Just How Socialist? A Survey of Major Countries

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 13:35

Ever since the financial sector bailout process started seven months ago, there has been quite a lot of talk about socialism. Over the past 30 days, Google News records 8,251 matches for "socialism" or "socialist" within American media outlets along. Most of this talk has been extremely naïve and uninformed. The most frequent abusers of the term, conservatives, have lobbed the charge around as though there was a switch governments flip in order to change from "capitalist" to "socialist." The general presumption seems to be that an economic system is either socialist or capitalist, and that the two systems are mutually exclusive.

This is, of course, hogwash. Every economic system in the modern world has elements that are both capitalist (private ownership and / or administration) and socialist (public ownership and / or administration). The two co-exist alongside each other, as they have done in every economic system since the beginning of time. Unless you want to make the postal service, police and fire departments, military, and education 100% private, then you are proposing a certain level of socialism. The fundamental ideological debate over economics is not whether the economy should be socialist or capitalist, but what proportion of it should be capitalist and what proportion should be socialist.

Currently, the best available projections for 2009 are that the United States will be 44.7% socialist, and 55.3% capitalist, for the year. This is determined by the following formula:

(total projected 2009 public expenditures minus intra-governmental transfers / projected 2009 Gross Domestic Project)

Now, one area where the conservatives are not wrong is that we are witnessing an increase in socialism in America. Last year, America was only 37.0% socialist, and 63.0% capitalist. From 2002-2007, the standard range was 35.3%-35.7%. In 2000, the year before Bush took over, the USA was only 33.0% socialist. Since the mid-1970's, public expenditure a as a percentage of GDP has consistently hovered in this 33%-36% range, no matter which parties controlled Congress and the White House, and no matter if there was split or single-party government. However, with the various government bailouts, the jobs / stimulus package, and President Obama's expanded budget, the last year has seen a break with a longstanding 65%-35% capitalist / socialist split in America. Currently, we are roughly a 55%-45% capitalist-socialist country, with future numbers probably settling around 60%-40% capitalist-socialist, as our various bailouts and wars (hopefully) wind down, and (hopefully) economic growth picks up again. (Yes, socialism can also be right-wing, even if it means war spending funneled to private contractors.)

Given that we are only talking about a temporary, 10% increase in socialism in America, and a long-term 5% increase, one might wonder what all the brouhaha about socialism is these days. However, if you consider that the entire range of mainstream socialist vs. capitalist debate in all wealthy democracies on Earth is over where whether we should be 29% socialist (South Korea), 61% socialist (France), or somewhere in between, a 10% shift in one year is a pretty big deal. As I show in the extended entry, the recent shift noticeably alters the location of the United States in the socialist-capitalist continuum relative to other major nations.

Check out the numbers below the fold.

Chris Bowers :: Just How Socialist? A Survey of Major Countries
With the exception of the United States and the United Kingdom, where better data is available (see here for the US and here for the UK), the following data comes from the CIA World Factbook. It measures the percentage of socialism in major world economies by dividing real government spending by nominal GDP for selected countries (numbers for all countries except the UK and USA are from 2008):

Levels of socialism in G-20 nations, plus selected other economies
Cuba: 81.4%*
France: 61.1%
Sweden: 58.1%*
Italy: 55.3%
Netherlands: 54.7%
Libya: 53.0%*
Germany: 48.8%
Canada: 48.2%
Spain: 47.3%
Angola: 44.8%*
United States: 44.7% (2009)
United Kingdom: 42.1% (2009)
Australia: 43.6%
Venezuela: 41.1%*
Saudi Arabia: 40.4%
Turkey: 39.1%
United States: 35.5% (2007)
South Africa: 33.9%*
Indonesia: 33.2%
Japan: 30.9%
South Korea: 29.3%
Mexico: 26.7%
China: 22.0%*
Russia: 20.9%
India: 20.4%
Argentina: 19.1%
Brazil: 17.3%
* = officially, or at least famed for being, communist or socialist

Even though I don't entirely trust the CIA World Factbook's numbers (not to mention the blog to which I linked, which seems highly dubious, but unfortunately there wasn't much else available for international public spending information), there is still a lot of fascinating bits in these numbers:

  1. The G-7 is practically socialist: The G-7 nations of large, wealthy democracies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States) is actually the most socialist force on the planet right now. Collectively, the combined economy of those seven countries is 45.2% socialist, and the median in 48.2%, for nearly an even mix between socialism and capitalism. Forget the Soviet Union and forget China--the new face of socialism is wealthy, largely post-industrial, liberal democracies.

