Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Obama a Socialist?

There has never been a totally 100% purely socialist state in history, just as there has never been a totally 100% purely capitalist state in history. Modern Western countries like the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany etc. are mixed economies with elements of socialism and elements of capitalism in varying combinations and percentages. Of course, it is obvious that the US leans more toward capitalism and France more toward socialism and the UK has moved to a great extent away from capitalism and toward socialism during the past half-century.

So when people go to great lengths debating whether Barrack Obama is a socialist or not, the whole discussion is somewhat beside the point. The more relevant and practical question about which we ought to be concerned is which direction he believes the US should move in: toward a less capitalist and more purely socialist position or toward a less socialist and more capitalist one. Just because one does not espouse openly and clearly a totally Marxist worldview does not mean that a person might not through a combination of practical policies tailored to the exigencies of the actual situation move the US in a more or less socialist direction.

Very few socialists outside North Korea, Cuba and the Literature departments of Western universities today believe that it is possible to dispense with the market altogether. Most socialists think we need to keep the market so it can produce the wealth, which the State can then confiscate and redistribute. So the mere fact that political parties or politicians do not advocate nationalizing all the means of production does not necessarily mean that we should view them as Adam Smith devotees.

There is more than one way to achieve the essential Marxist goal of economic equality of outcome. Progressive income tax, targeted tax cuts, government regulation of big business, policies that favor certain groups at the expense of others - these and many other methods are available to those who understand that wealth is not static or automatic and must be created but who also believe that all should share equally in the wealth created by the skill, daring and hard work of the few.

Capitalists believe in equality of opportunity and the rule of law. Socialists believe in equality of outcome and the rule of the administrative state. So when, as a matter of practical policy, a government seeks to expand the welfare state, intrude into business and commerce with the heavy hand of regulation and increase taxation, people are quite justified in charging that government with moving the country to the Left and with being anything but ideologically neutral.

It is a typically Marxist maneuver to claim that only the other side operates out of an ideology, while we are simply pragmatic and concerned for the common good. This, of course, is mere posturing and if you believe it then I have some swampland I'd like to sell you.

Obama thinks he is on the side of the angels just because his intentions are good: he wants to help poor people become better off. But his intentions are beside the point; what counts is the actual effects of his policies and if his policies result in economic stagnation, low economic growth and the stifling of creativity and entrepreneurial job creation then he will have hurt the poor, abiet unintentionally. But, again, his good intentions are irrelevant. You can't eat good intentions.

Obama may or may not in his heart of hearts be a convinced socialist, but there is not doubt that his worldview has been shaped decisively by the general modern worldview of equality as the highest good that derives from Rousseau and has taken classic form in Marx. He is clearly a believer in higher taxes, bigger government and the rule of the administrative state. Is he an ideological socialist? The bottom line is: "It doesn't matter." It's the policies, stupid.

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