Dec 15, 2010

Tearing my hair out: this is not socialism! (or it is, but just a little bit)

This makes me insane. The New York Times, that venerable institution of serious journalism (which I love deeply), has seen fit to post a "debate" about "whether Obama's policies are socialistic." 

Let's deal in reality here, people. And by reality, I mean wikipedia. I know that's not exactly the most reliable source, but in this case I like its definition of socialism: "Socialism is an economic and political theory advocating public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources."

So basically, there are two things at issue: (1) government ownership and management of the means of production, and (2) government allocation of resources. 

Newsflash: every government does these things to some extent, always has, and always will. That's why government exists, and it's why we have these things called taxes. Except for the most die-hard libertarians/anarchists (there is some overlap), even the strongest advocates of so-called "free trade" argue that the government should provide a military. A military requires weapons and soldiers. Weapons require production. Soldiers require salaries. Hence even the most basic government owns and manages some means of production and allocates some resources.

In the United States the dichotomy has never been and never will be a government-run economy vs. free trade - or, to put it another way, pure socialism vs. pure capitalism. We have a little bit of both, always have and always will. 

Off the top of my head, here are ten relatively uncontroversial ways the government intervenes in our economy:

1) builds roads, without which we could not buy and sell goods.
2) runs a post office, without which we could not send those goods or pay for them.
3) sets tariffs on imports and exports. See: South Korea trade deal.
4) prohibits the open production and sale of illicit drugs.
5) enforces immigration laws, which impedes the natural flow of the labor force
6) pays enormous subsidies to corn farmers.
7) employs people, including teachers, police-officers, and firefighters.
8) regulates who can drive a car, a truck, or a plane.
9) has the power to force people to pay their debts.
10) does autopsies (see this interesting story about why this has to be government's job because it's not in any private party's interest to do it.)

So if someone would like to have an honest debate about what kind of government intervention we want in our economy, I'm all for that. But let's start from the premise that the government already does and always will intervene in many ways. Let's not pretend that this is a debate between socialism and capitalism, or between intervention and free trade. 

And, as other people have said before me: if you don't want government intervention in the economy, go live in Somalia. Then you can have pirates controlling the economy instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment