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What are the similarities between capitalism and communism?


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Capitalism and communism are similar in both being economic systems that offer a vision of a utopian material future for all if they are allowed to be realized in pure form. Neither system has ever, however, delivered this utopian vision.

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While it is more common to set capitalism and communism in opposition, with communism demonized in capitalist society, both are economic systems that offer a vision of a material utopian telos, or end—an end which each system claims could be realized if it could be realized in pure form. Neither, however, has come close to delivering the promised new Eden.

Capitalism rests its vision of an Edenic future on individual ownership and competition. Individuals are allowed to own land and goods for their own profit. In pure capitalism, the state does not own any property or interfere with markets. In contrast, under communism, all assets first pass into the hands of the state, a transitional period that precedes the withering of the state and which will end in communal ownership of all property for the good of all.

While economies are organized differently under the two systems, the end goal of both is maximizing the material wellbeing and happiness for all people. Each system claims to be the conduit for delivering the good life to society at large—capitalism by honing efficiency and achievement through competition, and communism through eradicating unfair concentrations of wealth and exploitation of the many by the few.

Capitalism argues that it can best produce wealth, which, if initially concentrated, will eventually lift all boats and benefit the entire social system. Communism argues, in turn, that it will free society of the shackles of capitalism that are a drag on overall growth, such as banks charging high interest for loans, debt that drags down debtors only to enrich a few, and a parasitic class that produces nothing but lives on the labor of others. This liberation of capital will cause a surge in economic growth and widespread prosperity.

Both systems are alike in having been proven thus far unrealizable in pure form: reality shows that the most successful economies, such as the US economy from 1945–1971, incorporate aspects of both economic theories.

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One similarity between the two systems is that they both tend to look at individual human beings primarily as economic units. For Marx, as with all Communists, each individual was defined by the forces of production and the role they played within the economic system. Every aspect of social, political, and working life was defined by man's participation, willing or not, in the system in which he made his living. In opposition to this, Marx posited the idea that there was a fundamental humanity that had been corrupted and distorted by the capitalist system. Such humanity would only reassert itself once more when the capitalist system had been overthrown and replaced by Communism. For then, the identity of the individual would no longer be determined by his or her place within an impersonal economic system, with its relations of production and the class differences to which they give rise.

Capitalism also tends to look at individual human beings as economic units. Allied to this notion is the concept of homo economicus, or economic man, an isolated, rational individual motivated by self-interest and a desire to accumulate wealth. But in contrast to Communism, this basically economic identity doesn't hide or obscure something deeper; we only truly and fully exist to the extent to which we participate in the capitalist economic system. Thus capitalism acknowledges no underlying humanity or essence yearning to break free from its artificially-imposed fetters. We are defined by the production relations into which we enter; this much is shared with Communism. But the key difference is, that in capitalism, this is simply presented as a brute fact of life, whereas in Communism, it is a distortion to be corrected.

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Both capitalism and communism are economic philosophies that concern how surplus might be allocated in a particular society. From there on out, the two are quite different. 

Capitalism is an economic philosophy that aims to foster the growth of individual economic pursuits. In a capitalist society, individuals are free to choose where to invest their money based on what they think is valuable, and the state protects this right. Unfortunately, this can result in great economic disparities, especially when some people are systematically prevented from having equal opportunities to propose and develop their ideas as marketable. 

In a communist society, the economy is controlled by the state. Ideally, the state is able to provide for all people so their needs are met. One of the drawbacks of communism is that it can inhibit a person's ability to propose and develop new ideas because everyone is held to the same standard. While all people are offered the same liberties and access to healthcare and education under communism, it also means that people who might have profitable ideas can't develop them. All surplus money in a communist society—that is, money that doesn't go to maintaining survival—goes right back into development of the state, rather than investing in individual business opportunities. 

There are positive and negative implications of both philosophies, so I suppose you could say they have that in common, too!

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