I was looking at some photos from the random AP shots of a recent Tea-Party event – one of them caught my eye: It was a poster with Hitler superimposed over the image of President Obama, some part of the caption also decried the evils of Socialism… Holy mixed metaphor Batman!
I’m trying to figure the logic behind the poster (other than someone’s desire to make a quick buck pandering to the tea-partying hordes). I suppose that they perceive Obama as being dictatorial, so that must be the association with Hitler, but the addition of Socialism is just wrong. Hitler was a lot of things, but he clearly was no Socialist, and the ones that he found he tended to house at Dachau. So calling Obama Hitleresque is at least logically defendable (if you forget all that elected, separation of powers, nonsense). But adding in Socialism breaks apart the whole metaphor.
I think we need a quick tutorial in political/economic terminology. Don’t worry – I will refrain from any Greek or Latin etymologies…
First off, I would like everyone to stop saying that we live in a Democracy, the term is far too vague, and vagary is the soul of ignorance. In a Democracy, the people vote directly on the decisions to be made, and outside of the occasional referendum, we do not. America is a Federal Republic – we do not vote on issues, we vote for representatives, who then vote on the issues.
Socialism is the other term that we will touch on in our sermon today. The rants against many of Obama’s plans as being socialist are sadly familiar, but again, the term is being used without adequate delineation. Far too many people equate Socialism with their remembered paranoia of Communism, and few of them could coherently talk of any distinction between the two terms. Lets just state that one of them is an economic term and one is political, and leave the rest for another day.
People seem to be thinking of two different very different ideas when they apply the word Socialism. Some tend to equate it with the aforementioned communism, complete with all the Stalinish, gulagy horrors that come with the loss of private ownership of the means of production. Others, more correctly, use the term in reference to government sponsored welfare programs. I especially enjoy the people who rage against socialism while screaming for Obama to keep his hands off their Social Security.
To finally get to something of the title of this post – every year in my AP European historycourses, we cover the development of modern economic theories and pay due homage to Adam and Karl, Smith and Marx respectively. I like to boil things down to their simplest form: Mr. Smith said that an economy works best when it’s everyone for themselves and the government stays out. Uncle Karl countered with the idea that everything should be shared equally by those who do the work (one of the Lenin boys later added that maybe the government would assist in the whole sharing thingy…).
Anyway, by the mid 19th century most of Western Europe had jumped onboard the Adam Smith train and for a time seemed to be happily guided by his invisible hand. Eventually the majority of the people, the ones who tended to do most of the actual work, began to feel that most of the fruits of their labors were ending up in the fruit bowls of the rich and better smelling. These teeming masses started to see the appeal of Mr. Marx (Karl, not Groucho). Uh Oh!
Yes, I may finally be approaching my point…
Benjamin Disraeli in Britain and Otto Von Bismarck in Germany (neither of who could ever be castigated as weak-kneed lefties…), both headed pro-Adam Smith, conservative governments – and both faced an ever increasingly disgruntled proletariat (oops, I meant groups of worker-people…). Both these paragons of conservative governance had genuine fear that the growing gap between the haves and have-not might lead the nots into the evils of Uncle Karl and all that awful sharing. To hedge their bets, they both developed a version of what we know as the Welfare State, or, as Bismarck called it – “State Socialism.”
In this light it may be a little easier to see that Socialism really developed as a stopgap against Marxism. State sponsored welfare and entitlements were developed by Adam Smith conservatives as a way to keep the working classes from becoming so desperate that they might be attracted to Marx, revolution, or even worse…Unions!
So if you happen to own some ginormous multi-national and you live within a Federal Republic that promotes Free-Markets via the Keynesian critique of Adam Smith, you really should be a big fan of state-welfare –it may be the only thing keeping your workers in your factories and not walking up your gated driveway – armed with pitchforks and their 2nd Amendment guaranteed side arms.
Bon Chance, Mon Ami!