Dave Koyzis’ comment begins with a quote from my post:
“We as a society decided to use socialist, i.e., collectivist, i.e., public methods of delivering these services because we had seen what happens when the profit motive, so appropriate in other settings, gets in the way of the just/fair/right delivery of these basic services.”
Dave Koyzis’ Comment
Trace, I think your use of socialist here is somewhat misleading. Every society has a legitimate diversity of forms of property ownership in accordance with the diversity of authoritative agents, some of which are individual and others communal. The state has an obligation to protect these various forms of property ownership in accordance with its central jural task of doing public justice. Family, school, business enterprise, labour union, individual persons, governments, &c., &c., all exercise property rights. The various levels of political community (i.e., federal, state/provincial, municipal) exercise their own property rights but on behalf of the community itself. National, state and city parks would be an example of this, but also public libraries, museums (in some cases), monuments, cenotaphs, &c. This is all quite legitimate.
However, the various political ideologies of which I write in my Political Visions and Illusions attempt to level this diversity into a very few forms. Liberal individualists try to reduce every community, including the basic institutions of state, marriage, family and church, into mere voluntary associations. The economic side of this is that liberalism tries to reduce all property ownership to individual ownership, which yields some quirky proposals to privatize prisons, police protection, &c. This is known as libertarianism and is championed by the likes of Hayek, Mises, Rothbard, &c.
Socialism takes a parallel strategy by reducing the legitimate diversity of property ownership to a single form of communal ownership, but without necessarily specifying what this community is. Marx and Engels spoke vaguely of “society,” but this has in effect turned out to be the state in virtually every case. Thus an ideology which promises liberation from the oppressive rule of the owners of capital ends up being even more oppressive by quashing the legitimate diversity of authoritative agents characterizing every healthy society. (This diversity is what Abraham Kuyper meant by sovereignty in its own sphere.)
It seems to me that what you are arguing for is not socialism in this sense but for the state assuming a certain responsibility for what might be called the commons, e.g., public safety, national defence, good roads, and a basic transportation and communications infrastructure. It might be better to reserve socialism for this historic attempt to level societal pluriformity so as not to raise red flags (pun intended) for people familiar with the distorted policies practised by those wearing the socialist label elsewhere. Communal, i.e., state, ownership is a positive good, but not if it becomes the only form of ownership, squeezing out other varieties.
Point taken, Professor Dave. You want to reserve “socialism” for what I have called “state socialism.” I am willing to yield this point but only if we can find other words which help us identify healthy collectivist activities and structures which exist within the U.S. (and Canadian?) economy. After all, we collect money by means of fees, fines and taxes in order to preserve “the commons,” the things, as you point out, which we hold in common. You mention parks and roads as well as public safety. Yet these are the very same common things the control of which is under attack all over the U.S. today by those who claim, erroneously, that government is hopelessly incompetent and corrupt and able to do nothing right. (Although, when they assume power, those same people do seem to prove themselves right about how incompetent and corrupt government can truly be!) These are those who want to privatize parks, schools, roads and public safety on the assumption that everything is done better by private enterprise, unfettered by government regulation. I suspect that our friend Scot is in that libertarian camp.
In the narrow confines of our dialogue I was using (over-using?) “socialism” in contrast to capitalism to suggest that our society long ago decided to do some things collectively because of our experience with how badly those things turned out and how poorly both retributive and distributive justice were served when such “services” were left to the tender mercies of the profit motive.
Much of what is going on today, it seems to me, is but a part of a larger effort by a small group of very wealthy people who already control far too much money(see the article linked by Doug Johnson in his recent comment) and wield far too much power for the health and well-being of republican democracy in the U.S.
Along those very lines a not at all theoretical battle is being fought right now in several U.S. states, beginning with Wisconsin, where zealous governors and legislators, backed by that same super-wealthy elite, are attempting to squash the one tiny sliver of economic democracy we have in the U.S: collective bargaining. I believe God wants his creatures throughout his creation to responsibly choose paths, times and destinations together within various communities for the sake of peace and justice. That cannot mean a world in which a very few people make all the decisions because they own and/or legally control the means of production and/or service. As Gerald Vandezande, former executive director of the Christian Labor Association of Canada (CLAC) used to say, no-one can own a community, not a familial community nor a political community nor an economic community nor a any community of any sort. Ownership or control of a community, a communal set of relationships, amounts to slavery. Owning or controlling the means of production or service does not make a manager nor a governor into an autocrat nor a slave-owner.
No more nor less than gnats, sardines and red deer, human beings need to continually have opportunities to be informed, to guide and to set the course of the communities of which they are a part. In Wisconsin it appears movements to recall the Republican legislators and the governor (who ran as a moderate who was going to work with the Democrats, he said) are well under way. The legislators could be out of office by June as recent polling shows the people of Wisconsin disapprove of the strong-arm tactics of the their leaders by 62 to 34%! Would that we had such a recall provision in my state!
I have written repeatedly that I am aware of the failure of state socialism to serve public justice. I also see the horrors of autocratic systems like fascism wherein the state is fully at the disposal of a nation’s largest industries. What we have increasingly in the U.S., especially since the execrable “Citizen’s United” decision of just over a year ago is the encroachment of a soft fascism, a government of, by and for the twenty or so large corporations which fund the national Chamber of Commerce, by far the largest single contributor now to U.S. elections.
We in the U.S. endured and fought off an attempt on the part of Wall Street to get its hands on Social Security money in the last administration and yet we still see much of the commons being bartered away during this one. One party is in bed with the plutocrats and members of the other have either also prostituted themselves to them or else are too frightened to do anything but look the other way.
Similar situations have existed before in U.S. history — think of the period 130 years ago of the robber barons — however, this time even the media is firmly in the hands of the major corporations. It is hard to see how republican democracy will survive this time, let alone how the collective will of the people, expressed in entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security will survive when those who defend these things cannot even get a fair hearing in the press.
An example: the protests in Madison, Wisconsin had been going on for most of a week before the legacy media, CBS, NBC and ABC were even willing to give the issue 10 seconds on their evening newscasts. Only Fox “News” covered the story and of course, they typified the protesters as thugs and socialist goons. And when timid CBS finally did give the story ten seconds, it was to say the public employees were fighting having to contribute to their own retirement fund, a point the public unions had already conceded. It was many more days before the corporate media was willing to even mention the unions were fighting the abolishing of their right to collectively bargain. And to this day I have yet to hear a reporter on a corporately controlled news network dig down to discover that the Wisconsin governor and his Republican legislature spent the first six weeks of their terms passing and signing legislation which created the budget crisis by slashing taxes for the wealthy and for corporations before they announced they had a crisis which they needed to solve on the backs of the state’s teachers, prison guards and sanitation workers.
If this sort of information is only available on the internet and through the tiny liberal media on radio and television, what chance do we have of having an informed debate or of creating an informed electorate?
So, Professor Dave! How shall we talk about the ways in which the U.S.A. in an earlier period, sought to create a more just society through the establishment of what I have been calling not-state socialist solutions, collective answers to collective problems, solutions which are now under attack by those who already have most of the pie but seem to be unwilling to stop until they are the very few but fabulously rich people in a large but very poor society, a society devoid of regulation and environmental or food safety standards? In other words, how do we tell the side of the story which helps us keep the likes of the Koch brothers and their ilk from turning the U.S. into a smaller version of present-day China?