So WHAT is wrong with socialism again?
October 14, 2008 1:08 PM   Subscribe

PoliSci filter: I was hoping that someone can rationally, without rhetoric, explain to me why the word "Socialism" creates fear and extreme responses in far right-wing people. Soem very detailed specifics within.

With all the recent economic turmoil and the elections, I'm seeing the term "socialism" a lot. With the US just today somewhat "nationalizing" some banks the term has been used. Also with Obama's proposed universal health care the term is used again. Also, I recently read that at a McCain speech an attendee said his "biggest fear" was to raise his son in a country raised by "socialists". This really made me want to say "Wha???"

First, as I understand it (and it's been a looong time since my Policital Science classes in college) the US is a Capitilistic Republic. That being two different things. Capitalistic is one thing, the Republic being another (even though we're commonly referred to as a "democracy", as I understand it we are truly a republic).

Continuing that, if we WERE to become socialist then we would STILL be a republic, people would still have freedoms and people would still vote, correct? It's not that Socialism = Communism, is it? Because can't one have a Socialist Republic country and a Capitalist Communist country?

Next, given that Socialism in theory would equalize all people financially in some or all respects depending on how far it went, why are some of the most radical opponants of it lower income blue collar people? Wouldn't those be the ones benefitting most from such a change?

Finally, I look at Canada, which I know has socialized health care. The people in Canada seem happy. I know several Canadians on a very personal level and they do not seem oppressed nor limited. They are not smuggling themselves over the border to escape socialized health care, in fact the benefit of their cheaper nature of pharmacuticals is constantly cropping up in my e-mail. So again, why the fear?

Even if we DID socialize health care (which I don't believe is actually Obama's plan but merely a right-wing framing and demonizing of Obama's plan), that would not make us "socialists" would it? To have a single natioanlized health care institution as Canada does? IS Canada socialist?

Can someone help me clear this up??

Thank you!
posted by arniec to Law & Government (61 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Conservative argument:

Because capitalism made America what it is today--arguably the most powerful nation on Earth. Socialism has never worked in other countries as well as capitalism has worked in America. If Canada's so wonderful, why aren't all Americans moving there? Because our system is better. Socialism may not seem oppressive on the surface, but when the government controls so many aspects of day-to-day life, it opens the door for it. Stories like this give cause for concern.

--

I don't want to turn this into an argument about whether or not everything in that paragraph is true, because that's not the point of the thread. That is an approximation of the answer I think most conservatives would give.
posted by Autarky at 1:18 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]



Next, given that Socialism in theory would equalize all people financially in some or all respects depending on how far it went, why are some of the most radical opponants of it lower income blue collar people? Wouldn't those be the ones benefitting most from such a change?


I missed this, but I'd like to answer it from a personal perspective, if not one that represents all Conservatives. I'm a poor college student from a poor family, but the fact that socialist policies would benefit me is entirely irrelevant. I think redistributing the wealth is inherently unfair, and I don't want the government to take money from people who have earned it and give it to people who haven't--me. And if I ever do manage to work my way up and become wealthy, I want to keep my money.
posted by Autarky at 1:21 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


This seems pretty chatty to me, so I'm not sure this question will last too long...

But, some would argue, generally, that economic and individual freedom is the engine of human progress. Governments tend to be inefficient when it comes to managing the economy and delivering services, whereas the private sector can be more innovative and productive.

Of course, these people would argue, regulation is necessary to restrain abuses (human nature being what it is).

The relative merits of the Canadian and American health care systems also have good arguments on either side. An opponent of the socialized approach would say that the American health care system is being strangled by out of control lawsuits, which increase the costs of insurance and lead doctors to practice "defensive medicine" (medical procedures which are done not for the health of the patient, but to lessen the chances of a malpractice lawsuit). These opponents of socialism would argue for reasonable tort reform, which would lower costs and make health care more accessible to individuals.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:26 PM on October 14, 2008


I think that if you were to ask the average American on the street, they would probably not appreciate the line you are drawing between "Socialism" and "Communism."

My feeling is that to many people, the terms are used interchangeably, and that 'Socialism' is perceived as a code-word or dog-whistle term for Communism. (And 'Communism' is just shorthand for 'brutal Stalinist dictatorship.')

I also suspect that if you asked many people for the example of a 'Socialist' country, the response you'd probably get, outweighing any other, would be the USSR. Maybe China. At least among the people that you seem interested in (who have a visceral aversion to anything 'socialist'), I would bet that more people would associate the word with North Korea than Canada.*

You say 'Socialism,' and many people (including a few in my family), will immediately assume that you're a violent revolutionary who wants to seize the means of production, confiscate their house, burn their church, starve them, send them to a gulag, and maybe perform a few forced abortions for kicks. That is truly not an exaggeration. To them, that is what Socialism means, and I doubt you'd have any luck convincing them otherwise, or that it's not secretly the goal of all Socialists.

