What’s In A Name?

Paul Krugman’s recent column in the New York Times was titled “Trump versus the Socialist Menace,” and the tag line beneath the title warned that commies were coming for your pick-up truck.

The title alluded to Trump’s most recent effort to generate fear in his base. Krugman reminded us that we’ve seen this movie before, when the horrible threat of Medicare was looming, and the AMA hatched a plan to defeat it.

Here’s how it worked: Doctors’ wives (hey, it was 1961) were asked to invite their friends over and play them a recording in which Ronald Reagan explained that socialized medicine would destroy American freedom. The housewives, in turn, were supposed to write letters to Congress denouncing the menace of Medicare.

Obviously the strategy didn’t work; Medicare not only came into existence, but it became so popular that these days Republicans routinely (and falsely) accuse Democrats of planning to cut the program’s funding. But the strategy — claiming that any attempt to strengthen the social safety net or limit inequality will put us on a slippery slope to totalitarianism — endures.

It sure does. It’s fed by America’s bipolar, “either-or” approach to policy and ignorance of economic systems.

In the real world, there are very few countries where either socialism or capitalism characterizes the entire economy. Virtually all democratic nations have a mixed economy, meaning that certain things are socialized (i.e., provided communally, through government and paid for by taxes) and others are left to the market.

The actual question facing policymakers is which approach is appropriate in a given situation.

America already “socializes” police and fire protection. Most cities “socialize” garbage collection. Our streets and sidewalks–and interstate highways–are “socialized.” (In a recent Facebook post, a friend warned that a “socialist snowplow” was coming down his street.)

One way to think about this (although “thinking” is apparently a difficult assignment for many folks) is that government is a mechanism through which societies provide infrastructure. Some of that infrastructure is physical–bridges, roads, etc.–and some of it is social. Police and firefighters, Social Security and Medicare and a variety of social welfare programs are part of the social infrastructure.

Market capitalism, properly regulated, is incredibly successful in providing goods and services when buyers and sellers are operating on relatively equal terms. Economists tell us that markets work well when there is 1) a willing buyer and a willing seller both of whom are in possession of all relevant information, and 2) government has ensured a level playing field.

Quite obviously, there are areas of the economy in which markets don’t work. (Utilities come to mind–when did you last take bids from companies wanting to supply your water or sewer?) In those areas, government gets involved, either through stringent regulation or –gasp!–by socializing the service.

It is perfectly reasonable to debate whether a given service or economic area should be left to the market or provided communally–and if the latter, how that should be done. It is both unreasonable and dishonest to pretend that every decision to socialize a service is a step toward totalitarian communism, but as Krugman says, that’s this administration’s rhetoric.

You say you want free college tuition? Think of all the people who died in the Ukraine famine! And no, this isn’t a caricature: Read the strange, smarmy report on socialism that Trump’s economists released last fall; that’s pretty much how its argument goes.

Ironically, these hysterical descriptions have actually made the word “socialism” less off-putting. Recent polls show a significant number of voters approving of socialism (including a majority of those under 30). They’ve evidently accepted conservative labeling that “describes anything that tempers the excesses of a market economy as socialism, and in effect said, “Well, in that case I’m a socialist.””

When words are used as invective, they no longer communicate anything of substance. I think that’s where we are with both capitalism and socialism, and that really impedes rational policymaking.


  1. Government intervention breeds cronyism and regulatory capture. Regarding the friendly neighborhood government-granted monopoly utilities, remember Edwardsport.

    Here is a background on the myth of natural monopolies:


    I worked in the utility industry: the only thing free about it is the revolving door.

  2. Socialists ask only “Is there a need?”. Republicans and other rational people ask two things: “Is there a need AND does there exist a responsibility justly enforceable by the government’s power to take earned or inherited wealth by force?” Bums on downtown street corners (and all other social supplicants) may have “needs” but WHY is it MY job- directly or vicariously- to provide for Bums’ needs? If I earned it, or my father earned it and gave it to me, I’M keeping it and the government, with its insipid whine for “income equality” can go hang.

