Friday, October 16, 2015

Stephen W. Browne on Socialism

Did you ever think about the actual definition of socialism?  Trouble is, there are several. The one I learned is "government ownership of the means of production and distribution." So when you talk about Sweden and such places as "socialist," it's misleading. What Sweden has is basically capitalism with a lot of social welfare paid for by taxes. You can argue about the wisdom of all that social welfare, but just dismissing it as socialism is misleading and unhelpful.

Because the actual socialist countries are what we usually call communist countries, and most of those, over the years, actually permitted small-scale private ownership of the means of production and distribution, so everybody wouldn't actually starve to death. This was the point of Lenin's NEP [link] (much more practical than the NAP [link]), or New Economic Policy, to allow some capitalism to take place, at least enough to finance the communism and keep people fed and clothed.

And, it should be pointed out, in European history, very frequently the term "socialist" really meant various other things, usually anti-monarchist or nationalist, or what an American would call "populist."

But as social justice warriors in America use it, they definitely mean government takeover of virtually all economic activity, which they think will make everybody happy and require no bad stuff. Stephen W. Browne sees things differently, and with good reason. This is from his blog at

Democratic Socialism

by Stephen W. Browne

I got into an online discussion the other day, slammed someone down hard, felt first smug, then kind of bad.
Well I guess I started it. Vis-à-vis Bernie Sanders presidential campaign I said, “Socialists hate corporations so much they want to turn the whole country into one big corporation.”
Someone replied that though some socialists favor central planning, not all do.
Then he said, “Look it up, I know research is hard.”
So I let him have it.
“I lived in several countries in Eastern Europe 1991-2004. I was elected Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights in 1997. I’ve smuggled cash to support families of imprisoned dissidents in Belarus. I know what jackboots and rubber truncheons applied to tender places feels like. I don’t know how much more research I can stand.”
I was expecting a huffing and puffing reply, and prepared to uplift the virtual finger, when to my surprise he apologized for the snark and said he sincerely appreciated the good I’d done.
“We American socialists” want nice stuff for everybody without all the nasty stuff that’s been associated with some socialist regimes abroad he said.
OK, point taken. I’ve been preaching and trying real hard to practice civility in public discourse. Because I think we’re getting dangerously uncivil. As in nearing the point of “the heck with it just shoot ‘em” uncivil.
“Please forgive me if I seem impatient,” I replied. “But do you imagine I’ve never heard this before? Do you think nobody in the old Soviet Union ever said, ‘Why can’t we have socialism but free speech and be nice to people too?’ Socialism doesn’t work and can’t be made to work. The best socialism is like a big corporation, the worst is hell on earth.”
I’ve had this conversation so many times over my adult life and it just seems to go round in circles. What’s wrong with this noble sounding ideal?
Because it does sound good. Take care of everybody. Make sure everybody has a good job, a decent place to live, health care, and a comfortable retirement.
Don’t we all want that?
Sure do, but how to go about it?
The simplest solution seems to be to let the government take care of everything. Take our taxes and do all that nice stuff. After all, the body has a brain that makes decisions. Isn’t the government the brain of society?
For people who don’t find that analogy creepy, let me point out something.
This thing we call “the market” is not a real thing. It’s the name we give to the uncountable number of decisions we all make every day.
Am I going to get up and go to work or slack off? Am I going to brush my teeth and shave? What tooth paste, shaving cream and razor do I want to buy?
And that’s just the first five minutes after waking up.
I’ve heard socialists like Bernie Sanders argue; sure we need soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. But do we need so many companies making so many brands? Isn’t that wasteful?
Economists can explain why it’s not. But to me socialism, whether it’s the mild kind that tries to make the economy jump through hoops to the not-so-nice kind that made National Socialist Germany or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics so unpleasant, is all about taking those choices and concentrating them in fewer and fewer hands.
Lately it’s been about health insurance. “We don’t like your plan, here’s another.”
Maybe theirs is better, maybe not. Point is, it’s not your decision anymore.
Obviously some things can’t be left to your decision. You don’t get to make up your mind which side of the road to drive.
And obviously people make lots of bad choices. That’s why there’s a liquor and heroin industry.
So do you think it’s better a few people make the important choices for everybody else?
Now that socialism is respectable again, that’s the question they need to answer.


  1. I know a Russian Jew who said socialism was "based on love" but did everything in his power to not get deported back to where he came from. He wanted to stay in the U.S.

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  3. National Socialist Germany was not an unpleasant place, especially for Germans. It was in fact the most popular and pleasant place in Europe until the communists and the capitalists teamed up to destroy it.

  4. Bob, your Russian Jew clearly knew where the suckers lived.

  5. "Obviously some things can’t be left to your decision. You don’t get to make up your mind which side of the road to drive"

    Yea I get that but I seem to have a problem with people not knowing which side of the sidewalk they need to walk on.

  6. "Bob, your Russian Jew clearly knew where the suckers lived."

    He's a drug addict, a sex pervert, and a liar, coward and thief. Gee...that sounds really familiar...

  7. Without Nationalism, socialism is just a thug with an army paid for by rich international bankers. Look at those newsreels of Hitler. Those people in Germany are happy, not hypnotized. They have food and a good well-paying job, while suckers in America are standing in lines at soup kitchens. Capitalism is great for capitalists, for everyone else, not so much.

  8. What is market socialism?