I call myself a “practical democratic socialist.” “Practical” means what works is what works, human nature is human nature, and these two things trump any ideology. “Democratic” means that I believe in our republican system of government. I don’t believe in armed revolution, government by the proletariat, the melting away of the state, or any other such notions. “Socialist” means that I believe the government should control assets for the greater good of the nation, the level and methods of control varying and depending on what works.
I am not a Marxist; I haven’t read Marx. I probably should for my edification. I’m certainly not a communist, as I believe the concept of private property is intrinsic to human nature. In terms of liberal-conservative, I’m all over the place. I don’t believe that what is commonly termed “gun control” works; hence, the government should give up on it. I think abortion is evil and should be regulated to some extent but not banned (wouldn’t “work”). I’m 100% against the war on drugs. I’m for affirmative action and slavery reparations. I believe in gay marriage and polyamorous marriage. I believe that income redistribution is essential to the function of a modern economy. I hate complexity and Baroqueness and capriciousness in regulation. I’m for free trade (I think we should throw out the tariff schedule and have an across-the-board several percent import tariff as a user fee for US ports and facilities). I believe in a strong social safety net. I believe in a market economy, but one that is regulated for the greatest good. The government needs to get off the back of religion in this country; it’s getting close to oppression of religious belief. Medical care for all is the most pressing issue for our nation right now.
Basically, the above makes me leftie on average, but I’m not a knee-jerker. Rush and Ann are mostly fools, but sometimes they have a point. In general, however, I prefer the liberal side of the media.
In addition to any of the above, the following are some political thoughts that I’d like to debate, which I think are of a more interesting and original nature.
We are already a socialist country; this talk of “capitalism” is bunk.
By the standards of the past, we are a socialist country by any standard. I read somewhere that every element of the 1928 platform of the Socialist Party had been fulfilled (things like an 8-hour work day, etc.). Government regulations like the minimum wage are socialist in character. The amount of GDP that is from the government justifies the claim. The government, through Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and other programs provides 45% of the medical care in the country (cite from a presentation I saw when working in the drug industry; it’s probably higher now). The income redistribution the government performs is socialist in nature.
We are not socialist enough in many ways (medical care) while being overly controlling or socialist in others (immigration, war on drugs). We are not so socialist as many European and other countries.
People still cling to the idea that we are “capitalist,” and we ought not be communist or socialist. First, the nation was never explicitly founded as a capitalist country; the concept didn’t exist then. Cite. In general, the insistence that we are capitalist contains, or ultimately consists of, bugbearism: We are not like those commies whose economic systems were a failure.
Our failure to come to terms with our socialism has lead to the schizoid character of modern politics. The Pubs pay lip service to small government but spend like drunken sailors. They will not be able to practice socialism effectively until they lose their shame of it and self-denial regarding it. On the other hand, the Dems are deemed left of the Pubs when for all practical purposes they no more “liberal” at all. They have the reputation for being more socialist yet don’t have the cojones to run with that as a differentiator. The practical result is that the Dems and Pubs supply fool the consumer with two different packages containing the same product: socialism practiced ineffectively with shame and self-loathing. It is “socialism that dare not speak its name.”
Ownership is just one form of control.
Typically, socialism is defined as the government owning the assets of production, or something close to that. It is perhaps this definition that prevents us from seeing how socialistic our economic and governmental systems have become.
“Ownership” is merely one concept within the larger set of “Control.” For example, if I have a leasehold interest in your property, you “own” it and I don’t. Yet I have far greater control over it than you do during the period of the lease.
Likewise, the government doesn’t “own” companies in the semantic sense, and yet its form of control over them is very great indeed. It reserves the right to a large chunk of corporate cash flow through taxes. It gets paid before any employees, bondholder, or stockholder. The government regulates how companies will interact with the environment, employees, and with society at large. And the above is, if anything, a vast understatement of the level of control the government holds over companies.