  3. I live in the backyard of the Koch funded Ball State University economics department. They get lots of opportunities to peddle their free market crap in the newspaper. Many of them would proudly love this comment by Sheila, “Market capitalism, properly regulated, is incredibly successful in providing goods and services when buyers and sellers are operating on relatively equal terms.”

    So, just for the record, employee “sellers” are on equal footing with employers. 😉

    You would have to be a modern day idiot to believe such bullshit. Not so much, modern, because great minds have been pointing out the idiocy for a very long time.

    Let me point out the greatest mind of all time who declared capitalism “EVIL.”

    Why is an economic principle or foundation despised by the greatest mind of all time?

    It’s because of the principle and what it does to ALL of our society…Albert Einstein…circa 1949:

    “The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.”

    So, what do you think has happened in the last 70 years?

    Another paragraph from Einstein:

    “This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.”

    Kiss my ass, Paul Krugman.

  4. Boy! Am I a fan of Todd Smekens today.
    Socialism is here to stay. We fought like hell for it.
    Just try to weaken “entitlements” and listen for the outcry.

  5. Several years ago, we were meeting up with our military friends after we left Stuttgart Germany when we were all living in Indy. I started the subject about my learning politics and about socialism and my military friend said, “the military of the US is the largest socialist program in the world.” I had to shake my head yes because he was right. Considering he was a rare leftist in the military, I’ll take his word for it. He would know.

    The right has been bastardizing the word “liberal” and “socialist” and been very successful in their rhetoric. We liberals can only envy that.

  6. “Our streets and sidewalks–and interstate highways–are “socialized.” (In a recent Facebook post, a friend warned that a “socialist snowplow” was coming down his street.)”

    My grandson lives in South Bend, Indiana, on that cold morning last week that city removed their plows from the streets due to dangerous icy conditions. Here in Indianapolis, the list of responsibilities of the City-County Council covers basically all vital decisions locally. What most people do not realize is that their Township Councilor has the final say regarding issues in their areas. The name “pot hole repair” for the street repair remedies used in different townships have vastly different results.

    “In the real world, there are very few countries where either socialism or capitalism characterizes the entire economy. Virtually all democratic nations have a mixed economy, meaning that certain things are socialized (i.e., provided communally, through government and paid for by taxes) and others are left to the market.”

    Having cause to regularly travel between my home in Warren Township to my son’s home in Franklin township, I am well aware of the vast difference in “pot hole repair” and have come to the conclusion that Franklin Township has a Socialist Councilor and I am stuck with a Democratic capitalist Councilor whose idea of “pot hole repair” is making driving on our streets worse, causing vehicle damage and, per a recent report by emergency personnel, a health hazard to patients being treated in ambulances driving over our streets. The same is true of emergency weather conditions and lack of plowing or treating dangerous street conditions.

    “When words are used as invective, they no longer communicate anything of substance. I think that’s where we are with both capitalism and socialism, and that really impedes rational policymaking.”

    Apply Sheila’s words when you get down to where the cheese binds regarding our particular City-County Council; it appears decisions are made by individual Councilors based on ego and money rather than rational consideration and decisions.

  7. We live in a great system of safety nets. We have to pay for it without driving down the economy and have businesses like Amazon pay their fair share of taxes at the same time. According to yahoo they paid $0 in federal taxes and are able to use independent subcontractors to deliver without paying their health insurance.

  8. Howard, if that “bum”, as you so eloquently put it, happens to be a service Veteran, do you then feel you have an obligation? Or maybe we, as humans, actually have an obligation to humanity. Think about it

    “When words are used as invective, they no longer communicate anything of substance. I think that’s where we are with both capitalism and socialism…”
    And “liberal’…I love when people try to swear at me and call me a liberal. 🙂

  9. The concept of a level playing field is what needs to be emphasized. It happens so rarely that government has to intervene with regulations to make both sides “equal” in the transaction. Think about the “common” resource we call air. If it were not for the Clean Air Act, there would be no incentive for industries to filter the emissions coming from their smokestacks. As it is, if you live downwind from one, you still smell odors that come from them, because the legislation regulates how much can be emitted, it does not prohibit them.

