What Is Socialism, Really?

Mar 02, 09 What Is Socialism, Really?
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Americans have knee-jerk reactions to buzzwords that they do not fully comprehend.  Definitional or contextual ignorance of words and concepts can lead to stultifying exchanges that leave all parties exhausted and frustrated.

In an desperate effort to remain relevant, those on the political right have resurrected the twin boogeymen Communism and Socialism.  The notion that the United States is headed towards communism is so absurd that only the most fervent Kool-Aid drinkers believe that this is a real possibility.

However, socialism, in its fuzzier Western European incarnations, provides vague examples of what America could look like.  Thus, “Canadian-style” health-care and the Western European welfare state are used to frighten an inner-directed electorate too often unconcerned with nuance.

In a socialist economy, the government owns the means of production.  Unfortunately, socialism is such an amorphous term, people can only agree on that most basic definition.  There are many schools of thought under the general umbrella of socialism.

However, when right-wing rabble-rousers raise the specter of “European socialism” and the menace it poses to the United States, generally they are speaking about mixed economies.  A mixed economy is exactly that, an economy where there is mixture of private and government ownership.  Sound familiar?

The Federal Reserve, USDA, FCC, and the EPA are regulatory agencies.  They regulate everything from monetary and banking policy to environmental policy.  AIG, Bank of America, American Express, and General Motors are just a few privately held companies that have received government bailout money.  Arguably, if the federal government had not intervened in the economy it would have already collapsed.

No one can seriously argue that government over-regulation contributed to this economic collapse.  Therefore, we are in a correction that resulted from thirty years of nearly unfettered capitalism.

The individuals leveling this ridiculous socialist charge against Mr. Obama understand this.  When it comes to the common defense, farm subsidies, and bank and Wall Street bailouts, no one was calling Mr. Bush a socialist.

No, when these disingenuous individuals level the charge of “socialist” in an accusing way, what they are really railing against is the meager social safety net that America has in place for those at the margins of our society.

Socialist aspects of our economy are so ingrained into our collective psyche that we no longer consider the socialist underpinnings of these programs.  Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and the public school system are a few government sponsored programs designed to direct goods and services to various segments of society.

Despite what Mr. Obama chooses to call it, we are well on our way to nationalizing large swaths of the banking system.  Are people genuinely scared of socialism?  Is it something more insidious?  Or do people really subscribe to Horatio Alger notions of bottom up social mobility?  Regardless of the reasons or disconnect, one thing is certain: We’re all socialists now…

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1 Comment

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