* You wouldn't hear Canada as a prime example of a 'Socialist' country, I suspect, because Canada isn't a brutal Stalinist dictatorship, therefore it can't be Socialist. QED.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:33 PM on October 14, 2008 [8 favorites]


My best answer (and I speak as an outsider) is that McCarthyism casts a long shadow, and any American born between 1946 and 1980 seemed to be told from an early age that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the bad guys, and not to be trusted. I recall being at a game convention (and being present for an auction of wargame miniatures) in 1983 in Milwaukee. When the auctioneer presented 1/2400 scale lead miniatures of Soviet navy ships for wargames -- Kirov-class cruisers, Kiev-class carriers and whatnot -- I was astonished at the sudden widespread chorus of angry boos that the bidders unleashed. A room full of adults, emotionally moved to vocal expressions scorn and anger by little cast pieces of lead.

Growing up in Canada I have seen crowds angered by speeches, by politicians, by performances, by images, but never by tiny lead ships.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:35 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Why "Socialism" creates fear and extreme responses in far right-wing people...
Short answer:
They don't know what "socialism" means. They think it means Stalin will rise from his grave, and put us all in forced-labor camps.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:35 PM on October 14, 2008 [8 favorites]


or what Kadin said.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I see someone else has already gotten to this, but I'll second the legacy of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. The response you see to "Socialism" is full of connotations from the history of the USSR, China, Cuba, etc., and years of propaganda about the menace of global communism.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2008


If you grew up with the fear of the cold war instilled in you, you know that USSR stands for "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". The word "socialist" is right there in the name of the "Evil Empire", our mortal enemy for 50 years. If that isn't enough to taint the word despite any understanding of its meaning, I don't know what is.
posted by cimbrog at 1:43 PM on October 14, 2008


This is absolutely ridiculous. Are there people who don't know the meaning of socialism, and who oppose any mention of it because they have a McCarthy-esque notion of what it means in practice? Yes. But I would say that most conservatives have a fairly solid understanding of what it is, and oppose it on principle. That doesn't make them any more right, but acting like the only reason anyone could possibly oppose socialism is because they don't know what it means is ludicrous. The concept is fundamentally against conservative principles, and opposing it is a matter of ideology, not ignorance.
posted by Autarky at 1:52 PM on October 14, 2008 [13 favorites]


And if I ever do manage to work my way up and become wealthy, I want to keep my money.

x 350,000,000 = OP's answer
posted by mandal at 1:56 PM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


I would say that most conservatives have a fairly solid understanding of what it is, and oppose it on principle.

Good point - many of these responses (including my own) are more of a why many people in general react negatively to socialism rather than why conservatives specifically react against it. Hopefully this won't degenerate into an argument about what percentage of conservatives are actually educated on what socialism is.

So... what Autarky said.
posted by cimbrog at 1:59 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nthing the long shadow of McCarthy, the "enemy" USSR during the Cold War. Socialism equals communism and commies hate our freedom. And it is perceived as conflicting with our "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" work ethic.

Socialism means that you're going to take away my hard-earned money and give it to some lazy bum who didn't bust his ass at a crappy job to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

AND they'll take more of our money and give it to universities (that we couldn't afford to go to and couldn't get in anyway) and pay fat salaries to professors (who don't even have to work in the summer!) to teach kids to disrespect their parents and have their minds filled with more socialist claptrap and useless frou-frou knowledge, and then those college kids will support even more socialism, because they benefited from it themselves.

/channeling family members
posted by desuetude at 1:59 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's the same reason people are libertarians, or economic conservatives of other stripes. They don't agree with socialism because they don't think it will work well for America. Perhaps they think the private sector can do a better job in most or certain areas, or the government is too wasteful, or unable to see how money should best be spent on a local level. There is evidence to support all of these ideas just as there is evidence to support socialist ideas.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:00 PM on October 14, 2008


Autarky,

You say socialism "is fundamentally against conservative principles". What conservative principles is socialism against, and how are liberal principles not against it?

As far as I know, liberals are NOT socialists in sheep's clothing, so would not at least 99% of liberals agree with your original comments that America is what it is today because of capitalism and they want to keep what they own?
posted by arniec at 2:01 PM on October 14, 2008


(actually scrap the question about what liberals believe, I don't want this to become a debate, but I DO want to know what Conservative principles are that the idea of everyone having healthcare and the government buying ownership of banks is against..)
posted by arniec at 2:05 PM on October 14, 2008


I agree, it is weird. For working class 40, 50, 60 year olds to oppose socialism because they'd like to keep their money if (in some highly unlikely outcome) they get rich rather than support socialism because it'd deliver them tangible health and financial benefits.
It seems rather... irrational, in the classical, rational actors look out for themselves, no judgment implied way, to me.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2008


Arniec,

One could argue that the tax system that many mainstream American liberals support (i.e., one that uses a progressive marginal income tax to transfer wealth from those with high incomes to those who pay no income taxes) is a mild form of socialism.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2008


arniec,

Conservative economic principles are (in a super uncomplicated way) often focused on free-market economies and privatization of social services. That's basically the opposite of socialism.

Also, can we really cut back on all the straw men in here? I consider myself very liberal and not at all against many socialist policies, and even I think this thread has become over the top. Askme isn't the place to rant about how stupid or selfish you think someone elses' politics are.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:08 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Because Mr. Radio Talk Show Host tells them it is something evil (the way they all think liberals are evil).

