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Comments on: A Long Response to a Short Tweet About Obama’s Speech to Schoolchildren http://www.oshane.com/2009/09/obamas-speech-to-schoolchildren/ Continuously opining, intermittently publishing. Thu, 19 Aug 2021 23:20:11 +0000 hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.24 By: O.Shane http://www.oshane.com/2009/09/obamas-speech-to-schoolchildren/comment-page-1/#comment-275 Sun, 18 Oct 2009 05:54:20 +0000 http://www.oshane.com/wp/?p=180#comment-275 Brian, I apologize for taking so long to respond, but I liked your question and its attendant thoughtfulness.

Americans have traditionally had strident reactions against the concept of Socialism, because Communism (the more extreme version) arose at about the time that the United States was affirming industrial capitalism both culturally and legally.

There were a string of cases in the late 19th century and early 20th century at the Supreme Court that affirmed the Freedom to Contract and continued to do so more fervently after the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Bolsheviks, for their belief that wealth should be violently transferred to ensure ‘equality,’ struck us as, well, the morally equivalent to pillaging, looting and theft.

Culturally speaking, Americans have always been more strongly independent economically speaking. Yes, we participated in mercantilistic trading (mercantilism is the reliance on government sanction and protection of certain industries) to some extent. But by and large, even the meekest of citizens could buy and sell and make a profit if they wanted without incurring much taxation at all. There were exceptions, but those exceptions, notably, served as the predicate to the vast majority of our political crises up through the Civil War.

When New England’s trade was harmed by Jefferson’s decision to blockade the United States to protect their ships from the Barbary Pirates, New England threatened secession. Later, the forty years predating the Civil War were marked by a series of significant political disputes over taxation and protectionary tariffs.

The English in England, even when irritated by taxes, did not rise up against the King. It was the American colonists, a different breed, who felt that most of the money that they earned should be theirs to keep, who rose up. The American Revolution was fought over taxes.

Taxes, by their nature, are always distributive. For some, the benefits may turn out to be a wash, but by and large, most people who are taxed do not ever see benefits totaling a 100% equivalent of what was taken. For this reason, and for philosophical notions of independence – that man should be independent, largely, from government, Americans have historically looked at taxation with a healthy amount of suspicion.

Compulsory socialism, by its nature, is concomitant with greater taxation. It denies the worth and the right of the individual to live unfettered and free, because socialism demands a substantial portion of one’s labor to be given to others.

Since 1937, however, our anathema toward socialism has largely been in name and degree only. Since the Supreme Court in that year began upholding the constitutionality of more federal programs for which there are no clauses in the Constitution, the federal government has expanded rapidly, and has increased the amount of money it takes from Americans in order to fund and redistribute.

The United States takes a great deal of everyone’s money in the form of income and related taxes, though certainly not as much as is taken by other European countries or Canada. Still, we give lip service to the notion that socialism is bad, but Americans fought a revolution over 3 and 4% taxes. Now we incur 35% income taxes + state income taxes + social security + Medicare + sales + property and all sorts of other taxes that affect us daily.

The real difference between European governmental spending and American governmental spending is that the civil law and nationalist governments of Europe are able to tax and spend money far more consistently. That is why residents in the Netherlands receive vacation spending money, taken from prior taxes, deposited into their bank accounts like clockwork. American government (again, since 1937) is driven by political pluralism and election cycles. Spending cannot change too drastically, else representatives and senators are voted out of office, and they are always attuned to pleasing the maximum number of their own constituents most of the time. The conflicts of ideals between various states and regions make for very inconsistent spending policy. Because of that, it still doesn’t ‘feel’ socialist from a benefits perspective, because benefits are given out by government in a haphazard manner under inconsistent and conflicting programs. Democratic pluralism in our federal system almost ensures that we have a dizzying array of grotesquely incongruent spending programs.

It is, thus, easy for us to believe that we do not live under socialism, since most do not receive money from the government. Even social security recipients see the money as theirs because they ‘worked for it’ and paid into the system. There is a view of the system that is markedly American, because even though the notion of being taxed to later receive benefits is socialism, most of us believe the idea that we individually deserve what we receive, because it was ours to begin with, because we originally earned it (even if most do not realize that the amounts they receive have no real relationship to what they previously earned).

We have been living under a de facto socialism for decades, tempered only in some cases by jurisdictional federalism (a Californian’s state income tax will not fund anyone outside California, for example). Still, however, politicians invoke the specter of socialism when they want support from constituents against this bill or that bill, but who will readily spend (and thereby tax) in other areas. So I agree with you, socialism is largely partisan rhetoric, or rather, bipartisan rhetoric, since there is little fiscal difference between either major party in the United States. Both are willing to tax (or print-cum-inflate) and spend, the key differences are the targets of the spending.


By: Brian R http://www.oshane.com/2009/09/obamas-speech-to-schoolchildren/comment-page-1/#comment-218 Thu, 10 Sep 2009 05:47:06 +0000 http://www.oshane.com/wp/?p=180#comment-218 Thanks, O.Shane, for posting this thoughtful response.

Now will you write a post explaining why everyone freaks out at the merest hint of the ‘S’ word? I am always leery when opponents to an idea (or speech or whatever) dismiss it with little more than one word. I am admittedly not well educated on the subject of Socialism and the USA’s (or the Republicans’) seemingly unthinking rejection of anything remotely resembling Socialism and would benefit from a primer from a thoughtful American’s point of view.

As I see it, ‘Socialism’, at least in the way it is used in the media and in partisan rhetoric, is no longer a helpful term. It is so taboo, so caricatured, so charged with vague affiliations with amorphous, unquestioned badness, that it becomes a sort of trump card that sweeps away any thoughtful, nuanced discussion.

Politically, Obama can’t afford to admit how Socialist his leanings are, but in my imagined ideal world he could say, “So what? Maybe I do subscribe to some Socialist ideas. Let’s talk about why that is or is not a bad thing.” But of course that’s asking too much. It’s easier to appeal to the arational and irrational sides of human beings. Not to mention it would take too long.

So what say you? Care to enlighten a politically undereducated resident alien?

By: chevas http://www.oshane.com/2009/09/obamas-speech-to-schoolchildren/comment-page-1/#comment-217 Wed, 09 Sep 2009 03:44:35 +0000 http://www.oshane.com/wp/?p=180#comment-217 I got owned. GJ O.

My brother schools me on why the Obama speech actually does relay socialist undertones: http://www.oshane.com/wp/