Sunday, June 01, 2008

Socialism by any other name . . .

     I hate socialsim. I just can't stand it. If there has ever been a philosophy the pursuit of which has caused more individual misery and sorrow, I don't know what it is. And given its abject failure everywhere it's been put into practice, I can't for the life of me understand why anyone could possibly believe that any sort of collectivist ideology could be a good thing. First called "progressivism", then later "liberalism" (which it most certainly is not), and now progressivism again, here in America it is the socialism that dare not speak its true name. Why? Because its advocates know that if they called a spade a spade, very few people would support an ideology which by definition stands opposed to two of the three principles upon which the United States of America were founded, i.e. every human being's inalienable rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So when I found this little gem penned by a sociology professor from North Carolina State University attempting to define a progressive, I just couldn't let it pass without a few comments. Well, more like point-by-point. It's a long 'un, so you might want to make yourself a sandwich first.  Anyway, here it goes:

  • You think health care is a basic human right, and that single-payer national health insurance is a worthwhile reform on our way toward creating a non-profit national health care service.  Sure, health care is a basic human right, but having it paid for by someone else is not. Food, clothing, and shelter are also basic human rights, but nobody's going to provde them at no cost to me, either. It is not within the state's scope to provide the basic necessities of life to the citizenry, only to ensure free and equal access to them, which is already currently the case. As for single-payer health insurance and non-profit national heath care service(s), which pretty much go hand in hand, neither of them work. Both the UK and Canada have single-payer systems, and they're both broken. In the UK, a lack of general practitioners (GPs) had lead people to go to hospital emergency rooms to find treatment for minor ailments. The corresponding backlog at the hospitals caused the government to decree that no patient should have to wait longer than four hours before being seen by a doctor. That solved the problem so well that hospitals now have to leave ambulances stacked outside, waiting for an hour or more before they can let the patients in because the four-hour clock doesn't start until the patients comes through the door (links here and here). In Canada, their national health system works so fabulously that in British Coulmbia, pregnant mothers are being flown to Seattle because there aren't nearly enough specialized hospital beds in the province to handle at-risk pregnancies. Cuba has a wonderful single-payer, non profit heath care system whereby you can be seen by some of the most well-trained doctors in the world, but they probably won't be able to treat you because they don't have any actual medical supplies. And before you go blaiming their lack of supplies on our economic embargo, they could get all the medical supplies and trade goods they need from the rest of the world. That is, of course, if they could afford them, which they can't. How is this worthwhile? Hello?

  • You think that human rights ought always to trump property rights.  The right to own property is a human right, one which is quite neseccary to enable and ensure the free pursuit of happiness. How can I possibly ever be happy if everything and anything I own can be taken away at a moment's notice and for no better reason than some bureaucratic desk-jockey somewhere decided that someone, something or some group was more deserving?

  • You think U.S. military spending is an obscene waste of resources, and that the only freedom this spending protects is the freedom of economic elites to exploit working people all around the planet.  Irregardless of whether or not you accept it, evil exists in this world. And because it exists, it needs to be stopped, which is what the US military does. Our navy, and those of our allies, keep the seven seas open to travel and trade. Our air forces, be they land-lubbing or naval, similarly keep the skies clear. And our armies combat the true obscenity: thugs, punks and tyrants who believe that through the threat of murder and mayhem they can exploit and impose their own illiberal order upon the working peoples of the world.

  • You think U.S. troops should be brought home not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from all 130 countries in which the U.S. has military bases.  Great idea. To hell with the rest of the planet; let's just abandon the world and watch from the comfort of our shores as it all goes to pot.

  • You think political leaders who engage in “preemptive war” and invasions should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity and judged against the standards of international law established at Nuremberg after World War Two.  By all means, let's wait until the murder and mayhem begin before we do anything about it. Had the French and/or British bothered to oppose Hitler when they had the chance, then the trials at Nurenburg would never had been necessary.

  • You think public education should be free, not just from kindergarten through high school, but as far as a person is willing and able to go.  So, if I decide that I've had enough after, say, the third grade, then I can quit? What if a doctor decides that I'm too stupid to go to school? Or my parents? And I'm not even going to comment on how horribly collectivist and feudalistic our public school system is.