The irony is that the U.S. has become a socialist country now - with the bailouts and all (an inept form of socialism).
posted by Zambrano at 2:12 PM on October 14, 2008


All this talk of what socialism really is, about economics, about systems of government completely misses the point.

arniec: When a very right wing person rails against socialists, they are not making an arguing about a system of economics. A lot of them don't really know what socialism is. The word is just shorthand for the godless liberal homosexual abortionist agenda.

This isn't true of old school Rockefeller Republicans, or guys who write in the New York Times or whatever. But when you see modestly educated rural folks railing against socialism at a McCain rally, that's what they're railing against. It's a cultural thing, not an economic thing.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


The irony is that the U.S. has become a socialist country now - with the bailouts and all (an inept form of socialism).

The problem is now we are only getting the BAD parts of socialism, which is going to further confuse people.

In other countries, they have really high taxes, and REALLY hight estate taxes, but they ALSO have things like universal healthcare, homeless welfare that works, public access technology, etc etc etc.

We are just going to get taxed to hell without any say in the matter, and then watch as those taxes get whisked away to some foreign interest who will not acknowledge any representation from the people....

Wait a minute.. that doesn't sound like socialism at all.. it .. sounds.. like...
posted by judge.mentok.the.mindtaker at 2:18 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Arniec, if you have the time then this is the book you want to read to get a full answer.

(If you do actually pick it up, and you get an edition with 2 new prefaces that also reprints introductions and prefaces from earlier editions, skip them and go straight to the actual text of the book.)
posted by K.P. at 2:20 PM on October 14, 2008


Probably would have been a good idea to specify that only conservatives (or those opposed to socialism) should attempt an answer. On the other hand, then we'd have missed out on the entertainment value of a bunch of liberals attempting to answer on behalf of conservatives.

As far as the question, I'd have to agree with Autarky. Go Google some quotes by the founding fathers and note their clearly expressed distrust of gov't. To sum it up in more modern language, I give you "The Gipper":

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

I'd say that pretty much sums it up (at a very simplistic level).
posted by jluce50 at 2:20 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


A key reason that "socialism" is being used against Obama -- although it is routinely used against white Democrats as well -- is the long history of smearing black leaders as socialists.

It's not the whole story, but it is such a convenient narrative to tap into. I think Justinian is also right that there's a great deal of ignorance out there, but also, many of those people have only been exposed to the right-wing propaganda version of socialism. They have no concept of social democracy as practice in Europe (or to the extent that they do, it's just another reason to hate it (either social democracy or Europe)). The John Birch Society and Goldwater and Reagan still have a lot of influence in how people think about left-wing politics in this country.
posted by dhartung at 2:23 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here are a few general points about opposition to socialism, though admittedly I'm not a big C conservative nor a Republican nor a social conservative. In some ways my thinking on this looks more like classical liberalism or minarchism:

The US isn't anywhere close to pure capitalism, and I think most people like it that way. I (and other "fiscal conservatives"), whether or not we approve of the present system, would prefer many types of economic choices to remain at the personal, individual level. We may term it, in different scenarios, as "freedom of contract" (commentary on the Lochner case comes to mind), "freedom of association", "property rights", etc., depending on context.

The basic idea is that individual preferences are more just than societal determinations, whether that springs from the idea that the individual knows best or a discomfort imposing your own economic rationale on other people. This is a common take on tax policy: if we can take the minimum necessary for a functioning state - however we define its responsibilities - and leave as much as possible in the hands of citizens who earned it, we've achieved respect for individual economic rights.

I personally disagree with a lot of the current entitlement spending for two reasons: it takes wealth away from people who have contracted to earn it in exchange for producing value for others (obviously, the present stock market scenario makes additional justifications necessary; too long to do here) and it is more geared towards achieving popularity with the lower middle class than it is about helping people below the poverty line. Peter G. Peterson has an excellent book called Running on Empty that devotes itself in part to pointing out exactly what irritates me about current spending: the Congressional thinking was that aid for the truly poor would not pass without bribes to middle-class folks. Ideas like that make people like me - who want a well-functioning society with a minimum of waste - want to fire Congress.

Obama's health plan, as I understand it, will be socialized - whether that makes the US socialist depends more on perspective than anything else, as socialism used descriptively is a continuum. Whether or not you agree with calling the plan "socialist" is a normative matter and unsurprisingly depends mostly on your political outlook. In addition, it would be hard to be opposed to siuch a plan on economic grounds if it reduced spending while increasing the quality of care available to all - a position held by its supporters. Ignoring the fundamentalist/creationist/anti-intelligence mouthbreathers of the Sarah Palin contingent, the objections among economic conservatives can be summed up as skepticism about the likely outcome and/or worries about creating moral hazards.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:29 PM on October 14, 2008


Before anything else let's make sure we're using the same terms. Socialism, Americanized boogeyman'ism aside, is at it's fundamental core this: the redistribution of wealth/assets from the wealthy/producers to the masses to create a more egalitarian society almost always through government ownership of assets and means of production/capital generation.

