Gaski: Buttigieg’s New Socialism

March 29, 2019

“Liberalism is piecemeal socialism, and socialism always attacks three institutions: religion, family and property. Religion, because it offers a rival authority to the State; family, because it means a rival loyalty to the State; property, because it means independence to the State.” — Joe Sobran

PETER BUTTIGIEG’S PROMOTION of socialist policies in his presidential campaign begins by dismissing the concerns of an older generation, one more familiar with the past failures — nay, disasters — of socialism and centralized planning.

The South Bend Mayor lectures if not ridicules as out-of-touch those who would even use the word. And anyway, he claims to be talking about something else entirely. It is a new, improved and sanitized version — “Buttigiegism,” if you will. He is telling a growing following that socialism’s past is not prologue, rather it is irrelevant.

There is no defense against such a line of argument. It is irrational but it works. It creates a pressure point around which concessions can be extracted, especially from members of a political establishment who themselves are uncertain what socialism is about, and who in any case don’t want to be thought of as behind the times.

So the Washington Post was quick to pick up the Buttigieg contention that the word has lost its power to dissuade all but you fuddy-duddies. In fact, socialism is a “myth,” suggests Post columnist Sheri Berman in a March 1 article — five myths, actually.

“Socialism in the United States is prominent in a way it hasn’t been in decades,” says the professor of political science at Barnard College, adding that it is “clouded by many misconceptions.” Berman seeks to correct these misconceptions in a listing of socialist “myths.”

The foundation asked its adjunct Dr. John Gaski, a marketing expert and associate professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, to review her list, addressing each supposed myth in turn. Gaski, a longtime but former South Bend Democrat, replied with the following commentary:

“Myth No. 1 — Socialism is a single coherent ideology.”

Socialism in fact has a single, coherent meaning, whether considered as an ideology or correctly understood as an economic system. It means government ownership or control of the means of production — period. The Post’s debunking is confused because Sheri Berman doesn’t know that. And when she says it is a fair interpretation of socialism that it is merely a system to harness capitalism, she is incoherent. Socialism is incompatible by definition with capitalism’s private, decentralized control of productive assets.

“Myth No. 2 — Socialism and democracy are incompatible.”

They certainly are incompatible. That is why they never occur together for long. Democracy and capitalism both reflect and require decentralized political and economic power, respectively, which is anathema to the economic dictatorship of socialism and also the repression of political dictatorship. China is actually attempting the contrary: Mixing oil and water by combining a dose of capitalist economics with a communist party dictatorship. We will see how that turns out. “Socialist . . . parties became mainstays of democratic systems in Europe,” the Post says. Sure — until they take power. The socialist international movement has always said it would ultimately gain control in the United States through the electoral process and the Democrat Party. Another poignant reality: Socialism requires dictatorship because an electorate will never choose voluntarily the devastating hardships the socialist system imposes and requires.

“Myth No. 3 — All socialists want to abolish markets and private property.”

Berman is self-contradictory in asserting that socialists do not necessarily want to abolish markets and private property while admitting that they want to do exactly that “over the long run.” Termination of the free market and private property is the socialists aspiration if they know what the word means. Berman, of course, is serially incoherent as she continues to use the oxymoron “democratic socialist.” And because a self-styled socialist proposes operating huge government programs within a capitalist system does not mean that socialists prefer to operate that way — just more Post illogic.

“Myth No. 4 — When socialism is tried, it collapses.”

“Socialism has not always failed; just look at Western Europe,” Berman says. That is false. Socialism has failed all over the world every time it has been applied. The so-called socialist countries or “social democracies” of Western Europe are not socialist at all. They are capitalist countries with large government sectors, some accounting for over 50 percent of GDP. Yet even in those societies, the private sector produces virtually all the national wealth, which government blithely siphons off. Their long-term economic stagnation is no accident.

“Myth No. 5 — Socialism offers a ready-made solution to numerous current problems.”

Socialism does not offer a panacea for all or most of our current problems, Berman and others say, suggesting that those who assert otherwise are perpetuating this particular myth. This allows us to end in an area of at least partial agreement: The problem is not whether socialism tries to offer answers to everything economic and social, it is that its answers always fail (go back to Myth No. 4).


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