Monday, November 17, 2008

Is Socialism Upon Us? Um, no.

Last week, several of our faithful contributors and I took on our friend James over at The Kansas Citian, having a spirited chat about his claim that "Democratic Socialism" has come now to America. I will not spend too much time recapping the debate, but if you wish to see its genesis, you may find it on his blog, to which you may link at left and you should read anyhow because it's just a good read generally.

James' specious claim is not unique - it's a foul being cried by conservatives throughout the land. The cries rang out when President-Elect Obama campaigned (as others did and had before him) on a platform that included a need to provide health insurance and access to medical services for the approximately 45 million Americans that do not have it currently. The cries turned hysterical when Secretary Paulson reached out his hand and asked for $700 billion. And, frankly, the cries have reached a pitch that only dogs can hear now that Congress has unveiled a plan - which is likely to fail, at least in the short term - to bail out the American automobile industry as well.

The battle cry of these outraged folks is simple: America is marching towards Socialism, and nobody seems to care or be as outraged as we are.

Well, the Potatoe has sat on this subject and just chuckled for long enough, but Bob Rumson is getting just a little too much airtime and it's time for us to chime in and point out the great big huge flaw in your theory.

There are many reasons why none of these things are Socialism of any stripe. I say "any stripe" because one of James' main points was that this isn't necessarily "Socialism" per se but rather "Democratic Socialism" - a more moderate offshoot of the ideology and one that isn't necessarily incompatible with a generally Capitalistic society (a theory that is somewhat head-scratching in itself, but that's for another day). However, this isn't Democratic Socialism either. But James does get extra points for not just screaming "SOCIALISM!" at the top of his lungs like many conservatives have but by trying to make a reasoned showing that these actions are akin to a move towards a Socialist society, or at least a Democratic Socialist one. We here at the Potatoe think these reasons are bullcrap on a chef salad, and I'm going to explain the one big stinking reason why in a minute...

Listen, there are many reasons we are not moving towards Socialism. Many. Do the research yourself - you don't have to take my word for it. As one small example, take the History News Network and Professor Andrew M. Schocket's word. Who? Well, see, the HNN, in their own words, are "an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts." They took it upon themselves to write a nice little article detailing the history of government involvement in banks in this country, and that in no way should this bailout be considered a step towards Socialism. But let's see what HNN's conclusions are:

One thing remains the same: regardless of how much money the government invests, the bailout plan still allows bankers to be in charge of bank policies, for better or, as we have seen recently, for worse. It's not socialism that we're getting or socialism that we have to fear, but unregulated capitalism. Capitalism got us into this mess, and we are counting on government-backed capitalism to get us out of it.

Sounds like they don't think we're headed towards a jackbooted Cheka operative stomping on your Christmas tree and declaring your house confiscated for the good of the Collective. But there's one big fat reason why none of this is Socialism of any kind. Frankly, I'm surprised it doesn't get more play in the mainstream media, but it might just be too simple. But before I reveal the reason, I want to pose the following hypothetical:

A man breaks into my house. In the course of attempting to kill me, I wrest a gun from him and it accidentally goes off, killing him. In shock and terrified, I run from my house and call the police straightaway. They arrive, survey the scene and arrest me and charge me with murder in the first degree. Should I be convicted of murder at trial?

That sounds pretty dumb, doesn't it? Sounds like I should be exonerated in this scenario, does it not? Of course it does. And why?

Well, any fan of Law & Order could tell you - I lacked motive. I acted in self-defense. Not all homicides are murder, as we all know - only premeditated ones. Ones with intent. With what is called mens rea. The mental commitment to the idea of killing. The example offered above contains no intent. I am not guilty of murder. (note: this is a simple example to make a point. Do not bring your bar exam review materials to the computer and quote the Model Penal Code to me or I will show you an example of premeditated murder. Put it away, nerds.)