First let me address something you said in your original post which should be an immediate flag. You wrote "given that Socialism in theory", any time you have to quanitify an idea with "in theory..." it's usually garbage. Would you give your money to a stock broker who said "Well in theory I could get you a 15% return?" The difference between the theory of something and the reality is usually enormous.

There is no example in history of socialism occurring at a national level without force. Socialism is a form of coercion. Your labor is essential you trading pieces of your life away for wealth and economic security. You spend hours working to have money to enjoy the hours you aren't working in good health and safety. Anyone, be it a government or a common mugger, that takes away the wealth you earn with your own intellect or hard labor is stealing part of your life away.

You can dress it up anyway you want... you can talk about how sad it is that people don't have health care or that the government should provide free daycare for working moms or any other sort of heart string jerking example. At it's root socialism involved the government taking the capital you have traded your life away to earn and giving it to someone who hasn't earned it. You have no say in it. You don't select a charity that supports people in need and become a patron, an armed entity tells you that you must give up your personal assets or face imprisonment or ultimately death if you take resistance to it's logical conclusion.

That said, there is something else that taints the taste of the word Socialist in the mouths of most people. In the last century millions upon millions of people were murdered by their own governments which were operating under Socialist rule. I'm not going to argue that socialism = automatic genocide, but consider the following: There were over 100,000,000 people killed by genocidal governments in the 20th century and the majority of those deaths were under the watch of governments with communist/socialist tenants. Stalin killed 23 million of his countrymen who were largely rendered economically powerless under his rule. Mao Ze-Dong killed anywhere between 50-73 million people.

Be wary of any idea that takes power from your own hand and concentrates it in a distant bureaucratic fist, no matter how gilded or noble the argument that is used to take it from you.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 2:32 PM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


I can't claim any special access to objective truth, but I can share my thoughts as someone who hears "socialism" and shudders. I wouldn't describe myself as far-right, though god knows you might, and you should realize that people on all parts of the left/right spectrum may have objections to socialist practices.

I have three problems with socialism.

I object to it on principle, because I do not believe that wealth ought to be redistributed such that all people in society have equal portions. I think that practice would be fundamentally unfair, not only because it would transfer wealth from people who have "earned" it to those who haven't (this is really complicated by luck anyway) but also because it would mean that some human agent must set arbitrary rules governing what people can do with their property, and I see property rights as fundamental to a free and just society.

I object to it out of practical concerns. I do not believe that the inevitable inefficiencies and administrative costs are justified by the ends. I do not believe that the redistribution would ever be fair or reach everyone equally. I do not believe that the incentives in a truly socialist society are efficient or beneficial. I do not believe that socialist programs, such as universal health care, function as well as similar programs governed by free market principles. I do not believe socialism is sustainable over the long term. And the countries that are such shining examples of socialism working out are, 1) plagued with problems of their own, 2) usually (e.g. Sweden) tiny, historically homogeneous nations entirely unlike the USA. Moreover, socialist programs compel state actors to make extremely paternalistic policies and enforce their personal morality on the society, because when you decide what to fund and eliminate other options, you end up choosing on behalf of individuals whether or not they should have abortions, end of life care, certain medicines, etc. Since I'm a strong personal autonomy groupie, this is unacceptable to me. Yes, the market can also foreclose certain options, but the market doesn't impose an arbitrary morality on people because it thinks it knows better than they do how they ought to live their lives, it just puts prices on goods and services.

Finally, as you can probably tell, I object to socialism because I have an irrational, emotional, visceral reaction to certain of its characteristic features. Perhaps there is no real difference between the market arbitrarily foreclosing certain alternatives and a human agent deciding what choices are open to you, but I find the latter repugnant and intolerable, while the former merely saddens me. To me, when the market fucks you, it's a little like being struck by lightning. It's not fair, but it's not personal either. I'd rather be struck by lightning than electrocuted by the government, even if the result is the same. Moreover, I'm a bit of a reactionary. What can I say, my family fled communism. Sure, socialism is not communism, but it's a lot closer to it in terms of fundamental philosophical ideals and means than it is to capitalism. Big government is scary 1984 time, small government means you at least have a chance to fend for yourself, be the master of your fate, etc. I don't trust anyone who says, hey, I'm going to take away from you your ability to help yourself, and in return, I promise to help you. From my cold, dead hands, motherfucker.

And re: the crazy blue collar non-socialists: when you work in the sweat of your brow for every dollar that you bring home, it's a lot harder to part with it in the name of some vague, unrealizable ideal, knowing $0.70 will go to some bureaucrat, than if you're rich. And if you don't aspire to ever earn an income high enough to be taxed by the socialists, that doesn't mean you're eager for some government charity taken by force from an unwilling upper class that despises you and wonders why you don't just pull yourself up by your bootstraps like they did when they got that B- at Eton and daddy had to make a call.
posted by prefpara at 2:37 PM on October 14, 2008 [10 favorites]


I'm by no means a "conservative" or "blue-collar" like you define, but I will tell you why I am opposed to socialism, which is probably the same reason why many of those people you're talking about are.

