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Capitalism or Socialism? There’s an Even Better Option


Capitalism or Socialism? There’s an Even Better Option

David Korten

Politics and polling data reveal a remarkable shift in American attitudes toward socialism. More Democrats now view socialism favorably (42 percent) than unfavorably (34 percent). Among young adults, socialism does even better with a 43 percent favorable view vs. only 26 percent unfavorable. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, has surprised the establishment with the strength of his campaign.


In every society, capitalism rides on top of socialism. When capital is too heavy, revolution results.


i'm not exactly thrilled with Korten's muddy waters that severs economic democracy from socialism. this is propaganda and a disservice to the very idea that gave birth to economic democracy in the first place. It was socialist theory that advocated transfer of productive property to workers so that they can run it themselves. That's pretty much economic democracy!
But here we have a little 50s middle class nostaliga mixed with a healthy dose of red baiting in an attempt to resell "true" capitalism as a paradise of small firm entrepreneurship.
No, this is not a better option, Mr Korten. You cannot have participatory control over economics and private control of productive property at the same time. You must choose. Ergo, it really is capitalism versus socialism.


So I've read this article twice and am still asking, what exactly is this third way option that the title is promising? A few rushed, vague paragraphs at the end make it sound to me like common or garden social democracy, already existent in much of the world, though under assault from the US driven forces of neo-liberalism. Reminds me of Tony Blair, didn't he bang on about a 'third way' Look where that got us.

He sounds like the discovery capitalism isn't working is some sort of modern revelation. Marx spelled out as much at length and gave reasons why over 130 years ago. As Keynes said merely nearly 100 years ago:

"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone."


FDR's New Deal was an experiment in controlling capitalism that would have succeeded if a majority of citizens were willing and able to exercise critical thinking when they cast their daily votes in the marketplace and cast their periodic votes at the polling station.

The New Deal would not be taking its finals breaths if shoppers and voters had not enabled the 1% to destroy it.


Socialism is NOT the Government controlling the means of production. That is as Lenin referred to it State Capitalism.

Socialism is the WORKERS controlling the means of production.


... and the saddle pad with the burr under it is "externalized costs"

Apparently Adam Smith once noted that in the future society would learn more from Silvio Gesell than from Marx.


Very well and concisely stated!

As soon as the liberal Korten equated socialism with "big government", I groaned and really struggled to read any further. With capitalist liberal types like Korten as our would-be allies, do we even need enemies?


I'm not sure what you are trying to say. Adam Smith predated Marx by about 100 years.


Blame it on Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman....


Socialism is actual democracy, from the workplace to the community to the nation. It is ownership and rule of the working class majority for ourselves. Actual socialism is not being offered as a choice in this election. Sanders is a progressive populist who offers a reigning in of corporate power and a re-regulation of capitalism. Certainly it is a step in the right direction.


well said. It seems clear that this is anther wistful, nostalgic attempt to pretend we're Sweden or something. Center-left liberals, bless their hearts, could probably use some smelling salts about now.


Astonishing slovenliness in terminology here, equating socialism with state capitalism and economic democracy as something apart from socialism.


hobgoblin pretty much nails the attempt, I think, as just a vanilla plea for social democracy. Of course, that's not the same as economic democracy, either, so Korten is left short whichever way he turns.


Simple-minded essay. Socialism IS the radical democratization of the political-economic system.


I admire David Korten, but his definition of socialism is the one that Communist states used, mistakenly, because that was not socialism but state capitalism.
Democratic socialism does not own production of everything. There was moderate socialism in Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1938. My family lived there at the time, and we had the biggest brick manufacture in the country -- privately held, and operated. The state collected taxes to the tune of 90% above a certain level of income, which allowed for good pensions for all, and social programs (including free university tuition for low income students).

Most of the Scandinavian countries have had this sort of democratic socialism for decades. I am told that in Norway women have 9 years of maternity leave. Even in today's Czech Republic they have 4 years per child. That's paid leave. But of course it saves money if women look after their own children till they are pretty well school age. Here in Canada we have one year partially paid leave, and then you have to fight to find private day care costing over $1000/month.

Incidentally, when the communists took over our industry, they immediately crashed it, and closed it down. That was not socialism, but a gravy train for greedy party members. Pretty close to global corporations.

