Socialism--what gives?
November 1, 2008 1:07 PM   Subscribe

The "S" word. What is it about Socialism that sends the rats running (not bailing) from the ship? Please advise.
posted by emhutchinson to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The short answer? Because it was one of the S' in USSR.
posted by furtive at 1:13 PM on November 1, 2008 [9 favorites]

I presume you're asking about the United States? Most of the rest of us in the industrialized world aren't particularly afraid of the word "socialism". Can you clarify your question?
posted by Hildegarde at 1:16 PM on November 1, 2008

Socialism cedes the American "Individualism" for the middle road comfort of others. It's just not in our DNA. The New Deal was a pretty dramatic step, and though popular, there is still a great deal of antipathy for throwing everything into the pot for everyone. Also, we are a nation of immigrants - it's easier in Denmark because everyone looks like you. But this is all armchair psychology.

At the very least, people have been trying to socialize America since John Dos Passos in the early 20th century, and it never really gained a lot of traction. Then in the 1950s it was tied to zomg Communism, which was ridiculous, but effective.

The New Yorker recently pointed out that The Father of Capitalism, Adam Smith, was for wealth distribution in way back in 1776, so I guess it will take a better historian than me to answer your question.

"The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. . . . The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. . . . It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion. "
posted by plexi at 1:17 PM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's because some people are afraid that when they get rich* because they've worked so hard, everyone else who's poor like they are right now is going to take all their money.

*which isn't going to happen.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:20 PM on November 1, 2008 [16 favorites]

America is full of socialist systems, so I think questioner is right in asking why it's the word that is so loaded.

I think furtive nailed it in one. It conviently conjures up "evil Russia" vibes from the cold war, and that's why they use it. Look at that ridiculous interviewer asking Biden about Karl Marx, for crying out loud.

It doesn't scare the rest of the world much because their understanding, use and experience with the word isn't locked to a "good vs evil", "us vs them" struggle in the collective subconscious.

Compare and contrast with "liberal", which is still a dirty word for no obvious reason, other than a 10 year marketing campaign from right wing radio. Because there's not a collective memory tickling our brains on that word, it's less powerful. There's even been blowback enough in the last couple of years to suggest the word may already be returning to its earlier, less-loaded connotation.

But to Americans, "socialist" will always be tied to Big Scary USSR. At least for another generation, anyway. Teenagers and even early twenty-somethings today don't have that old virus, so the word is not as loaded for them.
posted by rokusan at 1:26 PM on November 1, 2008

two reasons:
a) in a purely capitalist system the wealthy are the few allowed comfort and power. in a society where the masses are comfortable, physically and financially, it diminishes the relative power of those above.
b) republicans love scare words of things that are "unamerican". four years ago it was liberalism, today it's socialism. why is it unamerican, do you ask? cause some angry old white guy says so.

in this round the right is scaring you into thinking that in the "socialism" of obama (something the head of the socialist party in america finds laughable), two things will take place: hard working americans will never be able to get ahead, since all their money will be distributed to the poor right when they're about to "make it", and lazy-ass freeloaders will reap benefits they didn't work for nor deserve. or as my sister puts it, "lazy people who haven't earned it will be living off of us". so now someone working an average job at 40 hours a week or more is "lazy", and doesn't deserve a living wage or healthcare. whereas, if you have an MBA or a trustfund, or an important daddy, you do.

contrast this with today's fiscal system, where they wealthy are the freeloaders who get automatically what they neither earn nor deserve, and live off of the hard labor of those beneath them.
posted by camdan at 1:38 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

A similar question was asked a little while ago: here.
posted by prefpara at 1:44 PM on November 1, 2008

What level thought are you asking about? Intuitive, rational, philosophical, etc.

Peter Singer defines the "left" as "people who care about minimizing suffering" in this book Towards a Darwinian Left. Not all people care much about the suffering of others. I also hold such consequentialist views, but I don't accept his particular philosophical basis. Otoh, I still derive mostly the same left wing conclusions because his conclusions are based less on his "left wing" status than on his simply knowing more than your average bear.