It's essentially having to do with the fact that socialism in many respects does not reward hard work or going above and beyond your daily grind. In a system that doesn't reward greatness, you might still have a handful of people who strive for it, but what does it really amount to if the government owns all the means of production?

Plus you have the whole aspect of there being no real historic successes of socialism.
posted by joshrholloway at 2:41 PM on October 14, 2008


In the interest of fairness I'd point out that my stereotype doesn't necessarily include all conservatives, although I do think it's a fair description of a large swath of "low information" conservatives who vote based on an emotional response without really having given much thought to the questions either way.

It's possible to be vehemently against Communism and Socialism after having given the subject a lot of thought, as well, so I'd just caution you not to necessarily assume that what's true for many people is necessarily true for everyone that you'll encounter.

I'll say this regarding conservatives, because that's what I'm most familiar with, but I expect it's pretty much true of any political stripe: there are some people who hold certain political views because they've thought long and hard about it, and have some sort of logical, internally-consistent system of belief, and then there are people who hold a certain stance and vote a certain way "just because." I think the latter outnumber the former by a huge margin, but I'm a cynic. (And I think that's true across the political spectrum, at least in the US; I can't speak for anywhere else.)

So that's why I think you're going to find answers that fall into two camps: ones based on emotions and feelings and ones based on reason. Both are correct, for certain subsets of people.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:47 PM on October 14, 2008


Socialized healthcare means accepting the fact that up to 50% of the national budget will be dedicated to healthcare (as the baby boomers age). This isn't a insurmountable problem for most countries, as they a relatively small portion of their budget on the military. For the United States it would mean a drastic reduction in military spending, and an end to the role of global policeman.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:27 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, in general socialism and communism are very inefficient at allocating resources because it is impossible to have enough information to do it perfectly, but even though they do it badly, they do it equally. Capitalism and free-market economies are very, very efficient at allocating resources because information comes from the bottom up, but tend to do so unevenly. Socialist healthcare would tend to even out the highs and lows by providing a slightly lower service, or more expensive average cost. This is all debatable of course.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:32 PM on October 14, 2008


Ok, one more thing, here's my understanding: In a more traditional liberal democracy the freedom and liberties of the individual are paramount, the state exists to ensure those rights are provided (this can be interpreted to mean that the state has a duty to provide services that individuals are undeserving of just because it is their right, such as healthcare). In general conservative democracies are more concerned with society as a whole, maintaining established orders, stability, and general welfare at the expense of individual liberty. This could be interpreted to mean that society should not be required to pay for the individuals errors or ill health, and that each must learn to prosper according to their own abilities in the framework that society has set up. Individual failure is acceptable in the service of the greater good of society.

Liberal Democracy = state serves man at the expense of men.
Conservative Democracy = men serve the state at the expense of man
posted by blue_beetle at 3:39 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


See I would really have to disagree with you blue_beetle with your last estimation of the differences between a liberal democracy and a conservative one. Traditionally, conservative has meant support of smaller government with less government intervention and all the consequences that entails. Recently, when referring to conservatives, many people mean the social conservatives, which is often a very different kettle of fish.

So, in my mind, your distinction fundamentally misrepresents what a conservative democracy would look like, but that is because I view myself as a non-social conservative. All this to say that a conservative democracy in my mind would be where the government intervened in the lives of the citizens as little as possible/necessary.

This is why I object to socialism as a political view point. Our goal ought to be to reduce the governments role in our lives, and by "socializing" different entities and industries, we are doing the exact opposite. JFitzpatrick and prefpara do a good job explaining the objections I also have, particularly in regards to coercion and private property as well.
posted by Carillon at 4:49 PM on October 14, 2008


As a Canadian who lived in the States for a few years: I thought the paranoia was mostly centred around the idea that some day you might make it big, really big, and if you were in Canada where there are "socialists," that would all be taken away from you somehow, like there are no rich people in Canada or something. There was also a pervasive idea that what socialism exists here involves a great deal more control over the populace than it actually does, like "the government tells you what doctor you have to see."

The blue collar joes I met who were most passionately against gummint like that were the ones harbouring the biggest illusions of turning into very rich people down the road. Dreams die hard sometimes.
posted by kmennie at 5:25 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's funny, I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

I think in the US, poor people are losers. My mom, who was poor Irish Catholic growing up, has nothing but contempt for poor people and has voted Republican her whole life. This is a dynamic I've seen a lot; people with a cruddy upbringing who now have a nice washing machine and a Chevy Impala and they hate people on welfare.

I think as a society, we've sort of set up a dynamic psychologically where if there are winners (and we see those all the time, in all the magazines, on television, etc.) there must also be losers. There's a dichotomy, they can't exist without each other. Losers hold within themselves the hope of being winners. Socialism takes that away from them. Winners need to feel contempt for losers. Socialism takes that away from them.

So there's that. There's also the fact that for a lot of us, we rely on a meritocracy. I succeed because I'm smart. I succeed because I work hard. People who do not succeed fail because they're not smart and hardworking. There's plenty of evidence that that's not the case; mainly people succeed because of social connections, etc., but that's not something we like to talk about. We want to believe that smart and hardworking are characteristics that lead to success, and that's not necessarily the case, but take away that belief and you take away a lot of what America stands for, for people.

