Monday, April 05, 2010

Word for today: Socialism

So what is Socialism?

Well, you listen to today's right-wing blogosphere, and it becomes clear that they haven't a clue. They appear to believe that "Socialism" is the same thing as redistribution of wealth. By that standard, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a socialist -- he had no problem with a 90% income tax rate on the top bracket in order to redistribute wealth downward.

The problem is, that's not what Socialist means. Socialist means that the government owns the means of production of wealth. Like when the UK nationalized Leyland Motors and called it British Leyland, or when France nationalized Citroen and Renault and made them state-owned, or when Britain nationalized the hospitals in 1948 and made them state-owned, or when Sweden nationalized its banks in 1992. That's Socialism -- the State owning major industries. Redistribution of wealth -- such as, say, taxing the rich in order to provide subsidies to the poor so that they can buy health insurance -- is plain old liberalism, which is not the same thing as socialism at all, let alone Communism, which outright outlaws private property beyond anything you can carry upon your own person.

Words have meaning. Using words in ways that aren't applicable makes you look like an idiot to anybody who is intelligent. Which, I realize, is the minority of Americans since 50% of Americans are below average and average ain't so smart anymore, but still. This ain't Freeperville, and we're a bit brighter 'round these parts :).

-- Badtux the Liberal Penguin


  1. Well dang, Tux. If Obama isn't Socialist he has to be Nazialist because there is no way a black president can be an Americanist, especially if he is a Muslimist. ;-)

  2. hey... their language isn't the language of logic or precise meaning. it is a language of emotions.... mainly negative emotions. words are used to get an emotional response. you might have noticed you can't actually "reason" with them very much before they fall back on ditto-head parroting. whiskey in the jar

  3. as if to make my point.... twitter:

    RT @tillerylakelady Obama is crying because #beck and #Limbaugh are educating the people on Socialism #teaparty #912project #libertarian #de

  4. Socialism is an abbreviation for the concept of bigger government. Just because somebody uses a shorthand word to describe a complicated movement doesn't make them stupid. Why do you use epithets like teabuggers? It evokes a lot of images and feelings instantly (negative ones when the word is used pejoratively). It saves typing.

    Regardless of whether or not the term is correctly used, it is undeniable that Obama is taking us further down the road to socialism. Making utilities of insurance companies is socialism. If you control the means of production by mandates or by ownership, it is the same.

    If you want to be technical about it, you can say we're not at all becoming more socialist, but more liberal. Who cares, we all know it is bigger government. The more correct term of "statism" just doesn't seem to be catching on.

    Eisenhower almost ran as a Democrat. The tax rates were in place as part of the New Deal which he inherited.

  5. Hi Nathan, I hope you don't think I'm ignoring you, it's just that I've been very busy this past week preparing for my spring migration, and will be migratory for the next week or so.

    We have, of course, had socialism in America since 1787, when Ben Franklin wrote it into the U.S. Constitution (it's there -- read the section where Congress gets the power to create post offices and post roads). It's sort of the whole point of government, actually -- to provide services in a socialist manner where the private marketplace won't work. Fire protection, police protection, public libraries... all of those are socialist, and we've had all of those provided by government since before the founding of our nation. I am baffled as to why you are stamping your widdle feetsies and saying this is a bad thing. If government can do it more effectively and efficiently than the private market, and choice is not important (and let's face it, I don't care who provides police services to my apartment complex, I just care that somebody provides police services to my apartment complex), what is the problem?

    Remember, in a democracy, government is We The People. It is right that We The People should be able to provide goods and services in a more efficient manner collectively (i.e., socialism) when We The People decide this is appropriate. I realize that right-wingers hate democracy, probably because We The People often make decisions that right-wingers disagree with, but the alternative -- a tyranny of the minority over the majority -- is unacceptable.

    Regulation to ensure that people are providing quality-goods in a non-fraudulent manner -- i.e., to make sure that health care companies provide what we're paying for -- is socialism? Uhm, no. Prohibitions against fraud date back to the founding of our nation too, indeed some of the first U.S. Supreme Court cases involved federally chartered canal companies that defrauded stockholders. Regulation is good ole' liberalism, taking a proactive approach to making sure fraud doesn't happen rather than a reactive approach. Preventing fraud rather than allowing people to be defrauded then reacting afterwards is a liberal thing to do, and you're quite correct about that. But it's not socialism, and you sound like you're hyperventilating when you claim it is.

    In short: Your biggest beef appears to be with democracy itself, which has decided, everywhere that it has been tried, that certain functions are better done by government (i.e. socialism!) and that markets need to be properly regulated in order to prevent fraud and other criminal activity (i.e., regulation!). These things did not happen because they were imposed on the democracies of the world by some tyrannical power. They happened because the people of these democracies wanted them to happen. And, occasionally, changed their mind and un-wanted them to happen -- thus why there is no longer an automobile company called British Leyland.

    - Badtux the Democratic Penguin

  6. We had socialism in the constitution to about the same extent as cookies have a little salt in them. Nobody operates at the extremes. You need some balance and some thoughtfulness. In communist countries they have a bit of capitalism. It doesn't make them capitalists at heart or in principle.

    What we're talking about here is where your heart is, and then we make realistic compromises and go from there. I can see you're heart is in statism without hesitation if any bespectacled number crunching intellectual can show you it serves your interests in some way. I feel that statism is the right place for people who think their thought processes are superior, because they know if they run the show everything will turn out right. I, on the other hand, am for freedom first. It doesn't mean I don't compromise.

    I feel many of your posts box people into neat little extreme caricatures. I personally am an 80/20 man. 80% capitalism, and 20% socialism. That is my utmost limit. Under 20%, and you'll find me more easily swayed to social paternalism. Over 20%, and I'm fighting you every inch. Furthermore, though, based on the concept of Federalism and the 10th amendment, the 20% needs to be at the State level as much as possible. So I'm fighting you most of the time when it comes to Federal programs. I don't care if bigger is better or more efficient. It's when we hold true to the rule of law, that societies do best.

    The constitution was clearly by any reasonable interpretation written to constrain the role of the federal government in favor of the states. In Federalist 45, the "father" of our Constitution James Madison says it best ""The powers delegated ... to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, [such] as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. ... The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people.""

    When it comes to the concept of the government's only object being to "provide services where the market place doesn't work". If that is the operational definition, then there is absolutely no limit to what government should do. The government can do anything better than the private sector because it has nearly unlimited access to resources. (It just can't do it as efficiently and it can't do it without infringing on freedom) So while technically accurate, your definition is framed to produce your desired statist result. The definition I think Americans true to the Constitution should have is this: the government is there to protect your inalienable rights. These are rights you have even in the absence of other human beings (right to life, liberty, and property). As soon as other human beings enter the picture, they tend to interfere with those inalienable rights. Your socialist utopias interfere a little with life and a lot with liberty and property. The sleight of hand that liberals/progressives/socialist perform is treat vested rights as inalienable ones. In light of the fact that one of the inalienable rights is to democratically engage in collective projects means that sometimes our goal of protecting rights must necessarily break down for the minority who doesn't agree with the majority. But the American system even tries to protect the minority. The majority should not always get its way. Checks, balances, and compromise. In case you didn't know this, the founding fathers despised pure democracy. We have a republic, not a democracy. Again, because we don't want "We the people" turning themselves over to dictators, or wannabees like Obama.

    I wrote more about this here .


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

WARNING: You are entitled to create your own arguments, but you are NOT entitled to create your own facts. If you spew scientific denialism, or insist that the sky is purple, or otherwise insist that your made-up universe of pink unicorns and cotton candy trees is "real", well -- expect the banhammer.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.