Don't imagine everyone shares your philosophical viewpoint. Nationalized health care follows from any sane philosophical viewpoint given enough information, and will save almost everyone money. But you must make the argument for each separate philosophical viewpoint and concretely argue the economics. You will simply fail if you can't argue universally because the insurance companies who'll lose money will invent lies for each viewpoint that you don't understand.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:50 PM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also...
posted by chillmost at 1:55 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of the arguments I've heard recently is that the McCain campaign's use of "socialism" is a dog whistle for "taking hard-earned wages from white people to give it to shiftless lazy blacks" to people who find that credible. This is the same argument that the Reagan people used to make about "welfare queens" in Cadillacs who were eating better than (white) you did on your hard-earned money on food stamps. John Judis of TNR talks about this sort of dog-whistling in this video where he discusses the ugliness of the McCain campaign.

I don't think that's the only thing going on with the use of "socialism"--I agree with the ZOMG COMMIE RUSSIANS answers above me, too--but in this election, I feel strongly that racism is a factor in terms of the use of "socialism" and redistributing income, a la Joe the Plumber and the denigration of wealth-spreading going on at McCain rallies.
posted by immlass at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

Watch this very short video about the two different kinds of socialism. Using the vague word "socialism" blurs the line between the more innocuous kind and the more disturbing kind.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:30 PM on November 1, 2008

some good answers here, but I'd just like to add that while of course it is a scare tactic and is (wrongly) often seen as the 'opposite' of capitalism and individualism, its also true that in some famous cases (in eastern europe, south east asia, and elsewhere) socialist regimes did not follow thru on democratic promises and turned into quite vicious authoritarian regimes.

So when conservatives invoke "socialism" its those failures (both democratic failures and economic failures) they are alluding to, and not without reason. However they use that as a cover for an equally vicious 'free market' (de-regulation, laissez-faire) philosophy.

But thats not what 'socialism' generally means for liberals, who tend to see it more idealistically (protection of the individual, government oversight as counter-balance to corporations run amock), or are merely suggesting individual pieces of regulatory legislation (environmental laws, labor laws, human and civil rights protection, or necessary management of capitalisms excesses (such as regulation of the financial industry) or governmental economic intervention during times of fiscal crisis (such as FDR's infrastructure projects to boost the economy during the depression). i.e., individual pieces of legislation rather than a whole governmental apparatus.
These perfectly rational interventions in turn tend to provide cover for the far-left (communists for instance, who have plans for the state far grander than individual legislative intervention, and quite vicious plans often).

So both sides debate on the S word tends to (for good or worse) provide "cover" for both left and right extremists (who are, in my view, equally vicious and want to monopolize the state in similar ways). So whatever rational discussion one could have over individual pieces of legislation is generally drowned out or pushed aside by the competing name-calling (Socialist! vs Fascist!).

So in actual political practice the term is merely a political football.
posted by jak68 at 2:43 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's my take:

People who fear the word "socialism" do so because they have a different definition of "society" and "we" than others. There's me. And you. Sometimes there's a "we." But not always.

Taxes are, at their core, a means for which one group of people (the majority, as represented by government) extract dollars from another group of people (the taxed) via the threat of legalized force. If you don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. That's force.

The purpose of taxes is to fund a government (that theoretically represents all of us -- "we") that performs services that "we" need that cannot be effectively funded via private action. For example, "we" cannot build a road from Point A to Point B because the people at Point C (who are also part of "we") do not discern a concrete benefit, so they will be unlikely to pitch in. So we legalize a taxation system in which people at Points A, B and C will all pitch in, and a government (in which Points A, B and C take part) to spend those funds to attempt to maximize the benefits for everyone.

"Socialism," then, infers a system in which the people at Point C will not get to participate fully in the process, or will always see their funds used for things they are aligned against, simply because the odds are stacked against them -- either because they'll always be outnumbered by the people at Points A and B, or because the system is aligned against them by design.

In other words:

* I don't want to pay for your health care. I do not see a direct benefit for my health care.
* I don't want to pay for you to take a maternity leave. I work hard. Why should I work harder so you can rest?
* You lost your job? Bummer. Get another one. I have one. You can get one, too. Why should I pay for you to do nothing while you are "looking for work?" Besides, no one is watching over you to ensure you are indeed looking for work, so you could be cheating the system (and by extension, stealing the money from "we.")

Of course, you can make valid arguments for all of the above (health care for one benefits "we" all, because a healthy person contributes to society; maternity leave is good for similar reasons; if a person loses his job and does not get a helping hand, he may become an even bigger drag on "we" than he already is).

