Thursday, November 1, 2012

Socialism.  What does it mean? (2009) 

What is socialism?  This philosophy has received an unusual degree of attention recently.  Initially, it was used as a one-dimensional attack via Joe the Plumber by the McCain forces at the end of the presidential campaign.  As a result, it prompted several letters to the Citizen-Times and was the subject of a few local opinion pieces. 

In each exposition, the term never received a fair description of what it means. When it is used, it becomes in our slogan-driven public forum a meat ax to pound an opposing candidate or cause.  Clearly, an attempt to define socialism in this limited space runs a significant risk of oversimplifying. In taking that risk, let me add that my purpose is not advocacy but clarification. 

In a nutshell the major purpose of socialism is to provide the opportunity for each individual in society to develop to his or her fullest potential. Although capitalism may intend that indivudals will develop their talents and capacities, socialism makes it the primary goal. 

The first priority of capitalism, on the other hand, is through industry and commerce to create a profit or surplus value through the production and exchange of goods and services.  Individuals do benefit and great wealth may be produced through its enterprises. But many individuals do not gain and the cause is not solely attributable to intelligence and motivation.  A system that is designed to maximize profit for owners and investors guarantees, regardless of motivation and hard work, that a significant number of citizens will come out with less. 

The continuing debate between conservative and liberal capitalists is how much government is needed to lessen the pain of profit-driven economics.  The former argue that “big government” gets in the way of the free-market; the latter advocate for government to assist the many who are trampled by the ‘free market.’ 

The discussion is never about what kind of society do we really want.  Capitalism offers an indifferent market that produces by its nature a few haves and many have nots.  Socialism develops a society to provide the opportunities for each of us to develop our talents to the fullest.  Socialism cannot produce the amount of wealth that capitalism can, but it would not create the extreme artificial inequalities that capitalism inherently spits out. 

Democracy can operate just as well in a socialist society as in a capitalitist one.  In fact it would be more democratic.  The large number of individuals and families in poverty are a blight on the quality of democracy in a capitalistic culture.  This would not be the case under socialism.  With free education and healthcare, each individual would live in an environment that encourages excellence. Consequently, one could argue, the ethics of an entreprenuriel spirt and service to the community would go hand in hand to create a true practice of community.

So the next time a politician derides his opponent as a ‘socialist,’ it may in truth mean higher praise than intended.






McColl misfires on Utilities Commission’s duty to probe Duke

Charlotte Observer  July 25, 2012

McColl misfires on Utilities Commission’s duty to probe Duke

From John Clark, station manager of WDAV for 18 years, now retired, in response to Hugh McColl’s “Regulators should stay out of Duke Energy’s board room” (July 22 For the Record); reach Clark at

I don’t live in Raleigh and don’t have friends, relatives or associates in state government public oversight agencies, but I did find Hugh McColl’s opinion article disappointing.

First admission: I have a great deal of respect for Hugh McColl and his many salient contributions to the life and fabric of the city of Charlotte. I’ve met him a few times and like him.

Second thought: Hugh would have been better served by not requesting the Observer publish his writing. He should have first counted to ten.

The public utilities commission is charged by law to look out for the public’s interest in the matters of a regulated utility. What is a regulated utility? It simply is an organization that is providing such a vital service to the people of a specific region that it gets government approval to operate as a monopoly. A regulated monopoly.

Consequently, it operates neither like the tire store down the street nor like Bank of America. That’s an important distinction that Hugh fails to note. He did cite his experience as head of a company that was regulated – although those regulations over time continued to be eliminated in part through his efforts – and he even admitted he was chairman of his BofA board, which seems to me to contravene at least the spirit of board oversight of the CEO, a position he held at the same time he was chairman.

In short, let’s get real. Boards of directors do indeed have the fiduciary responsibility for the operations of a company and specifically the performance of its CEO. But in reality, and I would argue particularly at BofA, many boards are but a group of yes-men and women. Witness the actions of CEOs with board approval at both BofA and Wachovia leading right up to the Great Recession. Wachovia is gone and BofA has been crippled.

The public utilities commission is within its right and duty to investigate this matter. Whether or not it finds any action punishable by law is not the issue now. It is representing the interests of people like me, especially those citizens in the Raleigh area who, through the merger, are losing a corporate headquarters (we in Charlotte now know what that’s like) and some who will be losing their jobs.

Hugh, your article was right on as a general description of businesses and business boards. Within the context of the Duke-Progress Energy merger and the way it was conducted, your view totally misses the mark. Copyright 2012 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.