Monday, February 28, 2011

Well THAT sounds familiar!

"Whether it was a question of the right of petition or the tax on wine, freedom of the press or free trade, the clubs or the municipal charter, protection of personal liberty or regulation of the state budget, the watchword constantly recurs, the theme remains always the same, the verdict is ever ready and invariably reads: “Socialism!” Even bourgeois liberalism is declared socialistic, bourgeois enlightenment socialistic, bourgeois financial reform socialistic. It was socialistic to build a railway where a canal already existed, and it was socialistic to defend oneself with a cane when one was attacked with a rapier."

- Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (HT Matt Yglesias)


  1. But it's the exact same with liberalism as well!

    Have you ever heard anybody use the word "neoliberalism"? Radicals use it to label anything they do not like.

    Campaign financing is neoliberalism. Increase in state pension premium is neoliberalism. Implementing a sales tax is neoliberalism. Ad nauseum.

    Typically, the radicals who use such words tend to refer to what they perceive as "Washington Consensus capitalism" and the push for greater commerce in the Third World. And yet, when they refer to problems in getting a business registered or a long period in getting property registered, they will also call that neoliberalism. Why, any hindrance to expanding capitalist institutions is also neoliberalism!

    Someone once joked, "Neoliberalism is a word made up by neo-Marxists (see what I did there) to refer to anything outside their ideological spectrum", including ideas of other people who use words like neoliberalism. Joseph Stiglitz uses neoliberalism to angrily refer to his former bosses at World Bank, but many like Ha Joon Chang will call Stiglitz a neoliberal for supporting free trade.

    Some people explain the word to me as only meaning libertarian. But it is also used to describe Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Clinton and Obama were closet libertarians? Really?

    On the other hand, conservatives, just like anarchists and communists, will refer to anything they don't like as liberalism, as we see in the case of American TV talking heads.

    May I propose that "liberalism" is the new "socialism"?

  2. Prateek -
    Certainly! I and my type are generally accused of being both socialists and neoliberals!

    Stiglitz is an interesting case. If "Washington Consensus" is to mean anything, he's probably defined it in the most useful way (I'm thinking of his book "The Roaring Nineties"). Whether is critique is fair or not and whether it is even accurate or not is a different question, of course. Ken Rogoff has had some good responses to those critiques. But he probably uses one of the more taxonomically useful versions of "neoliberalism" floating around out there.

    If you think the accusation of choice for American conservatives is "liberal", you have not been keeping up with our bickering! That's why I posted this in the first place :)

  3. Oh sure sure, the Obama medical care reforms were labelled "socialism" from what I vaguely gathered. This led to jokes about socialized fire care and socialized police force in other countries. Some Belgium and Dutch message board posters cracked jokes about supposed American paranoia about any government action (but they seemed to underestimate how radical those reforms were).

    But back to your original point, every group thinks it occupies a particular place in all politics. And every group other than them is some single lumped-in opposition.

    For Fourth International socialists, both communism and capitalism are the exact same evil and thus come under "authoritarians". For self-styled moderates and centrists too, because the Soviet model and Western model were opposites, they must both be too extreme, and this leads to some nonsensical reasoning that capitalism is bad because the Soviet Union was a failure. (Stiglitz occasionally alludes to a possible capitalist equivalent of a 1989 Soviet downfall)

  4. Obamacare is socialism in that advocates the further ownership (either literally or as a consequence of regulation) of the means of production by the state (or the community) of health care. The Obama administration did not start us down that path, but it pushed things along quite a bit.

    "This led to jokes about socialized fire care and socialized police force in other countries."

    Not quite sure why they were jokes; that is what most communities have (unfortunately).

    Here is an example of a socialized police force:

  5. Gary, it's not socialism, but more of corporatism ,which I agree with you, has been around long before Obama. What Is American Corporatism? If it simply defined as a consequence of regulation by the state , then the nation's founders set us down that road by ratifying the Commerce Clause.


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