Friday, March 20, 2009

The Social Hour

The rising tide of liberal triumphalism celebrating the victory of socialism over “capitalism” (so-called, erroneously), as invigorating and inspiring as it seems to be, does, in fact, have one flaw – namely that no one is coming out and actually labeling it “socialism”. And after all those decades of blood, toil, tears, and sweat. You'd think they'd be proud! Is this hypocrisy, or plain ignorance? "Socialism" is apparently one of those terms – like “liberalism” -- that people were proud to apply to themselves a couple generations back, but which has become that which dares not speak its name. And this is all the more remarkable considering that those aspects of socialism that we take most for granted – like agricultural policy, for example – have been around for so long that they are taken for granted and never even identified for what they are. If I walked down the Mall in Washington, D.C. with a magic wand, and waved it at every government office building dedicated to the pursuit of a socialist program, there would be very little left between the Washington Monument and the Capitol but vacant lots (but at least it would solve the parking problem!). And when one looks at the Obama administration's agenda – the one already being implemented as well as the intended stuff – one is bound to ask, “If this isn't socialism, what on earth is?” And to that I would add, what's the use in denying something that has become status quo, with remarkably few objections rising up from the citizenry? All they want is “rescuing” -- and rescuing they're going to get... although it will look more like throwing an anchor to a drowning man. The beauty of socialism is that the worse things get, the stronger it becomes – like some kind of perverted tumor. Has there ever, in all of world history, been a revolution against socialism? None that I can recall, save the Spanish civil war, and that wasn't about socialism per se so much as the wholesale destruction of the Church in Spain that finally got people to rise up. No – it can be truly said that not only does socialism thrive on bad times, but that it bends all its efforts to prevent good times – which makes perfect sense when you think about it, since self preservation is, after all, Job One of any entity, either living or pseudo-organic. So not only is Obama digging a grave for “capitalism”, but he's ready to put a stake in its heart if it should ever show signs of coming back to life. And frankly, given the sterling quality of the “capitalism” and the “capitalists” we have had over the last few decades, I'm not convinced he's entirely wrong. What we have had is not the pure capitalism that Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman dreamed of, but a degenerate, whorish, sold-out model that was every bit as dependent on government (i.e. taxpayer) largess as the most abject New Deal or Great Society agency. Show me a major corporation – in any sector of the economy – that has truly and unambiguously succeeded through fair, open, and unconstrained competition, and according to the laws of supply and demand. I don't think there are any. You will always find the heavy hand of government – and the “payback” that government exacts from those it favors. We wake up one morning and find that business and government are two heads of the same beast – and everyone is shocked. But in truth, the process has been going on for generations now. Of course, business and government have been corrupting each other since at least the Civil War era... but the pace accelerated over the New Deal and World War II, and has reached a fever pitch in the period from Vietnam through the present day. So now the government – like a bookie or a loan shark – is finally coming around to “collect” -- and at precisely the wrong time for business – i.e. the right time for government – when business is on the ropes and we have a president who was elected to, among other things, teach the “rich” a damn good lesson. So he has his mandate, and business has no excuses left. They have failed on all fronts and are acting like thieves -- and not even classy ones, but more like juvenile delinquents and cheap con artists. It's the perfect storm – and Obama has at least 4 years to take advantage of it, and 4 more if he doesn't blow it entirely. And think, we get a ringside seat for all this! (If only it were worth the price of admission!)

Now, if you accept all the above as obvious fact (and why wouldn't you?), please note that there is at least one columnist from the “liberal” camp, namely Harold Meyerson, who does not agree! He doesn't think we're turning socialist at all! He makes a number of observations in a recent (March 8) column, one of which is “the absence of advocates of socialism, at least as the term was understood by those who carried that banner during the capitalist crisis of the 1930s.” Well, to begin with, just because a person doesn't identify himself, in public, as a socialist doesn't mean he isn't one. And in fact, virtually everything the socialists of the 1930s advocated has come to pass – thanks largely to the Democrats. So we don't need that “old” variety of socialism, because it has been folded into the mainstream. When something is universal, it no longer needs "advocates".

But he goes on to point out that “then (the 1930s), socialists and communists both spoke of nationalizing all major industries and abolishing private markets and the wage system.” Well, since then most of our major industries have been blanketed with regulations and sanctions to the extent that they might just as well have been nationalized (think: JFK and the steel industry, for example) – and the real thing is now under way when it comes to the auto makers – arguably just about the last significant “heavy” industry left now that the rest have all fled overseas (and why did they flee, if things were so groovy here?). Then when it comes to private markets, that's also under way in the sense that every time the Chairman of the Federal Reserve sneezes, Wall Street catches cold. The stock market now rises and falls not based on business projections (i.e., consumer behavior in a free market), but on speculation as to what lame-brained scheme the government is going to come up with next. This may not be “abolition” of private markets, but doesn't rendering them helpless against the government juggernaut amount to the same thing? And as to wages, well... we have the minimum wage, which again has driven many industries and other businesses overseas, and the massive overlay of benefits, which pretty much neutralizes the supply-demand character of wages in a more purely capitalistic model. So yes, I would say that, in these areas, the old socialists – assuming there are any left doddering around – can say “mission accomplished”, even if the details differ from their original vision. But even so, the work is not yet done, as Obama & Co. well know, and things like “card check” will only solidify the situation further.

