Monday, November 28, 2011

Is It Right To Call Obama a Marxist?

Liberals love to throw around the word "fascist," so much so that it retains all the impact of calling someone a "poopy head." I've always found the word a peculiar epithet for liberals to adore, as fascists believed in top down, government-led control of the economy. If fact, the word "Nazi" stands for National Socialist Party. As economic systems, the only difference between fascism and true socialism is that fascists would allow for private ownership of industry - as long as the politicians called all the shots. Industrialists were allowed to enrich themselves as puppets of the state.

Socialism, fascism,'s all splitting hairs. Socialism is nothing but communism light, with free elections, some tenuous property rights, and less cult of the state. Fascism has the tenuous property rights of socialism but also the cult of state of communism. But ALL believe in centralized control of the economy, with government consuming inordinately large chunks of a society's economic output.

There, I just cut through the confused clutter of a thousand poli sci classes.

Conservatives, of course, like to do their own name calling, with "socialist" and "Marxist" being their favorite zingers. And while these terms are often applied too loosely, they are at least generally applied to those who believe in large and dominant central governments, so unlike the liberal use of "fascist," at least conservatives are getting their insults right.

And often, it's not an insult, it's just a statement of fact. Words like "socialist" actually mean something, they're not just vague putdowns. To be precise, someone who believes an economy should be controlled by a dominant centralized government must be one the big three: socialist, communist, or fascist. I know of no other model for big government. If one of my readers does, please inform us. Liberal is not a model, for the record, it's a characterization, mostly for those who believe in the socialist model. And for those who are going to write me and say, "theocracy," I would argue that economically, these are socialist societies. With a sharia twist, perhaps, but socialist still.

So, I ask you for a moment to separate all these words from the silly insults they have become. No one, outside of the comical characters of the Occupy movement, likes to be called a socialist, because the word has been sullied. Same with the others, fascism and communism. All three have become epithets. This happens sometimes when a concept becomes thoroughly discredited by history. It's kind of like how liberals everywhere now call themselves "progressives," even though there's not a whit’s difference between the two. "Liberal" doesn't poll well anymore. 

So, if we were going to describe President Obama - as opposed to insulting him - what label best applies? I think we can safely rule out labels like "capitalist" and "libertarian." Clearly, Obama is a big government guy, so he must be one of the three, but which? As I said, as economic models the differences between the systems are not enormous, but there are a few.

A thought experiment is sometimes helpful in these exercises. A few weeks ago, I asked Naked Dollar readers to imagine Steve Jobs in a different time and place. My thinking was that the results would not have been quite so glorious (you can read it here).

Let's reverse the game. Let's take a historical figure, Lenin, and place him in modern America. What would be the result? I pick Lenin because more than any, he was responsible for the implementation of communism. Marx was an isolated theorist holed up in the British Library. Lenin was a man of action.

Well, let's start with what Lenin wouldn't be doing today: leading an armed revolt to assume power. This strategy is only effective when you are revolting against a tyrannical and corrupt power like the tzars or Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. So how to achieve Marxist ends within a benign democracy, where there are no trodden masses to support a revolt?

The answer is from within the system, for unlike 1917 Russia or 1958 Cuba, our system allows anyone to accumulate power if they play their cards right. In the U.S., growing government power is a game best played slowly, but also faster when the opportunities present. Lenin would have understood this. Do it in a way that few notice what's being imposed on them, like the proverbial frog in pot of water that slowly boils. You boil to death before you realize there's a problem.

In short, the entire liberal movement has operated by this playbook for the last 70 years, to great effect. Obama is merely the movement's apotheosis. So, intellectually, it's safe to call Obama either a socialist or a communist. The constructs of these ideologies are what he believes to his core.

But what about in practice? Communist? Sorry, no. I don't doubt Obama would like very much to rule without the inconvenience of Congress, the Supreme Court, or even voters. In a rare moment when he allowed a thought bubble to escape, he professed envy on the Chinese leadership that could just do whatever it wanted, without messy democratic constraints. But the fact is he can't, so we can't call him anything more than a communist wanna-be.

Socialist, perhaps? This is certainly closer to the mark, and Obama is especially animated by the class warfare aesthetic that adorns socialist movements everywhere. But socialists, like communists, want the government to own the means of production, particularly the biggies like banks, airlines, car companies, and so on. (Communists, on the other hand, want all those and the corner deli, too.) Interestingly, we haven't seen Obama, even in the midst of crisis, move to take over any industries. He merely wishes to control them. His levers of power are Obamacare, Dodd Frank, the EPA, and so forth. Not textbook socialism.

Which brings us to fascism. Obama certainly doesn't embrace any of the weird eugenics of fascists-past, nor is he quite so militaristic, so labeling him a fascist wouldn't be entirely accurate. But we are discussing economic models here, and, ironically, fascism may be closer to the mark than the others. Obama is willing to allow the appearance of private property but the reality is that an army of technocrats set the rules. Call it socialism by fiat.

Or perhaps we should call it Obama-ism, because anything so incredibly destructive probably deserves its very own ism.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Occupy Wall Street DOES Way In on B-Ball Strike, but...

You can't make this up.