  10. Remember years ago when the international president was asked if he was a socialist and he responded, if believing in Social Security, Medicare, public education and the military makes me a Socialist then call me one.

  11. Howard Howe,

    Gosh it must be great to be so pure and good as yourself. Since you’re so against government, especially the U.S. government that had so much to do with keeping your big mouth full (too bad it couldn’t extend to your mind), maybe you should try living in, or at least examining, how well governments work elsewhere. Clearly, you slept through civics classes AND have read nothing about economics.

    Your comments on those topics should go hang too.

  12. The McMega-Media (owned and operated by Wall Street and representing Wall Street’s interests) is well represented by the likes of Paul Krugman.

    Krugman, writes, “After all, voters overwhelmingly support most of the policies proposed by American “socialists,” including higher taxes on the wealthy and making Medicare available to everyone (although they don’t support plans that would force people to give up private insurance — a warning to Democrats not to make single-payer purity a litmus test).”
    I find Krugman’s statement on people wanting private insurance laughable. What Krugman is doing is defending a for – profit healthcare system that has failed. Then again Krugman represents corporate America. A single payer universal health care system from birth to death, everyone in, no one out has overwhelming advantages over “insurance”.

    I am reading and hearing mainly on MSDNC and CNN when I watch them a quest to find a “Centrist Electable” candidate to challenge President Orange. The name Joe Biden always pops up. Biden has no or very few Progressive Credentials that stand out over a long career.

    The Democrats are not going to win the hard core supporters of President Agent Orange or Pastor Pence, so there is no reason to even try.

    The problem here in America is the old cliche of Liberal = Socialist = Communist = Lenin = Mao = Castro. The Democrats can avoid this labeling by sticking to issues.

    Among the issues are Single Payer – Universal Healthcare, free tuition for higher education or trade schools for the student, elimination of tax loop holes, money laundering for and by the 1% and big corporations, a serious look at why the US Military is scattered throughout the world.

  13. Free market capitalism has not worked well in the United States as attested by the increasing income inequality, it being among the highest in developed nations. The time has come to soak the wealthy, reducing income inequality, and use the funds for raising the quality of life for the lowest 40% among us. Socialized health care, education, housing would be places to start. Universal health care and free college for all would also be of great societal benefit. If the fats cats don’t like it they can leave. There are few nice places to live which tax less than the US.

  14. I often write here and elsewhere that I am trying to save capitalism if the capitalists will let me. Since and perhaps before Adam Smith the willing buyer-seller and full information availability of the factual background to both buyer and seller have been hallmarks of arguments for capitalism, and indeed one of my favorite economists, Joseph E. Stiglitz, won a Nobel for his work in the equality of information between buyer and seller.

    Unfortunately, such equality in this sophisticated economy is not possible in all buyer-seller interchanges. For instance, if I have an operable cancer and am shopping for price and quality with doctors, how can I as a buyer and the doctor as seller of such a service possibly negotiate from the same and equal platform of understanding? Similar situations exist in ever more such buyer-seller relationships where the sophisticated service is such that equality of information as between buyers and sellers is precluded.

    Capitalism and socialism when mixed can work well for specific purposes, and Sheila mentions a few of them. The issue, as always, is to what degree one or the other should be applied and to what degree it should be applied for specific purposes. These decisions, unfortunately, are political, and as we all know, political decisions frequently are made based on campaign contributions rather than the common good.

    Capitalists have successfully maligned socialism as authoritarian, which in pure form it can be, but have neglected to frame the excesses of capitalism as equally authoritarian in their effect upon the society in which they are lodged. Either socialism or capitalism, carefully regulated, can be consonant with democratic values and institutions, but the better system is a mixed one as measured by the common good. It is not an either-or matter but one of degree of application in such areas as health, taxes, transportation etc., and at long last and in view of the excesses of capitalism these days, the predictable backlash has set in and socialism is not a four-letter word anymore among younger voters, suggesting that there may be more emphasis on the socialist side of the mix than before as the backlash takes hold. Expect fireworks.

