Why socialism matters

Often, when I read an article contending that Obama and his coterie are socialists, I write to the article’s author requesting a follow-up to the article:  the author needs to explain why this socialism matters.

The problem is that, since the 1960s, average Americans do not understand why their parents and grandparents feared socialism so much.  Despite the evidence of the Soviet Union and China and North Korea and any other corpse-filled socialist paradise, Americans have been assured for 40 years that American socialism will be different.

What they need to be taught is that a nation’s underlying composition isn’t what matters, it’s socialism itself that matters — and socialism is never a good thing.  Whether you have the swift tyrannies of China and the Soviet Union, or the slow economic and structural attrition, and the cultural suicide, in Europe, socialism never strengthens a nation or helps its people.  It only weakens the nation and imprisons its people.

Today, Kevin Williamson takes a stab at explaining what socialism is and why it matters.  I urge you to check out his article.

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Comments

  1. says

    I am amazed that there are no comments on this thread.  This is exactly the point I was making when I said Zachriel’s definition of socialism was outdated: “A sharpened definition of socialism, made more precise and reflecting the conditions of the 21st century rather than those of the 19th, is a necessary tool for understanding our current political crisis.”

    Also, it supports my position that socialism is not about ownership but rather about control: “Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them. The state does not have to actually own factories, mines, or data centers if it has the power to dictate, in minute detail, how business is conducted within them. Regulation acts as a proxy for direct state ownership of the means of production.”

    Finally, the article makes my point that one need not advocate control over everything to be a socialist: “And that control need not be enacted nationwide or imposed by a single-party dictatorship of the Chinese or Soviet sort. State direction comes in many degrees and can take many forms, from Venezuela’s nationalizations under Hugo Chávez to FDR’s cartels to Richard Nixon’s regime of wage and price controls. American socialists for years have been eager to use the Medicare/Medicaid system to impose a system of price controls on pharmaceutical companies and other medical-service providers — and the 2010 legislation we know as Obamacare today lays the groundwork for empowering them to do so. Stalin argued for “socialism in one country,” while American progressives argue for socialism in one industry — or, one industry at a time.”

    By this definition, which I thought was pretty much understood until Zachriel came in with his 19th century definition, Pelosi is clearly a socialist at least as to some industries, health care being the most obvious.  My question to Zachriel, perhaps poorly put, was whether there was any issue on which she wasn’t a socialist and he’s yet to come up with any.

    Anyway, I think this article makes a valuable contribution to the definition of terms that we were having trouble with before, and I’d be interested in what people think of it.  I’d be especially interested in whether Zachriel is going to insist on the 19th century definition or whether he is willing to update his definition to more properly fit the 21st century.  It certainly would make discussion easier if we could agree on meanings.

  2. Danny Lemieux says

    DQ says: also, it supports my position that socialism is not about ownership but rather about control: “Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them. The state does not have to actually own factories, mines, or data centers if it has the power to dictate, in minute detail, how business is conducted within them.
    Which makes eminent sense, if you think about it. A company is a collection of individuals brought together to generate wealth, which then gets distributed to the employees in the form of labor, the debt holders in the form of interest and the owners in the form of dividends or capital appreciation. The bottom line objective is wealth creation.
    Why should the socialist state take on the liabilities of running that company, especially running it badly (as governments do) when it is much easier to expropriate the wealth after it has been created? The State can control the expropriation of that wealth by dictating the level of employee earnings (if the beneficiary employees are tied to the state through union contracts, for example, or uses them as nest eggs for former and favored government employees) and through taxes. Where it runs into trouble is when it tries to regulate how the business is run, through regulations or ownership when it has no idea how to run businesses.
    During the fascist era (the first-half of the 20th Century), there was a lot of experimenting. The communists practiced total control of the means of production. Hitler put all major corporations under the guidance of party members (on corporate boards), to ensure that the companies’ wealth creation was directed to the benefit of the State. FDR and Mussolini were content to try and control industrial development through regulatory mechanisms, such as the National Recovery Act (FDR) or Mussolini’s Industrial Reconstruction Institute (IRI).
    DQ – there may not have been commentary on this post because so much of it was being hashed out on other threads.

