In the middle of campaign debate season, for the 100th, or maybe 200th time, I saw that graphic which ask us which part of socialism is it that scares us so much?
Is it Public schools? Is it Fire Departments? Is it Medicare? Is it Social Security?
Admittedly tired of seeing this utterly uninformed attempt to sell something as wonderful which has been shown historically to fail, time and time again, I could not bring myself to say more than this: “Here’s a fun fact. We already have those things, and we are not a socialist state, and those are not socialist activities. Under socialism, the state owns the means of production. You are confusing delivering social services, which we do in abundance, with being socialist, which we should never be.”
Well, didn’t take long before I was chastised for my lack of understanding, not for the first time. My shortcoming was addressed in a short, clear sentence, which in itself is a good and admirable way to accomplish things. “I think you have to read up again ……. what socialism is.”
Well, I have read up on what socialism is, perhaps more than once. It was exceedingly easy to find a number of ways of stating it:
Would Merriam-Webster do? “\Full Definition of socialism: 1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”
Is the Oxford English Dictionary acceptable? “Definition of socialism in English:
noun: 1A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
Will American Heritage Dictionary do? “socialism: noun, Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
“The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which the means of production are collectively owned but a completely classless society has not yet been achieved.”
Finally, I wondered if Wikipedia would be sufficient? “Socialism is a range of social and economic systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production; as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim at their establishment.”
There seems to be a constant press for socialism, from an appreciable, certainly a noticeably large, segment of our population, who do not seem to understand what it is that they are actually pressing for. It is one of the strangest phenomena going these days, to my way of thinking. Decades of scholarship be damned, the proponents are damned proud to push for the thing and insist that it is not what it has been clearly defined to be for decades. It certainly had exactly these meanings fifty years ago already, and the books describing it were already decades old.
Is it just because some folks cannot distinguish between capitalism ( a way of organizing ownership) and greed (a malignant impulse to acquire more than you can possibly need, regardless of how or from whom)? Is it that inability to distinguish that produces such an odd result, which is that they cannot simply say, “We would like to police things better so that capitalism can work free from the corruption and crony influences that infect it too often.” Can they just not allow such a thought to escape through their own mouths? Is it because that would mean admitting that capitalism, properly administered and policed, could be a good thing? Maybe a thing that creates, you know, cars, stereos, CDs, movies, iPhones, fantastic variety at the grocery store, in abundance, you know, stuff like that.
Well, if that’s the reason, that these champions of “socialism” (but not really) cannot allow a statement such as “capitalism could be a good thing”, they need not feel alone. Even so-called champions of capitalism cannot seem to mount a clear defense of it these days, or draw the boundaries with any clarity. If you cannot draw boundaries well, then you it is difficult to point and say, “There, that’s capitalism. That’s the system we’ll use. Over there, that’s the law, and we’ll use that to police capitalism and try to push greed out of our dealings. And there, over there, that’s the human heart, from which we will do our best to inspire everyone around us to banish greed and work honestly for decent ends.”
If there is someone saying any such thing among the most vocal champions of capitalism right now, I haven’t seen it lately. Somebody just point me to him or her. Meanwhile, I suppose we can expect a stream of continued rapture over the joys of socialism, notwithstanding the enraptured are actually enjoying the fruits of capitalism (which they apparently hate, largely through ignorance), coupled with the use of some of the wealth it generates to accomplish socially desirable ends.
It will end better for everyone if we could just fold into our public discourse that little element of seriousness that would lead us to have some clue what we’re talking about before advocating for it. Unlikely, I know, but you have to have a dream.