Monday, August 24, 2009

SOCIALISM! Booga Booga Boo!

I think conservatives are confused. They see government spending money on social services and think social services ... hmmmm ... socialism. They see the name of the old USSR - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and think ... hmmm ... communism ... is socialism. They look at the name of the Nazi Party - The National Socialist German Worker's Party ... hmmm ... fascism is socialism. Thus in the conservative mind, every form of political-economic system is socialism. Communism is socialism, Fascism is socialism, Capitalism is socialism. EVERYTHING is socialism!

OK.... let's clear a few things up.

Government paying for things is not socialism. Government providing social services is not socialism. Those are both normal functions of a capitalist state - recognized as such since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and drove a stake through the heart of mercantilism and defined what would come to be known as the modern Capitalist state. Specifically Smith outlined 3 broad areas of government responsibility; national defense, administration of justice, and providing those public goods which are essential to a free and prosperous society. Those public goods which Smith identified were infrastructure and education - which are essential to both the public weal and commerce. In today's more complex world social safety nets are also essential to commerce. The example of the cost of private healthcare crippling our industries points toward the utility of providing social services within a capitalist system - they are part of the human infrastructure that supports private enterprise and makes it more competitive.

The Nazi Party - formally The National Socialist German Worker's Party, was originally a Worker's party (pro union party) until taken over by Adolf Hitler, he added the word "socialist" to the name in a gambit to attract more working class members, but from the beginning of Hitler's involvement the party was firmly (even homicidally) anti-union and anti-socialist and anti-communist. They finessed the inclusion of "socialism" in their name by saying they were against "liberal" socialism, their "version" of socialism had nothing to do with actual socialism, and consisted instead of a form of social Darwinism.

So what is socialism? It is an economic system where the means of production of goods is owned by the people.

Government buying goods - or services - is not socialism. As an economic system socialism can exist in either democratic or authoritarian political systems.

Authoritarian Socialism is Communism.

Liberal Socialism (not neoliberal) or Social Democracies are democratic states with free enterprise market systems and extensive social welfare systems in which certain key industries may have been nationalized, but those states maintain private ownership of capital. Recently this has been referred to as EuroSocialism. Both modern Capitalist states and EuroSocialist states have mixed economies with both private enterprise and government sector industry, the difference being the relative balance between the two.

Conservatives will accuse progressives of trying to move the balance of the mixed economy in the United States closer to that of European States. And they have a point. But the point is not quite the indictment they make it out to be. To attribute any perceived policy as "socialism" doesn't make it anti-capitalist. Social Welfare programs - which are common to Capitalist and Socialist systems - are not socialist in and of themselves - they are not the means of production of industrial goods. But they do help support the industrial system - social welfare programs ultimately buttress capitalist enterprise. The social welfare system exists to support capitalist industry as much as any other intended benefit.

Perhaps EuroSocialism should be called Democratic Social Capitalism. It's benefit to capitalist enterprise has been well demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown and the quick recovery of the EuroSocialist sector while we still flounder here in America. With their stronger safety nets many European citizens suffered no loss of health care, less deprivation from high unemployment rates, and were able to keep buying goods at a great enough level to revive industry and return their economies to positive growth. The 2008 recession ended quickly in Germany, France and much of Scandinavia.

I'm not afraid of the "S" word, I just don't think it is used properly. Mostly it is used as an epithet - and grossly incorrectly at that.

Modern progressives believe in private enterprise and private ownership of property and commerce. They don't want government or public ownership of the means of production, they don't want government factories making shoes, or cars, or consumer goods. They think there are things that government does better to the benefit of the public and of private enterprise, and there are things that government funds better but lets private enterprise provide. That's not really Socialism, so lets call it Social Capitalism.

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