  • You think that electoral reform should include instant run-off voting, publicly-financed elections, easy ballot access for all parties, and proportional representation.You say instant run-off voting, I see a series of never-ending elections. Publicly financed elections? More idiots who couldn't otherwise support themselves feeding on the public teat. Easy ballot access? Dozens or even hundreds of wanna-be's claiming to represent ever-smaller segments of the population, i.e. even more partisanship. Strictly proportional representation? Balkanization.

  • You think that electoral democracy is not enough, and that democracy must also be participatory and extend to workplaces.  I always thought I was participating in democracy by voting, but I suppose I must be wrong. And how is a democratic workplace suppsed to work; are we to have a debate and vote over every purchase order and sales contract?

  • You think that strengthening the rights of all workers to unionize and bargain collectively is a useful step toward full economic democracy.  I already have that right. As a matter of fact, in some states and certain industries, it's impossible for me not to be part of a union and bargain collectively. How could it get any stronger than that?

  • You think that as a society we have a collective obligation to provide everyone who is willing and able to work with a job that pays a living wage and offers dignity.  As a society we have empowered the state with the responsibility to ensure and enforce our right to work for whomever we choose and at a wage or rate chosen freely. Beyond that, there is no obligation, collective or otherwise. If someone can't find a job, there have always been people and organizations who will help; the state really need not get involved. And if you're so concerned with a living wage, why don't you just cut the penny-ante increases and demand that the minimum wage be set at $20/hr. Or $50. Or why not $100? A person can live pretty well at any of those rates, at least those few whom employers could afford to employ. As for dignity, a person brings that to the workplace, not the other way around. If you doubt that, I suggest you watch just about any episode of the program Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. There you will see people proudly and voluntarily performing some of the dirtiest, nastiest, most disgusting jobs around. I have yet to see a single one of them complain about the indignity of their work.

  • You think that a class system which forces some people to do dirty, dangerous, boring work all the time, while others get to do clean, safe, interesting work all the time, can never deliver social justice.  Again, watch Dirty Jobs. And how many people with clean and safe jobs have committed suicide because they found them far less than interesting? Or, for that matter, how can a job be both dangerous and boring at the same time?

  • You think that regulating big corporations isn’t enough, and that such corporations, if they are allowed to exist at all, must either serve the common good or be put into public receivership.  Another great idea. No corporation, partnership, proprietorship, garage sale or kid's lemonade stand should be allowed any sort of autonomous government; state and federal politicians and bureaucrats who've proven themselves incapable of balancing a budget or resisting graft should be put in charge of everything. Nor should anyone be allowed to profit from their labor or capital without serving the common good, even though the common good is best served by healthy businesses freely employing the common people. Can't have any of that, now can we?

  • You think that the legal doctrine granting corporations the same constitutional rights as natural persons is absurd and must be overturned.  Yes, corporations should be stripped of their rights and left to the tender mercies of the fickle finger of easily-imflamed public opinion. Without all those pesky intellectual property rights, then everybody could afford all the cheap knockoffs that would flood the markets. Nevermind that fact that without any rights, very few people would feel the incentive to go into business or invent anything new. We can live quite comfortably at our present level of technology and civilization, anyway; too bad that neither the rest of humanity nor the planet itself can afford to. Where's the social justice in that?

  • You think it’s wrong to allow individuals to accumulate wealth without limits, and that the highest incomes should be capped well before they begin to threaten community and democracy.  I believe it's wrong to tell anyone that there can be a limit to what they can earn. Cap income and there won't be much incentive for people to risk capital, much less capital to risk to begin with.

  • You think that wealth, not just income, should be taxed.  Tax income at progressively oppressive rates and high incomes turn into other, more nebulous forms of "compensation". Wealth is simply unspent income and/or compensation which has already been taxed, and if you tax it directly it'll disappear just as fast as all those high incomes, either sent abroad or spent on frivolous luxury items like massive yachts, gigantic diamonds, private jets, private islands, private planets, etc. Furthermore, taxes upon income merely sustain our current infrastructure. It was massive accumulations of weath that built the infrastructure in the first place, and if you tax wealth you'll be eating the seed-corn of economic activity.  That's when community and democracy will be most under direct threat.

