Ultimately capitalism vs. socialism comes down to power dynamics. Who’s in charge, and who gets the profits?
Capitalism puts absolute power in the hands of the “owners”, basically the founders and investors. It is a form of despotism where those at the top have absolute power over the workers (eg. can fire anyone for any reason), and have complete ownership over any profits generated by the workers.
Socialism puts power in the hands of the workers. Rather than power resting in the hands of any dictator or oligarchy, power is allocated democratically amongst the workers. Rather than having to obey and take orders from a handful of despots, they can self-organize and manage themselves democratically. Profits are shared amongst the workers, and never funneled to any absentee “owner” as their “passive income”.
Now naturally as citizens of countries that pride themselves on democracy, it leads one to wonder why we demand democracy in government, yet accept tyranny in the workplace.
Entrepreneurs and the wealthy of course have a self-interest in preserving capitalism because socialism would reduce their power and profits. In fact under socialism, absentee owners (eg. those who delegate all the work, investors, landlords/rentiers) might not be entitled to any of their “passive income”, meaning they might actually have to get off their sailboats and start working again.
But why do the working masses accept getting the short end of the stick? Why do Amazon warehouse workers accept working deadend jobs in subpar work environments subjecting themselves to repetitive unstimulating manual labor, taking orders from a “boss” all day, and having so little break time that they must pee in bottles – all to make less money in one full year than what Jeff Bezos makes in 10 seconds? Surely there’s a more healthy medium there right – why haven’t the lower/middle classes bargained to get a larger slice of the pie?
The short answer is that it is very difficult to negotiate with the despots when the despots have all the power. For instance, there have been cases of Amazon workers trying to unionize, all resulting in Jeff Bezos firing said employees. It is obviously very difficult for a worker to negotiate for better terms when negotiating means getting fired and thus losing one’s livelihood in a system that financially ties workers to their jobs (wouldn’t be the case if we had say a Universal Basic Income).
Although it’s technically possible for the peasants to overthrow the King, in reality it’s very difficult and requires an enormous degree of mass coordination behind the King’s back. Since most people are complacent and seek the path of least danger, most peasants will opt not to fight for their rights and risk getting their heads chopped off. Only when things get so atrociously awful that they’re left with little alternative will they grab their pitchforks and start a French Revolution.
The second answer is that, most people have a natural inclination to accept the status quo and are socially conditioned to do so. From birth, we are subject to domination hierarchies such as our education system and the workforce. We our taught to obey our masters and not question things. Those who question things are sent to detention and prescribed ADD pills, those who don’t are praised and promoted. Eventually we internalize this domination, becoming spineless risk-averse status quo accepting monkeys, willing to sacrifice our own diginity and even throw our fellow co-workers under the bus in order to get brownie points from our masters, endlessly chasing that proverbial carrot on the stick while the one holding the carrot is eating the whole salad.
Perhaps the question of capitalism vs. socialism can further be reduced to that of continuing to accept the status quo (with perhaps some minor modifications here and there), or fundamentally changing the structure to democratize power not only within our government, but also within our workplaces.
Perhaps solving the enormous wealth disparity requires more than just some minor tweaks redistributing a little money here and there, but instead requires fundamentally solving the root cause of this disparity rather than merely addressing symptoms – more specifically by democratizing power in the workforce so that profits can be democratically allocated rather than seized by a minority class of absentee owners with the crumbs partially distributed to the workers on some MLM pyramid scheme-like basis.
It remains to be seen whether the peasants will stand up and overthrow the monarchy, or sit complacently in their offices browsing Reddit on their second monitor while periodically double-checking their iPhones for missed notifications.
Further Reading: Stephen Marglin – What do Bosses Do? The Origins and Functions of Hierarchy in Capitalist Production (Harvard)