  15. As Robert Flora said, free market capitalism is a fine way to allocate resources. But nothing in the system ensures that the allocation will be uniform, so anyone who praises the system to the skies is implicitly approving of the income and asset inequality that we see today.

  16. Ditto, Pascal. Great insight. No system is perfect, especially if politically abused by its aficionados.

  17. What more contrast could you ask for?

    Howe vs. Smekens

    Pretty well sets out the playing field of current political thinking in this Country doesn’t it?
    Seems like the only question is which side of the chasm one falls on.

    One can only hope that there are more on the Smekens’ side of the divide than on Howe’s:

    “I got my family’s, I got mine, I got yours; don’t you even dare ask me for one penny to support the social good that, Um, Ah, has allowed and enabled me and my family to accumulate that wealth.”

    Oh, sorry! I forgot. What was I thinking? You did it all on your own.

    In spite of the evil government, not because the government provided the groundwork, the framework and things like roads, and airports, bridges, police, the regulations, a legal system to protect your rights, not to speak of the ability to obtain a free education (OK, I know public education is kind of a thing of the past now) so that people can be in a position to accumulate wealth.

    And those bums? Those worthless bums could have done the same damn thing, but they are all just lazy, dumb or brown skinned. So screw them!

    What amazing compassion for one’s fellow human beings and countrymen and women!

    Mr. Howe:

    Paying a fair share of taxes to support the social good is the price that each of us pays (OK, should have to pay) for the privilege of living in a society and Country where, thanks to the efforts of government, one can accumulate wealth.

    Sorry for the rant and sarcasm. But reading Howe’s post the first thing on a Sunday morning was not a good way to start off the day.

  18. bumper sticker: if you dont like socialism,build your own highways..
    the rable has condemed socialism, but were not talking about socialism,taught cold war style.
    were talking about democratic socialism. the trumpers invade my ears constantly about the facts! the way the country will be too expensive to live in! even higher wages will costs us more! damn,thanks robertriech.org… if i was to have a site to kinda give a hint,on those subjects, welcome bob.. his vids,funny,in your face,true. even the trumpers at one time or another said they,,,heard of him? then look at the site.. its easy to digest,and has points, i try and not to overlook. being a casuilty of reagans trickle to the wall street scam, i must say, im not fooled by networking psychopaths on the attack. im not going to know it all, i do however,take a few subjects,and keep abreast of the issues. wages,civil rights,wall streets scams,working labor scams,and the movement of goverment to supress the masses.and world order. yea,im all nerded up. not bad for a trucker,eh? but,the word socialism gets the curb,with gutter rats chewing it up(think tanks). first order, douse face,limit twit,and buy main street,and tell bezos,thanks for leaving nyc. “(no welfare,bad corp! you dont pay taxes,and get 112 million refund),”stand in the corner!!!! like all across America,socialism is everyday life,schools,public streets,some medicare,social security,and our goverment.. though the guise is to tell Americans,it doesnt exist. hey fox,your a public outlet,like socialism..except your policy is somewhere from a damp dungeon from the middle ages..we can over come the issues,but,you have to take some resposability to led,and mentor,people who are ready to vote,have mixed issues,and those who will listen,when their paycheck looks like that because of the republican aganda. my mail goes out a few times a day, viable journalism,sent to,my tribe. some are,converted trumpers,and ex,republicans. not many,but they forward to others. im meeting with lgbtq people in texas? yea, thers a real movement down there,and its not just in austin.. they work, i relay issues,stories,and factual news to help them,find time to disgest when they have the time. I do NO social networks,except this blog. my privacy allows me to read and not fight trivial arguments and general crap. no one has shut me down,and i get questions to further the subject. my opinion is from facts,and life long working. no side steps,and a orange,is a orange.. i do however tend to chew some ass to journalists who,side step the issue,and didnt finish the complete quote.. socialism, is what we want, change,for the biggest voting block in America,the working class.
    bumper sticker: my living wage supports main street,you?

