But such systems have been implemented by capitalist societies. The Nordic countries, for example, while not the utopias I’ve described, are probably the closest on earth. They have very generous welfare states, strong labor protections, and other programs that make it pretty easy to transfer from one job to another (Denmark’s “flexicurity” for example). And yet, it seems to me that these countries are still “capitalist” in the commonly understood sense of the term. Market-based economies, free trade, private property rights, corporations owned and operated by the “capitalists” rather than the workers. Progressive social-democratic capitalism, but capitalism nonetheless.

That said, it’s totally possible that I’m not using the proper Marxian definition of “capitalism” here. Like most Americans, I intuitively think of capitalism as synonymous with “the free market.” As I understand it, the term “capitalism” came to prominence as used by Marx, Engles, Proudhon, and other left-wing intellectuals who were criticizing the systems of their day. So you could very well argue that my common usage of the word is actually not the correct one.

And yet, when many anti-capitalists argue against capitalism, they do seem to be arguing against private ownership of the means of production. This is where I get confused. If the US were to implement a UBI & single-payer health care tomorrow, would we no longer be a capitalist society, as working people are granted more positive freedom? Is this really all it would take to move “beyond capitalism” in the Marxist view?

I personally disagree with the view that programs like the ACA can be dismissed as “workarounds” that preserve the status quo. This ignores the fact that millions of people are better off because of the ACA. Certainly, it would have been even more transformative with a public option, and even more people would benefit from it if all 50 states would expand Medicaid. Still, the status quo today is significantly better than the status quo pre-ACA. Imperfect, yes, but lives were saved, suffering prevented, and more still could be. This, to me, is a pretty strong argument that we don’t need to hit any reset button. We just need to keep pushing forward in the same direction we’ve been going.

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Volunteer organizer. Humanist. Pragmatist. Public health advocate. Global citizen. Living that ADHD life. Part of the Greatest Generation (Millennial).

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