Friday, February 8, 2019

Time for GOP To Stop Advancing Socialism


As I mentioned yesterday, the Republican leadership is exhibiting a remarkable level of cluelessness in the face of the young, radical crop of socialists now taking over the Democrat party. In a feeble attempt to fight yesterday's ideological war in tomorrow's election, GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney and President Trump have joined forces in tagging those radicals as "socialists".

It is not working, for two reasons. 
The first is that most Americans actually have a favorable opinion of the term "socialism" - a frightening concept that should scare anyone calling himself a conservative or libertarian.

If Republicans don't learn to fight socialism, they will lose in 2020 - and so will America.

The second reason why their aloof strategy is not working, is that the Republican party leadership appears to have no clue what socialism means in reality. President Trump's State of the Union Address put this ignorance on full display. It was, in fact, a textbook example of a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, Trump made a passing reference to socialism and pledged that America will never go down that path:
We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair. Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence -- not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
On the other hand, the president said:
I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave — so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.
In other words, the president pledges to advance a new entitlement program that the left has sought after for a long time. In 2010 I pointed to this as a rising issue in liberal circles; as recently as in 2017 I explained that paid family leave, when expanded to European proportions, could cost Americantaxpayers $370-$500 billion per year.

However, perhaps even more damning than the fiscal cost is the fact that paid family leave – or general income security as it is called in more formal parlance – is indeed a reform that advances socialism. It is, in other words, impossible for President Trump to refute socialism and at the same time grow America’s welfare state.

Undoubtedly, Trump’s speech writers saw no contradiction here – to them, paid family leave has nothing to do with socialism. In fact, it is a widespread notion that the welfare state itself is not a socialist project. One of the vocal proponents of this view is Johan Norberg, a Swedish libertarian and senior fellow withthe Cato Institute. In his defense of the Swedish welfare state, Norberg opines that socialism is about government ownership of the means of production – corporations, for short.

It is not clear how President Trump defines socialism, but his State of the Union Address suggests that he shares Norberg’s view. If so, it is likely that Trump will help advance socialism in America while thinking he is keeping us safe from it.

The problem, namely, is that socialism is not about government taking over the means of production. Socialism is about full-fledged egalitarianism.

Or, to be blunt, the complete eradication of economic differences between individual citizens. The core idea of socialism is, namely, that all differences in economic outcomes area the result of a power struggle over corporate profits. Business owners – capitalists – deprive workers of most of what Karl Marx defined as the full value of their labor.

Over the 150 years that Marx’s followers have roamed the Earth, they have pursued two paths to eliminate this alleged injustice. Some have chosen a reformist path where they tax the rich – capitalists and people with high incomes – and give the money to the working class (typically defined as the poor, the needy and those “at risk of poverty”).

The system that redistributes income and wealth is known as the welfare state. The technical term for its policy ambition is “egalitarianism”, but its its ideological roots are openly socialist, on display for anyone to see.

While the welfare state began its modern journey in Europe, we have imported a good chunk of it to America over the years. In fact, today’s American welfare state is more similar to than different from its Scandinavian brethren. There are, essentially, only three pieces missing before we have a fully-fledged socialist welfare state:

--Single-payer health care, toward which Obamacare was a major step;
--Universal child care, which Democrats are already hard at work to create; and
--Paid family leave, or general income security.

All these entitlement programs are redistributive in nature: they are paid for with progressive income taxes and dispense services (health care, child care) and money (paid-leave checks) that benefit lower-income citizens more than those making a lot of money.

The goal with the reformist, welfare-state strategy for advancing socialism is to gradually eliminate differences between citizens in area after area of the economy. While people can still own property, the economic meaning of doing so, and of accumulating wealth in general, is gradually eroded until one day it is completely eliminated. At the other end of the redistributive pipeline, the incentives to hard work, education and entrepreneurship are gradually eliminated by increasingly generous entitlements, covering increasingly comprehensive areas of people’s lives.

Reformist socialists have been remarkably successful at advancing their redistributive agenda. They have suffered setbacks, such as the economic disaster in Greece where the welfare state collapsed under its own weight. That, however has not deterred them, especially not those who have now formed the largest Democrat voting block in the House of Representatives.

To continue to draw the line for socialism at government ownership of businesses, is to fail to see how the socialist agenda progresses over time. Eventually, socialists run out of other people’s money; the welfare state brings the economy it lives on, to a grinding halt. To continue to pay for their welfare state, socialists therefore escalate their political agenda to the revolutionary level where they begin taking over private property. It starts with big corporations – the end result of we know as Venezuela – and ends with unmitigated totalitarianism.

Rather than taking an almost aloof attitude to socialism, President Trump, GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney and other leading Republicans need to study up and learn how to fight this ideology. If they don’t, they will be sleepwalking our country down the path from the Swedish welfare state, through the Greek macroeconomic disaster to the Venezuelan end station.

Can’t happen? Consider the fact that six out of ten Americans actually think favorablyof socialism as a concept. Then consider what that implies for the 2020 election.

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