A couple of weeks ago, I ended up getting into a very heated discussion with a fellow political type over the application of the word “socialism” in the modern sense. This gentleman was already upset with me because I had shared an online post featuring the following video as a beautiful example of everything wrong with Bernie Sanders’ army of economic apologists.
Judge for yourself:
Now, regardless of whether or not this fully encapsulates every Sanders supporter’s position is beside the point; modern socialists in general, especially those living in the west, do seem to share this delusion that not only are they owed things they haven’t earned, but that it’s some authority figure’s job to force the hand of those who do earn their income in order for a piece of it to be divided up and evenly distributed. That’s seen as “fair” these days, though I fail to see how one guy being unfairly gouged to support another guy who is supposedly getting the same treatment is anything other than a bait and switch – even in the eyes of progressives. But we could write a whole book on how numbers-challenged liberals are these days, so I’ll refrain for the purposes of staying on topic.
In any event, my Sanders-supporting friends have tried to say that Sanders only wants to tax the rich, and therefore what they are after by supporting Sanders is nothing like what the woman in this video wants. Well, perhaps not in immediate practice, but again, these folks are failing to recognize something Sanders has actually been very astute on when it comes to his position against the TPP (a position I share) – the simple fact that, when pushed, businesses and job makers will simply relocate their funds, factories, etc. overseas to get away from what they see as a less free economic situation here at home. It’s the same exact principle with taxes – if you gouge the rich CEOs, they will find a way to maintain their profits – and take potential jobs with them. So in the end, the middle class will still end up hurting.
This is not even mentioning the fact that there are calculations out there estimating a significant raise in taxes for the middle class anyway, despite what the Sanders campaign claims (though these findings have their detractors, as well).
But aside from all of that, this particular friend of mine still wouldn’t relent – insisting that by merely sharing a humorous video I was perpetuating dangerous lies about Sanders and spreading misinformation. And beyond that, this person also called me a hypocrite! That latter charge was the most shocking to me – how, in fact, had I been such a hypocrite?
Then, it came: “Well, you support socialism too, you know! It’s just that you get to pick and choose what kind of socialism you personally like!”
My toes curled inside my shoes. My arms went rigid. Had anyone else been in the room with me at the time, I’m sure they would have reported that my complexion drained. Everything within me at that moment wanted to scream and leap from my bodily form and jump from the nearest window. The tumultuous combination of simultaneous anger, amusement, shock, and frustration was nearly too much to bear. But I somehow managed to reel in all of my most primal urges and simply clear my throat and wait for this gentleman to continue.
And continue he did: “What about roads? Libraries? Snow plows? The postal system? Huh? Aren’t those socialist, as well?” At last, my time had come. I was proud of myself for staying silent and waiting. The conversation went exactly as I hoped it would. And with significant pleasure, I gave my simple answer: “No.”
Boy, did that confuse my opponent. Significantly, I might add. It would take another ten minutes of babble to get him to stop talking in circles about how I “had to be kidding,” and how of course all those things he mentioned were socialist. How dare I claim they weren’t? “Well, they just aren’t,” I said again.
Finally, after much befuddlement from the other side of the discussion, I was given the chance to clarify my position. Just as I did for my sparring partner then, I shall explain here now.
When one says “socialism,” the only historically accurate reference that can be made is to the political philosophy of the same name that came about in the 1800s as a response to what some people in Europe saw as an inherent flaw in capitalism: exploitation of the worker. Now, I have written at length already as to why I disagree with that analogy, so that won’t really be addressed here. The main point in this case is to clarify what socialism is and by the same token reveal what it isn’t. So there we are – socialism is a nineteenth century political ideology that has direct relation to capitalism; what socialism isn’t, on its own, at least, is an exclusively economic or policy-driven application of said ideas. Having said that, there can certainly be overlaps, but if one wants to claim that any sort of practical implementation of policy that resembles a public commodity is mutually exclusive to socialism, that person is either ignorant or a liar. Plain and simple.
This mainly comes from the fact that there are various forms of socialism and numerous strains within each of those said forms. In the end, saying that socialism simply equals government implementation of public services is incredibly sloppy, and some forms of socialism, such as non-market socialism, would have nothing at all to say on policy of this sort, much less how to fund it. A much fairer way to approach the socialism vs. capitalism issue is by delineating the founding philosophies of each, rather than certain mechanisms by which said philosophies sometimes are logistically applied in society. When approaching it this way, each camp is clearly defined and differentiated; when trying to compare the latter, it becomes apparent that sometimes these aforementioned mechanisms overlap and don’t always align as one might expect them to.
For example, there have been self-proclaimed capitalist administrations in America that have implemented fiscal policies influenced by the Keynesian school of economics – that school’s founder, John Maynard Keynes, is to this day one of the most frequently cited experts when socialist types are trying to argue for more government involvement in the markets. But notice what we just made clear – both capitalists and socialists have utilized Keynesian economics. Because neither philosophy is exclusively married to any particular economic or social device when it comes to being applicable in the day-to-day runnings of society.
Nowhere can I think of this discrepancy as being clearer than in the U.S. Constitution itself under Article I, Section 8, Clause 7. Commonly referred to as the “Postal Clause,” this portion of the Constitution clearly gives Congress the authority to “establish Post Offices and Post roads” which the public can utilize. So that cry we so often hear from the left asking “who will build the roads?” The answer, as it turns out, is simply “the government. And there is nothing socialist about that.”
This sets the precedent for the federal government to provide certain public services. Period. And there are other instances throughout the founding documents of the United States where we can find the absolutely legal origins of police forces, fire departments, and so forth. And let us not forget the Tenth Amendment, which leaves anything not explicitly addressed in the Constitution to be dealt with at state and local levels. So again, if a governor or town mayor finds a way to set some money aside to make sure snowplows consistently make the Constitutionally sound roads safer for their citizens, “socialism” is the last thing anyone, capitalists included, should be thinking. In fact, the very idea that something must be “socialist” in order to be a publicly funded good, even in America, is laughably absurd. Frankly, the Sanders supporters who continue to make this argument should ashamed at how unacquainted they are with their own country’s constitution. Though that should honestly come as no surprise.
But not only are government-endorsed public services not socialist simply because they are Constitutionally sound, these things are also clearly not socialist because they predate socialism itself. Are we honestly supposed to believe that governments weren’t funding things for their citizens prior to the 1800s? The American Revolution predates socialism’s true debut in the political sphere, yet there in the Constitution, the Postal Clause and Tenth Amendment can be found – in black and white. European countries before that also managed to find a way to justify public goods before socialism’s inception. To behave and speak as if socialism brought some grand revelation upon mankind about making access and convenience publicly accessible is to drip with ignorance, and hopefully, now the fallacious notion that “you and I are equally stupid” coming from the soft socialists of today can finally be combatted with a clear retort – “No we are fucking not.”
This isn’t to say that some economically-minded forms of socialism – or vice-versa – don’t exist. They do. It’s just that this isn’t the only form socialism takes, and when it has been tried it’s often been (unsurprisingly) unsuccessful. In fact, Marxist ‘economics’ was the latest attempt to merge the two, and the field of economics rejected it as bunk. Meanwhile, “capitalism” as I’ve explained in past writings isn’t even really an “ism” so much as it is simply the state of things when mostly left alone in the post-industrialized world. And sometimes, despite how much I might personally disparage much of it, public funding can still play a valid role within a capitalistic society. Perpetuating the false dichotomy of “capitalism or socialism” is just lazy and politically driven. Let us not fall into that trap, folks – the Sanders guys already do it so well on their own.
This post was written by Micah J. Fleck.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.
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