Democrats & Liberals Archives

Is It Socialism They Fear, Or The Boogeyman?

The two seemingly most vocal groups opposed to any proposed socialist programs are corporate America, backed by politicians with vested interests in the comfortable and lucrative status quo of broken capitalism, and the average American who, for any number of reasons, believes that socialism is inherently evil. Let’s put aside those greedy monsters that salivate at the prospect of indefinite wealth disparity and focus on the average American.

The people who have been showing up at town hall meetings to disrupt intelligent discourse—yes they have a right to speak their voices, but disrupting the democratic process through protesting is sort of an oxymoron, no?—are legitimately scared at the prospect of Big Government telling them how to live, what to wear, where to work, what to think, how to spend their money, etc. What is most peculiar about this manifest paranoia is that these tend to be the same people who so often hold and express the belief that people who don’t live, think, or behave like them should change their tune and get in line. But their anti-socialist paranoia is more hypocritical than these people seem to realize.

Few would deny the bravery and heroism of our firefighters and police, who selflessly throw their lives in harms way to save ordinary citizens. Well, they’re socialists because they accept public money as payment even from those who have never needed their services. Likewise, anyone who calls the police for help or has their life saved by a volunteer firefighter has benefited from socialism. To oppose socialist programs simply on the basis of “it’s evil” and “why should I give away what’s mine” is a frighteningly grotesque concept.

Road work, Social Security (the ability to retire), the National Guard, our Military, redistributed Alaskan oil revenue, along with firefighters and police, these are all examples of socialism that nobody ever seems to complain about when it benefits them. Yet socialism is bad, right? Why exactly? Is socialism inherently bad or is it just as corruptible as Capitalism? More so? Less so? Or is it that the majority of Americans who are not CEOs, Senators, or Lobbyists really have no idea what they’re opposing or why?

Reality is often distorted by carefully crafted paranoia when there is political ground to gain. When power is just grazing the fingertips anything handy will do to rein it in and seize it. Politicians know their “fears” of socialism are mostly lies and propaganda. The only legitimate fear here is that of those afraid of losing their power and terrified of changing the status quo. After all, there must always be haves and have nots, right?

Money is a factor. Cost is always a factor. But the matter of cost for socialist programs is heavily laden with rhetoric and hypocrisy. With what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have and will continue to cost us, who knows how much free health care could be provided for every uninsured American—and many who already have insurance—for decades, if not the rest of their lives. What about the skirted tax revenue estimated to be in the tens of billions tied up in Swiss bank accounts? Perhaps the cries of rising costs are only so loud because the ones doing the crying—the rich—won’t benefit from these programs. Unfortunately America’s top one percent who controls everything has managed to get the average American on their side through morality-based fear mongering and empty rallying cries of patriotism and nationalism. So many people firmly believe that to admit there are problems in America means America is no longer the shining city on a hill, or that the problems have to do with “morals”, or “protecting private wealth”, or “family values”, or some other phony euphemistic definition of America.

Why is it that such ardent, self-professed “real Americans” forget the simple humanist concepts put forth by our founding fathers? They laid down a framework for a country where everyone is supposed to prosper. America was founded because the old model of “the few controlling the many” was, and continues to be wrong. This country was founded on Democratic principles, not capitalist greed. People tend to think that democracy and socialism are exclusive, but this isn’t so. A democratic people can easily vote for socialist programs to benefit the whole of society. But when the few control the masses and keep them as far down as possible what kind of democracy are we living in? What sort of country do those people causing riots at town hall meetings really think their fighting to protect? Who will ultimately benefit if they have their way?

Posted by Michael Falino at August 12, 2009 8:14 PM
Comment #286194


Let me start by saying that I believe that I strongly believe that the goal of National Healthcare is something that we must reach for the economic well-being of the country.

That said, I believe that your article is both misleading and unless your sole goal is to preach to the choir not very effective.

Let me start with the misleading part, socialism in the true definition of it is not about the public provision of services. It is a term rooted in the industrial age, that has its root a collective decision to decide that the “means of production” should be centrally controlled and distributed. From the founding of this country, we knew that there was a role for government to provide services such as the military. Though the Hessians and other mercenaries existed then (and today through Security Firms), they were not considered organized enough, effective enough by themselves, and aligned with our foriegn policy to be the sole provision of this service. Thus, when the government established the army and navy they were not “seizing” the means of production for armed services.