In my previous post, I asked why OWS wasn't protesting against rich basketball players who earn an average of $5.5 million, but are striking for more.

Well, it turns out the OWS crowd has weighed in after all - on the side of the players. Being in the top 0.01% isn't enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - Selective Outrage

The average person on Wall Street makes $300,000 per year. Nice, but not enough to put you in the top 1%. That takes $350,000. (Note, by the way, that you do not live like a rich person in New York on $300,000, either.)

The average NBA player, on the other hand, makes $5 million a year. This isn't just top 1%, it's maybe top 0.1%. And yet, they are on strike for more. That doesn't qualify as wild-ass greed? Shouldn't the OWS crowd be chanting and protesting outside the gates of their mansions? Shouldn't Obama be calling them out?

Also, by delaying the start of the season, they are depriving scores of everyday folk from earning a living: the hot dog vendors, the ticket takers, maintenance men, etc. 99 percenters all. Where's the outrage?

I suspect the NBA is exempt since:
  1. They are unionized (even if they are the richest union in the world)
  2. They play a sport officially liked by Barack Obama
  3. They aren't known to vote Republican
  4. They are largely minority, rendering them untouchable
As I ponder also why OWS has not encamped outside George Clooney's house, I note that 1, 2, and 3 also apply.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We're All Lucky Jobs Was Born in America

Like anyone, I love Apple products, and I agree that Steve Jobs is the Henry Ford/Walt Disney of our age. A corporate and a cultural hero. knew there was a "but" coming, right?

BUT. He was other things as well, like a complete tyrant. A belittling, abusive monster around the office and in his personal relationships. Not a nice guy.

What to make of this? Does all the adulation deserve an asterisk? My Psych 101 prof would have called it cognitive dissonance.

It was after I read the one thousandth fawning hagiography of Jobs that I recalled an op-ed piece I happened upon six or seven years ago. I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I found it an instructive way to view this. The thrust of it was this:

What a great country we live in that we can harness the incredible talents of a man like Jobs for the maximum possible social utility. If Jobs had lived in another time and place, 1930s Soviet Union, say, his talents might have been harvested in far different ways. Like organizing the gulags more efficiently. Or figuring out how to better terrorize the Kulaks.

You see, a man with talents as outsized as Jobs was not going to live a life of obscurity, no matter what circumstances of his birth.  Steve Jobs, tyrant, lived a life of greatness thanks to the greatness of the system in which he lived. And while free market capitalism made Jobs rich, it created orders of magnitude more wealth for society in general, not to mention all the fun.

One wonders about the "what ifs" of those born to less fortunate political systems. What might Irwin Rommel have accomplished in America? Leni Riefenstahl? Or even, if I may be so provacative, a Josef Stalin? If you plucked Stalin from the USSR and gave him a life in, say, New York today, what might happen? He wouldn't kill millions, to be sure, and he likely wouldn't be lovable, but what would he accomplish? Something great? We'll never know.

Steve, nice or not, RIP.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy This (Boston)

So, a Naked Dollar reader was inspired by the last post to go visit the "Occupy" protest in Boston and report back. We'll call him "Charlie," since his name is Charlie.

Here's the scene...

Charlie said virtually no one was in any of the tents, but hey, it was a nice day...

And some pretty tasty food was being served...

A close up...

This made it fairly easy to count the number of people who were actually there. Charlie says this picture includes just about all of them...

I count about 20. But busy, busy. Things to do, free food to eat. First up, some consciousness raising. Somebody important to listen to. Meet CT Butler...

CT's big thing is "consensus," which is kind of funny because the Occupy folks don't seem to agree on a whole lot, other than they are generally pissed and they want more free stuff. Perhaps CT is building consensus in this picture? It could be, since his bio says he's built consensus in other places like  "Eco-villages, anarchist networks, Native American tribes, and covens." What do you suppose the coven agreed upon? What to wear for Halloween?

The first line of CT's bio reads that CT has, "lived an alternative lifesytle (sic) since he left college at the end of the Vietnam War." Wonder how much in taxes he has contributed in all that time? Achh, what am I saying. Taxes are for the unenlightened. The grubbers. CT also spent some time as Chair of the "Cambridge Peace Committee." Also, his button has a panda on it, so he must like pandas.

Just in case you think I'm making any of this up, here's CT's website:

Charlie listened to CT  for a while and said he didn't really make a lot of sense and was actually kind of boring, which may account for why the guy in the yellow hat looks like he's sawing lumber.

So who was else was hangin'? Let's meet some folks, like this gal...

Dreadlocks are perfect for long camp outs because they're not actually meant to be washed. This next guy has a lot of flair on his hat...

Wish I could make out what they all say. And then there's this guy...

Maybe we'll let him just speak for himself.

So, Charlie's son goes to Andover. He tells me that Andover actually rents buses for it's students to go down and seek enlightenment at Occupy Boston. That's right, screw Chaucer and Shakespeare. We've got CT Butler!

Interestingly, Charlie had almost the same reaction to Boston that I had to New York. We were both amazed how few people are actually involved. You won't see that in the media. But we both also went girded for a fight, ready to take on any and all unreasoned arguments. What we found instead was a handful of pathetic lost souls, nothing worth fighting at all.