Capitalism and Socialism

There is a lot of loose talk about socialism lately from the American minority, who started throwing the word around last year during the election. As in much political debate, it is an epithet not a definable thing, a signifier of something BAD. And since a full 20 years have passed since the demise of the Communist Party in Eastern Europe, there are many fewer checks and balances on the use of such terminology.

Ironically, the most socialist thing that ever happened in U.S. history was going on at the same time – virtual nationalization of the banking system, and it was undertaken by President George W. Bush, the epitome of the 25-year-long conservative free-market ascendancy in American politics. The same Bush administration added bananas, chocolate sauce and sprinkles to the ice cream sundae of Medicare. Medicare itself was described as socialism during its creation 45 years ago, and indeed all of the opposition arguments today match those leveled in 1964 and indeed a dozen years before when Truman first proposed national health care. Eliding this history, the word is still being bandied about as an unexamined epithet by opponents of President Obama and health care.

One hundred years ago progressive Republicans led a reform of American politics and society we now know as the Progressive Era. The enemy included socialists, who actually were a viable political force at that time. It also included trusts, which were ostensible capitalists who had turned their back on the free market by combining into virtual and actual monopolies. They operated much as socialized industries later did in communist countries – they set prices and wages, and they resisted change and innovation. The Progressives believed in capitalism, so they busted the trusts up and made them compete.

This is actually the same argument made by public option Democrats today in the health care debate – that insurance companies and drug companies are latter day trusts who set prices and resist competition. You can debate whether a “public option” will actually stimulate competition, but the fact remains some trusts need busting and the ONLY cost-cutting method they have right now is denial of coverage. Change is needed.

The irony here is that a century later Democrats are staking claim to “competition” and “capitalism” and “reform” that the Progressive Republicans owned a century ago. And today Republicans decry the public option as “socialism.” This confuses me, and here is why: I have never encountered a more socialistic industry than health care. No other business I deal with sends bills six months later. No other business I deal with has such bureaucracy, requires so much paperwork, takes so long to get a needed service. I want what test? I need a referral. And clearance from the insurer. Now there is a question. Wait another month.

Health care reform is socialism? How can this freakin’ industry possibly get any more socialistic than it already is? Sorry, but it is already turned up to 11 on the socialism meter.

(P.S. Tort reform! How can you compete when one knuckle-dragging lawyer can make anybody worth more dead than alive?)

The virtue of the free market is its ability to move quickly, to adapt to new conditions. The problem with lumbering socialistic beasts like GM and health care is they move too slow. Which brings us to the other great scourge of the no-longer-progressive-Republican agenda: climate change. They don’t want to endanger our already fragile economy (made fragile by Wall Street tricksters dancing beyond the margins) by trying to regulate or hinder industry. Give me a break. An industry that can’t handle massive change is a socialist industry. Soviet industries polluted tons more than their Western counterparts. Capitalism is for innovators, not mouth-breathers who “need” to pollute to create jobs.



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