Friday, November 07, 2008

Freakin' Socialists

In the wake of the Obama victory (perhaps the first truly fair result in a presidential election in 12 years), there's been a lot of astonishingly vicious commentary about Obama's economic plans from the right, including quite a bit of banding about of the word "socialism". Just so we're all on the same page, let's example what Socialism really means and how socialist American society is. 

From Wikipedia -

"Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society." 

So what in our country do we collectively own?

We all own the highways, air lanes, sea lanes, although not so much the rail lines. While we in general don't own the actual transportation methods themselves, there's no question that none of them could operate without government, and thus public, regulation and maintenance. 

We all own protective services, such as your local police and fire departments. As an extension, we all own the corrections industry, so all of our jails are ours too. On the federal level, that also means the FBI, the NSA, and the CIA, although most of those are arguably in place as much to keep us in line as to protect us. 

The military is quite definitely ours. From the National Guard and Reserves to the five main branches, they are funded with public money, and for extremely good reason. 

We all own public lands, including parks, wilderness areas, libraries, monuments. In Oregon, we own our beaches, although they're nothing like, say, Hawaiian beaches. But they're ours. 

More esoterically, we own our legal system, at least in part. 

We own our school systems. While quite a few on the far right would love to dismantle public education (there's that willful ignorance idea again), the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of public servants running for public office start out at the level of their local school boards. For a while, this was the primary battleground for the Creationist/Intelligent Design folks to get their way. Not having children in school, I can't say if that's the case anymore or not, although it was always a hard sell in Oregon.

Our airwaves are all public in this country, although heavily regulated. Television and radio are all broadcast publicly, although there have been inroads into satellite or cable-based pay services, but they do not depend upon the public airwave spectrum. 

The list goes on and on. There are an incredible number of charitable organizations, lines of scientific inquiry, artistic expression, public works, etc, that are funded by tax dollars and thus are in some sense public. 

What is not public in this country are our resources. When Weyerhauser harvests trees on public land, the benefit to the individual is not nearly as clear, even though every tree they cut down belongs to all of us. The idea of land as "ownable" was such an alien concept to the people who lived here in pre-Columbian times that when Europeans put down stakes and said "Mine, now!" the original inhabitants laughed in much the same way as we laugh at flat-earthers. 

However, there's been no indication by any side that Obama wishes to force people who own land to give the resources thereon to everyone. Nor has he said that factories that process those resources into goods for sale should be nationalized. The only thing being nationalized right now, and it's happening pretty much everywhere in the world, are the banks, who have shown that they can't function effectively without oversight and regulation. That's not something that Obama has been driving. 

Of course, the goal of socialism is an egalitarian society, one of the major reasons for the Declaration of Independence. I don't think we can argue that, at least on the surface, equality and a level playing field are a core belief of Americans, at least so long as you're one of the people that would benefit from that level playing field. The hypocrisy of people around the world when it comes to egalitarianism is universal - if the field tips away from you, it's Bad, and when it tips toward you it's Good.

As such, it's pretty clear that we have a large amount of socialist elements to our society, and ones that are positive and productive. The same can be said about capitalism. If there's one thing we should have learned over the last four years, it is that ideology in one thing, but it is no substitute for evaluating the merit of an approach to a problem on an individual basis. 

The next time you start complaining that Obama is going to make us all Communists, consider that the roads you drive on, the people who protect you both locally and abroad, the schools that attempt with little support to provide a literate workforce and population, and the very airwaves that Rush Limbaugh uses to spread his brand of discontent are all owned by you. 

You, you commie. 

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