One hundred seventy-four years ago today, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published Manifesto of the Communist Party in London, a pamphlet that guided political revolutions in Russia and China. Its main thesis holds that all means of production of goods, services, and products are owned by the people, thereby disenfranchising entrepreneurship and capitalism with respect to property and its interests.
The terms communism and socialism retain some current resonance in the United States as political epithets to condemn various legislative and policy proposals in Congress and state legislatures. For the most part, the condemnations fail to attack the substance of such proposals, relying instead on the terms as self-explanatory and sufficiently threatening to ward off voters.
The Declaration of Independence clearly presents the theory that governments “are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Subsequently, the Constitution’s preamble asserts the objective to “promote the general welfare.” Together, these ideas fundamentally contradict with those of Marx and Engels.
Common to communism and socialism is focus on the common good with respect to participating and sharing the common wealth of a state or nation. Classic political history instructs that a commonwealth is a state owned by the people and originates from the term “weal,” meaning public wealth. It’s at this juncture that the purposes of the opposing political philosophies achieve some identity.
Establishing laws and policies to promote the general welfare has attracted bitter political battles. The means to promoting the general welfare have been tested by Social Security and, more recently, by the Affordable Care Act. Each distributes or redistributes common wealth, largely without respect of means testing, for the entire populace of recipients. The major political parties engage full-on combat when legislation favors reduced taxes for some or increased wages for others.
It must be said, however, that the United States has over time promoted the general welfare very broadly and effectively, if not perfectly. That shortfall was understood in the Constitution’s preamble as the goal of forming “a more perfect union.” As fears prompted by ignorance or a sense of displacement hopefully diminish, the consent of the governed may rise accordingly to accept removal of intransigent barriers to wealth equity.