  19. When someone says they are completely against socialism, I must assume they would be in favor of eliminating Social Security and Medicare. If they are, then I suggest they clear out that extra room because grandma and grandpa are moving in. The greatest national emergency I see is the need to defeat ignorance. Children should be required to show they understand civics and how our government works (or is supposed to work). Perhaps a civics test should be required for adults in order to get a driver’s license.
    Words do make a difference: Is the word “democratic” the same in the United States as it is in the Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea or the Peoples Republic of China? Is socialism in Canada and Finland the same as socialism in Russia?

  20. Some people believe that that Constitution begins with “We the people”. Others believe that is apparently a misprint. What they meant to say is “I the citizen”.

    There used to be way more believing the former but advertsing on pervasive media changed all of that by emphasizing to everyone that they are, in fact, the center of the universe. There is no we. There is only me vs everyone else.

    When people fall for that line there is no government that works for them except a dictatorship which only works completely for one person although family and friends can unusually join in too like the Trump family did.

  21. Both capitalism and socialism in their pure forms contain the seeds of their own destruction. An example – the capitalists are now in a high place where they are profiteering from our sickness, treatments, and medications. Their millions finance the elections of those who protect the robber barons who would rather people die than provide them with affordable insulin, for instance. Death sentences for one’s potential customers is a strange way to ensure future profits, yet robber barons repeat this mistake time after time until the public demands a socialized remedy to profits, such as profits over life itself.

    I fear both socialist and capitalist extremes. As a beneficiary of both Medicare and Social Security, a public education, government requirements to extend electricity to family farms, and more, I am SO thankful for the socialized programs that have made our capitalistic economy and Americans of all politicial persuasions so much safer, productive, and prosperous.

  22. It is late this article in the Guardian says so much of what we write about here.

    Study blames YouTube for rise in number of Flat Earthers
    Conspiracy theories shown on video-sharing site persuade people to doubt Earth is round.
    Researchers believe they have identified the prime driver for a startling rise in the number of people who think the Earth is flat: Google’s video-sharing site, YouTube.

    Their suspicion was raised when they attended the world’s largest gatherings of Flat Earthers at the movement’s annual conference in Rayleigh, North Carolina, in 2017, and then in Denver, Colorado, last year.

    The interviews revealed that most had been watching videos about other conspiracies, with alternative takes on 9/11, the Sandy Hook school shooting and whether Nasa really went to the moon, when YouTube offered up Flat Earth videos for them to watch next.

    Some said they watched the videos only in order to debunk them but soon found themselves won over by the material.

    One way or another, the interviewees found themselves believers and before long were asking “where is the curve?” and “why is the horizon always at eye level?”

    “There’s always going to be a small percentage of people who will reject anything that scientists put out there but maybe there’s a group in the middle that won’t,” she added. “The only tool we have to battle misinformation is to try and overwhelm it with better information.”
    We laugh about flat earthers as the ultimate term in either blissful ignorance or deliberate ignorance. It is more than flat earth types there is I think a significant segment of our society that does not believe in universe and earth as being billions of years old or that we are destroying the planet with pollution.

    Unfortunately, we have politicians and theocrats who are more than willing to exploit ignorance rather than educate.

  23. There is no such thing as a free market where buyer and seller, employer and employee, are equal under the law and/or possess the same information. It is just a theory that does not exist consistently in any modern or ancient society.

  24. “When words are used as invective, they no longer communicate anything of substance.”
    The other problem with polarizing invective is that, in it of itself. is that it drives more of us farther apart into extremism. People on the extreme right are driving us right of the road. People on the extreme left are driving us out of the realm of the rational. I am intolerant (so much for being a ‘liberal’) of people on both poles. Where is the line on either end of the continuum. I confess that I have no idea. But as Justice Potter said in his opinion about obscenity: “. . .i know it when I see it.”

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