The level of control the various governments (federal, state, local) hold over companies is practical; it works. Other countries have tried other systems that have failed and succeeded in varying degrees. The Post Office is a state-owned or quasi-governmental business that is, in my view, a success. I believe that other industries ought to be state-owned or controlled to a much higher degree (domestic airlines), but the vast majority should be controlled right about at the level they are now.
As a general rule, the less control, the better. Stupid, counterproductive control is bad. Yet we should not also shy away from greater governmental control when such would foster the greater good.
There is no fundamental difference between government and corporations.
Once this truth is understood, the scales fall from the eyes, and one realizes why libertarianism is doomed to failure, among other things.
At first glance, there are big differences in the way power is allocated in our system (and in most systems) to government and corporations. The government is in a superior position to any corporation. Corporations get fined by the government, but they cannot fine the government. A corporation cannot raise an army (no Haliburton jokes, please).
But the corporation is, in reality, merely one other doll in the Matryoshka series. The feds boss the states, the states boss the locals govs, and they all boss corporations. Yet the corporations then exercise control over their assets and their employees. They have rules. They have the power to raise people up or exile them completely. It is only habit of thought that prevents us from seeing them as mini governments, and not very democratic ones at that.
A good chunk of what libertarians and conservatives have to sell is the idea that government is wasteful and value-destroying, whereas corporations are frugal and value-adding. But this notion is certainly contrary to my own observation: I’ve worked for several major, respected companies in the US and Japan and have seen waste, inefficiency, and just general assbackwardsness that would make the Italian Post Office blush. The fact of the matter is that both the government and corporations–any organization, for that matter–is prone to waste and inefficiency.
Yet it seems that the notion that the government is by its nature prone to greater waste is based on the fact that the “market” will destroy a wasteful company, whereas the government cannot be harmed or changed by market forces.
But this criticism must also be counterbalanced by another fact that is difficult to perceive but extremely important. I said above that I have witnessed great waste and inefficiency in large corporations. But theses companies were not unprofitable–and that’s the problem. Imagine two public companies, A and B. The managers of company A are conscientious and always take care to use the shareholders’ assets efficiently. They produce a high gross margin of 50% and keep G&A so low as to produce a net profit of 10% of sales. Company B, however, is different. Its gross margin is also 50%, but it engages in all manner of navel-gazing with consultants (endless studies about the company’s brand, philosophy, values) and refuses to fire deadwood employees. Its gross margin is just 5%.
But I never said that the two companies were in the same industry, did I? If company B is in an industry in which such waste is the norm and can therefore compete with its fellows, there is no mechanism in the economy to eliminate that waste. To the contrary, in very profitable industries (drugs), high net profits can be combined with horrific waste, yet no one complains because that industry outperforms others that operate in a very lean fashion. And then there is the other sad fact that companies tend to be run first for the benefit of the executives, who support each other as a caste in the matter.
In contrast, the government is always a cost center–there is no “profit” that can justify the costs a particular department or bureau is generating (some that sell a product, like the Post Office, may be exceptions). The mechanism for lowering such costs is budgeting and careful oversight. Certainly the government can be wasteful; it often is. But it does not have the above-described ability to hide waste and excess behind profits.
One we accept that we are operating a socialist government/economy, that ownership is just another form of control, and that there is no fundamental difference between government and corporations, we have gained some of the important mental tools necessary to run a modern polity. We can then get down to brass tacks about what form and level of control is needed in any given situation.
My vision of the good is the individual unburdened and free as much as possible, with most control applying to organizations. It is a major pain for an individual to do his/her income taxes. It is time-consuming and stressful. Yet it is not a personal pain for a corporate accountant to do the company’s taxes (it’s a “job”), and it might even be enjoyable for that person if that’s his/her thing.
In other words, our current socialism calls itself capitalism and oppresses the individual with tax forms, the war on drugs, and an oppressive corporate (= governmental) environment. True socialism will free the individual and place the burden of modern governance where it belongs: on society as a whole.