Monday, October 27, 2008

Obama's Socialism

Socialism and the Rich

Tibor R. Machan

There has been some silly outrage on the part of his supporters at the claim that Senator Barack Obama may be a socialist. The idea arose after in his exchange with "Joe the Plumber"--and I haven't investigated whether Joe is a plumber--the Democratic presidential hopeful remarked that he supports "spreading the wealth." Socialism is committed, in part, to the idea that all wealth apart from some purely personal stuff (like one's toothbrush) is in fact collective, public property. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote that the first order of business for socialists is the abolition of private property. This notion, by the way, stems from something more basic. That's that there are no human individuals, only social wholes or bodies of which those we take to be individual human beings are, in fact, mere cells. And then, of course, there is no room for private property either, nor to any right to it. Which is why the wealth needs to be spread. It belongs to us all. (Only this poses the problem of which individuals will decide what use will be made of this wealth!) A colleague of mine disputed the view that Senator Obama is advocating socialist measures by observing that Warren Buffet is one of his economic ad visors. This objection assumes that the rich are enemies of socialism, which, of course, is flatly wrong. But it does again reflect a Marxist idea, namely, that of economic determinism: because the rich are surrounded by wealth, they will hold views that are favorable to wealth creation. Only this is flatly contradicted by the plain historical fact that socialism has been supported by many wealthy people. A most notable example is Armand Hammer, an American industrialist who was an avid fan of the Soviet Socialist Republic during Lenin's reign and even Stalin's, if I recall right. And Buffet himself is a great fan of wealth redistribution, which is one reason he supports the death tax that deprives the relatives of wealthy people from making use of this wealth once the original owners dies. (This would make continuing a productive enterprise impossible since the government would take possession of the wealth required for that) Quite a few people who are personally savvy when it comes to running, let alone building, a vast business enterprise haven't much of a clue about what are the soundest principles of political economy. We may say they are micro economically but not macro economically prudent. They are often sentimentalists, apart from running their own firms, and give their wealth to various utopian communities an projects. Sometimes they feel guilty for having wealth in the first place, given how bad the reputation of riches has been from time immemorial. Both in secular philosophers, such as Aristotle's, and a many theological systems, the idea of profit has been denounced as evil, even while poverty is decried as well. One thing though is clear--just because someone is wealthy, it doesn't follow that one will support the system of economic and political principles that most effectively promote wealth creation. Nor is it the case that someone who promotes socialist notions, like Senator Obama is, must do so in every instance, consistently. One can be predominantly socialist but not go all the way, like a Hugo Chavez who will try to silence all of his opponents. Nonetheless, the socialist elements of such a person's outlook can undermine such goals as creating wealth in a society, lifting a poor from their poverty in something close to an ongoing, continuous fashion. When someone sees that Senator Obama has very strong socialist tendencies it doesn't even mean that his opponent, Senator McCain is necessarily a better candidate for president. After all, the continuation of the costly war in the Middle East could just as easily damage the American economy as the adoption of various socialist public policies can. Most people haven't a fully worked out, consistent system of political economic ideas, even when they aspire to be president of the United States of America. It is important, however, for American citizens to learn whether some of their more basic beliefs are likely to lead the country in the direction of a whole impractical and, ultimately, misanthropic political economic era.

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