Eric Scheie wonders why everybody is afraid to use the S-word.
A question which has been plaguing me lately is whether it is possible to have a legitimate debate over socialism without sounding like a rabid, hysterical, over-the-top, far-right conspiracy theorist. [...] Unfortunately (as I have pointed out in several posts), the "s" word is so fraught with problems that it might be too contaminated to use. [...] At what point can nationalization be said to have taken place? By what standard is government ownership of 72% of a company less than "true" socialism?
Andrew Samwick has also wondered the same thing: "People complain that the word "socialist" is being inappropriately used to demonize attempts at restoring economic growth. That may be true in many cases, but how is the label not valid here?"
The Right's inappropriate and ridiculous over-use of the word "socialism" as an all-purpose bludgeon has made it understandably toxic, but not everybody is afraid to call the thing what it is. See Open Left's Chris Bowers...
- "...we have reached national consensus on nationalizing industries, which is the literal definition of socialism and big government..." - Sept 06, 2008
- "GM bailout: more actual socialism! ... Conservatives have been throwing around the charge of "socialism" a lot lately. However, for those keeping track, the General Motors bailout plan is actually socialist." - June 01, 2009
NOTE: The fact is, American has always had a mixed economy, as do all modern, developed economies. The question is not one of category - capitalism or socialism? - but of degree.
UPDATE: At The American Prospect, Tim Fernholz makes a very good point...and a useful distinction.
It's fair to call the General Motors deal or the AIG takeover examples of socialist policy; government is directly intervening in a private concern. But it's not fair to say that the Obama administration is socialist per se because socialism is an -ism, a system, a guiding philosophy, and it's clear that putting the government in charge of private production is not the Obama administration's guiding philosophy.
As I noted above, the real question is one of degree. Obama is not socialist. But he is more comfortable with centralizing economic power. As that centralization proceeds, the focus of public interest will shift from "how do we fix the immediate economic problems?" to "how do we fix the problems we created when we tried to fix that temporary problem?" That is when the pendulum can swing back towards decentralization and individual empowerment.