, so long as the fields are tilted in their own direction.

Since the beginning of time, nations have usually been governed by the "golden rule," which is that he who has the gold makes the rules, and they usually make the rules in their own favor. This brings us to socialism.

Socialism has a number of different faces and has evolved over the years as different movements adopted the basic concepts of socialism to meet the needs of their time. Its roots are found in the Christian religion, ethical idealism, rational humanism, and liberalism, but in general, it has always been a response to the unfettered excesses of capitalism.

When capitalism becomes unbearable for working classes, they demand the relief in socialism to ease their pain and bring the burdens and benefits of society back into more equal balance. It is a reminder to the elite that they have gone overboard in their quest for the almighty dollar, and they have a responsibility to society to provide opportunities for others to build a better life for themselves. If capitalism would restrain itself and provide the general population with job opportunities and a fair deal for all, there would be little interest in socialism as an economic system. Unfortunately, human nature doesn't seem to work that way.

When working people believe they are being treated unfairly and are overwhelmed by the trials of everyday life, they turn to Christianity and the Bible for comfort. There they find the admonition to "Love thy neighbor as thyself," "Comfort one another," and, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." Under those circumstances, it is easy to choose socialism.

Fred Gibson, of Tahlequah, is a retired educator with an ongoing interest in U.S. and world politics.

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