But if your definition of "we" is different than most, you don't see these arguments as valid. A sense of "we" incorporates a sense of personal responsibility, that you will do everything in your power to avoid accepting help from "we," but if that help is overly forthcoming (e.g. compare legally mandated vacation days between Europe and the U.S.), it erodes personal responsibility and a sense of entrepreneurship (e.g. compare unemployment rates between Europe and the U.S.).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

International Socialism -- the Marxist Leninist version of the Third International-- was also avowedly anti-Christian. This gives ~30% of the population the heeby-jeebies right there, also those godless socialistic Europeans are evidence that the more socialist a system is the less Godly it becomes (even though of course France with its strong Catholic tradition disproves this somewhat).

echoing jak68 immediately above, and speaking as a libertarian, the more top-down a governing structure becomes the more inefficient, wasteful, and authoritarian it can become.

In my ideal world, left-libertarianism -- basically the worldview of a Chomsky -- would rule the day, but the general level of education (low) and intelligence (vanishing) and historical perspective (nonexistant) in this country precludes the conversation from veering from the idiotic communist-capitalist axis.
posted by troy at 2:54 PM on November 1, 2008

I think it's linked to the American Dream. If anyone can rise to the top, when they get there they certainly won't want some lazy lowlife taking their hard earned dollars.

Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases there are major structural impediments preventing low-income people from getting anywhere near the top. The occasional person who does succeed is used as a means of validating The Dream.

To socialists, it is obvious that it is not always the fault of the poor person that they are impoverished. The sense of community is stronger, there's a feeling of "That could be me". Many people are therefore willing to pay taxes to provide a welfare net for people who are struggling.
posted by knapah at 3:21 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

At the very least, people have been trying to socialize America since John Dos Passos in the early 20th century, and it never really gained a lot of traction.

This is badly wrong in two different ways. People have been trying to socialize America since long before Dos Passos (who was just a novelist, for Pete's sake)—in fact, for as long as they've been trying to socialize Europe. There were lots of Marxists in 19th-century America, even if not as many as in Europe. And I would call Debs getting over 900,000 votes (6% of the popular vote) in 1912 "gaining a lot of traction"; it took the vicious government suppression of all left-wing activity during and after WWI to keep that vote from growing.
posted by languagehat at 3:25 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh my god, seriously. Caricatures aside, some people are opposed to socialist policies because they don't think those policies work. They think that the goals are good and the causes are important, but that the socialist programs will not achieve what socialists want to achieve. I get that it's easier to demonize those people and pretend that they're all just selfish monsters who don't care about the poor or anyone not invited to their black tie caviar party, but it would be nice if y'all could consider the possibility that people might oppose socialism because they think it will fail, not because they drink baby blood out of crystal goblets.
posted by prefpara at 3:27 PM on November 1, 2008 [11 favorites]

One of the arguments I've heard recently is that the McCain campaign's use of "socialism" is a dog whistle for "taking hard-earned wages from white people to give it to shiftless lazy blacks" to people who find that credible.

FWIW that explains why the McCain camp recently brought up the 7 year old NPR interview with Obama.

If you parse what Obama was saying with what the McCain political operatives claimed he was saying, of course the whole episode doesn't make any sense at all. (Obama wasn't actually saying anything out of the ordinary at all, certainly nothing radical or inflammatory.)

But it gave the operatives a reason to play/talk about this interview where Obama is talking about what has been & could be done to give the African-American community a fairer shake in the American economy--and that's exactly what they want their "base" to be associating with "redistributing wealth".

As you put it, income redistribution is code for "taking hard-earned wages from white people to give it to shiftless lazy blacks".

Of course it also gives them the chance to repeat numerous times those loaded words they love so well--socialism, re-distribution, marxism, etc.

Part of the beauty of this type of attack is it works on a lot of different levels at once. A lot of those levels are emotional and so it can make surprisingly little difference how logically incoherent the underlying argument may be, as long the repetition of the emotionally laden buzz words and phrases gets people riled up enough.

(And to more directly address the question--one reason Americans have negative associations with the word "socialism" is because it has a long history of being used as an attack word of this sort. See for instance the references in William Safire's Political Dictionary.)
posted by flug at 3:31 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The people who are most likely to be persuaded by the "socialist" bugaboo are those who are least likely to understand what socialism really is.

The absurdity of this election season is that, despite Obama advocating only a slightly higher top marginal tax rate than McCain, this somehow makes Obama deserving of the "socialist" moniker.
posted by jayder at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

. . .the S word tends to (for good or worse) provide "cover" for both left and right extremists

This is a false dichotomy. There certainly are (fortunately few) right wing extremists in the US who bomb federal buildings and abortion clinics and publicly espouse all sorts of extremist memes such as white power, but there is no analogue on the left.
posted by Neiltupper at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2008

So those protesters against the WTO are right-wing?
posted by smackfu at 3:48 PM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

At the very least, people have been trying to socialize America since John Dos Passos in the early 20th century, and it never really gained a lot of traction.

