Wednesday, September 16, 2015

So, What's So Bad About Socialism?

Today has been a difficult day for me. The shoulder has suddenly become a monster of a thing. I ate my lunch entirely with my left hand today for the first time since, probably ever. The simple motion of raising my fork to my mouth was too much for the right shoulder to bear. Typing this blog must be done carefully, with my right hand firmly planted on the table or pain shoots directly into the middle of the shoulder socket. I have no explanation other than what my Chriopractor called it today in his diagnosis...adhesive capsulitis. I Googled it when I got back to the office and quietly cursed myself for not paying better attention in anatomy class.

I am currently medicated within an inch of my life so bear this in mind while reading the remainder of this blog which is going to be about the latest craze in American politics...democratic socialism. This is what Bernie Sanders self-identifies himself as. The difference between regular old socialism, and the democratic variety seems to be the in we get socialism only if we vote for it, not by totalitarian compulsion. I, for one, am very relieved to hear that!

But, when discussing the pros and cons of socialism it's hard not to get tangled up in labels. Some draw no distinction between socialism and communism, for example. Others only seem to want to talk about the glories of successful Scandnavian socialism, with no mention of Cuba or Venezuala. Still others view socialism as the mortal enemy of capitalism. It's all a giant mess of accusations and vitriol. So, here's my take.

First of all, I believe and assert confidently, that capitalism is the greatest system of economic organization in the history of the world, in that its adoption has produced more wealth for more people than any other system known to man. However, I believe it safe to say that we do not have capitalism any longer in the United States. We used to, for a while, but no longer. What we have now is an unholy brew of cronyism, influence peddling giant mega corporations, and crooked politicians making the world safe for their oligarchy. Why have politicians been so empowered? Because when we allowed them to construct a 70,000 page tax code, WE empowered them. He who writes the rules...senators, congressmen, and big business lobbyists, have the power.

So, instead of making a product that people want and are willing to pay for, the way to really get rich in this country is to buy a couple of congressmen, hire a team of the best lobbyist that money will buy,( the best of whom used to be congressmen), and have a sweet tax break added at the last minute to some appropriations bill that will give your company an unfair advantage in the market place. 

So, does this mean that I would be in favor of a more socialism-friendly approach to government? Actually, it means the exact opposite. What I would like to see is power taken away from politicians by doing away with the entire tax code and replacing it with a flat tax with ZERO deductions and ZERO tax breaks for anything or anyone. But, that's a discussion for another time. Let's get back to thewhole  socialism thing.

I will admit to being a bit put off when I see the word socialist. Part of it is that I was born in 1958 and can still remember those stupid duck and cover drills in elementary schools. I remember the Cold War like it was yesterday, the epic struggle between the freedom and democracy of the west with the totalitarianism of communist China and The Soviet Union, and especially the Soviet client state 90 miles from Key West. And sure, I understand that the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders is a far cry from the gulags of Siberia, still, it's a powerfully evocative word with special power to anyone born before 1960. But the real issue I have with socialism is their blind faith in the gloriously transformative, potential of government. To hear a socialist describe any problem we face, the answer is always, and I mean always, an expansion of centralized government power. None of them seem even mildly concerned that a government so empowered could ever become so powerful that it controls...everything. The solutions that they offer throw around other people's money as if it were an infinite commodity. "Pay everyone $15 an hour, give them free, universal health care, pay for their college education, and we'll do it all with money to spare!" We'll just tax people making X amount at the rate of XX percent. And this wealth redistribution will have no impact on the economy because people won't change their behavior once we start taxing them at higher rates. It all seems so insufferably naive to me.

So, if the question becomes, which do you fear more, a muscular, monstrously powerful government, or a muscular and monstrously powerful oligarchy, well...that's a harder question. The ideals of socialism are quite seductive. Who doesn't want everyone to make $15, $25, $50 dollars an hour? Who wouldn't want everyone to get a free college education? Why shouldn't everyone get all the free health care they need or want? Some even suggest that if you don't want all of these things to come true, you are either a selfish, greedy bastard, or a Christian hypocrite. For me, it's not a question of what I wish were the case, it's more a question of what is sustainable and possible when human nature is factored into the equation and the boring economic laws of plenty and scarcity.

Yes, but Doug, you say...look at the Scandanavian countries. They have wonderful economies and they do all of these things for their citizens. Ok, let's look at the Danes, the Norwegians and any other Nordic state you might have in mind. Those countries are small states and they all have a couple of things in common that make them more amenable to socialistic schemes. First of all, they are homogeneous nations with virtually no significant minority communities. Secondly, they are able to provide the bounty of cradle to grave welfare to their citizens largely because none of them have ever been asked to rid Europe of totalitarian bullies in the past 75 years or fight a Cold War with the Soviet Union. Not having much of a defense budget will do that. Of course, you could say, well maybe we should scale back our military. Again, a nice thought and one that I might entertain, but to not mention its relevance when touting the examples of socialism's successes there is disingenuous.

I guess for me, although I know that something is dreadfully wrong in our country and that the way things are now is unacceptable, I'm not ready to turn my back on capitalism. And I resent people like Bernie Sanders always telling everyone that the entire game is rigged. It simply isn't true. Not every success story is tainted by malfeasance. There is a reason that every year over half of the inventions in the world come from here. There's a reason Americans win so many Nobel prizes. The free enterprise system and its exalted view of private property rights is what has built this country. Any self respecting socialist would almost automatically be suspicious of private property, and would certainly not insist on it as a fundamental right of a citizen. The heart of any decent socialist beats for empowered government control of society, not individual private property rights. So, therein lies the delimma.

Many of you know my story and the humble beginnings of my family. For any candidate to suggest that if I turned out to have started a profitable business, that I somehow won life's lottery is something that eats at me. To try to suggest that because of my race, or any other alleged natural advantage I was born with, anything, besides my willingness to work my ass off doing the difficult things that less successful people were always unwilling to do, to suggest that anything else made me successful will never be a big seller in my world.

If you're still optimistic about what an empowered, benevolent government might do for you, remember what it's like at the DMV. Walk into one of the offices where they hand out unemployment checks and take a look around. Feel the love, feel the efficiency. Now imagine a government responsible for not only unemployment benefits but all of your health care, the college education of all your kids, and providing you with a job. (It takes a lot of folks to run a cradle to grave welfare state, my friend). If you're still excited at the prospect of democratic socialism, then go for it. If it comes to that, I'll have to pray that I'm wrong and you're all right.

.......Wow, what a meandering mess of a post this turned out to be. Sorry!!