Thursday, November 11, 2010

"We Are All Socialists Now"

I am enjoying Lawrence O’Donnell’s show The Last Word. O’Donnell is liberal, unabashedly so without being a demagogue about it. Well, at least not overly much. He does take a wild swing at a bad pitch once in a while, but he keeps his feet in the batter’s box, so even when he says something a bit outlandish he merely sets me to thinking rather than pissing me off.

He did an editorial the other night in which he declared that “We are all socialists now,” with which I have to take a certain amount of issue. I say that not because I am in any way frightened by the word “socialism,” I am not, but because he flings the word around without seeming to have a very clear understanding of what it really is. He says that Social Security and Medicare are socialism, which they are not, and doesn’t mention several other institutions which are generally revered, such as the Veteran’s Administration, police and firefighters, and which actually are socialism.

Socialism, in the strict sense, is a form of governance in which the means of production and distribution are owned and managed by the government. That lets Medicare out, since the delivery of service is provided by private entities. It lets Social Security out, since the money being distributed is provided by payment from the beneficiaries. Both programs are mandated and managed by the government, so they could be considered to have socialistic elements, but they are not socialism per se.

The Veteran’s Administration provides services to veterans from government owned facilities by government employees, without payment for same by the persons receiving the service. That is socialism in its most pure form, and O’Donnell never mentioned it.

Fire and police services are provided by government without a fee-for-service component, which is socialism, albeit diluted slightly by the manner in which the citizenry receiving the service is taxed to pay for the service. Still, it’s a whole hell of a lot closer to socialism than Medicare, with all of the for-profit providers which that involves.

There is a definition of socialism that says it is a form of government in which collective or government ownership of the economy has not yet been successfully achieved. The operative word in that definition is “yet.” To apply that definition one would have to say that collective or government ownership is the plan, and that we are working toward it, which is absurd.

Of course, right wing radical wingnuts assert that Obama is doing precisely that but I’m not going to dignify that claim by discussing it, and I’m a little embarrassed to even mention it.

What O’Donnell got right, I believe, is his statement that our “mixed economy” is a very good one and that it works better than either pure capitalism or pure socialism would do. I am in total agreement with the idea which he so elegantly expressed that the concept of socialism is not something to be feared or loathed, nor to be sought in and of itself, but that it is merely a social construct and is neither evil nor morally good. It is nothing more than an economic tool to be used to the best advantage of the overall economy.

I criticize Paul Krugman a lot; but what I am actually critical of is his fecklessness at proving his points, rather than his theories themselves. Large numbers of the people who think they are insulting Obama by calling him a socialist admire Krugman, but fail to realize that the Keynesian economic theory he advocates contains large doses of socialism. Which happens to be the main part of what I like in it.

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