Dos Passos? Really? Really?

Anyway, if the US is so opposed to socialism, what's a union? Or group insurance? Or unemployment insurance? Or Medicare?

It's a word problem. The US, overall, is just fine with the idea of socialism in almost all aspects of society here. It just needs rebranding. The word has been larded up with bad implications, which is I think what the original question was about.
posted by rokusan at 3:51 PM on November 1, 2008

The menace that people associate with socialism reminds me of the menace they associate with "tort lawyers." They will bloviate endlessly about the evil of tort lawyers, until their own loved one gets injured in a car wreck or maimed by a defective product.

Similarly, socialism is a bad thing, except for the government program that benefits you. I'm sure there are lots of government subsidized farmers pontificating right now on the evil of Obama's socialist leanings.
posted by jayder at 3:56 PM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

>"This is a false dichotomy. There certainly are (fortunately few) right wing extremists in the US who bomb federal buildings and abortion clinics and publicly espouse all sorts of extremist memes such as white power, but there is no analogue on the left."

Neiltupper, are you kidding me? Have you read much on the violence from the revolutionary-left in America during the 60s and 70? In Europe during the same period? And if you leave the American theatre, revolutionary-left terrorism around the world is one of the constant themes of post-colonial world history, particular in Asia and South America. This is not a false analogue - the extremities of far left and far right meet in common ground in their justifications of ends over means; and modern politics has been ultimately a circle in this regard. Go too far in the other direction and you'll meet yourself.
posted by jak68 at 4:00 PM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

People use the word "socialism" like they use the world "muslim" in the context of this election. It's supposed to be offensive, when in reality it is just demonstrating the speakers ignorance and prejudice.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:06 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

True in the context of this election, because Obama is neither a socialist or a Muslim. But "why would people have problems with him if he WAS a socialist?" has much more legit answers than the same question about Muslims.
posted by smackfu at 4:16 PM on November 1, 2008

What is it about Socialism that sends the rats running (not bailing) from the ship?

"Rats"? Quite the broad brush you're using there.

I mean to say, by the same token, what is it about Capitalism that sends the rats running (not bailing) from the ship?

Believe it or not, there are respectable POVs on both sides of the aisle

Anyway, talking America here, we have a long history and two wars (Revolution, War of Northern Agression) dedicated at least in part to keep your hands off my hard earned/illgotten gains. A healthy distrust of people who want power over us. And contrary to what some have written above, this does not preclude generosity of spirit or a willingness to help the downtrodden. Largely it's a distaste of some third party coming in and deciding how that generosity gets distributed, and taking a healthy chunk in the process. Doesn't sit right.

Here's another something peculiar to America - unlike much of Europe, we tend to be untouched by envy. I mean the personal kind. We're plenty acquisitive, unhealthily so, but in general, the tall poppy syndrome has never really taken on here. (THis is not to say that in the past decade the truly disgusting rich have not been really pushing it, but in general the concept still holds.) The corollary is a distaste for official preference. (Hypocrisy being a human condition, any preference that benefits One is of course off the table- but that can be said of the pro-socialists among us as well.)

For the more thoughtful, there's also the suggestion that involuntary government sponsored redistribution weakens rather than strengthens the community. If the government will take your money and give it to total strangers hundred or thousands of miles away, it becomes easier for you to say I gave at the office. Since that is not a voluntary contribution, nor have you control over where it goes, you are perhaps a little irked by the whole thing. And even though you are also absolved, sort of, from having to toss extra into the bucket, you somehow feel the equation is somehow wrong, uncomfortable.

Very ratty, I expect.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:25 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'd attribute it to a fear that a socialist government would be incompetant and inefficient, and would overtax people. This does not seem to be largely based on economic projections or actual math, but more on philosophical differences. Americans are big on self-reliance and independence, believing that they can support themselves entirely in their adult lives with the money they earn and save. Taxes reduce their ability to live without help from the government in their mind, and take the fruit of their work.

Consumer psychology may also play a role here, as choice is a major component in modern advertising and marketing. Some right wingers like that they can choose between paying out of pocket or having health insurance, and they like that they can also choose which health insurance company and which plan they think will serve them best. However, it's clear that single-payer health plans run by governments are the most efficient and often offer better care than the plans people actually settle for in America. Add to this the fear that "socialized mediciine" would send people to doctors they can't choose and so on, and it's a scary proposition.