Meyerson's next point is that the “humanization” of capitalism “through the instruments of democratic government” has taken the place of “supplanting capitalism altogether”. But when you “humanize” capitalism beyond a certain point, these two ideas basically converge, and I offer that that is what has happened over the past few decades as business has repeatedly prostituted itself (either because it was forced to or “encouraged” to) to government to the point where we can mouth words all we want about “capitalism”, but the real thing has, by and large, ceased to exist. I mean, if the only thing left of capitalism is that people are still allowed to make money in business, even though all the important decisions are made by government, then that's not capitalism at all, but fascism, which is a variety of socialism.

On the other side of the coin, he says that “... in the United States, conservatives have never bashed socialism because its specter was actually stalking America...” Gracious! Has he forgotten about Alger Hiss vs. Richard Nixon, or about Joe McCarthy, or J. Edgar Hoover? The socialist specter, in the form of international communism, was most definitely “stalking” America from the New Deal era right up to the end of the Soviet Union, with the high water mark perhaps being the last few (World War II) years of the Roosevelt administration and the Truman administration. Those people meant it; they were in earnest, and they devoted lives and fortunes to the goal of putting America under the communist yoke. How can anyone doubt this? The evidence is as overwhelming as... that for the Holocaust, for example. And they were fought against – and rightly so – by many people both in and out of government who took the threat seriously -- the last, and arguably most successful, being Ronald Reagan.

I'm not going to go into every one of Meyerson's other statements, but here's a beauty: “The spending in Obama's stimulus plan isn't a socialist takeover.” Well gee, in that case could someone please describe to me what a socialist takeover would look like? Wouldn't it look kind of like the government buying up large portions of all the major financial sectors, and of at least one major industrial sector, with taxpayer money? Oh, but that's only to “reboot a crashed capitalist system”, according to Meyerson. Right. The same way methadone “reboots” a heroin addict. The addiction is still there, but now it's to a government-approved substance. If the government is over-regulating business one day, and owning it the next, is there a significant difference in principle? You tell me.

Here's another howler: “Laissez-fair capitalism is about to be supplanted not by socialism but by a more regulated, viable capitalism.” We haven't had “laissez-faire capitalism” since at least the 1920s. And what he calls “regulated, viable capitalism” is no more capitalism than what we've had since then – it's just an even more grotesque mutation that is only called “capitalism” in order to preserve some sort of illusion.

And how about this: “... the woods (aren't) full of secret socialists who are only now outing themselves.” Well, he's right about the “only now” part. Socialism has been walking proud and talking loud in this country for many decades, even if under different names, and no one has had to have the slightest doubt as to who its proponents are. But again, it's so ubiquitous that people have lost the ability to perceive it.

Finally, Meyerson calls for “a more social capitalism” -- which is kind of like calling for... oh, I don't know... how about “more vegetarian beef”. This goes beyond mere contradiction in terms to outright lunacy. But it's nonetheless necessary because “the deregulated capitalism of the past 30 years has blown itself up.” No, “deregulated” capitalism has done no such thing. What has blown itself up is that impossible marriage between pseudo-capitalism and partial, uneven, and arbitrary government regulation, combined with the unsustainable (and largely unwritten, but always enforced) agreement between government and business that when businesses profit, they get to keep the profits, but when they suffer losses, the taxpayers have to bail them out. You would think a setup like that would have made American businesses wealthier than ever, and their stock climb to ever-greater heights indefinitely. But, like the laws of nature, you can only get away with doing things that wrongly for so long, and then it all comes collapsing down. Our “capitalist” businesses have lived high on the hog, courtesy of the taxpayer, for so long that they have gotten fat, lazy, greedy, and taken over by hardened criminal types who couldn't hold a candle to the old-time so-called “robber barons”. All of these jokers who have been dragging themselves up Capitol Hill for the past few months to "testify before Congress" aren't, in the aggregate, worth one of Andrew Carnegie's farts. And yet those are the very types who thrive on this distorted version of “capitalism” that we have been fooling ourselves with, and that is finally showing all of its fatal flaws – which, in a way, is an occasion for celebration. The veil of hypocrisy is off the deeply corrupt system that was firmly established prior to, during, and after World War II. Will it be replaced with anything better? Who knows. But one thing is certain -- “humanized capitalism”, the “democratization” of capitalism, “rebooted” capitalism, or “a more social capitalism” won't make things better because, for all intents and purposes, that's precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.

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