Tag: socialism

ObamaCare, Social Democracy & Socialism

The following excerpt from Jeffrey Friedman’s article in the January/February 2010 issue of Cato Policy Report, though about the financial industry rather than health care reform, captures why so many critics of ObamaCare are comfortable describing it as socialism:

What I am calling social democracy is, in its form, very different from socialism. Under social democracy, laws and regulations are issued piecemeal, as flexible responses to the side effects of progress — social and economic problems — as they arise, one by one…. The case-by-case approach is supposed to be the height of pragmatism. But in substance, there is a striking similarity between social democracy and the most utopian socialism. Whether through piecemeal regulation or central planning, both systems share the conceit that modern societies are so legible that the causes of their problems yield easily to inspection. Social democracy rests on the premise that when something goes wrong, somebody — whether the voter, the legislator, or the specialist regulator — will know what to do about it. This is less ambitious than the premise that central planners will know what to do about everything all at once, but it is no different in principle.

Repeal the bill.

Lessons From Venezuela’s 21st Century Socialism

The accomplishments of Venezuela’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” are looking very much like those of old-fashioned socialism with basic goods shortages, high inflation, negative growth, blackouts, water rationing, the persecution of Hugo Chávez’s critics, plus skyrocketing crime.

Now Chávez is accusing his enemies of sabotaging his TV and Radio program, “Alo Presidente” because it suffers from continuous technical problems on the air, including sound interruptions and the loss of the satellite signal.

An upset Chávez observes: ”The problems are very frequent here, almost every day. I don’t understand how you have so much equipment, so much technology…. By contrast, you see the private channels and that doesn’t happen…. And for me it’s almost every day that there is a problem here and there.”

Chávez’s 21st century solution? He has ordered his military intelligence to investigate.

Obama vs. Common Sense

President Obama delivered a commencement speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

He called on all Americans “to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate.”  Who could argue? Yet the president apparently believes that civility means protecting his policies from valid criticism.

He instructed graduates that “the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.”  Right again.  But the civics lesson rings hollow coming from a president who falsely claimed there was “no disagreement” over his massive “stimulus” bill, and that opponents of his health care takeover offered no proposals of their own.

He explained, “what we should be asking is not whether we need ‘big government’ or a ‘small government,’ but how we can create a smarter and better government.”  Which is pretty much what every politician says when he wants big government and voters want small government.

Most troubling was this: “What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad.”  That remark reminded me of this passage from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” And it has me thinking that our president, a former constitutional law professor, who just received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan, really doesn’t get the American idea of government. At all.

RIP Michael Foot, a Socialist Who Understood What Socialism Was

“Michael Foot, a bookish intellectual and anti-nuclear campaigner who led Britain’s Labour Party to a disastrous defeat in 1983, died [March 3],” reported the Associated Press. He was 96.

Foot personified the socialist tendency in the Labour Party, which Tony Blair successfully erased when he won power at the head of a business-friendly, interventionist “New Labour.” Yet Foot remained a respected, even revered, figure.

“Michael Foot was a giant of the Labour movement, a man of passion, principle and outstanding commitment to the many causes he fought for,” Blair said Wednesday. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Blair’s partner in creating “New Labour,” praised Foot as a “genuine British radical” and a “man of deep principle and passionate idealism.”

Michael Foot may have been the most serious intellectual ever to head a major Western political party. He wrote biographies of Labour politicians Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson, and of H.G. Wells, and a 1988 book on Lord Byron, “The Politics of Paradise,” and he edited the “Thomas Paine Reader” in 1987. So when you asked Michael Foot what socialism was, you could expect a deeply informed answer. And that’s what the Washington Post got in 1982, when they asked the Labour Party leader for an example of socialism in practice that could “serve as a model of the Britain you envision.” Foot replied,

The best example that I’ve seen of democratic socialism operating in this country was during the second world war.  Then we ran Britain highly efficiently, got everybody a job… . The conscription of labor was only a very small element of it.  It was a democratic society with a common aim.

Wow. Michael Foot, the great socialist intellectual, a giant of the Labour movement, a man of deep principle and passionate idealism, thought that the best example ever seen of “democratic socialism” was a society organized for total war.

And he wasn’t the only one. The American socialist Michael Harrington wrote, “World War I showed that, despite the claims of free-enterprise ideologues, government could organize the economy effectively.” He hailed World War II as having “justified a truly massive mobilization of otherwise wasted human and material resources” and complained that the War Production Board was “a success the United States was determined to forget as quickly as possible.” He went on, “During World War II, there was probably more of an increase in social justice than at any [other] time in American history. Wage and price controls were used to try to cut the differentials between the social classes… . There was also a powerful moral incentive to spur workers on: patriotism.”

Collectivists such as Foot and Harrington don’t relish the killing involved in war, but they love war’s domestic effects: centralization and the growth of government power. They know, as did the libertarian writer Randolph Bourne, that “war is the health of the state”—hence the endless search for a moral equivalent of war.

As Don Lavoie demonstrated in his book National Economic Planning: What Is Left?, modern concepts of economic planning—including “industrial policy” and other euphemisms—stem from the experiences of Germany, Great Britain, and the United States in planning their economies during World War I. The power of the central governments grew dramatically during that war and during World War II, and collectivists have pined for the glory days of the War Industries Board and the War Production Board ever since.

Walter Lippmann was an early critic of the collectivists’ fascination with war planning. He wrote, “A close analysis of its theory and direct observation of its practice will disclose that all collectivism… is military in method, in purpose, in spirit, and can be nothing else.” Lippman went on to explain why war—or a moral equivalent—is so congenial to collectivism:

Under the system of centralized control without constitutional checks and balances, the war spirit identifies dissent with treason, the pursuit of private happiness with slackerism and sabotage, and, on the other side, obedience with discipline, conformity with patriotism. Thus at one stroke war extinguishes the difficulties of planning, cutting out from under the individual any moral ground as well as any lawful ground on which he might resist the execution of the official plan.