The second category of socialism that you cite are fire fighting, police, and Social Security. These again are not socialist instutions because they arose in lieu of any true competion from private industry. They instead are social insurance rather than socialism. They arose because historically there was not enough capital or interest to pose a competing interest to the government providing these services, and in the case of police services in particular, they are not only services provided by the government but rather agents of the government. They are there as the first line of defense to enforce the laws of the government.

Btw, you say, “nobody ever seems to complain about when it benefits them;” I’m pretty sure in the case of Social Security, more than a few have, and even more question whether it will. This was a different arrangement altogether as well. When it was passed, it was not designed as a socialist program, instead it was purposefully devoid of means testing to make sure that those that paid in received out in proportion to their contributions plus inflation.

The next example you offer is Alaskan oil revenues; it on its face appears socialist. However, again, this is not really socialism. The Alaskan government does not run the oil drills, it does not man the pipeline. This is actually more of a reverse tax where the government essentially sold the oil reserves to private industry and is getting payments back overtime which it shares with its citizens.

Roads, I do believe that you can consider socialist programs. There were competing private roads. The land that they were built on was usually seized from private hands, and they are almost completely government maintained. I have actually always found the roads example interesting. I’m not sure why we decided that roads should be socialized while the rails before and the airways after remained in private hands. Perhaps it has to do with the services of the rails and the airways being privately provided while the roads are merely vehicles for private provision. Anyway, I’ve often wondered if we would have the pollution problems, congestion problems, and urban sprawl problems if the roadways had been privately run. Probably, but we’ll never know.

Why I think that your argument is ineffective is that you are not making the points that I just made above in light of National Healthcare. You are making the same mistake that novice debaters make all the time, you are letting your opponent (or your own preconceived notion) define the terms of the debate for you.

The programs touted by Obama are not socialist; they certainly represent an expansion of social welfare, but they are not actually socialized. He is not suggesting that we “publicize” all hospitals, that all doctors will be paid by the government or that pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies will be siezed and made public institutions.

I think that one of the mistakes that supporters of his plan have made is mistaking what they ultimately want to see (true socialized medicine) for what is actually being proposed. If instead of trotting out defenses of socialism, you had cited all of the reasons why the plan was not socialist, you may have had a few more converts. I’m sure that many would have still argued the point, but some may have seen the light and thought about the problem in a new way.

Posted by: Rob at August 12, 2009 10:54 PM
Comment #286198

Rob made many of the points I would have made. Let me build on what he said.

Socialism is the system where the government owns or controls most major industries.
There is no such thing as a pure system and only fools argue the fine points of the practical economy.

There is a continuum of ranging from free markets to controlled markets. If you look at the index of economic freedom, you find that the freest economies are Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the U.S. in that order. We are #6.

You find that prosperity and a generally good life go with free markets. Every one of the top ten free market countries is a place most people would not mind living and everyone one of the bottom ten is a sh*t hole, so there is clear difference between the best and the worst (The least free markets are Venezuela, Eritrea, Burma, Cuba, Zimbabwe and North Korea.) but there is plenty of room in between.

When people fear socialism, they fear a slide in the direction of the less free market. I suppose people on the right exaggerate the threat of socialism in the same way people on the left exaggerate the rapacity of capitalism. The fact is, life has been good in most free market democracies for such a long time that very few people are old enough to remember really hard times.

The founding of our country was a great event in world history and a break with the past in many ways. Before that time, there was not a successful republic on such a large scale and there had not been a free market in the way we understand it today.

Until 1776 (and a lot after) governments granted patents and monopolies. The king thought he had the right to control commerce and manage it very closely. Our country indeed was NOT founded on capitalist greed. But it was founding on the principles of freedom with a profound respect for private property and private initiative. Government was in the business of creating the conditions of prosperity, but not managing it or guaranteeing it to anybody. This was the big difference between the young United States and almost every other place at the time.

You really cannot have much freedom in general if you don’t have the freedom from arbitrary government seizure of your assets or property.

