Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Socialist America?

Tibor R. Machan

It is becoming increasingly likely that soon the United States of America, which supposedly won the Cold War against the socialist Soviet Union, will become a socialist society. A comparable country would be France, prior to the presidency of Szarkozy.

This is the conclusion to be drawn from what two of the presidential candidates who have a solid prospect to reach the White House have been saying over the last several months. Both, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama have indicated in no uncertain terms that they prefer an economic order in the United States that is regimented by the plans of some folks from above, not by the free choices of individuals from below. She has said that what America needs is “a commander in chief of the economy.” He has decried American capitalism and the profit motive that is its main economic engine. She has taken advice from neo-Marxists Michael Lerner of TIKKUN magazine, he has stated that the greatest influence on his thinking and values was his mother, an avowed socialist and communist sympathizer.

I am not using “socialist” and “communist” as scare terms, only as accurate descriptions of what the two potential nominees of the Democratic Party believe. They are not simply welfare statists, people who believe that along with a substantial free market the country needs to have supportive federal and state governments who provide people with last ditch economic security in the face of the vicissitudes of market forces. No, the two candidates appear to be impatient with such meager measures and want to take the reigns once they enter the White House and shape the country’s economic affairs according to a specific vision. They both believe in the planned economy (with just a bit of hesitation from Senator Obama who has indicated in a few of his speeches and interviews some skepticism about extensive government regulation).

Why are these people champions of socialism? Because, it seems, they believe that economic affairs in a society ought to be completely predictable and risk free. Only a system that guarantees success for everyone--never mind whether his or her work is in demand, whether luck is on his or her side, whether he or she is skilled and talented--would satisfy the criterion of a just socio-economic order for these candidates. And if the spontaneous processes of the free market fail to achieve this goal, then government must enter to regiment the country so that things turn out properly, as envisioned by those seeking such a system of guarantees.

This is what is called utopianism in the field of political economy. Most people know that it is an impossible dream, an ideal that can only be achieve in fantasy, not in reality. The world simply doesn’t work in a way that can provide everyone with economic and related success. To wish for this is comparable to wishing for a marathon race that everyone will win! Impossible. (George Orwell’s Animal Farm shows this nicely!) And to attempt it must then involve massive coercive force. That is just what happened in socialist bloc and why their system failed and left the countries where it was attempted a colossal economic mess form which recovery will take decades.

Unfortunately over the last several decades most Americans have been taught by teachers who pretty much share the two Senators’ economic philosophy. In elementary school students are indoctrinated about all kinds of topics, from sex to the environment, and how government must deal with problems therein. The idea of individual freedom is, turn, nearly completely neglected. In high schools there is very little economic literacy being taught and most students are educated to care about fairness and equality, not about initiative and risk. In colleges and universities there is now very little in the curriculum that reminds students of the most productive but also unsure economic system, namely, capitalism. Instead the dream world of the top down managed economic system is most widely championed.

In the American political arena there is hardly anyone who opposes these trends. Certainly the Republicans cannot be counted on to challenge the socialist vision since in the main they have their own similar moral authoritarian vision to offer. The ideas and ideals of the Founders are nearly cast to the side by all but the small group of libertarians who aren’t at this time a viable political alternative.

Maybe this is a temporary setback. I believe in the long run the free market alternative is going to be triumphant. But for the time being it is losing. So we need to prepare for some pretty awful times.

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