National service, national industrial policy, national energy policy—all have the same essence, collectivism, and the same model, war. War is sometimes, regrettably, necessary. But why would anyone want its moral equivalent?

Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez Keeps Speaking Truth to Power

Yoani SanchezIt’s the 490th anniversary of Havana today and the Cuban government has arranged for celebratory activities. Ordinary residents of Havana and all Cubans who cherish their civil and human rights have less to celebrate, however, as Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez regularly reminds us. Sanchez has become a major irritant of the regime because of her penetrating posts about the absurdities and injustices of everyday life in communist Cuba. You can see her blog in Spanish here, and in English here.

Just over a week ago, in an incident that was widely reported in the international press and that reveals the threat to the Cuban regime of the growing Cuban blogger movement, Sanchez was assaulted in Havana by plain-clothed government agents. Though she was forcefully beaten, she and her friends managed to fight back and get away. More than that, they took pictures of their assailants and of the incident for posting on the blog, prompting the government thugs to leave the scene. One photo of an agent features the caption “She is covering her face…Perhaps afraid of the future.” Another photo features Sanchez pursuing her assailants with the caption: “They have watched us for decades. Now we are watching them.” Very smart.

As it happens, last week we posted a beautifully written paper by Sanchez (in Spanish) on Cato’s Spanish-language web page, www.elcato.org. (The paper just won a prize in an essay contest in Mexico organized by TV Azteca at which my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo was a judge.) Her essay, “Liberty as a Form of Payment,” describes the fraudulent deal that Castro promised when he came to power. In exchange for liberty, Cubans would be better off culturally, economically, and in other ways. Sanchez describes the reality of social control under communist Cuba in which the real exchanges occur as a consequence of the power relationship. Access to housing, jobs, new goods, and the possibility of minor improvements in life, all depend on a well documented support of the revolution through attendance of mass meetings and membership in the communist party, for example.

Or through personal relationships with those in power. Sanchez describes how young women long ago began prostituting themselves to high ministry or military officials in exchange for non-monetary goods or privileges. Such “courtesans of socialism” later turned to traditional prostitution with the arrival of currency convertibility in Cuba. Sanchez also optimistically describes the role that technology, especially the internet, is playing in creating spaces of liberty. In a country where people increasingly feel the regime’s days are numbered, such exercises of personal freedom can be powerful.

Chávez Declares Socialism the ‘Kingdom of God’

ChavezA new poll in Venezuela shows that President Hugo Chávez’s approval ratings have fallen from about 60 percent early this year to 46 percent now. Likewise his disapproval ratings have increased from about 30 percent earlier in the year to 46 percent now, and 59 percent of those polled view the country’s situation negatively.

Despite having received upwards of $800 billion in revenues during Chávez’s ten years in power, the government is doing a dismal job of carrying out its proper functions—such as controlling crime or corruption—and public administration in other areas is deteriorating. Chávez recently announced regular cuts in electricity and water provision. (These issues will be discussed in an upcoming Cato forum on Venezuela on November 10.)

As domestic conditions deteriorate, Chávez is apparently feeling more empowered, or at least feels the need to continue his relentless accumulation of power. Today, El Universal, a Venezuelan daily, reports that Chávez has announced that he can expropriate private enterprises at will because he was given that power by the people. Why worry about the rule of law when you have the ability to interpret the will of the people? Chávez’s comments reported today should dispel any doubts that he considers himself a savior to his country:

Every day I’m more of a revolutionary, every day I’m more socialist… I’m going to take Venezuela toward socialism, with the people and the workers…The revolution is not negotiable, socialism is not negotiable, because every day I’m more convinced that socialism is the kingdom of God on earth. That is what Christ came to announce.

Michael Moore’s Billionaire Backers

I wrote in Libertarianism: A Primer, “One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society can’t tolerate groups of people practicing freedom, but a libertarian society can comfortably allow people to choose voluntary socialism.” (In the final section, “Toward a Framework for Utopia.”)

Now Ira Stoll notes the irony that it was very successful capitalists who put up the money that allowed Michael Moore to make his anti-market screed Capitalism: A Love Story:

The funniest moments of all in the movie, though, may just be in the opening and closing credits. We see that the movie is presented by “Paramount Vantage” in association with the Weinstein Company. Bob and Harvey Weinstein are listed as executive producers. If Mr. Moore appreciates any of the irony here he sure doesn’t share it with viewers, but for those members of the audience who are in on the secret it’s all kind of amusing. Paramount Vantage, after all, is controlled by Viacom, on whose board sit none other than Sumner Redstone and former Bear Stearns executive Ace Greenberg, who aren’t exactly socialists. The Weinstein Company announced it was funded with a $490 million private placement in which Goldman Sachs advised. The press release announcing the deal quoted a Goldman spokesman saying, “We are very pleased to be a part of this exciting new venture and look forward to an ongoing relationship with The Weinstein Company.”

So maybe I should add a corollary to my claim:

One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society won’t put up the money for people to make libertarian movies, but in a capitalist/libertarian society the capitalists are happy to put up the money for anti-capitalist movies.

And if you doubt that a socialist society would discriminate against anti-socialist movies, you can either observe socialism in practice — in Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, East Germany, etc. — or read the chilling words of bestselling economist Robert Heilbroner in Dissent:

Socialism…must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity…

If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means…

The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated…and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan…

The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal… Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.