Monday, March 01, 2010


Re: Ignorant socialists

When I was in grad school, one of my profs took issue with me calling him a "socialist" during a spirited classroom debate 'bout ... well, I don't remember what the debate was about.

Once the issue-taking subsided, my socialist prof said, and I remember his exact words to this day, "Socialists believe in state control of the means of production; I believe in the regulation of the means of production."

When I asked for an academic explanation of how "control" and "regulation" differ, said prof suddenly didn't want nothing to do with me, Socratically-speaking -- maybe 'cause I also pointed out that he'd favorably name-checked Members of Congress who were members of the Democratic Socialists of America -- and I never got a clear answer.

That said, I couldn't help but think about my prof's I-Am-Not-A-Socialist! declaration when I read this letter in today's Wall Street Journal:

Dan Henninger gets the relationship between Washington and big business exactly right in "Obama's Business Buyout" (Wonder Land, Feb. 25): Washington seeks a mutually rewarding merger of common interests (i.e., an "M&A" agreement) with business, not a hostile takeover. In fact, one day after his Business Roundtable speech, President Obama stated unequivocally at the health summit that his "objective is not a takeover of health care." But understanding what the president means by that statement depends on what the definition of "is" is. If the strategy is to slowly bleed private insurers with price controls, coverage mandates and "public-private exchange" competition and the end result is shrunken, feeble or docile insurance companies, does that constitute a de facto takeover?

Socialism doesn't require ownership of the means of production; it merely requires control (formal or informal) of the means, along with an emphasis on use rather than profit, and an assurance of equitable distribution of goods and services. As Mr. Henninger indicates, President Obama's first budget statement, "A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise," prioritizes economic fairness through redistribution of income. Spreading the wealth doesn't demand messy takeovers of business, just regulatory control and taxing authority.

Cozy "syndicalist" or "corporatist" (economist Friedrich Hayek's terms in the 1940s) or M&A relationships between big government and big business resurface periodically as a plausible third way between central planning and free markets. A syndicalist stage, however, always has been an unstable, transitional step to more complete government planning and centralization. Technically it's not socialism, but it's close enough for government work.

P. Grant
Rowayton, Conn.

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