Now I Get It!

For several years now, I’ve been confused about the GOP’s constant warnings about  “socialism”–usually invoked to dismiss reasonable government efforts to address obvious problems and inefficiencies. Typically, the target of those accusations bears little or no resemblance to socialism.

Thanks to a recent column by one of my two favorite Nobel-winning economists, Paul Krugman (the other is Joseph Stiglitz), I now understand. 

It isn’t that Republicans don’t know what socialism is, although most clearly don’t. They  define any social co-operation as socialism.

Krugman’s column connected the dots between several seemingly disparate policy areas: gun rights, COVID vaccine denial and Bitcoin, and explained how Republican policies–really, Republican antipathy to anything that might be considered an actual policy–can all be explained by the party’s rejection of Hobbes’ famous proclamation about the necessity of society, and the very negative consequences of living in a “state of nature.” (Life becomes “nasty, brutish and short.”)

Krugman began by reminding readers of the failure of Texas’ electrical grid during the deep freeze last winter. Governor Abbott’s bizarre response wasn’t to strengthen the grid by requiring energy companies to winterize; it was to encourage Texan Bitcoin mining.

This would supposedly reduce the risk of outages because Bitcoin’s huge electricity consumption would eventually expand the state’s generation capacity.

Yes, that’s as crazy as it sounds. But it fits a pattern.

Then there’s the Florida legislature under Governor DeSantis–intent on blocking any measure that might limit the spread of COVID.

They have, however, gone all in on antibody treatments that are far more expensive than vaccines, with DeSantis demanding that the Food and Drug Administration allow use of antibodies that, the F.D.A. has found, don’t work against Omicron.

Krugman then reminds us (as if we needed reminding!) that, although America leads the world in massacres of school children, Republicans absolutely refuse to enact widely-supported, common-sense measures like restrictions on gun sales, required background checks or bans on privately owned assault weapons. Instead, they want to expand access to guns and, in many states, “protect” students by arming schoolteachers.

What do these examples have in common? As Thomas Hobbes could have told you, human beings can only flourish, can only avoid a state of nature in which lives are “nasty, brutish and short,” if they participate in a “commonwealth” — a society in which government takes on much of the responsibility for making life secure. Thus, we have law enforcement precisely so individuals don’t have to go around armed to protect themselves against other people’s violence.

Public health policy, if you think about it, reflects the same principle. Individuals can and should take responsibility for their own health, when they can; but the nature of infectious disease means that there is an essential role for collective action, whether it is public investment in clean water supplies or, yes, mask and vaccine mandates during a pandemic.

And you don’t have to be a socialist to recognize the need for regulation to maintain the reliability of essential aspects of the economy like electricity supply and the monetary system.

Reading this led me to an “aha” moment. The reason the GOP misuses the word “socialism” is that they have confused this essential social co-operation with the top-down central planning conducted by hardline socialist states. (Democratic socialism of the sort practiced in Scandinavian countries is apparently beyond their capacity to recognize or imagine.)

Krugman says that the modern American right is antisocial —not anti-socialist.  It summarily rejects any policy that relies on social cooperation. The policies he has enumerated, and a number of others, would return us to Hobbes’s dystopian state of nature.

We won’t try to keep guns out of the hands of potential mass murderers; instead, we’ll rely on teacher-vigilantes to gun them down once the shooting has already started. We won’t try to limit the spread of infectious diseases; instead, we’ll tell people to take drugs that are expensive, ineffective or both after they’ve already gotten sick.

Even the party’s weird embrace of Bitcoin falls into this category. As Krugman notes, a number of Republicans have become fanatics about cryptocurrency. He quotes one  Senate candidate who proclaims himself to be “pro-God, pro-family, pro-Bitcoin.” Krugman notes that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin

play into a fantasy of self-sufficient individualism, of protecting your family with your personal AR-15, treating your Covid with an anti-parasite drug or urine and managing your financial affairs with privately created money, untainted by institutions like governments or banks.

In the end, none of this will work. Government exists for a reason. But the right’s constant attacks on essential government functions will take a toll, making all of our lives nastier, more brutish and shorter.

We need to move America’s Overton Window back from the brink….


  1. Republican attacks on Democrats by calling them socialists go back at least to the Truman Era and are scare tactics to get voters to vote Republican, pure and simple. Now Republican legislators have reported to a new tactic, oppose all Democratic led initiatives. Republicans are against all progress, even if it means shooting themselves in the foot and destroying the United States. Now by opposing common sense Covid-19 restrictions they are killing their own constituents. 🤪 Crazy.

  2. To para-phrase Truman: Socialism is what conservatives ( he said republicans but the antebellum southern democrats said the same things) have always called anything that benefits the average citizen.