That's my working theory anyway.

Socialism, by undercutting those values through the distribution of money, undermines all kinds of weird internalized values.

For the record, I'll vote to tax anything. Seriously. If there was a ballot line item that says, should it be mandatory that everybody has to pay an extra twenty bucks this year so everyone can have two pairs of warm socks this winter? I'd sign off on that in about two seconds. But a lot of people don't feel that way. A lot of people feel like they worked hard for their warm socks and they're extra toasty, knowing some people don't have them.

I can't actually tell if I answered any of your questions or not. But yeah, that's my theory.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2008


For me, personally, socialism stinks. But my views on socialism have nothing to do with the kind of baby-murder oh-my-sweet-jesus socialism fears you refer to. Or maybe not. To me, there's whole worlds of difference between "redistribution of wealth" and maintaining a representative democracy, that provides for those in need.

In my crankier moods, I sometimes direct the fearful to the party site... for kicks if not consistence application of general theory.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:49 PM on October 14, 2008


All of the above, plus:

1- Reagan spend a good portion of his pre-presidential career ranting about the evils of socialism. Going to rural ladies clubs and saying things like "how would you like it if your husband, who has built up a nice medical practice here, was FORCED by a SOCIALIST government to pick up and move to New York City if he wanted to continue being a doctor?"

2- Similar fear mongering from the right, who, to win elections, decry people as socialists. So anyone who agrees with [rightwing politician/commentator] hears that they don't like socialists, assumes that socialism if teh evil.

3- More philosophically, the idea goes like this. And I sort of agree, on one hand. People do their best when they are motivated. Having things provided to people makes them less motivated. It perpetrates the idea that there IS a free lunch, and that people who grow up with that free lunch will always want more. "If healthcare is free, when will people demand free food and housing?" The more free stuff people get, the less they will have to work. They slippery slope it even more, and claim there will be (or that there already is) a two class system, where the people who work will have to support the people who don't. That it creates the wrong incentives.

(Where I disagree is that on the margins, this might be true. I'm sure there are people in Socialist countries who don't work because they don't have to. They just laze away and feed off the system. But I'd also guess that there are other people who DO start working and contribute to society because they have the safety net.)

4- And that it destroys wealth. They ignore the wealth that could be created by a system that allows people to be a bit more creative, or go to college and get that degree instead of toiling away in the salt mines so they can eat. It's hard to be your best when you are stuck putting food on your table. Back to the point- they say it destroys wealth because the government is inherently inefficient and will screw everything up.

5- That it gives the government power that they, as the government, will eventually abuse.

6- That it creates shortages. "Just look at the bread lines!" That line of reasoning is wrong- the bread lines were because there was a shortage, and socialism tried to fix it equitably.

7- They mistakenly look back to the "good old days", meaning 1945-1963 or so, and believe that was a wonderful time free of government interference where a man could build a life and raise a family with his own two hands. Never mind that whole swaths of the population were unable to do that, and that taxes were terribly high for the rich. They were beneficiaries of socialism then. Now they are rich and forget that. Or grandpa who worked for the WPA or CCC, forgetting those were government run, socialized make work projects to give people money.

8- Besides the true believers, they simply don't mind wealth redistribution. As long as it goes to the "right" people, and the wealth doesn't come from them.

But there's no reason why capitalism and socialism can't cooperate with each other. We could do all kinds of things, if there was a will to do them, and probably save the taxpayer money. If we simply demanded an efficient government.
posted by gjc at 6:00 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If Canada's so wonderful, why aren't all Americans moving there?

*sniffle*

I don't think they'd have us.

Seriously, I don't think you can walk up to Canada and go, hey, can I live here? Without a bible's worth of red tape and literature explaining how you'd be contributing to Canada and not mucking up their country by walking around wearing wraparound shades telling everyone what a genius Bill Maher is.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:00 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, and "socialism" definitely is a code word for "the blacks" in a LOT of cases.
posted by gjc at 6:01 PM on October 14, 2008


JFitzpatric writes: There is no example in history of socialism occurring at a national level without force. Socialism is a form of coercion. Your labor is essential you trading pieces of your life away for wealth and economic security. You spend hours working to have money to enjoy the hours you aren't working in good health and safety. Anyone, be it a government or a common mugger, that takes away the wealth you earn with your own intellect or hard labor is stealing part of your life away.


When I was reading this, particularly the statement that I highlighted in bold, my first thought was: how exactly is this different than life under capitalism?

Last I checked, my labor is essential, and I am trading pieces of my life for wealth and economic security. I spend hours working to have money to enjoy the hours I'm not working.

The difference seems to be that in order to live in a capitalist country, the monies required to buy the necessities of life are paid to private citizens whose primary economic aim is to maximize their profit at my expense. And when I am not in good health, or when other arguably necessary life events compromise my ability to earn (i.e., having and rearing children), I'm pretty much just shit out of luck.
posted by Sublimity at 6:08 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a conservative who's afraid of socialism these pretty much sum it up:

3- People do their best when they are motivated. Having things provided to people makes them less motivated. It perpetrates the idea that there IS a free lunch, and that people who grow up with that free lunch will always want more. "If healthcare is free, when will people demand free food and housing?"