  3. says

    Bookworm: Despite the evidence of the Soviet Union and China and North Korea and any other corpse-filled socialist paradise, Americans have been assured for 40 years that American socialism will be different.
     
    You seem to be confusing Communism, which is a failed theory of social development that includes socialism, with socialism itself. All modern developed countries are mixed economies. It can be argued that socialism is less productive and can lead to politicization of distribution of benefits, but democratic institutions act as a check.
     
    Bookworm: Kevin Williamson takes a stab at explaining what socialism is and why it matters.
     
    It’s hard to take Williamson seriously when he considers Liberal Fascism to be “deft”.
     
     
    Don Quixote: “A sharpened definition of socialism, made more precise and reflecting the conditions of the 21st century rather than those of the 19th, is a necessary tool for understanding our current political crisis.”
     
    Not sure that distinction is clear. Controlling the means of production, setting prices, distributing goods, still applies to the modern economy.

    Don Quixote: Also, it supports my position that socialism is not about ownership but rather about control: “Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them.
     
    Don’t see anyone who would find that to be controversial.
     
    Don Quixote: State direction comes in many degrees and can take many forms, from Venezuela’s nationalizations under Hugo Chávez to FDR’s cartels to Richard Nixon’s regime of wage and price controls.
     
    Yes. Socialism can be used to refer to a sector of the economy. So, we might loosely say that regulation of food safety or child labor is a type of socialism. As mentioned above, socialism can sometimes lead to the politicization of benefits, but democratic institutions can act as a check.
     
    Don Quixote: Pelosi is clearly a socialist at least as to some industries, health care being the most obvious. 
     
    A lot of people support public education. That hardly makes them socialists by any usual meaning of the term. It’s called conflation.
     
    Don Quixote: My question to Zachriel, perhaps poorly put, was whether there was any issue on which she wasn’t a socialist and he’s yet to come up with any.
     
    Markets are essential to healthy economic growth and prosperity, and many social problems require economic growth and prosperity for their solution; including such issues as poverty, disease, democratization, development, and climate change.
     
     

  4. Danny Lemieux says

    Zach says: It’s hard to take Williamson seriously when he considers Liberal Fascism to be “deft”.
     
    So, is it something specific that Williamson and Goldberg wrote about socialism with which you disagree, or do they just have cooties?
    Have you read Liberal Fascism?


    Don Quixote says: Also, it supports my position that socialism is not about ownership but rather about control: “Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them.

    And Zach replies: Don’t see anyone who would find that to be controversial.

    Danny’s response is, “Now that is one loaded answer!”

  5. suek says

    >>“Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them.>>

    And thus we have “evil” oil companies that earn a massive 3-4% on their total capital investment, and pay taxes to the government – which has done absolutely nothing to earn them – of 15%.
     
    Hey…why invest when you can just take.

  6. suek says

    >>“Under socialism, the state directs the material factors of production as if it owned them.>>

    Again.  To what end?  What is the purpose of this type of government in this so-structured society?

  7. says

    Have you read Liberal Fascism?

    You know that would get Zach excommunicated by the thought police, Danny. That’s so cruel of you.

    Danny’s response is, “Now that is one loaded answer!”

    Ah, but remember. Zach said Democrat does not = Socialism does not equal= Communism. Darou?

    Again.  To what end?  What is the purpose of this type of government in this so-structured society?

    Make the power brokers rich and stomp down on the masses to keep them in check. What else?

  8. says

    Also, it supports my position that socialism is not about ownership but rather about control
    But Zach should agree with you here, because Zach said socialism was about control or “command” economy. So why doesn’t he?