  3. My son and I talk about how some democratic socialist countries are doing better by providing for the public with care through their tax dollars. I keep telling him we can slowly advance to be like these countries if we know how to pay for it. Our limited bureaucracy gobbles up huge amounts of funding that could go to serve in this manner. How do we get there? They seem to pay for it.
    About half of the Republican population is more liberal than one might think, but they don’t sway to far from constitutional rights.
    In looking at gun laws, how do we keep the guns out of the hands of serial killers or abusers. We are headed in the right direction with red flag laws. But how do we require relatives of those mentally ill to be held responsible for not locking up their guns like the AR15. AR doesn’t mean assault rifle. Its a 22 light weight caliber that needs to be locked up atleast continually.
    During Covid many conservatives did have to swiitch their tune about getting vaccinated. I, like so many others, got vaccinated and still got Covid. But most are missing the point for the vaccine. Yes some have died from the vaccine, but many who got Covid early were medical practitioners who didnt then see the need.
    So is it abou the spread or is it that we side with politicians on one sidecor another that are illogical in their thinking that enforce rules that then could endanger us or put us under greater risk personally without harming the oublic.
    I still cant get over how Biden on the first day cut 70000 jobs, oil we get elsewhere at a higher price. His energy policies aline have helped send inflation spiraling, killing many 401 k plans, and moreover hurting the poor thru inflation. He certainly outdoes Gov Abbott in the really stupid moves catagory.

  4. I missed the connection to socialism.

    While Krugman is pointing at the GOP from his mantle in the New York Times, both parties seem to cooperate fine with matters concerning socialism to the Elite Oligarchs and their military.

    Why is that?

    When it comes to socialism for the commons, then they start pointing fingers at each other. It’s almost laughable at this point, but if you enjoy being played against each other, keep on keeping on. 😉

  5. Once again, I refer to George Layoff’s take on what makes up the Republican “mind”. They are straight-up concrete “thinkers” who insist that the male is the head of the household, that Jesus Christ is his personal savior and that EVERYONE should be only interested in the well-being of the family unit. Oh, and all of that is based on white supremacy. As Sheila pointed out this morning, Republicans are against ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING that benefits society in general.

    It’s clear that Republicans don’t want black and brown people to be part of our assemblage of democracy. It’s also clear that Republican politicians are nakedly beholden to the corporate/banking money that promotes and produces their wall-to-wall concrete propaganda. Guns? Of course. You’ll hear Republicans wailing about how “those people” are out to kill innocent white people and children, but the funny thing is that it is the WHITE LUNATICS who buy and use the guns against school children. Oh. And it’s the white children and adults that purchase and use over 50% of the illicit drugs, an $11 billion industry.

    Maybe Republicans should consider fentanyl as the next cryptocurrency. Heck, it’ll kill all of those poor, brown people and won’t that be a good thing? Good grief, but Republicans have mental problems. It’s not just the politics. It’s their very view of society…any society that allows people to vote.

  6. We need to make it clear that we expect people to get vaccinated by putting a surcharge on health insurance. Start at 10% and go up every 6 months until the anti-vaxxers see a real cost for themselves. Waiting for them to die or to kill their families and friends doesn’t seem to work.

  7. Rugged individualism and personal responsibility is an idea promoted by the very rich through their myriad propaganda outlets. Social programs interfere with their accumulation of more and more wealth. They just don’t want to pay more in taxes to help other folks unless they see an absolute need. Very little short of war or massive economic disruption of a major depression will change their minds and then the change only lasts one generation.

  8. It should be clear at this point that many on the MAGA train are already living in “Hobbe’s dystopian state of nature”. Mask less and unvaccinated they bury their comrades who died because of group stupidity and their psychological problems with authority. Others of their ilk gather at the boarders to rant and rave over the efforts of governments to keep them alive. I say we should grant their wishes and remove all mandates and rules so that they can wander off into the diesel exhaust fumes of what is left of their lives.

  9. Anti-social policies seem to be at the core of Republican group think, but as I have mentioned before, selling the ideal of the rugged self sufficient pioneer American spirit is an easy pitch for many sort sighted people. This is especially true after Republicans have sold them the idea that government is the problem and can’t help them. The end result is that friction and fear build up in a not so smoothly functioning society creating a self fulfilling prophecy that unscrupulous politicians can use to win votes.

    It seems we are getting towards the end of the Ronald Reagan’s long con, and I frankly don’t see what the end game is going to be. Immigration to New Zealand or Australia keeps looking better all of the time.

  10. If I am gonna shoot up a school and I know teachers are armed, guess who gets the first bullets? Need more clews?

  11. I want to quibble about the word “confuse”. This makes it seem like the GOP accidentally misuses socialism, when it’s clearly purposeful. It’s propaganda: create ill-will towards socialism; towards CRT; towards LGBTQ people; towards minorities; towards immigration; etc. They are relentless in their propaganda because it works. I’m convinced most politicians (not all, some really are that dumb; I’m thinking of you Louie) know exactly what people like Bernie Sanders mean with their use of “socialist” and “socialism.” That doesn’t matter; lying in support of their goals is a promoted part of their worldview. (See Christianity.)

    A few blogs back, Sheila discussed House Bill 1040, which begins: “Socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are incompatible with…” Notice that socialism is listed first on purpose, to be most noticeable, to reinforce the FUD, reinforce the propaganda. Notice the corollary: fascism didn’t warrant being directly named? I’m sure that was purposeful, as well, as that system most matches the one they *really* want.