4- And that it destroys wealth. They ignore the wealth that could be created by a system that allows people to be a bit more creative, or go to college and get that degree instead of toiling away in the salt mines so they can eat. It's hard to be your best when you are stuck putting food on your table. Back to the point- they say it destroys wealth because the government is inherently inefficient and will screw everything up.

5- That it gives the government power that they, as the government, will eventually abuse.

But there's no reason why capitalism and socialism can't cooperate with each other. We could do all kinds of things, if there was a will to do them, and probably save the taxpayer money. If we simply demanded an efficient government.

posted by shopefowler at 6:57 PM on October 14, 2008


@Sublimity - Don't think that I don't hold a capitalist government in contempt for the amount of money they bleed out of the common man. I simply hold socialist governments in higher contempt for the larger amount of money they take and the greater harm they cause in doing so.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 7:01 PM on October 14, 2008


Socialism? Hell, conservatives have managed to turn liberal into a dirty word. Throughout the primaries and presidential campaign over the last year not once have you heard any Democratic candidate dare call himself a liberal, let alone a socialist.

Justinian: When a very right wing person rails against socialists, they are not making an arguing about a system of economics. A lot of them don't really know what socialism is. The word is just shorthand for the godless liberal homosexual abortionist agenda.

Case in point is the very first comment in this thread which contains a link to a free speech case in Canada. It's hard to figure what that has to do with socialism, but to some people its all the same stuff.
posted by JackFlash at 7:29 PM on October 14, 2008


Metacomment: I wonder what contributors to this thread, on both sides, would say if they had to make their judgments from behind John Rawls's veil of ignorance.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:51 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, and "socialism" definitely is a code word for "the blacks" in a LOT of cases.

Evidence? Spurious, emotional claims like this make having a rational debate difficult. This seems to be a tortuous leap of logic: "White fiscal conservatives oppose wealth redistribution, which means they hate the poor, and since black people are more likely be to be poor, they hate black people."

Not at all. Opposition to creeping socialism is usually just opposition to creeping socialism.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:59 PM on October 14, 2008


Oh yeah, and "socialism" definitely is a code word for "the blacks" in a LOT of cases.

Evidence? Spurious, emotional claims like this make having a rational debate difficult.


Apparently you weren't around in the 60s. Virtually every civil rights leader was accused of being a socialist or communist. In fact, all of J. Edgar Hoover's bugging and wiretapping of Martin Luther King was based on the pretext that he was a socialist. Conservatives have long equated civil rights with socialism.
posted by JackFlash at 8:04 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, a lot of people in this thread have made excellent arguments against socialism. But those crazy people ranting about it outside McCain rallies? This really, really, really isn't what they're talking about. Really. They are making a cultural argument, not an economic one. They aren't commenting on the subjugation of the individual or restriction of personal choice or any of that.
posted by Justinian at 8:11 PM on October 14, 2008


It seems to me people object more to the word than the ideas behind it. I do wish I could find it now, but I once read a great piece about what percentage of respondents to a poll agreed with the idea that "the government should increase funding to welfare" versus "the government should be spending more to help poor people."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:30 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apparently you weren't around in the 60s. Virtually every civil rights leader was accused of being a socialist or communist. In fact, all of J. Edgar Hoover's bugging and wiretapping of Martin Luther King was based on the pretext that he was a socialist.

EVERYONE that was politically unpopular back then was labeled a communist, so that's really not a relevant distinction. And what would that have to do with opposition to greater government involvement in the economy and redistributing wealth in the modern era? I can't speak for everyone that has at one point expressed opposition to socialism, but I and the majority of like-minded people that I've met oppose a certain degree of socialism no matter who the money goes to and what sort of redistributive scheme is engaged. If you can connect that in a meaningful way to racial animus, I invite you to do so. Otherwise it's just a convenient way to avoid engaging in meaningful discussion and doesn't go at all the OP's question about why socialism is frowned upon by people who are alive and politically relevant to discuss it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:05 PM on October 14, 2008


And what would that have to do with opposition to greater government involvement in the economy and redistributing wealth in the modern era?

Not much. But economic theories aren't really why black leaders were called Communist or Socialist either. Can't you imagine how civil rights would be seen as a type of "redistribution of wealth?" Especially to people who do not believe that black folks deserve equal treatment under the law?
posted by desuetude at 9:26 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


EVERYONE that was politically unpopular back then was labeled a communist, so that's really not a relevant distinction.

Well, if the past doesn't work for you, just tune in to Hannity or O'Reilly and their ranting about how Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and yes, Barrack Obama are dangerous socialists.

and doesn't go at all the OP's question about why socialism is frowned upon by people who are alive and politically relevant to discuss it.