    You seem to be confusing Communism, which is a failed theory of social development that includes socialism, with socialism itself. All modern developed countries are mixed economies. It can be argued that socialism is less productive and can lead to politicization of distribution of benefits, but democratic institutions act as a check.

    Translated, this means that Democratic Socialism will work whereas Communism didn’t. You get that?

  9. says

    Don Quixote: is there any issue on which Pelosi’s statements or actions show she is not a socialist?  Please be specific as to her statements and actions.
     
    Someone claims that Pelosi is a socialist, and it’s up to others to disprove it, or the claim is expected to stand.
     
    Pelosi: And again- all of our initiatives, whether it’s energy, education, health care, and the rest have been about market-oriented- solution. Public/private partnership. Public/public partnerships, private/private partnerships.
     
    Danny Lemieux: So, is it something specific that Williamson and Goldberg wrote about socialism with which you disagree
     
    Goldberg, in a number of essays, has made plain he wasn’t speaking ironically. That the vast majority of the historical community rejects his facile comparisons doesn’t seem to faze him, though. His goal isn’t scholarship, but to reinforce negative beliefs that those on the right want to hear.
     
    Williams exaggerates and conflates various uses of the term socialism. More particuarly, equating socialism with central planning lumps in nearly every modern economy as socialist, which trivializes the distinction. All modern economies include central planning. Among other reasons, government fiscal policies can’t be unlinked from the modern economy, and relations between countries have profound effects on markets. All governments are concerned about the performance of their economies, and implement policies to nurture and grow the economy. That’s true in the most open markets, as well as the most regulated.
     
    suek: To what end?  What is the purpose of this type of government in this so-structured society?
     
    Socialism is meant to provide a more equitable distribution of resources.
     
    Ymarsakar: Translated, this means that Democratic Socialism will work whereas Communism didn’t.

    Nope. That’s not what it means.

  10. Danny Lemieux says

    Zach says, “That the vast majority of the historical community rejects his facile comparisons doesn’t seem to faze him (Goldberg), though”
    Zach knows this because a) he’s interviewed the vast majority of the historical community and because b) since Goldberg obviously wrote an insightful, well-researched and ground-breaking book, he cannot possibly be a member of the Temple of Orthodoxy and is therefore declared…anathema!”
    Zach says: “Socialism is meant to provide a more equitable distribution of resources.”
    Which, I agree with Zach, it does. Under socialism, everybody is uniformly poor, except for the enlightened few in the nomenklatura, to which Zach’s Temple of Orthodoxy would no doubt belong.
    Zach says, “All modern economies include central planning.

    Methinks Zach confuses government economic policy with “Central Planning”. Here is an “orthodox” economic definition of “Central Planning”: a system where the government plans all business activity, regulates supply, sets production targets and itemizes work to be done.
    Of course, all economists and reasonable people know this. How do I know? Well, obviously because I interviewed them each and every one and therefore, it is accepted orthodoxy. http://www.economics-dictionary.com/definition/central-planning.html
    Please email your plaudits for this concise and all encompassing analysis c/o Bookworm at this blog address. Thank you, thank you very much!

  11. Mike Devx says

    Williams exaggerates and conflates various uses of the term socialism. More particuarly, equating socialism with central planning lumps in nearly every modern economy as socialist, which trivializes the distinction.

    One must assume that those doing this “centralized planning” are the government.  (And not some children on a playground, nor an advisory community group.)

    And if the government is centralized-planning, then you can bet it is centralized-controlling as well.  And by my definitions, when government is in the driver’s seat, controlling what the private sector is doing, that is socialism.

    Unless you are claiming that the government is doing all this wonderful, fantastic centralized-planning… and then offering it out there as Ann-Lander’s style adivce?   And then everyone in the private sector is free to view all that wonderful “planning” as mere recommendations or advice, to be accepted or ignored with total freedom?

  12. says

    Zachriel: That the vast majority of the historical community rejects his facile comparisons doesn’t seem to faze him (Goldberg), though. 
     