  • You think it’s crazy to use the Old Testament as a policy guide for the 21st century.  Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Progressivism was a movement founded and populated largely by Midwestern Protestants, let's just do away with all that pesky wisdom of the ancients and replace it with the vast inexperience of youth. How bad could that possibly be?

  • You believe in celebrating diversity, while also recognizing that having women and people of color proportionately represented among the class of oppressors is not the goal we should be aiming for.  I'm not going to celebrate diversity.  I will welcome it, however, just so long as it doesn't lead to a balkanization of society. And if progressives don't like proportional representation of women and "people of color", i.e. racial and gender quotas, then why is there pretty much no public outcry from them against the idea? Where's all the social action? Where's the civil disobedience against the "class of oppressors"?

  • You think that the state has no right to kill, and that putting people to death to show that killing is wrong will always be a self-defeating policy.  The state has no right to kill. The state has no rights, period. The state is, however, invested with the duly constituted power to execute convicted murderers, a power which is necessary if you believe in the inalienable right to life, free exercise of civil liberties, justice, and a civil, orderly society. In a liberal society, murder is the most heinous of crimes: one must obviously be alive to exercise their civil liberties and once dead there's no way of bringing them back. Simply depriving a murderer of his or her right to liberty by incarcerating them for life is simply not enough of a punishment. The victim is still dead and now the murderer has become a permanent burden on society. Where's the social justice in that?

  • You think that anyone who desires the reins of power that come with high political office should, by reason of that desire, be seen as unfit for the job.  If you didn't invest government with so much power to begin with, then there'd be less power for people to covet.

  • You think that instead of more leaders, we need fewer followers.  What we really need is less people trying to run my life by legislative and bureaucratic fiat.

  • You think that national borders, while sometimes establishing territories of safety, more often establish territories of exploitation, much like gang turf.  It sure is nice to see that you think of your country as nothing more than a conglomeration of thugs jealously and violently guarding their "turf".

  • You are open to considering how the privileges you enjoy because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and/or physical ability might come at the expense of others.  I'm a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, heterosexual male who earns just enough money to make ends meet. And my body is a decrepit, barely functioning piece of crap. Dude, where's my privilege?

  • You believe that voting every few years is a weak form of political participation, and that achieving social justice requires concerted effort before, during, and after elections.  Our founders created a representative, democratic republic for the express purpose of electing representatives to dispense with the business of government so that I and everyone else could go about our daily lives without having to worry about every little thing. How will forcing everyone to spend their limited time participating in every decision made at every level of government possibly improve the process?

  • You think that, ideally, no one would have more wealth more than they need until everyone has at least as much as they need to live a safe, happy, decent life.  When even the poor have electric service, indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water,  refrigerators, automatic clothes washing and drying machines, automobiles, cell phones, color TVs with either cable or satellite service, and gaudy gold jewelry, then everyone has more wealth than they "need". As little as a century ago this sort of weath was simply beyond the dreams of avarice, even for the fabled kings and royalty of the world. Now entire societies live in the veritable lap of luxury and still complain that they don't have enough. And when the greatest danger to our safety comes from the oceans of milk and honey we're pouring down our gullets, then I think it's safe to assume we're living pretty well.

  • You recognize that an economic system which requires continuous expansion, destroys the environment, relies on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels, exacerbates inequality, and leads to war after war is unsustainable and must be replaced. Score a bonus point if you understand that sticking to the existing system is what’s unrealistic.  By all means, let's return to the economic systems of yore. Any one of the systems in place before 1776 will do. You know the ones I mean, right? The ones where no one ever wanted for anything, where everyone occupied the same socio-economic class, where no famines ever occured, where no one ever waged war, where no disease ever plagued the population, and where everyone lived in idyllic, symbiotic harmony with nature. Score a brownie point if you can name such a system or society.
     I suppose I just can't call myself a progressive, now can I? *sighs*