It is exactly the point. Conservatives have conflated all forms of their class warfare, social bigotry and religiosity with anti-socialism as a tool to scare people. Socialism has become an all purpose epithet and goes to the root of the OP's bafflement about the irrationality of American's relationship to socialism.
posted by JackFlash at 9:29 PM on October 14, 2008


Well, if the past doesn't work for you, just tune in to Hannity or O'Reilly and their ranting about how Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and yes, Barrack Obama are dangerous socialists.

As is the rest of the left, so again no distinction. But that's bizarro world anyway, when there are dozens more good, non-sound bite reasons just above in this thread, many of which don't come from social conservatives.

Conservatives have conflated all forms of their class warfare, social bigotry and religiosity with anti-socialism as a tool to scare people.

That really doesn't fit with the reaction of most people when you ask them about taxation and spending. The inquiry ends there - they want less of both, period. The right tends to lapse into anti-intellectualism when it meets an argument it can't meet head on, and the left tends to lapse into dubious psychoanalysis. Imputing racism to thousands of diverse people one has never met, among them thousands of members of the supposedly targeted racial minorities, is a pretty ridiculous thing to do. There's not much reason to disbelieve what people tell you about themselves.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:36 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just find it astonishing that you have actual real live conservatives telling you, some in great detail, why they oppose socialism. Yet, you have people, posting after said posts, that are content to continue attributing it to any number of hair-brained causes. Did you guys actually read the explanations? Did addressing those posts on their merits just not occur to you or are you really that confident that you know what we think better than we do? Wait, don't answer that. I don't think I really want to know...
posted by jluce50 at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


jluce, there are two questions here. The first was about "fear and extreme responses" to the word "socialism" among "far-right-wing people." I think that the rational discussion about why those real live conservatives oppose socialist policies is more in response to the OPs second question asking for clarification on this point.

And then there's a certain amount of convergence of the two questions regarding the assertion that racial politics are also involved.
posted by desuetude at 9:50 AM on October 15, 2008


Ack, I mean, the rational discussion from the real live conservatives is in response to the OPs follow-up question.
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on October 15, 2008


Thank you everyone.

I posted this question thinking "What is it I don't 'get'"?

And the responses show I got about 80% of it, and the other 20% was the McCarthy era politics that I was not alive during.

I think I also had some confusion regarding the term "socialist" as I hear "socialized health care" and see it working in Canada but see people fearing "socialists", so i was confused...but they are seeing a slippery slope from healthcare to total redistribution of wealth.

So honestly thank you all for taking the time to reply.
posted by arniec at 12:12 PM on October 15, 2008


Americans tend to suffer from a boolean handicap in the area of socialism. It either is, or it is not. This is total nonsense. They speak about motivation and wealth redistribution. How ridiculous.

Social democracies are no more socialized than the public decides works. People are certainly motivated to do better. Some drive Ferraris, others drive Fords, and some smarter-than-average folks even take the ample public transportation. Healthcare is available to all, and, OMG, even the homeless people have means to stay clean. People graduate from university without a mountain of student loans.

Isn't that frightening? Think of all those poor money lenders that aren't getting their percentage of the cost of an education! And the streets are crawling with unemployed police and prison guards, it's a real social problem.
posted by Goofyy at 1:34 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I posted about this in the other socialism thread, short answer is that if you want an intellectual argument against socialism look up the Chicago school of economics and read The Road to Serfdom.

One could argue that the tax system that many mainstream American liberals support (i.e., one that uses a progressive marginal income tax to transfer wealth from those with high incomes to those who pay no income taxes) is a mild form of socialism.

One could argue this and they would be wrong.

I don't know what stupid McCain has put in the water but "wealth redistribution" is not the same as socialism. Every form of taxation can be defined as "wealth redistribution" since by definition taxation is the government taking money from some people and spending it somewhere else. So if you are fundamentally against "wealth redistribution" you are against any form of taxation and you might as well put on the black armband and join the other anarchists protesting in the streets at the WTO conferences.

Furthermore, ever since the 16th amendment was passed, the income tax rate in America has always been progressive. (Scroll down to the chart on the History of U.S. Federal Income Tax Rates Since 1913). Which according to McCain means that the U.S has been a socialist country for the past 100 or so years, (I wish).
posted by afu at 5:59 AM on November 2, 2008


Afu - in some ways the U.S. has been a socialist country for the past 100 years or so. But as with so many thing in America, we do it either half-assed or way over the top. Not sure why. (Mind you, the income tax was sold as a tax on the rich only, but it proved so effective, esp. after withholding was invested during WWII, that the government has ever since been unable to resist. I have to imagine that if the middle class and working class of 1912 had been told that this tax on the rich would be sticking their grand children of modest income and at the rates we currently pay, there would have been a whole lot more outcry at the time.)

Another answer for the original question - Socialism insists on institutionalizing the option of charity, which kind of deflates the spiritual value of giving. That is to say, a third party arbitarily takes from my earnings the money that might otherwise go to my child's college education, and gives it to someone I do not know for purposes I may or may not approve of.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:43 PM on November 3, 2008


Without getting into politics, I can point you at the real world example of socialism I'm slogging through right now. Ugh.
posted by heatherfl at 10:33 PM on March 18, 2009


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