BY MATTHEW HERBERT
I will be uncharacteristically brief today.
My point is simple: we are wasting our breath arguing whether our country should become socialist or not. According to the only definition that matters to the people, we already are socialists.
Our government taxes freely and spends lavishly to fund unaccountable special interests and tells more than the usual amount of lies to disguise the arrangement.
Orwell was one of the first to understand the paradox of supposedly capitalist countries behaving as socialists where it really counted.
Shortly after World War Two, Orwell made the dubious-sounding observation that only socialist countries were capable of winning large wars. What? Hadn’t he been paying attention? Capitalist America, although making the smallest military sacrifice of the Allies, stepped in to win the war with industrial know-how, robust logistics, and, of course, wonder weapons. It was our capital that got the job done. How, I wondered, had Orwell missed that?
It took me years to understand what Orwell really meant and to appreciate that he was right after all.
The Soviets turned the tide against the Nazis by producing the cheap, effective T-34 tank in massive quantities. America produced flashier stuff, such as the P-51 Mustang, a sleek, deadly fighter plane that knocked the Luftwaffe out of the sky and enabled the Red Army to roll to Berlin unmenaced from above. Orwell’s point is that the T-34, the Mustang, and many other similar achievements (not to mention conscriptions) were the outcomes of planned economies in which the government directed industrial production.
(If you are interested in the arcana of this history, see the surprising reasons why Germany lost. Rather than mobilizing its entire industrial base to counter the Allies’ wartime production, Germany under Hitler allowed economic markets to function relatively freely so that the people would not lose access to the “normal” range of consumer goods. As Red Army soldiers rolled through eastern Germany in 1945, they were shocked and enraged to see how comfortably ordinary Germans were still living after five years of war.)
The Cold War enabled us to do what Eisenhower warned we should not–maintain a permanent war footing that would incentivize a planned economy like the one that WWII had forced on us. A few well-placed industrialists grasped clearly that there was too much money to be made in following the same model of production that had won the war. And voila–we had our military industrial complex.
In 1981 President Ronald Reagan would give the MIC permanent political cover by proclaiming that “defense is not a budget item.” In other words, the citizens’ taxes are first to be spent (unaccountably) on anything that can be construed as militarily prudent and only then are spreadsheets drawn up to account for the paltry remainder. People, being stupid and fearful, accepted Reagan’s formula. We would have the world’s most kick-ass military, at any cost.
The result, eventually, was a corporate coup. Large companies heard the people willingly surrender their claim to their own tax dollars and decided these were pretty good conditions for taking over the economy. So they did. They got all the money and the political power to protect it. We got the opioid crisis, gun violence, and the worst schools in the developed world. That’s the price of freedom, though, right? As long as our taxes keep sluicing their way into “defense,” we will bear any burden.
The results have spoken for themselves. Although we call ourselves a capitalist democracy, we resemble in too many ways a socialist oligarchy. A tiny nomenklatura of wealthy insiders plans an economy of weapons, drugs, junk food, low culture, and meaningless “services.” When they make bad bets, such as the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, we hurry our tax dollars to them to bail them out. We love them so.
Today our government has added another feature of (what is widely perceived to be) socialist rule–the acquisition of an official propaganda wing. Now, whenever the worker’s affection for the rich begins to flag, he may tune in to America’s most trusted news network to hear praise of the Dear Leader or, even better, to join in castigating one of our many enemies in a Two Minute Hate.
We are already a socialist country, at least according to the fatuous definition of socialism which the illiterate have entrenched. Rather than quibbling about terms, we should decide whether our socialism will be for us or for the nomenklatura.