The concept of providing for the common good and the general welfare is a social responsibility which is seemingly self evident and even inscribed more than once in the US Constitution; yet to a capitalist society such is all too oftentimes either an afterthought or anathema. A brief analysis of the concept seems fitting in a culture which is plagued by homelessness, poverty, student debt, grossly disproportionate wealth distribution, a shamefully high infant mortality rate, the world’s highest incarceration rate, a war budget which exceeds that of the next ten country’s respective war budgets combined, and the most expensive and inefficient Healthcare system of the so called civilized nations. In consideration of the social chaos of the struggle to survive here in the USA, perhaps it is past time to revisit the basic concept of providing for the common good and the general welfare. More to the point, what are our social obligations in the light of the humanitarian crisis which capitalism has created both here in the USA, and abroad?
The concepts of capitalism and the common good are naturally conflicting ideologies. Capitalism is a social arrangement which entails the exploitation of labor and the extortion of the surplus which is generated by the efforts of the working class. The concept of the common good entails providing for the general welfare of all members of a social collective, be that collective as basic as a family or as complex as a nation state. The primary objective of capitalism is to generate profits for an elitist class. The primary purpose of the concept of the common good is to provide for everyone. Clearly, the respective ideologies are at mutual odds.
Class distinctions are a natural development of capitalism. Those who accumulate wealth assume power and status, and subsequently exploit the labor of others in order to increase their already accumulated wealth. On the other hand, those who are deprived of resources resort to wage slavery as a means of survival. In fact, capitalism must have a poverty burdened class in order to function, for no one but the destitute and the desperate would sell their labor for a minimal return, and furthermore give away the surplus that their labor produces. Frankly, without a financially destitute working class to exploit, capitalism would have no means by which to function. Of course there is a limited opportunity for certain members of the working class to become operatives of the exploiting class, and some do in fact make that transition. Then again, there are those who descend from the state of exploiting the labor of others to become active members of the exploited class themselves, though few fall beyond the systemic safety nets which usually protect the wealthy from such a demise. In most cases though, people live and die as members of the same general class into which they were born. Regardless, class distinctions are a natural development of capitalism. Thus capitalism directly conflicts with the concept of the common good and providing for the general welfare.
The development of a working middle class which is encouraged to invest in the ongoing exploitation of the labor of the lower working classes is a capitalist ploy which has been effective in both enriching certain workers while further dividing the working class as a whole. Retirement was at one time primarily funded by pensions and social security benefits. By this social arrangement businesses who profited from the labor of workers when those laborers were young and healthy were expected to reward those same workers by funding their retirement when of a certain age or when no longer physically capable to work. Yet capitalists have shifted the burden of responsibility of funding retirement from profitable businesses to the workers themselves, who are now encouraged to invest in the ongoing exploitation of the labors of their fellow working class in order to fund their own retirement. This arrangement serves to maximize corporate profits while at the same time maintains an orderly capitalist system. By creating a dependency upon the exploitation of the working class by members of the working class themselves, capitalism is further stabilized and the working class itself is divided and weakened in terms of mutual support and solidarity. The parasitical nature of capitalism thus spreads like a cancer among the working class, who now become minor yet active participants among those who invest in the exploitation of the labor of their own class. The practice of maintaining order in a slavery system by purchasing the faithful participation of certain slaves who are willing to actively exploit their fellow social victims for personal benefit is by no means of recent origin, the methods have simply been updated to accommodate contemporary social slavery arrangements. The development of an investment class from among the working class itself then demonstrates that capitalism and the concept of the common good are conflicting ideologies.
The conflict between capitalism and the concept of the common good is the conflict between privatized accumulation and public provisions. The accumulation of privatized wealth is the fundamental origin of class distinctions, and furthermore extorts resources from the public in order to benefit an elitist few. The society which permits the privatized accumulation of capital in essence sells out the poor and the homeless in order to benefit the elitist wealthy class. Privatization is of course a bedrock right in any capitalist society. The accumulation of privatized wealth and the inevitably associated poverty and homelessness demonstrate that capitalism and the concept of the common good are conflicting ideologies.
There are no social obligations in a capitalist society, for capitalism is an amoral ideology. Capitalism is strictly a quest for the accumulation of capital which is enabled and empowered by the assumed right to exploit labor and to extort the surplus which is generated by the efforts of the working class. There are no obligations associated with the capitalist ideology for the welfare of anyone, much less for the general welfare. The welfare of those who help themselves to the benefits of the surplus generated by the labor of others is an effect of capitalism, but by no means is such an obligation; moral or otherwise. Capitalism then is merely an amoral system which inevitably leads to conditions of accumulated wealth and the scarcity naturally associated with poverty. Capitalism neither claims any sense of social obligation, nor attempts to provide for the general welfare. There are of course efforts by local governments to provide social safety nets to address the social chaos which is inherent to a capitalist system, but those very efforts are indicative as to the in humane effect of a social system which is both apathetic regarding and ineffective as to providing for the common good and the general welfare.
Conversely, the concept of the common good is a social obligation in and of itself, which requires the act of providing for the general welfare as a matter of social duty and managed effect based upon an innate moral principle. For whereas capitalism operates by the assumed right to exploit the conditions of those who are in need and to extort the surplus generated by those who work, the concept of the common good is based upon the innate moral principle that those who are able should collectively act in order to assist those who are in need. The concept of the common good then regards work as a moral obligation in order to provide for the general welfare of everyone; whereas the perspective of capitalist is that work is an activity that the masses should do for the primary benefit of an exclusive few.
The conflict between capitalism as a amoral system whose primary objective is to enable the accumulation of capital by exploiting labor and extorting the surplus which is generated by the efforts of the working class, and the concept of collective efforts for the common good and the general welfare is such that any given society must choose between the two ideologies depending upon the preferred social effect. For those then who would prefer a culture which allows an elite few to exploit labor, extort the surplus which is generated by the efforts of the working class, and accumulate the majority of that society’s wealth and political power, then by all means capitalism should be that culture’s preferred economic system and selected way of life. But for those who would prefer that their daily work be a part of a collective effort whose generated surplus is utilized to provide for the common good and the general welfare, then an alternative system to capitalism should be preferred and actively maintained. For the concept of the common good conflicts so directly with capitalism, that the general welfare of any given collective simply will not be realized within the context of a culture based upon the latter.