Personally, I would say some things should be under public control. Banking is one, at the very least the central banks should be publicly owned and used for the nation's benefit. (As Canada's publicly owned central bank used to be used) Looking at the riotous exploits of the military industrial complex in the US, that would be another sphere. Here we used to have very successful Crown Corporations in my youth. They were in effect privately run limited profit companies. (Not like the recently invented PPPs which are driven by taxpayers paying corporate profit.).

I say good luck to Bernie. Even if he doesn't win, he's raised many important issues!


I don't know why you think that socialism and democracy are two different options. They are very complementary to one another. Both give PEOPLE the power to decide, instead of a capitalist oligarchy.


One of the biggest problems with the national discussion is the confusion over what socialism is. Even the major dictionaries directly flip flop the definitions of socialism and communism depending on which dictionary you regard. Merriam-Webster states that socialism is government control of the means of production where elsewhere it is defined that the workers and their community would have control. The old Soviet Union considered themselves to be socialist while other considered them to be communist. This is crucial to this debate because most of the ultra right wing equate socialism with big government controlling everything where you have an undemocratic rank and file government, something that is as bad or worse than a crony capitalistic society. Without clarity on the definitions corrupt arguments within the debates can win.

Depending on how one views the definitions, socialism and capitalism are not necessarily disjoint. Consider collective cooperative company where the workers have a more equal share of the ownership of a company. Some people consider that to be socialistic, others consider it to be communistic, yet at the same time it is capitalism in that private individuals are investing capital in order to create wealth and have a private ownership of the company. Ideally a society would have the ownership of the means of productions spread out among the populace more evenly and more democratically (through taxing the wealthy to practically cap the amount that a single individual can control). When situations arise where it makes sense to have only one company carry out a function (e.g. why have four mail carriers for four different companies deliver small envelop mail to every house) that may give it too much power, then democratic government control and perhaps ownership of that company is needed.

Most importantly regardless of what the system is termed is the freedom for people to privately own and operate their own work as they see best and to be rewarded for their hard work as individuals. That freedom for all of the millions of individuals is crucial for a vigorously positively motivated workforce. That individual motivation tends to occur in smaller companies. Large companies (even collectively owned) will still exist due to inherent advantages of divisions of labor, etc. However those advantages of the larger corporations will always have to be justified against the motivation that occurs in the smaller companies. Most systems that exist today instead leave the workers to be oppressed and negatively motived, something that is not more productive. The key to rewarding individualism is that it cannot be rewarded beyond a point that allows demonic ludicrous wealth and power, something that people with a living spirit don't even desire in the first place. This freedom hardly exists anywhere in the world however. In the United State crony capitalist society it primarily exists for the wealthy few.

The bottom line is that the only democratic system is where the means of production and the wealth is more equally divided among the people because these directly equate to ruling power. When the populace is working as slaves with little extra time nor money to participate in government it is hardly democratic. As I stated also the freedom for people to privately own and operate their own work I believe is also crucial as are the virtues of the free market. The free market only works when it is fair which is why a strong democratic government is needed to keep corruption in check. Then internal checks and balances within government are needed to keep people in the government in check, something that only exists when people are not enslaved so much as to not even be able to participate. Currently, there is no way to use current terminology to describe such a system that is understood equally among all.

Regardless of what exact system one believes is best, the problem again is of using a terminology to describe such a system in a way that detractors cannot use conflicting definitions to devious mislead.


The fact is capitalism can never be democratic. Watch this interview of Richard Wolfe and he will explain Marxist ideas in understandable terms, He deals with why capitalism has inherent contradictions, one of which is it's inability to be democratic. This is well worth the watch, and it is only 35 minutes long.


Then for more nuance watch this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhH-PWjR3b0&nohtml5=False


You are absolutely correct. Not to quibble with the author but capitalism is an economic system and democracy a political system. In theory it is possible to have democracy and capitalism although, like communism, it takes only a short time for reality to take it to fascism (definitely not democratic) and on totalitarianism which is everything, economic and political, and people are basically slaves. While capitalism and communism seem to be opposites, when taken to the extreme are indidtinguishable.

Real Socialism is the opposite and the only opposite. The use of "socialism in the "National Socialist Party' (NAZI) or the United States of Soviet Socialist Russia" (USSR) use the same term but are not at all alike. This misunderstanding of these terms may be the origin of the hate of socialism the USA.