Saturday, February 28, 2009

American "socialism"

The New York Times:

“Americans are just genetically opposed to socialism,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group headed by Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader.

In fact, Americans, like all human beings, are just genetically opposed to being screwed. Because this can come in many different forms, and be called by many different names, it is important to be able to identify potential threats by their content, not just their label.

"Socialism," in the sense that is most commonly used in the US, usually implies government intervention in the economy. In fact, US capitalism is heavily socialized by definition; the government intervenes in the economy all the time. A major reason why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were required to purchase all mortgages under $400,000 is because private lending institutions wanted to do more business, rather than hold a limited number of loans. As is often the case, government intervention is advocated by influential groups to help them protect and pursue their own interests. In most societies, large economic actors tend to be the most influential.

There are no large economic actors under capitalism who maintain a principled commitment to the "free-market," or, non-government intervention in the economy. Self-interested institutions will always favor government subsidies and protections for themselves, and what is called "market-discipline" for everyone else. This amounts to a government which acts defensively on behalf of the most powerful, while preaching "personal responsibility" to the weak. This is why the government steps in immediately to bail out bankers, while simultaneously wringing its hands about doing anything for the average person, because that might be "socialism." One has influence; the other does not -- unless sufficiently organized.

This brings us to the only meaningful distinction between what is praised as "capitalism" and what is pilloried as "socialism": capitalism means socialism for the rich. Because socialism implies that public money might be used for public purposes (health care, education, infrastructure, the environment), it takes on the character of an expletive. Because capitalism, or "free-markets" or "democracy" or whatever coded language is used, refers to public money directed toward private profit, it is wrapped in an American flag and hand delivered to baby Jesus in a manger. From the perspective of wealth and power, it is a sacred thing, to be conflated with other sacred things, until the average person can't distinguish one from the other.

No comments: