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The Triumph of Socialism

Senator John McCain and the Republican party has tried very hard in these last few days of the 2008 election to paint Senator Barack Obama as a Socialist, claiming from a very old quote taken out of context, that as president Obama would try to “spread the wealth” and “raise your taxes.”

This is particularly ironic in that Governor Sarah Palin is governor of one of America’s most Socialist states: Alaska. Alaskan residents participate in not just socialism, but collectivism, as the natural mineral wealth of their state is collected and the money from the exploitation of that wealth is literally spread to all the residents making them not tax-payers, but beneficiaries of the state-owned enterprise. Of course, that is not the whole truth either, as private companies get to extract their profits first, enjoying state enforced monopolies for the contracts they hold.

Compounding that irony is the wholly separate irony that both Obama and McCain would like to raise taxes (which is a necessary thing, for we cannot continue to dump the debt from our greed on our children and their children), they only differ in who they want to tax. McCain would have us tax the poor and middle classes and give the wealth to the very wealthy and corporations in a Robin Hood in reverse pyramid scheme. The practical advantages to this are that millions and millions would pay a smaller raise, and relatively few would collect some rather staggering benefits. I think McCain hopes those wealthy people and corporate executives would use that money to jump start the economy; frankly I think he’s mistaken, and that those same people would simply take the money and run. Obama would have us tax the very wealthy and corporations a little more and cut taxes for the middle class and the poor. The practical advantages to that are that millions and millions would have a few extra dollars to spend, and that may cause economic recovery as the poor have a track record for spending everything they get. Both ideas are a redistribution of wealth, and it’s pretty clear that those voting purely for economic self-interest (a minority, but a sizable one) are voting where their interests lie. Obama is getting most of the middle and poorer classes, and McCain is getting most of the very wealthy classes. Confusing this trend is the notable crossover of wealthy voters being altruistic and poor voters living a fantasy life as wealthy folks who don’t want their wealthy fantasy selves to be taxed more.

It’s not entirely clear that either candidate, if elected president, would be very successful at changing current tax laws to conform to their stated plans. Our congress is not really controlled by any party, but is instead a bit of a mob that can be goaded into action occasionally, but is more often simply resistant to change. Of course, we have only ourselves to blame for that, we elected them with our flawed, but still awesome system of democracy.

The most delicious irony of all though is that McCain is basically right. Obama’s plan, which is unlikely to get approved by even a more Democratic congress, is a bit more Socialist in that we will all benefit from sharing greater health care and wealth a little more fairly. Companies freed from the huge burden of providing health care could afford more employees and to pay them more; taxes would be higher, but we’d no longer need to make co-payments (or taxes would be unchanged and co-payments would be higher, but more uniform); we’d be more like our other industrial democratic allies Germany, France, Denmark, Canada, Japan South Korea, England, Sweden, and Spain; making trade with them easier and more balanced. Of course McCain’s plan could also be called Socialism, specifically: nationalized socialism. It’s been tried before a few times; and for corporations and their favored leaders it was extraordinarily successful; but for most people in those societies it was a very painful process that caused a lot of damage. To be fair, the problems with those nationalized socialism experiments may have come from their dictatorial style of governments, and not from their economic systems; but the world has not seen a democratically elected nationalized socialism yet much has it has not really seen a very large democratically elected communism either.

My big question is why is Socialism such a bad term? We must reclaim the valid term Socialism for legitimate use as a legitimate and interesting style of government. There is nothing wrong with Socialism. Perhaps it is not the preferred system for the corporation, but last I checked, corporations don’t vote… they simply buy our votes if we let them. Just like there is nothing wrong with being Liberal, there is nothing wrong with being a Socialist either. We need to get out of the McCarthy era already.

Update: Wow, Daniel Eran Dilger had similar thoughts and wrote about them much more eloquently than I did!!

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