There are many who insist that one particular form of societal organization is “more fair” than others. That’s the apparent underlying theme of the “Occupy” movement that has been making headlines the past year.
Yet when one looks around the world and back in history, it is difficult to find a society that was not stratified, with a few having more and most having less. Even tribal societies exhibit this trait. There may not have been a lot of “more” to possess, but to the extent it existed, more was concentrated in the hands of the tribal elders and leaders.
Be it ancient Egyptian, Mayan, Minoan, or other old cultures, or the states of the 21st century, we simply don’t have any examples that have distributed a society’s wealth equally among its citizens.
The main difference among the various options for government seems to be the basis on which the unequal distribution is made.
In tribal societies, authority was held by either the elders, where status was often passed by lineage, or by outright acquisition of power through force. As societies grew, there was a natural transition to monarchies. (Though they still exist today, they are largely now ceremonial or exercise whatever authority they still have though another form of government.)
In a pure communistic system, the government is the sole arbiter of who gets what. Inevitably, whatever power and wealth exists in the society resides in the hands of those who have risen through the ranks of the monopolistic political structure. They typically either are unelected or “win” one-party elections.
Even if their personal income appears modest, their lifestyle is supported by the government. They have the best, and often multiple homes; access to exclusive shops and services unavailable to the public; and easy access to transportation, vacations, aides, and assistants along with a host of other advantages unknown to the “99%” in that society.
Socialist societies offer similar advantages to the powerful, but typically through a mix of government-business partnerships. Deals are made, inevitably in favor of those businesses that directly or indirectly support the government, and the anointed ones live in high style.
Other than including the business element, the main difference between communist and socialist forms of government is that the latter have multiple political parties. The party in power can and does change over time, but the method of allocating unequal portions of wealth in a society to a relative few still heavily resides with the government.
On the other side of the equation is capitalism, though no country in the world has such an economic system in its pure form. Here, winners and losers are decided by “the market.” Bill Gates became fantastically rich by starting a company that brought the personal computer to the masses. Henry Ford created his wealth by introducing mass production of automobiles. People in Hollywood came to their good fortune by making movies and TV shows the public enjoys watching. In short, wealth is often made by offering an affordable product or service that is appreciated by the public on a wide scale.