Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Socialism, Capitalism and Fascism

I love the way people throw these terms around during the Health Care arguments. The latest nonsense coming from the Right Wing is to equate Nazism, and the economic policies of the Third Reich, with Left Wing Socialism. In other words that Nazism was a Leftist phenomenon.

What’s the basis for throwing out 70 years of economic and political theory and history? There are two actually; one is at the under 80 IQ trailer park level and the other is a tad more sophisticated and advocated by George Reisman, a retired professor of economics from Pepperdine University.

The simple argument is that “Socialist” is part of the Nazi party name. Nazi comes from National Socialist German Worker’s Party. This is sort of like saying the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sometimes known as North Korea, is a democratic republic of the people because it says so.

What can you expect from people who believe the bible is the word of God because the bible says so?

The 25 Point Program, published by the Nazi Party in 1920, does include a number of socialist sounding economic points, including the abolition of non-earned income, the nationalization of corporations and profit sharing in large enterprises, but these were just words.

A stated aim of the Nazis was to appear to be all inclusive. It played up to workers at the same time it was cozying up to the industrialists and the military clique. Hitler completely ignored economics in Mein Kampf and generally looked upon it as secondary to politics. In other words, unlike socialism, which is first and foremost an economic philosophy, National Socialism was first and foremost a political philosophy. Like the man said, actions speak louder than words.

That brings us to the Reisman argument that effectively, through their actions, the Nazis implemented a socialist economy. That effectively the state, through its economic policies, controlled the means of production and private ownership was just an illusion.

Reisman is the sort of economist that thinks if only government would get out of the way and leave everything to those kind hearted businessmen, everything would be just wonderful. In other words, he’s not well grounded in reality.

Now, I happen to agree with his fundamental premise. The Nazi government did, for all intents and purposes, control what was produced. This became more and more of a fact of life as things moved from considering war, to actively planning war and finally to actively waging war.

However, socialism is much more than simply controlling production. Controlling production, for both the Nazis and real Socialists, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

The end the Nazis had in mind was to benefit the state and provide the means to effectively wage war. The end Socialists have in mind is the distribution of wealth based upon some sort egalitarian compensation. The problems usually start when someone tries to define “egalitarian.”

Socialists want to spread the wealth among workers as well as industrialists. The Nazis couldn’t have cared less as long as their war machine was fed. Socialists support unions and collective bargaining. The Nazis outlawed both. The Nazis believed that the existence of separate social classes and class inequality was beneficial. Socialism has as one of its ultimate objectives a classless society.

In other words, while the Nazis utilized a tool similar to the tool advocated by Socialists, the objectives and methods applied were totally different. Claiming the Nazis were Socialists simply because they controlled production is like comparing a torturer utilizing a scalpel to a surgeon. Well, they both cut the skin and cause bleeding so they must be the same thing right? Yeah, right, Reismen treats controlling production as the ultimate objective of socialism while it’s actually only a means to an end. His whole argument ignores the objectives and focuses only upon one of the tools used to achieve those objectives.

The means by which control comes about is also totally different. Under Socialism it’s a legal transfer of private services into the public sector. Under Nazism, it started with a transfer of public services into the private sector and then the establishment of a “partnership” with government which allowed the establishment of monopolies, oligarchies and price fixing. All of this occurred under the protection of the state and for the benefit of the state and its war aims. Of course, the top corporate executives got rich as hell from the arrangement. Let us not forget the I.G. Farben Buna factory at Auschwitz which utilized an estimated 80,000 slave laborers.

In other words, Reismen’s argument is another example of accurate but misleading. Yes both Nazism and Socialism look to control the means of production, but they approach doing so in two different ways and they look to do so in order to achieve totally different objectives.

On the other hand, the Nazis weren’t Capitalists either despite any number of pronouncements about protecting private property and initiative. The fact of the matter is that fascism went with whatever economic policies it felt would advance its political goals and really has no place in the current Health Care discussion.

Capitalism versus Socialism, on the other hand, very definitely has a place.

Are Obama and the Democrats pushing a Socialist solution? You bet your ass they are. I’m not quite sure how Socialism became such a dirty word in this country. Certainly extreme Socialism, like extreme anything, including extreme Capitalism, doesn’t work.

Go back to the early industrial age and take a look at working conditions and the inequality of wealth distribution if you would like an idea of how bad pure Capitalism can get. On the other hand, try convincing John to do 80% of the work while he and Jim both get 50% of the pay. Also try to weed out good products from bad ones if the only ones choosing are some government bureaucrats at an economic planning meeting.

What does work is what is known as a mixed system and this is what we’ve had in this country, and virtually every other western democracy, for the past 100 years or so. Basically a mixed system is a combination of Capitalism and Socialism with different countries being at different places along the continuum. Some are more Capitalist and some are more Socialist. Think Germany and Sweden for example.

Traditionally the mixed system in the United States has tended to be Capitalism with government regulation and something of a social safety net. Typically the arguments have been over how much regulation and how strong a safety net.

The so-called “Public Option” for Health Care, assuming anyone can actually define what it is, may in fact be something quite different from anything else we’ve ever seen in this country.

If it is intended to be a viable competitor to private Health Care insurance, then it’s definitely a horse of a different color and of debatable viability. If the Public Option is better than what I’m getting from the company I work for, why shouldn’t I switch? If it’s competitive, why shouldn’t companies forego the cost of providing Health Care and let everyone go with the Public Option?

I don’t see how you can disallow the first option and even if you attempt to prevent the second through legal regulation, how do you prevent companies from watering down their in-house option until people flee voluntarily?

What it should be is something like Social Security; a minimum safety blanket that doesn’t prevent companies from offering pension plans and 401K options if they want to attract the people they need to succeed.

In other words, it has to be structured so that industry still has a compelling reason to offer Health Care benefits so insurance companies can still make money. It should be an option of last resort. Unfortunately, amid all the nonsense, I’ve yet to hear anything close to a coherent explanation of what’s being proposed.

Which gets me to this whole issue of not trusting government because it’s too inefficient, take my word for it, government is even more inefficient that the most right wing demagogue could possibly imagine. But one of the reasons it’s so inefficient is that private industry is constantly trying to take it to the cleaners!

Let’s remember that someone was getting paid the $400 the government was supposedly paying for those hammers.

Private industry has NOT resolved many of the issues facing the country today. It hasn’t resolved energy independence; it hasn’t resolved reducing human impact on global warming, nor even managed to figure out if there is an impact, and it certainly hasn’t reformed Health Care.

In the past it didn’t resolve child labor, unsafe working conditions or worker exploitation without the government ultimately establishing regulations and it’s not going to resolve today’s problems until those problems jeopardize the profits already being made.

By that time it will very likely be too late.

The gap between rich and poor is widening and the middle class is slowly but surely being absorbed down or up. Mostly down. We are headed toward a two class society consisting of a very small number of Haves and a very large number of Have-nots. This is a very unstable arrangement. You do remember from your college history days the conclusion that Marx was wrong because he never considered the emergence of a large middle class? Well, at the rate we’re going, the middle class is disappearing and Marx is about to be proven right after all. That will undoubtedly result in rather unpleasant consequences. Let’s all remember the French Revolution shall we.

On Bill Maher the other night they showed people, who believed they had adequate Health Care, being loud and raucous in their opposition to Health Care reform while those with inadequate care waited patiently for care from a charitable organization.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Have-nots are acting more responsibly than the Haves. How long do you think that’s going to be the case especially if things continue to get more and more inequitable? Ah well, so much for Christian charity.

My only hope is that when the revolution comes they hang all the priests first.

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