Friday, February 12, 2010

The Socialist Temptation III: Should the US Become a Social Democracy?

Barack Obama and the radical wing of the Democratic Party that he represents certainly think so and are doing everything in their power to bring the US economy under central control. Partly to pay off their union supporters, and partly just following their own inclinations, they spent billions nationalizing two huge auto companies and immediately began to dictate to those companies how to run their businesses. They sought to bring the energy sector under greater government control through the infamous "cap and trade" legislation, but that now looks like a totally lost cause because it will never pass the Senate. They attempted to bring one sixth of the US economy under government control with a health care bill that would have established federal control of this entire sector and laid the foundation for a single-payer system like Canada's. This bill, however, is also dead. The first major legislation passed by the Democrats, the stimulus bill, was a typical spread the wealth around and pay off Democratic backers kind of spending bill that they gleefully got done with minimal public criticism just because of the recession. And then, let's not forget that they did not merely bail out the big banks, but they also have tried to interfere with their internal operation and increase government regulation of that sector. This radically centralizing economic agenda has been decisively rejected by the majority of Americans, who are now just waiting eagerly to throw the bums out in November.

Most of the Obama economic agenda has been a failure, but if Obama does not turn the US into a European-style social democracy, it will not be for a lack of trying. The question is: Is turning the US into a social democracy a good idea? Would it increase or decrease social justice? Would it be good for the poor?

My opinion is that it would be a disaster for everyone including the poorest and weakest members of society. So I can't shed any crocodile tears for poor Obama and his difficulties in getting his legislation past the "obstructionist" Republican minority. When some is proposing to set himself on fire, being obstructionist is the only way to be compassionate.

I want to argue that the welfare state and social democracy are just partially implemented socialist programs that have been impeded by conservative resistance and the only reason countries that have implemented them have not collapsed as most socialist countries have is that the residual and continuing liberalism, capitalism and conservatism in those countries saves them from the economic fate of Eastern Europe or Cuba. The fact that Sweden has no Gulag and has not collapsed economically is due to the continuing presence of conservative economic and political elements in Sweden that prevent disaster even though they are not often in the majority.

To the extent that a country rejects socialist ideology, embraces freedom and recognizes the natural law and the family as basic, that country will flourish. To the extent that a revolution enables a full-fledged socialist state to emerge by violence, that state is in trouble and is headed for inevitable decline. That is the lesson of history, not an ideologically-motivated opinion.

The interesting case is the one in the middle where socialism is embraced democratically and incrementally in the form of social democracy or its milder version: the welfare state. Britain after World War II is a perfect example of such a state. Throwing out the conservatives as soon as they had saved the country from destruction and replacing them with a party dedicated to many of the ideas promoted by the just-defeated Axis Powers and the Stalinist USSR, was a curious act of mass delusion. The puzzle of why such a thing could happen is indeed difficult to solve.

But whatever the reason, the steady decline of British fortunes during the next 60 years is a matter of record. I have read that the proportion of government spending relative to the GDP in parts of Northern Britain is now higher than it was in some Eastern bloc countries just before the fall of Communism. Today, despite a few flickers of conservative influence here and there, Britain is a racially-divided country with a poor underclass that papers over a lack of social cohesion with the ever increasingly heavy hand of state regulation of behavior and even thought. If it were an Eastern European country under Communism it would be understandable, but that a free people should have voted for governments to do this is utterly appalling.

Countries, like people, never stand still for long. They are either in the ascent or in decline and in order to judge the wisdom of any given policy one has to look at its long term effects, as well as its immediate impact. A new entitlement program today might seem to increase social justice, but it has to be judged in terms of the overall trajectory of policy over time and where that trajectory is pointed.

Every social democracy is a potential socialist tyranny and so for anyone to demonize the conservative resistance to socialist trends is just perverse. Social democrats need conservatives to save them from their own ideology and conservatives have been doing this thankless task for nearly two centuries now as Western civilization has entered a long slow period of decline, which was made visible in the Great War, and which has yet to end. In fact, the culture of death is so pervasive that, unless there is a great revival of religion and reformation of morals, the death of Europe is to be expected in the current century.

For the US to embrace the Obama agenda at this stage of world history would be to join Europe in a suicide pact. Social democracy seems like a compromise between capitalism and communism, but is is more like a long-lasting, low-grade guerrilla war against freedom, justice and truth, a war that may go on for a long time but which always has the potential to end in the total and complete triumph of socialism. Such a triumph is the death of a society.

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