Thursday, 8 November 2007

We Are All Socialists!

Or at least a vast majority of us are.

I could have as easily titled this piece "We Are All Capitalists!", with an identical qualification.

The point is, that with the exception of a few rigid extremists on either side, most of us acknowledge by our daily activities some acceptance of the fact that the capitalist model works quite well for many things in life, while a socialist model works for others. Too many, especially on the far right, but also on the far left, have tried to make this into an either/or dilemma, when it really ought to be about AND.

Here in the United States and much of the Western World, we have settled on an economic model which is predominately capitalist, with a few socialist elements. I happen to think that is probably the best choice. I love pointing out to those who find my views to be radical, that this ought to place me - in an economic sense, at least - a little to the right of center.

But for many, the commitment to an economic model has become imbued with a moral element which simply isn't appropriate. It is quite true that economic models, if they become grossly imbalanced, can allow ghastly things to happen which DO have a moral element. Such awful scenarios have been played out many times in history. China's Cultural Revolution and the Indonesian extermination of the East Timorese are but two examples abetted by economic imbalances of different origins.

We need to be more concerned about what works, and be willing to draw from models which have succeeded before, without ascribing evil intent to any suggestion which can be remotely associated with an ideology that we disagree with. The public sector of our economy exists for a reason, and most Americans agree that it has its place. Schools, the Post Office, police, fire departments, parks, and resource management are integral parts of our society which operate predominately on a socialist model, with some incentive-based balancing elements. That doesn't make the participants in that part of the economy radical commies foaming at the mouth, any more than those working for or running our corporations must be evil capitalists intent on stealing from the poor to line their own pockets.

We operate in a mixed economy, and should be wary of those whose commitment to an economic model trumps practical considerations in determining how to structure our various institutions. It seems that the folks at the Heritage Foundation would have us privatize every institution rather that acknowledge that occasionally (often!) the public good is better served by public institutions with public accountability. It's not that privatization is NEVER a good idea, but that it's certainly not ALWAYS a good idea.

When I look around me in 2007, there's not much left that hasn't been privatized or partially privatized that needs more privatization. I'm far more often alarmed by the extent of privatization that has occurred already. Naomi Klein, recent author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", appearing on Democracy Now yesterday, said
The last frontier for the privatization of the state is the privatization of ... core state functions. You know, the only thing left that hasn’t already been privatized and outsourced is -- and this is pre-Bush administration -- is the army, is the police, are the fire departments. And these core state functions are really seen as the last great privatization free-for-all. It’s already entered healthcare. It’s already entered water. It’s already entered electricity, the media.
Those of us who are inclined to argue for de-privatizing some of that which has suffered from over privatization are frequently accused of being "far left" even when what is sought is simply movement back towards the way things were 20, 40, or even 80 years ago. And when someone like me suggests that in certain arenas, such as health care, we should simply acknowledge the net public good which could come from moving more fully to a socialist model, then in the eyes of some I might as well have suggested selling their children to work for Kim Jung Il.

Among the current crop of Presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich is bold enough to suggest that we need a single payer system for health insurance, even though in countries where such systems are standard, even political conservatives generally acknowledge the public good which they serve. I supported Kucinich's bid for the Democratic nomination four years ago, but recognizing that his selection would be undeservedly polarizing, was rather excited about the possibility that Obama might be less beholden to corporate interests than someone like Clinton, while speaking the language of unity which we desperately need, and hence center us. It is rather sad to me that Obama is obliged to take an improved but still timid approach to health care when it seems clear to me that something bolder is called for.

So call me a socialist if you like - I'll not deny it. But don't be surprised after we spend some time together, if I call you one too.

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