    Danny Lemieux: Zach{riel} knows this because a) he’s interviewed the vast majority of the historical community
     
    Here’s a few noted historians you might check with.
     
    – Robert O. Paxton, professor emeritus at Columbia University and the author of The Anatomy of Fascism.
     
    – Roger Griffin, professor of political science at Oxford Brookes and the author of The Nature of Fascism.
     
    – Matthew Feldman, professor of history at University of Northampton, and a co-editor of several academic texts on fascism.
     
    – Chip Berlet, senior researcher at Political Research Associates and the co-author (with Matthew Lyons) of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.


    Zachriel
    : All modern economies include central planning.

    Danny Lemieux: Methinks Zach confuses government economic policy with “Central Planning”.

    Ah, yes. Central Planning™. 

    Danny LemieuxHere is an “orthodox” economic definition of “Central Planning”: a system where the government plans all business activity, regulates supply, sets production targets and itemizes work to be done.

    Which is more-or-less what we mean by socialism. So, yes. A socialist government plans most aspects of the economy, including setting production and distribution goals.

    Williamson: Under socialism, The Plan is everything. The presence of The Plan, and the empowerment of The Planners, is to socialism what the Eucharistic sacraments are to Christians and what the Mosaic Law is to the Jews: the fundamental expression of what is good and true.

    No hyperbole there. In any case, the last we checked Pelosi wasn’t trying to tell widget makers how many widgets to make, so it turns out she is not a socialist, after all!

  13. says

    suek: Why? Define “equitable”. Does “equitable” = “equal”?

    It might be easier to recognize non-equitable or unjust distribution. The primitive state is the highly stratified world of the Middle Ages. People were born in a place, and they and their children would always be in that place. It’s tough to be King, noblesse oblige, and all that {sniff}. The modern world has been through a long process of creating a more egalitarian culture. Socialism is one strain of political theory that attempts to address this cultural inequality.

    The advantage of capitalism is that it can allocate resources in a quickly changing world, as well as freeing people to create wealth through innovation. The problem with unbridled capitalism is that it leads to monopolies, economic crashes, and abuses of workers and consumers. The advantage of socialism is a more equitable distribution of goods, especially for the underclass or disadvantaged. The problem with socialism is inefficiency and the politicization of benefits. That’s why nearly all developed countries have mixed systems. 

    Mike Devx: And by my definitions, when government is in the driver’s seat, controlling what the private sector is doing, that is socialism.

    The problem with such black-and-white thinking is that it leads to the silly conclusion that outlawing child labor is socialism — which it’s not. Yes, the government intervenes in the economy. But pricing the labor of children is just not something most people would have done by markets. And in the long run, giving time for children to grow and be educated is advantageous for the health of the society. So, as history shows, countries that manage to afford having idle (non-economically producing) children grow increasingly prosperous.

  14. Charles Martel says

    “The problem with such black-and-white thinking is that it leads to the silly conclusion that outlawing child labor is socialism — which it’s not.” 

    Did my silly old eyes fool me and make me miss where Mike equated banning child labor as socialism? Whoa, talk about putting words in other people’s mouths to score a point in a non-existent argument.

  15. says

    Charles Martel: Did my silly old eyes fool me and make me miss where Mike equated banning child labor as socialism
     
    Mike Devx
    : And by my definitions, when government is in the driver’s seat, controlling what the private sector is doing, that is socialism.
     
    So when government tells businesses they can’t hire children, it is controlling what the private sector is doing. Who are they to say?! Who says children should starve rather than work in the factory?! What business is it of theirs?! 
     
    Zachriel
    : The problem with such black-and-white thinking is that it leads to the silly conclusion that outlawing child labor is socialism — which it’s not.
     
    This statement *illustrates* the logical consequence of the black-and-white fallacy. 
     