A third idea I have, which is pure speculation on my part, would be that America is a large country with just two borders and a lot of coastal areas. Americans often don't have experience with other countries, and when they travel internationally, it is just for a week or so at longest. That isn't enough time to get an actual sense for how people abroad really feel for their governments and the policies those governments carry out. This isn't meant to be an insult to those who don't travel; it's expensive and it takes up a lot of time. It's simply easier to see other countries in Europe. Perhaps socialist-style policies are more popular in Europe because the citizens in the countries are able to see which nearby countries handle issues like health care, education, etc better than others. It is possible to read about these things in newspapers and studies, but not everyone has time to read the news and stay informed, and print often doesn't carry the same impact that actually being there has.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:19 PM on November 1, 2008

but in general, the tall poppy syndrome has never really taken on here

The existence of the 16th Amendment, the marginal rates initially set on this, and the tax rate structure for the first two-thirds if not four-fifths of the 20th century belie this opinion.
posted by troy at 5:50 PM on November 1, 2008

Neiltupper, are you kidding me? Have you read much on the violence from the revolutionary-left in America during the 60s and 70?

note the verb tense of the original statement you are responding to. The most you can point to is a smashed Starbucks window 10 years ago, AFAICT.
posted by troy at 5:54 PM on November 1, 2008

The most you can point to is a smashed Starbucks window 10 years ago, AFAICT.

Earth First
Animal Liberation Front
Earth Liberation Front

You could also argue that Hamas, Hezbollah, etc, are all revolutionary-leftist organizations, some of whom enjoy quite a bit of support in academic circles.

Then you can start in on the FARC, the Shining Path and similar groups that fund their efforts via drug sales in the U.S.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:38 PM on November 1, 2008

I find it deeply amusing that so many people in the "Red States" want to scream about socialism and "redistributionist" policies. This is because most of those states are net drains on Federal tax dollars.

Don't believe me? Take a look here.

So, if Palin's Alaska is all about self reliance and avoiding "redistribution," why is it that Alaska was ranked 3rd in most federal money received per tax dollar paid?
posted by wuwei at 9:40 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Socialism → Communism → 'foreign' infiltration → Jews.

When you hear people, in an American context, railing against the evils of Socialism, quite often you're hearing the faint echoes of mid twentieth-century anti-semitic discourse. Socialism and Communism were both code words—shibboleths, if you will—for the threat of foreign, Jewish infiltration. In British Israelite and Christian Identity circles, it was quite common to deny that modern Jews were who they claimed to be, racially. Instead, it was suggested that they stemmed from the Edomites, the children of Esau, who had supposedly embraced atheism, materialism, race-mixing, and other evils. Edom means red. This suggested further that Jews were naturally Red, in political terms. Here's a representative quote from a Christian Identity pamphlet:
We are all aware that Red and Edom are inter-related, and that the Amalek seed line, the Canaanite seed line, merging with the Edomite seed line, is the house of Red Jewry, Communism today.
So there's a rather more sinister back-story to the American nativist fear of 'Red' politics than you might think.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:47 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Earth First
Animal Liberation Front
Earth Liberation Front

All of which have much more in common with than anyone on the left.
Calling those organizations leftist is akin to calling Timothy McVeigh a conservative.

Strange you did that, CPB, because your articulation of your own reasoning before was pretty darn cogent. I'd add that I grew up recognizing a difference between socialism in democratic form (Sweden) vs. Communism (USSR) that is still alien to many people, even in my age group.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:54 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The "S" word. What is it about Socialism that sends the rats running (not bailing) from the ship? Please advise.

For the smarter ones, it's reading Ayn Rand in high school and not ever maturing past that point. For the dumber ones, it's being programmed by the Ayn Rand readers that Socialism is Evil.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:03 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Earth First
Animal Liberation Front
Earth Liberation Front

These are environmentalist or animal rights extremists and do not take a view on government power over the economic activity of individuals.

You could also argue that Hamas, Hezbollah, etc, are all revolutionary-leftist organizations, some of whom enjoy quite a bit of support in academic circles.

You could argue that, yes. You would be wrong.
posted by atrazine at 1:38 AM on November 2, 2008

Also, I think the diversity and size of the American population plays a role in the aversion to socialist policies. Cultural homogeneity makes a welfare state much easier because those who pay into the system feel a stronger connection to those who use it.

