Friday, January 28, 2011

Obama is a Socialist—A Crazy Thought?

Tibor R. Machan

Right after President Obama’s state of the union address several Republicans, mainly of the Tea Party faction stated that he is a socialist. This isn’t the first time the claim has been made. Indeed, based on his early schooling the idea that he may well be one simply cannot be dismissed.

Not that all of us inherit our parents’ political views, quite far from it. I myself had a father who was an avid champion of Hitler and a fierce Anti-Semite, whereas I grew up to embrace libertarianism in politics and a refined version of Objectivism in my general philosophy. A great many folks I know don’t at all think as their parents did. But there are those, also, who do and in the case of Obama it seems his socialist grandmother had considerable influence on him (judging by his own testimony).

When it comes to the allegation that Obama is a socialist CNN-TV anchor Soledad O'Brien quoted Webster’s Dictionary as evidence that he is not. The passage singled out the socialist view of property, namely, that everything important is to be collectively owned, that private property “in the means of production” must be abolished. (Which, by the way, for socialists means, human labor!) The Communist Manifesto makes this clear—Marx and Engels claimed the fist thing toward establishing socialism—the stage of history prior to reaching communism—is the abolition of private property. So it would seem that there is no way that Obama could be a socialist since he has said many nice things about the market place and hasn’t ever called for abolishing private property rights, only heavily regulating it and getting in bed with certain big businesses, which strictly speaking isn’t the same thing is collectivization.

However, looking a bit more closely, it needs also to be kept in mind that Mr. Obama has often declared his own pragmatism, which is a philosophical stance of not sticking by any firm principles. And such a policy could very well be deployed exactly when one wishes to disguise one’s actual political economic philosophy. And then there is this wonderfully instructive passage by Lenin himself, certainly a bona fide communist:

Only one thing is needed to lead us to march forward more surely and more firmly to victory: namely, the consciousness everywhere that all communists, in all countries, must display the maximum flexibility in their tactics…. [Lenin, "Left Wing Communism," 1920].

But this isn’t all. What is really central to socialism is the view that we all belong to society, that there are no genuine human individuals at all, that human beings are what Marx called specie beings somewhat on the order of termites or bees that exists as a collective, never individually. The collective ownership of everything that’s valuable and important is a derivative doctrine, not a primary one. This is one reason that some socialists are actually called “market” socialists. They recognize that as a matter of efficiency—or at times public relations—it is quite OK to give a nod to certain elements of capitalism.

It is not easy to tell what is in someone’s mind, especially not if that someone is convinced that the only way to advance his or her position is to keep its true nature obscure. Indeed, among neo-conservatives this is a prominent theme, learned from the political scientist the late Leo Strauss. He argued that it is only prudent for philosophers to keep their true views a secret, if only because it would scare ordinary folks to be told that brilliant philosophers have come o believe.

Surely this could apply in the case of Mr. Obama, as well: the American public would be very upset if he came right out and said, “Look, folks, I happen to believe that socialism is a sound political economic viewpoint and will do what I can to steer the country that way. I honestly think it is better than capitalism.” Not a way to win elections, so much better to keep it under wraps.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Government Regulations: Demeaning and Costly

Tibor R. Machan

Every time I am dealing with an organizations like the omnipresent TIAA-CREF--which seems to have a monopoly on handling retirements at colleges and universities across the country--I am put through a labyrinth of bureaucratic procedures. With each turn, of course, there is a quite lengthy average--say, 7 to 13 minute--wait, mostly on being on hold on the phone. This happens also when I make airline reservations or deal with banks and other financial institutions but there is some competition there, although these, too, appear to be heavily regulated by the government which imposes on them innumerable.

Whenever I voice a protest about any of these inconveniences--actually, more than that since my life-time is being consumed when these waits go on endlessly--I am told that they cannot help it, they are required to go through all these infuriating delays by the government. Forms need to be filled out and sent off just to satisfy the state! And those people who impose these requirements are, of course, nowhere to be found so one can give them one’s opinion of their handiwork. Instead hapless office personnel are confronted with outraged citizens and are, of course, exasperated when they cannot answer their complaints with any hope of relief.

Nearly everything the bureaucrats demand is farmed out to various administrative departments at colleges and universities, primarily the offices of HR, ironically called human resources (as if what HR did at these places had any productive function are all). And, of course, when it comes to payroll offices at nearly all companies, there, too, most of the procedures are controlled by directives of governments, including that odious, vicious practice of withholding taxes, something again that the government managed to farm out to the employers who then are the object of ire of all of us who are peeved about the various tax policies.

Round and round goes the bureaucracy, treating us all as if we were robots doing service to some far off master who cannot be contacted by any of us (except in a very iffy and indirect fashion when people cast their votes). Even then, while politicians can be dismissed, bureaucrats cannot.

The one time I had anything to do in Washington, as a founding member of the Jacob K. Javits National Fellowship Program -- -- I was told that the bureaucrats at the Department of Education, where this program was administered, never changed no matter who got elected. If Washington had a Democrat regime, the same folks stayed in the various bureaus as when Republicans were in office. And in time this became evident to me quite directly through the arrogance of the staff whose members never feared being dismissed or demoted. Their jobs were secure! (This may not always be the case, just as treasury bonds aren’t so secure when major financial fiascoes occur at the federal level.)

Now all of this is, of course, infuriating and utterly demeaning--you must stay on hold because no one ever is authorized to make outgoing telephone calls! I always feel like a royal subject, tempted to stand at attention until I am spoke to by these folks who are doing the government’s work, work that, of course, should not have to be done. Are we all involuntary servants of these people?

Then there is, of course, the waste of time and money involved in all of this. Each year I probably spend 20 to 40 hours or more dealing with the bureaucracy, directly or indirectly, and if one multiplies this across the country, the wasted time piles up incalculably. The economic value of this time is difficult to estimate but when some try the numbers turn out to be beyond belief. (John Stossel did his very first ABC-TV special on the topic of government regulation and the cost that he estimated for it went way beyond virtually everything else the taxpayers are force to pay for.)

Maybe some people do not care about this just as some people do not protest spousal abuse. But no matter--it is still very demeaning to be subjected to all this and it costs a bundle to boot, money spent that could very well go to genuine productive task that might even ease the unemployment problem in the private sector.