And this is why we are not becoming a Socialist country - in any way. Socialism is a political idea and requires motive and commitment. You cannot blunder into Socialism. Socialism is not a reaction to an emergency. Socialism is not temporary or a stop-gap measure. It is a political ideology. You cannot accidentally be Socialist just as you couldn't accidentally be Christian. It requires adherence to a system of beliefs, not just some temporary actions that might have overlap. You can't be temporarily Socialist just as you couldn't be temporarily Christian. "Oh, I found this dude on this cross here and decided to worship him for a sec - you guys have a whole name for this?" No. That's not how these things work.

See, here's the thing: the federal government has zero interest in an ongoing ownership stake in banks or the automobile industry. None. Not one person has posited that this is something the government should operate or "nationalize." Should there be oversight? Perhaps. Should we bail them out so they don't collapse in this turbulent economic period? Possibly. But this is not Socialism. Socialism is the act of nationalizing these institutions because the government decides they should be owned and operated by the government for the good of the people. That is absolutely, positively not being proposed. Never has. Never will. Not Socialism of any stripe. The government does not want to own AIG or GM. You will find zero people advocating this as a permanent solution. That is the absolutely basic and completely rudimentary reason why this is not Socialism, and it is so simple that I can't understand why it's so hard for some people to grasp.

As far as healthcare is concerned, those who scream that providing some sort of government health care for the 45 million Americans who currently have none is Socialism just do not understand (and, for my dollar, are dicks, frankly). If they truly believe this, they obviously believe the United Kingdom, Canada and virtually every other "First World" country is Socialist, since these countries have far more nationalized health care systems than any candidate in United States history has ever proposed. The proposal for providing health care for all Americans is not the same as putting the health care system under national control or "nationalizing" it. It is far closer to the public school system - where every child is entitled to a public education, but is free to opt out and send their children to private school if they choose to and can so afford. So far, I haven't heard anyone spout off that our education system is inherently Socialist because we have public schools paid for by tax dollars. If someone would like to make that argument, bring it on.

Fact of the matter is that I'm getting really tired of listening to uninformed and hysterical mouth-breathers accuse people like Secretary Paulson of moving the country towards Socialism. Hank Paulson is one of the most devout Capitalists alive today. You do not work at Goldman Sachs if you are dabbling in Socialist tendencies. I don't necessarily agree with the actions of Secretary Paulson, Speaker Pelosi, President-Elect Obama or President Bush on the banking and auto crisis. But then again, I'm not sure that this isn't simply the solution with the least flies on it. I'm not qualified enough as an amateur economist to conclude one way or the other.

However, I am plenty qualified to pronounce this as being absolutely positively NOT Socialism. Unless your contention is that our government intends to take over ownership, operation and oversight of the banking and automobile industries on a permanent and complete basis, screaming Socialism is simply wasting valuable oxygen. Why so many other people have such a hard time getting there is beyond me.


Merge Divide said...


You should see some of the comment threads over on my blog during the last two months- I've been dealing with this "socialism" tag way too much. But the main argument over there was about whether or not "progressive taxation" is socialist. God-almighty, we've been doing it since 1862. Doesn't anybody actually study these things anymore?

Warm Apple Pie said...

Joe the Plubmer wants a flat tax dammit!!!!!! Joe, you're rich!!!!

Pat Bateman said...

I've had it with the Socialism gambit. I've had it. It's like race-baiting for the financial set. Socialism is the bogeyman. We must stop the inexorable march of Marxist feet.

Progressive taxation? Really? What do you think we have right now, folks? A flat tax? Man, oh man.

What really gets me is the complete black hole of knowledge these folks live in. We pay among the lowest personal income tax in the civilized world. WAP actually didn't believe me once upon a time when I told him this and I sent him this graph:

It's an eye-opener, to be sure.

Socialism my left Marxicle. I wish that people would stop discussing words that they don't know the meaning of fully. I understand not everyone wants to devote their free time to reading books on history and political and economic theory like I do, but I'm a boring son of a bitch and that's all there is to do here in my bomb shelter. Just try to take the word of those who know better:

You're safe... from Socialism. From a fully Capitalist depression... not as safe.

James said...

Read my comment on your follow up. While the fed will not have direct say, they do have voting power as a voting share stock holder.