  16. Charles Martel says

    Here’s how Zach “proves” (evidences?) somebody else’s fallacious reasoning:

    I say your thinking is black and white.

    I prove it by stating something you never said and never would say.

    Therefore, I have proven your fallacious reasoning.

  17. says

    Williams exaggerates and conflates various uses of the term socialism. More particuarly, equating socialism with central planning lumps in nearly every modern economy as socialist, which trivializes the distinction. All modern economies include central planning.
     
    Which is more-or-less what we mean by socialism. So, yes. A socialist government plans most aspects of the economy, including setting production and distribution goals.
     
    So Zach wants to limit the definition of socialism, while he’s limiting the definition of Central Planning. Does this remind people of 1984. Words only have the meanings that the state decides that they have. Freedom=slavery.
     
    Zach’s basically saying PillowC can’t be a Communist because she doesn’t advocate for nationalization of everything and redistribution of all wealth.
     
    But we’re not talking about Communism, now are we.
     
    This is an attempt to make socialism mainstream. Because the term has so many negative connotations, even now, the Zachs of the world were told to not use the word “socialism” and instead use some other term that can be used to fool people with. Except, Zach lacks a proper understaning of history so he keeps using terms like “Central Planning” without understanding all the proper connotations of Central Planning in the Leftist dictionary.
     
    It’s a white wash. PC thinking that tries to change, through propaganda, how a person thinks by controlling what words they use.
     
    You’re just not very good at it, Zach. Perhaps because you’ve bought too much into it. A proper propagandist first must refuse to believe their own propaganda.
     
    One of the age old pieces of wisdom I’ve picked up from traditional sources is that it doesn’t matter what people say. It only matters what they do. No matter how sweet sounding a person’s words are, the only real indication of his good or evil rests in the actions he undertakes. This also includes enemies and the nature/character of one’s enemies.
     
    So, in this sense, let us see what Zac has done vis a vis modern reality. Does he sympathize with Ho Chi Min? Yes. Does he sympathize with those HCM killed out of hand? Can’t find it. Does Zac like to see Obama’s policies implemented? Yes. Does Zach like to see less government power in play with Obama at the helm? Nope. Doesn’t Zach sympathize with all the people that have been destroyed financially by Obama’s policies? Seems vanishingly… not there.
     
    So given things like that, what do you judge Zach’s policy consequences to be. Good? Evil? Bad? Neutral?

  18. says

    Charles Martel: I say your thinking is black and white. I prove it by stating something you never said and never would say. Therefore, I have proven your fallacious reasoning.

    Close, but not quite. We apply the reasoning to derive a conclusion that we agree is wrong. Hence, the reasoning was fallacious. It’s *because* Mike Devx probably agrees the conclusion is wrong, that he might reexamine his reasoning.

    Ymarsakar, did you say something? It’s hard to tell.

  19. Danny Lemieux says

    Re. Socialism, Zach says: No hyperbole there. In any case, the last we checked Pelosi wasn’t trying to tell widget makers how many widgets to make, so it turns out she is not a socialist, after all!
    Don’t know much about the widgets industry, but Pelosi and her cohort does want government to tell society what kind of fuel they can produced and how much, what type of cars should be manufactured and where, what types of health care services should be provided and how much and at what price, what types of light bulbs we are allowed to use, what types of foods and beverages should be produced and consumed and at what price….
    Zach says: Here’s a few noted historians you might check with.
    Thanks for the list, Zach. In the interest of time, why don’t you give us a thumbnail sketch on how each defines “fascism” and how their opinions overlap with or differentiate from each other.

  20. Charles Martel says

    “Close, but not quite. We apply the reasoning to derive a conclusion that we agree is wrong. Hence, the reasoning was fallacious. It’s *because* Mike Devx probably agrees the conclusion is wrong, that he might reexamine his reasoning.”

    What?? You leap from one assumption/assertion to another better than a gibbon swings through rainforest branches. This is more of your humor, right? 