    The antisocial behaviours of the right are as horribly destructive as they are frustratingly effective.

  12. John S’s reference to Truman’s well taken point is saying it all in a short sentence.
    Black and white thinking, in its concrete form, adhering to outmoded views of male dominance supported in so much of the bible,
    is their thing.

  13. To me socialism is paying attention to shared infrastructure. Every individual, family, and institution in the country requires and uses both hardware (stuff) and software (people) everyday for just about every thing.

    Building it all, and maintaining it is table stakes for being a country. So is continuously adapting all of it to changing times.

    The consequences of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) will be the greatest test yet of our ability to manage our infrastructure as over the next century, time and place will undergo significant changes over the entire spectrum of environment.

    What we own individually and jointly will be challenged by historically unusual weather and conditions like water supply to the point that our ability to do will no longer be directed and our individual comfort but to our collective survival.

    It will be a test of society on par with WWII but over a much longer period. This time we will be fighting not each other, but the consequences of past behavior, like a lung cancer patient with a long history of smoking.

  14. Soci, Socio;

    Social, society, socialism, socialist, socioeconomics,

    Socius (Latin) or Soci, means friend or companion. Also, a group of people. Those that have similar leanings or desires such as freedom.

    Related to the word associate, or association. A group of citizens, working towards a common goal. A synonym for citizen is Freeman.

    Russia is not socialist, Russia is not communist, Russia is fascist! China is not communist, China is not socialist, China is fascist! Right wing Evangelical nationalists are not communist, they are not socialist, they are fascist!

  15. Maybe if we label them “anti-socials”…..that might counter their labeling “socialists”….might have a greater impact. Since “they” are using labels in media, why not try their tactics?

  16. Was Christ a socialist?

    Christ was Apolitical, Christ ran away when the Jews tried to make him a king. He mentioned that his power was not from man’s source, that he received his power from his father.

    He told the wealthy to sell their possessions and distribute them amongst the poor. That usually was a sticking point for the wealthy. He also said that everyone was equal in the eyes of his father. So as socialism is defined by the right, this would mean Christ, the one who the right wing evangelicals hold in such high regard, practiced socialistic tendencies.

    Take care of the widows and orphans, respect the foreign resident, feed the poor. Love your neighbor. WOW!

    Isn’t that a conundrum!

  17. Peggy Hannon:”We need to make it clear that we expect people to get vaccinated by putting a surcharge on health insurance. Start at 10% and go up every 6 months until the anti-vaxxers see a real cost for themselves. Waiting for them to die or to kill their families and friends doesn’t seem to work.”

    Most of those sceptical of vaccinations seem to be of Latino and Black-American ethnicity. I guess you’re looking to bring forth another and very fatal new era of Jim Crow.

    At least we now know where “Liberals” really stand today.

  18. The critical emphasis should be more on the “constant attacks on essential government functions”. Republicans have pushed the narrative that the government, especially public schools, are full of lazy, incompetent people more interested in a paycheck than actually working. I’ve heard: “Nobody in government works” so many times my brain freezes at the thought. Republicans attack the public schools everyday, especially when state legislatures are in session. They fund charter and private schools. They don’t provide adequate budgets. Now they are trying to stifle speech and truth with the attacks on CRT i.e. fine and fire teachers who even discuss certain vaguely defined subjects. Once people are convinced government is incompetent, support for essential government functions evaporates. Republicans are winning this battle to demean public servants. I close with a question for John S: How many people have died from the simple act of getting vaccinated and where is the proof?

  19. So socialism is all bad? Then how come we have sewers, libraries, police and fire protection, roads, social security, and a host of other socialistic devices we have had to concoct because capitalists aren’t interested in providing them inasmuch as there is no pecuniary profit to be derived from such provision? We already have gobs of socialism in an admixture with our profit-making ventures in what has long been rightly known as “a mixed economy.”

    We subsidize the corporate world with our property taxes to educate future corporate workers at no cost to such welfare recipients. We provide soldiers and defense dollars to protect corporate properties both domestically and world-wide. We provide and pay for highways, basic research, patent and copyright protection, a legal system, and many other rights associated with intellectual as well as tangible property rights, and at the end of the day these corporate welfare recipients complain of socialism.

    They are right, but they are the beneficiaries of such socialism, not the victims. Ordinary taxpayers are the victims. Indeed without such “socialistic” endeavors the corporate world would soon collapse. The old saw is correct, i.e., we have socialism for the rich and corporate class and brutal capitalism for the rest of us.

    To do: Elect candidates who will require these freeloaders to help the rest of us out with the tax load. Why should our budget take us into deficits for our grandchildren to pay when the rich and corporate class live in luxury while whining about “high taxes” and “socialism?” Answer: This shouldn’t be happening, and it isn’t in certain advanced countries around the world, whose systems we could learn much from and possibly emulate.

  20. Sheila – Koch’s The Federalist Society refers to this conservative viewpoint: “reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”

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