The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Socialism my ass

Posted by Bill Nance on October 21, 2008

For as long as I’ve been following U.S. elections (From Carter/Ford to present) Republicans have been screaming Socialism and attributing semi (and not so semi) communist sympathies to the Democrats.

First, a definition: “Socialism: -A broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

The claim that the Democrats, as a party, represent socialism is as silly as the claim that the Republicans, as a party, support totalitarianism. Are there honest-to-god communists in the Democratic Party? I’m sure there are many. I’m equally sure there are just as many Republicans who are in the KKK or the John Birch Society. Despite the lame attempts to define each other by their fringe-kook members, the vast majority of the people in both parties have always been centrist capitalists of one stripe or another.

Now as far as Socialism goes, there has never been an even remotely serious attempt on the part of the Democrats to socialize the means of production. In fact, the only actual nationalizations in the nation’s history have been either temporary war-effort nationalizations (railroads in WWI), the nationalizations of of the TVA(1939), airport security nationalization (2001), and of course the recent bailouts.

Other nationalizations have been subsidies of failed infrastructure projects, notably AMTRAK, which were judged (by both political parties) too important to allow to fail completely.

Now of course the claims of Socialism from the Republicans (and it’s always the Republicans) also center around social programs and “wealth redistribution.” There might have been some truth to this claim in 1980 and 1992. The U.S. government was in both cases bloated, tax policies skewed and welfare programs running amok. But when you actually look at the numbers, it’s not the poor who have ever been on the receiving end of the lion’s share of wealth redistribution. The largest recipients of welfare have always been giant corporate interests, whether it’s been oil companies, agri-business, defense contractors or lately, health insurance and drug companies.

Such “welfare” programs have been in the forms of both direct subsidies and also in the form of tax breaks which essentially mean the corporations pay little or no tax whatever. John McCain can talk about top marginal rates until he’s blue in the face. There is hardly a single large company that’s actually paying those rates. They all have so many loopholes and special breaks that the actual rate of taxes paid is tiny.

Ask yourself: How many U.S. companies have actually relocated completely outside the United States? Remember that capital always acts in it’s own interests. If actual tax rates were ruinously high, there wouldn’t be many giant corporations left in America. They haven’t gone anywhere because the taxes they actually pay are much smaller than they would pay elsewhere.

Republicans love to talk about the wonders of Capitalism. But they always fail to note that actual laissez faire capitalism hasn’t existed since at least 1863 when the U.S. Government created the national banking system.

Hundreds, even thousands of limits on capital have existed in the United States for a century or more, most of which the vast majority of Americans support wholeheartedly. I don’t see a widespread movement to do away with social security or medicare for instance, nor to dis-establish the Federal Reserve or remove work-place safety laws or wage and hour laws. Nor have any of these things been in a Republican Party Platform in my adult lifetime.

Every one of these things can be labeled socialism. The regulation of private capital.

Socialist government structures exist in many forms in many different ostensibly capitalist countries, including the United States. No reputable, serious person is talking about doing away with them. At most people talk about reforming them or making them work better. Usually regulation (which Republicans have been calling “socialism” since 1913) results from problems arising from failures of capitalism.

Free-market economics works and works well; better by far than any known alternative. But it doesn’t work for all things in all circumstances. The Federal Reserve was created to stop the boom and bust cycles in the economy that hurt everyone except the very wealthy and the very lucky. Social Security was created because every successful society in history has had some way of protecting it’s elders from the worst of poverty. Regulations on workplace conditions were created because given no regulations, workers were being maimed and killed because it was cheaper to hire new workers than to fix unnecessarily dangerous working conditions.

When the Republicans scream about the evils of socialism, they are lying. They are every bit as much “wealth redistributors” as the Democrats. They just want to “share the wealth” in a different direction.

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