The bogeyman of socialism

“[H]ere’s what Republicans are failing to realize. As families suffer and Americans die because the Trump administration refused to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to sell the idea that we need less government. In a pandemic — must it even be said? — competent government is essential.

“And yet the notion that Democrats are taking this country down a scary path — to socialism or perhaps hell — continues to resonate with conservatives.”

My own take is that the word socialism has too many meanings and causes more confusion than enlightenment such that we would be better off if we simply dropped the word from our discourse.

As Americans die because the Trump administration refused to lead during the pandemic, it's hard to sell the idea that we need less government.

2 thoughts on “The bogeyman of socialism

  1. Yes, there’s a vast amount of bullshit being slung. But buried in it is a real phenomenon, which is that a lot of voters — probably around half — really do not want to see government as what solves their problems. That’s not so common here in Massachusetts, but of course, this is one of the bluest states. I had a friend who came from Montana, and his relatives really did try to avoid accepting government money unless they really needed it to survive, even unemployment compensation (which most people conceptualize as “something they’ve already paid for”).

    My undergraduate college sponsors an annual poll on some interesting topic, which of course they boast about. The college is quite liberal, so they didn’t publicize that when the polled Americans for what they thought the necessary characteristics were for “being an American”, that “Taking care of yourself” polled significantly higher than “Speaking English”. Given American chauvinism, that’s significant.

    Remember that Reagan got 58% of the popular vote, more than anyone since, and his schtick (if not his reality) was that “government is the problem” and there ought to be less of it. So I’d say the evidence is that it’s quite easy to sell the idea of less government. Now it does seem that people really do want the government to save their asses when things get ugly. But I suspect the distinction is that people aren’t so interested in the government promising to solve other people’s problems.

  2. Though there’s great ironical humor underneath the subject: Nobody classifies Social Security and Medicare as “socialism”, despite that they are the largest (and most redistributive) parts of the welfare state. And those are the programs that are going to “blow up the budget”, with the current taxes (and all increases that are thought to be politically feasible) nowhere near sufficient to pay for the current promises (and all reductions that are thought to be politically feasible).

    A depressing summary: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-were-right-to-worry-about-the-nations-fiscal-future-but-i-know-when-to-fold-em/2021/01/27/dae752fc-6023-11eb-9061-07abcc1f9229_story.html

    Back in 2011, Megan McArdle gave us a preview: “It’s not that Obama doesn’t know how to fix the problems; I think that like most people in Washington, he understands the broad parameters within which the fixes will be carried out. But he can’t make Congress do it before there’s an actual crisis. And saying all of this is all too likely to trigger the crisis–a crisis he’d much rather would happen during someone else’s presidency. So he tells us what we want to hear: that we need to find a way to fix Social Security without, y’know, changing it in any way.”

    I suppose it’s just barely possible that Biden/Harris will plan ahead for three terms in the White House, calculate that they will have to face the problem some time before 2033, and decide to trigger the crisis ASAP so they don’t have to deal with a worse crisis later. Hmmm, Google says that predictions are the trust funds will be empty in a zone from 2024 to 2035, so maybe they’ll bite the bullet. Of course, there’d be no more effective way for Biden/Harris to not get a full three terms …

    A more pointed version of this is not officially welfare, but promised pensions by states and cities. For a bunch of reasons, in many places, those promises are far higher than than the pension funds and possible taxes can pay. And it’s extremely politically difficult to reduce even pension promises to new hires, because the workforces are unionized. A lot of those will just go bankrupt, like Detroit, but in the mean time, businesses that can will factor in unfunded pension liabilities as likely future taxes and deliberately move to places that have less of them, taking their relatively well-paid workers with them (thus exacerbating the problem in places they leave). Columnist Conor Sen notes that what these places really need is for the federal government to take on their “legacy obligations”, but that is maximally politically difficult.

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