Saturday, October 22, 2011
- I Miss Socialism
If you’re a frequent reader then you probably think I’m kidding with this post’s title, or I’m going to use it to form some clever point. But the simple fact is, I do miss socialism. I can hear some of you already…
“Don’t worry Tom”, you’re saying, “you’re going to get plenty more socialism soon so just wait a bit.” To that I honestly say, I wish you were right, but I don’t think you are. We’re going to get something, and whatever it is, it will certainly not be “individual liberty”, but I don’t think we’re going to get socialism exactly.
That was the thing about the cold war; which was really only the idea of a war, and it was really only against the idea of socialism. But for most of us, it was easy to see that we were the good guys. We knew that behind the iron curtain millions of people were held against their will as little more than slaves. It was clear who the villain was and who the hero was. The villain was the top down despotic plutocrat who replaced the free choice of the people with a government command, and the hero was the lover of liberty. But these days it’s not so simple. These days our villains are craftier and better at portraying the villains as the victims. And since we no longer have the Russians as our nemesis, more people than ever believe them.
I mean think about it. There is a reason that we aren’t actually getting socialism. Why bother to own the means of production when you can control it utterly at one level of remove? Need the profits from it to fund a pet project? Write a new tax. Want to change the way the business is being run? Write a new environmental, labor or healthcare regulation. Want to change its location, or industry or marketing strategy? No problem. Just call the NLRB, the EPA or the FCC respectively. With a little carefully structured regulation, you can have all the benefits of ownership without any of the downsides.
For instance, you don’t have to worry about competition in the marketplace at all because government is a monopoly. Two car companies or ten – it’s all the same to you. You can control them all the same – or different for that matter if you prefer. You can keep the legal barriers to entry high to prevent little guys from intruding, and keep the capital requirements high to keep the big guys from running away. You can impose tariffs, offshore profit taxes, and all manner of rules to keep the government boot firmly on the business neck. It’s all yours – without risk or loss.
In fact, it’s even better to let someone else actually ‘own’ the business because then if things slow down or your plan hits a bit of a bump and it turns out that you need a fall guy, you simply point the mob at the ‘greedy rich guy’ and cheer them on as they string him up. Then when their blood lust is sated you step back in urging calm and reason, while you let the other ‘owners’ know that they could be next. Spell it out if you have to. Just let them know that you are the only thing that stands between them and the pitchforks.
Anyway, this is why I miss Socialism. What we have now is much worse because it’s more subtle. It’s harder to explain, and much harder to undo. In the end, if you’re a maker and not a taker, you can’t really do much of anything except run from it, and leave the technocrats to ‘manage the decline’. Let them be in control of what remains, but take your vitality and your creative energy and use it somewhere it will be appreciated, and where you will be allowed to benefit directly from it.
We still have a chance to fix this of course, but at the moment we’re at a distinct disadvantage. Every time some lover of liberty (there are still a few out there) points to the things that would have to be done, they’re called ‘crazy’ by the establishment in Washington and the bulk of the media. Put forward a plan to dismantle cabinet level positions, and people treat you like you’re wearing a tinfoil hat – even though that’s really only the beginning of what we would need.
Eventually, what we need is to regain our personal liberty and greatly strengthen private property. And by that I don’t mean our liberty to sit in a drum circle 24 hours a day and keep honest people awake. I mean the liberty to keep the benefit from our own labor and our own risk taking. I mean the liberty to do as we like so long as it doesn’t interfere with any other people or their property. I mean the liberty to live our lives principally through agreement with others rather than by government command. But so long as the focus is ‘social justice’ instead of ‘actual justice’, that’s an unlikely outcome.
This is why I miss socialism. It was a simple enough thesis that all but a few nut jobs knew in their hearts that it was wrong. But these days, half the broader public, and all but a very few in Washington think that allowing the government to command us in our daily lives is better than each of us having our own individual liberty to do with as we like. And that’s a sad statement about America’s future.