I see far too many times to count, the accusation that President Obama is a "socialist" and that as a country the United States is heading in that direction.
Really? I have to wonder if those false accusations are deliberate or due to ignorance of exactly what socialism in its true forms really is.
Socialism, true socialism, is quite close, with some important differences, to Communism. I have a hunch many are thinking they're the same, and some of that based on the old name for Russia, The United Soviet Socialist Republic. Heck, the old Soviet Union wasn't even true Communism, but that's another issue, and I don't care about it.
If you look at the root word for socialism, it's from society.
What is a society? Obviously, it's a collection of people living together for many reasons, but mostly for the common good. The common good might be for armed protection, more successful farming or business, but clearly a society works together or it isn't one; it's just a collection of individuals. However, a society ought to allow for individualism, a different thing altogether. Anyway, I digress.
The bottom line is, is the United States a socialist nation? Clearly the answer to that question is a hardy "No!" Are we in danger of becoming one? I doubt that very much. We are a free market, capitalist society and will remain so. The real issue seems to be what does a society have to provide to be a society?
Obviously, a society in the modern - and not so modern - world provides a military force, some set of laws and a mechanism for enforcement, and other beneficial elements that could not be afforded individually but can be provided collectively and benefit pretty much everyone equally, things like bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, and schools. I'd say there wouldn't be much argument over those things. Ah, but now it gets stickier. What about care for the poor and disabled, the elderly? How do we prevent the more powerful from taking advantage of the rest of us? And now we enter into the real discussion and reason for cries of "socialism!" from certain segments of our society.
The real issue is do we follow the teachings and Capitalist theories of John Maynard Keynes or those of Milton Friedman? Although there are many variables in between, those two models are the record for most of the last century. Keynes, and I present this very simplistically, argued for government intervention into the free market to insure everyone ion the society had a shot at success. That would include various social programs, government spending, monetary supply and limits on some Free Market mechanisms. Friedman on the other hand, advocated for pure and unfettered Capitalism, totally unfettered by the government.
Looking back, our economy and middle class did the best while the United States was following the methods suggested by Keynes. Ronald Reagan began the turn toward the theories and methods advocated by Milton Friedman in the '80s, the so-called "trickle-down economics" is a simplistic explanation of Friedman. (I highly recommend a book called "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein if you want a truly clear picture of how Friedman economics was applied by the United States. I warn you, it's not pleasant)
So, the argument between the left and right is not about socialism, it's really about two different forms or theories on capitalism. Keynes would have advocated for anti-monopoly laws, Friedman wouldn't. Keynes would have placed controls on various industries that have affected healthcare adversely for the average person; Friedman would not.
Keynes would have advocated government spending on various infrastructures to get out of our recession; Friedman would not. However, that being said, Keynes was not a socialist, and his policies were not socialist. Socialism, true socialism, means lots of government nationalization of many industries deemed "in the public interest," perhaps oil and gas, other utilities and energy companies.
Keynes did not and while following his dictums, neither did the United States. Yet we do have laws on the books calling for "eminent domain", where private property can be taken for "the public good," the building of roads and such. Well, I hate to say this, but that is sort of a socialist idea. Ironically, it was a very much anti-socialist Supreme Court, filled with a majority of Conservative judges that decided that "eminent domain" could allow for a government to take property from individuals based solely on raising the tax base!
Now I have to tell you, that's socialism! (That Supreme Court decision allowed for a city government to take private homes to allow for a developer to build more expensive homes, raising the tax base.) Again, I have to wonder if those who cry "socialism" the most have any idea what it means and who's actually advocating for socialist principles.
Anyway, if you're a truly middle class person within our economic structure, you did a lot better when we followed the economics of Keynes rather than Friedman.
Now, I will say again that this is a simplistic, condensed version of things, it's not intended to be a doctoral thesis nor a book to be used in an economics course. It is a short explanation of what socialism is and is not, and what the reality of capitalism is in this country and why things have changed.
In a nutshell, Keynes advocates for a free market with some controls and government spending to even the playing field and preventing a societal control by business. Friedman stands for a pure capitalistic society where it is dog eat dog and if you start to slip "under water," so to speak, you're totally on your own.
In Friedman's world, business has no social conscience, none at all, and business people have no loyalty to anything but the company. Some readers will say that's OK with them, others will not, but the important thing is to at least accept the fact that both men were in favor of capitalism, just in different forms. The difference between those two men and what they believed is the real difference between true Republicans and Democrats. I say true Republicans and Democrats because I truly believe that Neo-cons and Liberals are neither. Neo-cons are the ones who don't seem to know what socialism is, or at least pretend not to, and Liberals probably, deep down, are socialistic in nature.
Remember, all so-called social programs are not socialism, per se. Also remember that not all "free market" economic theories have anything to do with a decent society.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org