  21. suek says

    >>Socialism is one strain of political theory that attempts to address this cultural inequality.>>
     
    True – but capitalism is a better method, since it awards to each according to their input, not according to some judgment of who they _are_.
     
    Socialism requires someone to be set up as the authority of who gets what … just exactly who gets what in order to achieve equality.
     
    That doesn’t sound all that different from the inequality you describe.

  22. suek says

    >>The advantage of socialism is a more equitable distribution of goods, especially for the underclass or disadvantaged.>>
     
    Why are the underclass the underclass?  how do you define “the disadvantaged”?

  23. says

    I asserted that Pelosi was a socialist.  As the discussion wore on, you agreed that one could be a socialist issue by issue, you agreed that socialist is about control not ownership and, essentially, agreed that Pelosi was a socialist on the issues of global warming and health care.  I think it is now fair to ask you for examples of issues on which she is not a socialist, since you also made a positive assertion, asserting that she was not a socialist.  If you had only put me tomy proof, you might have a point, but since you positively asserted she is not a socialist you have as mucha duty to prove it as I do.

    Then you did something very interesting.  You quoted Pelosi as saying: 

    “And again- all of our initiatives, whether it’s energy, education, health care, and the rest have been about market-oriented- solution. Public/private partnership. Public/public partnerships, private/private partnerships.”

    She doesn’t define “Public/private partnerships.  Public/public partnerships, private/private partnerships.”  In practice, it appears that her approach is for the government to make all the rules, let the private sector do all the work, and then trhe government take a share of the proceeds.  To be fair, Pelosi uses carrots and sticks to achieve her ends, but she certainly is not shy about using sticks.  When she does so, she shows her true colors as someone who believes in government control absolute government control if necessary to achieve her ends, what you have now agreed is an acceptable definition of socialism.

    So, again, I ask, in any of these partnerships or anywhere else you can think of, when, in the economic sphere, has she voted for less government control and more personal freedom?  It’s a fair question, one asked several times, and one for whch you apparently have no answer.

  24. says

    Don Quixote: I asserted that Pelosi was a socialist.  As the discussion wore on, you agreed that one could be a socialist issue by issue, …

    Someone can support public education (socialization of education) and not be a socialist, someone who thinks the means of production generally should be controlled by the government.

    Don Quixote: you agreed that socialist is about control not ownership …

    Of course. If the government controls all aspects of production and distribution in everything but name, then it can reasonably be called socialism.

    Don Quixote: and, essentially, agreed that Pelosi was a socialist on the issues of global warming and health care. 

    Um no. Pelosi didn’t even support single-payer, much less government run health care. Putting limits on carbon emissions is not the same as owning (or owning in essence) the means of production.

    Don Quixote: She doesn’t define “Public/private partnerships. 

    That’s where there is a public policy goal, and they enlist the help of private entities to achieve those goals.
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/20/first-lady-michelle-obama-announces-collaboration-walmart-support-let-s-

    Or it could be through market-based solution, such as for controlling atmospheric acid emissions.
    http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/

  25. says

    Don Quixote: So, again, I ask, in any of these partnerships or anywhere else you can think of, when, in the economic sphere, has she voted for less government control and more personal freedom? 
     
    You still seem to be equating wanting more government involvement in the economy with being a socialist. Here’s a couple of Pelosi’s votes. 
     
    The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which opened up the telecommuncations market by eliminating barriers, and accelerated private sector expansion into this sector.
     
    NAFTA, which reduced barriers to international trade.
     

  26. says

    Zachriel, thanks for the examples.  I agree that both pieces of legislation are to promote freer markets.  Both kind of start from a dispensationary premise, though.  By that I mean, the notion is that the government has the absolute right to control international trade and and telecommunications and that, because it furthers some goal of those in power, the government chooses to limit its exercise of that right (and, of course, they do so by adding a raft of regulations).  Anyway, it’s a good, responsive effort on your part.

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