Thursday, October 23, 2008

Socialism, Reconsidered

Rather than clog my message center, I'll respond to a comment from my buddy Doc here in the blog.

Government takeover/ownership of banks, assets, or other massive quantities of formerly private property IS socialist. I don't approve of the bailout, even if McCain did support it. McCain is a Republican, but he is not a conservative. Massive government intervention into the economy is not conservative, it is socialist or at best liberal, both of which I disagree with.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica:

[Socialism is a] social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources. According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members. (Emphasis mine)

We're heading down the path of government control of the banking system, which affects every aspect of human endeavor, because without money, the economy won't function. The government, via Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency, has also done its level best to control natural resources by restricting who can exploit them and how/where.

I've heard this line about the government buying these assets and then selling them at a profit, to the benefit of the taxpayer. Who actually believes this? Are we, as "stockholders," going to receive a dividend every quarter from the federal sale of these assets? That would be preferred, but in all likelihood, the profits/proceeds from these sales will just go to feed more government spending. Isn't $3 trillion enough already? What happens when all of the assets the government purchases in the bailout are sold? Who's to say the government won't continue this process of "bailing out" more banks in the future? As the government "rescues" more banks, it increasingly de-privatizes profit and takes over ownership, not just for large businesses, but individuals as well.

Increasing taxes = less money for you, the individual, and more money and more power for the government. Why is the greed of the private sector frowned upon but the greed of the government for more and more money never questioned? Why must businesses be forced to scale back in bad economic times, but never the government?

I am not going to say that I am a complete laissez-faire capitalist or that government has no place in regulating the market. It does. However, the government (and the market) functions best when it protects individuals from harm and fraud, maintains the "rules of the road," and allows individuals and businesses to rise and fall with the marketplace. It functions worst when it tries to run things or pick winners and losers, as when it allowed Lehman or other outfits to fail but is choosing a special few banks to save.

I'd be quite happy with a balanced budget amendment, along with a law that states government taxes cannot exceed a specified amount of GDP. Throw in term limits for congressmen and senators to limit the empire-building that comes with long terms on Capitol Hill. But no, I don't want the government to take more of my money. I do not think raising taxes is a smart idea in the middle of a recession--all that does is slow down economic activity further. I do believe that taxing "the rich" or "Big Business" for the sole reason of giving that money to people who don't pay taxes is no smarter than declaring an oligarchy and forcing non-taxpaying citizens into chattel slavery. That is flat-out redistribution of wealth, and is, per the definition above, socialist.

A lot of this boils down to what one perceives at the ultimate "unit" of society. If you believe that the individual is the most important unit of a society, then you do what you can to ensure equality of opportunity and reduce the number of expensive laws/regulations/taxes that cause individuals to otherwise fail. If you believe that "society" as a whole is the basic unit, you're likely to want/expect the goods of society to be distributed more or less equally (equality of result). The problem with this approach is that the individuals producing goods and services will eventually stop working, move away ("brain drain"), or take their own turn at the public trough. Why should anyone work hard if the state is going to provide for them "for free?"

Here's a small microcosm of the problem. The State of Hawaii recently closed down their universal child care program after nine months because it was too expensive to maintain. Why? I'll let AP 'splain:

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration cited budget shortfalls and other available health care options for eliminating funding for the program. A state official said families were dropping private coverage so their children would be eligible for the subsidized plan.
"People who were already able to afford health care began to stop paying for it so they could get it for free,"
said Dr. Kenny Fink, the administrator for Med-QUEST at the Department of Human Services. "I don't believe that was the intent of the program."

That might not have been the intent, but that's human nature, and it's something this brilliant government program overlooked.

Anyhow, I respectfully disagree: the direction of the government--under both parties--is moving toward socialism; and as a capitalist, I don't like it. All I can do, however, is vote and hope for the best.

"A perfect democracy, a 'warm body' democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. ... [O]nce a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so..." They'll vote themselves bread and circuses every time "until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader [such as] the barbarians enter Rome."

--Robert A. Heinlein, To Sail Beyond the Sunset

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