Consider that in Denmark, the link between a father's salary and that of his son in 0.1, as opposed to 0.45 in the US or 0.5 in the UK1. I think that this sort of system sets in place a vicious cycle. If being poor is a wretched miserable thing, then you will do anything to avoid it, and anything (taxes) that takes away some of your money makes it more difficult to accumulate capital.

Why do you think that inheritance taxes are the way they are in the US (and now, the UK)? People are afraid that their children will be poor and they will do anything they can to avoid that because being poor in the United States is very much a more dangerous thing to be than being poor in Denmark or Sweden.

(1) The Economist, Oct. 25th, 2008
posted by atrazine at 1:47 AM on November 2, 2008

Scarecrow too is kinda scary. It's one of those words playing the role of Scapegoat allowing people to feel they belong together without too much thinking.
posted by nicolin at 2:19 AM on November 2, 2008

As others pointed out above, I thnk the McCain campaign is mostly using socialism as a dog whistle which at it's heart mean unamerican.

The almost complete death of socialism as a political force in the U.S. was due to the switch in the 70s from Keynesian models of government, which aren't explicitly socialist, but have place a large emphasis on the government's role in controlling the economy, to the Chicago school and their Neoliberalism. Besides being very pro market, the Neoliberals are also fundamentally anti socialist, a position probably best put forward in Hayek's The Road to Serfdom . These policies became the overwhelmingly dominant view in the united states, so much so that the Markets superiority to government planning has been dogma to both the democrats and the republicans up until recent events have caused Washington to find their inner socialists.
posted by afu at 4:56 AM on November 2, 2008

"..also those godless socialistic Europeans are evidence that the more socialist a system is the less Godly it becomes..."

This is a completely ridiculous conclusion to jump to. How does Poland fit into this supposed linear dependance?

In answer to the original question, I feel it is simply a combination of clever marketing and gullibility. When the extreme of Left is socialism and the extreme of Right is anarchy, I find it odd that those that consider themselves on the Left have never exploited the negative connotations of anarchy in their defense.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 5:14 AM on November 2, 2008

The ultimate aim of 'socialism' is to achieve the withering away of the state and end up in an anarchic society. It's just a completely different conception of anarchy to that of the right, there would be no money or ownership for a start. The extreme right would disagree quite a bit about that.
posted by knapah at 9:00 AM on November 2, 2008

CPB, how those people view the economic freedom of companies to do those things does not necessarily have anything to do with their belief in the capacity of the state to provide for the good of society. (The "we" that you mentioned earlier.) Some of these radicals are stronger believers in "anti-statism" than avowed libertarians. They simply believe economic freedom should "come second" for everyone, both the state (Leftists who would take housing the poor over expanding a state-owned greenbelt) and individuals (Rightists who'd sell the land the land to a private concern and let them build whatever they liked.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:57 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

but in general, the tall poppy syndrome has never really taken on here

The existence of the 16th Amendment, the marginal rates initially set on this, and the tax rate structure for the first two-thirds if not four-fifths of the 20th century belie this opinion.

Not entirely. Initial tax rates in 1913 were 7% on the income over $500,000. Pretty high standard. Of course it jumped as we entered WWI, and as with most money taps put into place, it wasn't going to go away. When they did rise, I doubt they rose on any popular demand; conversely, I don't recall much outrage when JFK and Reagan brought them back down. But high as they have been, they have never topped 100% as they have elsewhere.

I would note also that we do not have the luxury taxes and the attendant strategies to hide signes exterieurs de richesse that make France such a byword for envy, and make such movies as The Dinner Game (whihc turns in part on keeping a tax inspector from seeing just how high on the hog the anti-hero lives) impossible to remake in English. The history is fascinating. One reason the French eat snails is because the tax farmers of old judged a person able to cough up more if he were seen eating, say, a chicken on a spit. No no, we are so poor we are reduced to eating garden pests. Care for some? Prosperous areas learned quickly how to toss the crockery down the well when the officials were sighted, and the game continues to this day.

Finally, and mostly to my point, the Warren Buffetts and Steve Jobs of this country are generally admired rather than resented. As I said above, some have been pushing it and pushing it hard, but in the end, when Jack Welch shills his next pointless business tome, the crowd will be carrying autograph books rather than over ripe fruit.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:03 PM on November 2, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - this conversation is getting fighty and far afield, please stick to the topic or go t ometatalk or start your own askme thread, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:05 AM on November 3, 2008

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