May 5, 2009
Ever since President Obama's fated exchange with the ever-omniscient Joe the Plumber last year during election season, the terms socialist, marxist, fascist, among others, have been thrown around liberally.
I don't believe Obama is a closet socialist, questionable past personal ties aside. He may be more liberal than the average american, but more than likely, he is going to end up being more of a centrist than even he, or moveon.org would like him to be, economically speaking. Meanwhile, in regards to the war on terror, even though his rhetoric is more conciliatory than that of his predecessor, it is hard to see a clear-cut difference between the two foreign policies. The main idea that the U.S. is the world's sole superpower, and must so remain, is still intact.
But the discussion has led me to question the oft-accepted-as-fact logic that free-market capitalism is the absolute best system under which to govern a people, while at the same time wondering seriously whether socialism is the great Satan that conservatives would have us believe.
Certainly, capitalism has it's faults, as evidenced by the current economic situation throughout the world. Some experts would argue that it is our failure to adhere to true free-market principles that have gotten us into the whole mess.
Whether we follow the principles correctly or not, those who are making arguments relating to Obama's 'socialist' policies have to be making a couple of assumptions - that the United States as a general rule operates within a free-market, and that socialism as an alternative has already proved to be a spectacular failure.
The fallacy in this simple-minded discussion is that somehow there are only two choices - capitalism, or socialism. It also assumes that socialism as an evil form of rule, refers to the failures of the Soviet Union and other european and asian countries. It assumes that those failed systems are the only possible implementations of socialism.
While most people who argue for an increase in socialism are branded as radical left-wing nutjobs, there are a few in the political arena who argue for a sort of pragmatic, mixed-economy solution. Capitalism has proved to be weak in some areas, and could stand to be improved. Meanwhile, all aspects of socialism do not spring out of evil imaginations of men.
In the future months, I am going to study this dilemma further. I would contend that the idea that media, business, and government, are not conducted on a free-market scale nearly the way we would be made to believe by most of the powerful voices speaking in the world today. I would argue that most people who contend for the free market are really just proponents of the status-quo, which often isn't pro-free-market at all. And I will probably argue that although Obama's proposals tend to sound lofty, he probably is a president of the status-quo more often than not.
It's time to examine the currently held belief of many in neoliberalism, defined by Robert McChesney in "The Political Economy of Media:" - Neoliberalism refers to the doctrine that profits should rule as much of social life as possible, and anything that gets in the way of profit making is suspect, if not condemned. Business good. Governments bad. Big business very good. Big government very bad. Taxes on the right, bad. Social spending aimed at the poor and working class, even worse. Take care of number one, and everyone fend for yourself. There is no such things as 'society,' only individuals in fierce competition with one antoher, and their immediate families, the only permissible freeloaders. (In fact, family freeloading is the occupation of choice for those of great wealth. No ruthless market for those who can affort to opt out. Nice work, if you can get it.)
So there you have it. Is capitalism really the best we can do? Are our only choices capitalism or socialism and no other options are possibilities? Are we only responsible to ourselves and our families, or should we be more responsible for the society of which we are a part, as a whole?
Of course, to have the discussion, one must first be brave enough to throw away the assumptions that capitalism is perfectly good, and socialism is completely evil. Which is what I (trying to be the non-conformist that I for some reason sometimes think that I am) intend to at least attempt to do.
P.S. Happy Cinco de Mayo!