Not socialism for the rich

I keep hearing this phrase used to describe the current economic meltdown and the Bush Administration’s solution to the tune of close to a trillion dollars of the nation’s wealth to prop up “the economy”: Socialism for the rich. The term bugs me because of its inaccuracy in a number of ways.


First the overall situation reminds me of a time when my first wife wanted to loan money we didn’t really have to a friend of hers. You see, her friend had gotten herself into a little jam. She had gambled away in Reno, Nevada, her mother’s life savings for retirement and needed a little seed money so she could win it back. All she needed was one good day on the market, oops, I mean the roulette wheel, and she would not have to tell her mother the bad news.


Every citizen is being asked to come up with roughly $3,000 seed money so the gamblers (and those who entrusted our wealth with them) don’t have to face what they have done (are you listening Phil Gramm?). We are all being asked to trust that a “good day at the table” is just around the corner. Does this sound like socialism to you?


There used to be more support for a concept that came out of the Great Depression Era called public pooled risk. This is the foundation of the Federal Social Security Insurance public safety net. If all of us put in a little then we can socialize the risk so none of us loses big and ends up with nothing. There are those who have been telling us slow and steady does not win the race. You have to take chances to make it big. Well, they happened to be in power for the last 30 or so years and we are now reaping the wisdom, such as it is, of their ideas. This is in fact the very opposite of socialism. And I like to remind people that Darwin himself was against the idea of “social Darwinism.”


So how do we describe better what is going on? We could call it the Great Republican Engineered Economic Disaster, or GREED for short, but we would have to ignore bipartisan culpability. Perhaps a better description would be crony capitalist pathological gambling syndrome. If that is too awkward for you, try “lemon-socialism,” which is defined as: if it makes money, it’s private; if it loses money, it’s public. (A good example of this would be the many “superfund” cleanup sites in the country. These are places where “private” industry turned their profit and left the toxic cleanup to the public. There are many examples, especially in the daily headlines.)


As you can plainly see, the root of socialism is the word “social” as in public. Behind that is the idea that there is an overall “public good.” Classical theory of government says the goal of all good government is to find this ideal and strive to support it over other competing interests, what the founders referred to as the inevitable “factions” that divide nations. What we are witnessing is the culmination of leadership that does not believe there is a public good, that in fact, the way to a healthy society is through the private, self-interested acts of individuals alone, “free” of government regulation and “politically correct” restraints. Believe me, if we continue to follow the ideas that got us into this mess we will continue to fall apart, and socialism is not on the table, especially for the rich.


It really is a crime of history that the examples of socialism and their demise are understood to be proof of a failed idea. The Soviet Union had strong elements of state capitalism (not to mention totalitarianism) that made calling it socialist questionable (as does China today). Their failure to liberate humanity, to put it simply, stems from a lack of commitment to democracy. Our nation is facing the same risk. Don’t be distracted by false claims of “socialism,” anti-democratic capitalism will be back, with a vengeance. 


To learn more about what’s really going on, read Namoni Kline’s “The Shock Doctrine” and Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew, How Conservatives Rule”


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