Wandering about the web on a Sunday morning, pondering (well, trying to ponder – pondering is probably calmer than my current thought processes) Bill O’Reilly’s definition of what Occupy Wall Street is about

In other words, these folks want our stuff.

Throughout history, there have been human beings who did not want to compete in the marketplace. That sentiment drives a hatred of capitalism. The American economic system is a meritocracy. If you work hard and do well in your job, you usually will prosper providing you practice patience. If you don’t work hard and smart, you will be out on your keister — unless a union saves you.

Well, no.  We want a fair share of the increased American productivity over the last 30 years.  Most people in this country have worked hard and smart over that time, and very few of them – the top 1%, and, really, the top one-tenth of 1% – have gotten the gains. Do people really believe that every currently unemployed construction worker in the country was a lazy SOB who didn’t work hard – or is the implication that they are all stupid? Perhaps if they were smarter, they would have been hedge fund managers in the first place.  And, while it is relatively easy to move up and down in the middle class, it is very hard to move up out of the bottom 20%, and very unlikely that you will fall out of the top 20%.  Pick your parents well.

At any rate, I went to look up the definitions of “capitalism” and “socialism”.

Capitalism
1: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

Socialism
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Collective caught my eye.
6: shared or assumed by all members of the group <collective responsibility>

Aha! A corporation is ownership by a group.  Must be socialist!

But then I looked up corporate
1a : formed into an association and endowed by law with the rights and liabilities of an individual : incorporated

All of which brought me back to something I have known for decades:  the key is responsibility.

An individual or collective of individuals – a sole proprietorship or a partnership – can be sued for something the business does and lose everything they own individually, and can be criminally convicted for the actions of their business.  Enter the corporation, which protects those individuals.

Stockholders in a corporation have limited liability. They can only lose their original investment.  They cannot be sued or arrested for anything the corporation does.

A group which jointly owns a business and has shared responsibility is a collective, and therefore that awful thing, socialist.  A group which jointly owns a business and is, by law, incorporated and therefore exempt from responsibility as individuals, is a corporation, and therefore, that wonderful thing, capitalist.

So we have a situation where a collective of individuals are responsible for the actions of the business. But the owners – stockholders – of a corporation are not responsible for the actions of the business, and the board and employees are only responsible for making a profit for the shareholders.

It is indeed a wonderful world in which people demand individual responsibility while praising a system where no-one is responsible and condemning a system where people are.

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