In the ensuing centuries, this kind of freedom spread throughout the world, so that now many other countries have similar freedoms and most developed countries have lower corporate taxes than we do. Even old Europe has been “liberalizing.” They use the word in the original sense, which means pretty much the opposite of how we use the term in the U.S. Thre it means more reliance on markets and less on state control.

Socialism in the government control sense of fascism or communism turned out to be very bad. You could argue that Democratic socialism would be a good thing. The problem would be in the coercion necessary to establish and maintain the system in the U.S. That is what people are afraid of.

Posted by: Christine at August 12, 2009 11:40 PM
Comment #286201

Why Socialism Fails

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 13, 2009 12:50 AM
Comment #286212

Excellent dicusion All.

Rob, good coumter poimts!

Christine, excellent stab at hitting the heart of the Democrats Problem.

And Rhinehold, we’ll have to talk,

Because I have only one question for you. Do you believe that Any and All Community Services to include 911 Call Centers are a form of Socialism or is the way Americans have learned to look out for each other?

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at August 13, 2009 8:34 AM
Comment #286214

Michael F.,

Socialism as an ideology IS TO BE FEARED, as is any ideology that attempts to override or negate the real world in favor of itself.

Some socialist programs will work, and some will work excellently, like the Veterans Administration when appropriately funded and managed, which ours is for the most part. The VA produces the highest quality of care at the lowest cost of any health care system in America.

Other socialist programs will not work, and some will fail horribly, like state ownership of national capital resources as was attempted in the Soviet Union and China under Mao Tse Tung. Enormous failures those were.

Ideology will deny realities to preserve itself in the face of undermining data and evidence. Ergo, socialism or capitalism as ideologies will fail. It is no accident that all the of the major economic nations of the world now employ a mix of socialist and capitalist policies as foundations of their economic existence. That is what pragmatism and effective problem solving require.

A perfect example of what I am talking about is the multi-billion dollar deficit incurred in the last quarter by the U.S. Postal Service. The vast bulk of the mail passing through the cost side of the USPS is junk mail sent by businesses to consumers, at huge discounts over private individual first class mail, which tends to be mail which is not junked by the recipient immediately upon receipt. This is the worst of socialism and capitalism ideology in one fell swoop.

The USPS is subsidizing businesses who use their capital to lobby government to discount their costs in their mass production of junk and waste mail, while those transacting important useful and productive correspondence between organizations and individuals and other organizations, are being priced away from first class mail to cheaper and faster electronic modes of communication. It is a prescription for failure, and failing is exactly what is happening to the US Postal Service.

Ideology is neither practical nor efficient in addressing real world problems or designing holistic sustainable solutions. When the USPS flips their model, and makes junk mail their premium priced mail and their non-junk official mail their discounted service, the USPS will be able to downsize their overhead, and increase their revenue side beyond a balance point of break even toward the profit side of the equation.

But, the capitalists demanding socialist subsidies will have none of that. Ideology run amok is what has created this debacle with America’s mail system.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 13, 2009 8:50 AM
Comment #286231

Question? What if the government had used an existing government agency, the FHA to provide low interest, fixed rate housing morgages for Americans rather than creating the Freddy Fanny, Countrytime, Larry Summers housing derivitives debacle which was a major cause of our economic distress?

Posted by: jlw at August 13, 2009 2:21 PM
Comment #286342

Hello David, hello?
Socialism. Evil? Who told you that and why do they want you to believe it? Look at ‘em. Look at who they are and what they do. Look at them real hard.
Look at Lee Raymond’s golden parachute of $400,000,000 (four hundred million dollars). Do you really believe they aren’t laughing all the way to the bank when they see the tea-baggers and the birthers and the anti-healthcare protesters? Do you really believe that they don’t have contempt for the ignorant who are taking action to make their own lives more miserable? For the suckers and the chumps thay only have contempt. For me and my ilk thay have absolute, red-hot hatred because we know what the scam is.
I would run and “fink out” to the principal at the school when picked on by the bullies. Somehow that was un-ethical. Oh really? I’m supposed to believe that? Guess what happened to the bully when he hit me first. You don’t wanna know.
Let us know when you’re invited to the join the country club. Let us know when you cash in big time from an insider deal.

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Comment #375165

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