  2. Wealthier nations much more socialist than poorer nations: With the exception of a few countries that are either officially socialist or famed for their socialism (Cuba, Angola, Libya, Venezuela), public spending as a percentage of GDP is, on average, much higher in wealthy democracies and in emerging economies. The BRIC countries of rapidly expanding economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China, all lag far below in terms of overall socialism than the more developed economies. America is, for example, twice as socialist as China.

  3. US closes in on Europe: In just two years, the United States has almost, but not quite, entered the normal range of Western European socialism. However, much of that is inflated through our enormous military spending, without which we would be down around 40% socialist. We are becoming more socialist, but we would still have a long way to go to catch western Europe.

  4. A narrow ideological range: Within large, wealthy democracies, the socialism range is rather small: from 29.3% in South Korea to 61.1% in France. Given such a range, perhaps a capitalist in these countries advocates for between 25%-38% public spending as a percentage of GDP, a moderate advocates for 39%-51%, and a socialist advocates for 52%-65%. I think, at least in the abstract, that I am a moderate on this scale, but very close to the socialist range. In theory, I'd consider myself a 51% capitalist, but every program and industry sector needs to be reviewed on its own merits.
Hopefully, this article will help demystify the term "socialism" a little bit, and move us toward a more adult, informed understanding of the terms. Anything would be an improvement over the hysterical charges of "socialism," as though simply saying the word is enough to win an argument, being hurled from the right. All economies operate along a socialist-capitalist continuum and, within wealthy democracies, a pretty narrow continuum at that. Once we realize that everyone is part socialist and part capitalist, the sooner we can have a more sober, realistic discussion about the economy.

Update: To those in the comments who claim that public expenditures do not equate to socialism in and of themselves, and argue instead that public expenditures must be coupled with ownership and an equitable distribution of resources, I have the following rebuttals:

  1. Self-described socialists do not have exclusive control over the definition of the term "socialism." Words have varying meanings. Abtractions have even more variation in their meanings. Political abstractions have the most variation of all. Socialism is no different.

    Definitions of socialism from conservatives simply cannot be dismissed out of hand because you don't like those definitions. Language is always a communal, collective repository over which no one has ownership. Competing definitions of socialism exist, and must be taken into account in any broad classification attempt such as this post.

    The definition I am using--public or state-based redistribution of economic resources--is the broadest and most widely accepted definition by all parties. Left and right-wingers alike would agree that is an essential element of socialism. After that point, there probably isn't any agreement on what the term actually means. As such, I am using the broadest, most widely accepted definition available.

  2. Taxes and regulations are a form of ownership and administration. Individuals and businesses pay taxes because the public is legally given an ownership stake in income of almost every kind.

    Similarly, regulations are a form of administration. Whether it is mandating a minimum wage, dictating what ingredients can and cannot be used in products sold over the counter, or declaring where garbage can and cannot be dumped, regulations play a role in the administration of virtually every business in this country.

    If regulations and administration aren't a form of ownership and administration of the economy, then I don't know what is.

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Obama is a capitalist. (4.00 / 5)
I disagree with your definition and measurement.  It drains much meaning out of the term, although maybe Eduard Bernstein and history did long ago.

To me, government ownership, alone, is not socialism, if the society is still deeply class based and working people are still heavily exploited.  I choose my adjectives carefully there.  I am not arguing for a classless society.

Perhaps socialism no longer has a real meaning.  If so, we need a new democratic left and new ideas.  

Obama's neo-liberalism simply is not enough.        

Yeah, this definition sort of plays into conservative logic of painting all gov spending as socialist (0.00 / 0)
I'm not really keen on arguing on that territory. But then again, if you dilute the term then it carries less of a stigma.

[ Parent ]
No, really, it is just central planning (0.00 / 0)
The public sector is socialism. The two concepts are the same.

Broad concepts like capitalism and socialism must rely on broad, even simplistic definitions. Otherwise, they end up meaningless and / or with thousands of different definitions.

[ Parent ]
. (4.00 / 3)
The problem is that you didn't define socialism by the size of the public sector, but by spending. In which case giving billions of dollars to banks magically makes us socialist. I mean, I think I've heard Glenn Beck make that argument.

[ Parent ]
Sorry, No (4.00 / 6)
The public sector isn't socialism.  You should read The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Gosta Esping-Andersen, the source of the analysis in my comment below, and my March 14 diary, "The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism--A Roadmap For Current Debates".

It's a good starting point for a useful analysis, I'll certainly agree with that.  But simply equating it with socialism is not a definition that any socialist I know would support.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
So "welfare" isn't socialist? (4.00 / 2)
"Welfare" capitalism simply strikes me as a way of semantically eliding the capitalist-socialist continuum I have discussed here. It just replaces the word "welfare" for "socialism." It would be just as wasy to describe the book as "the three types of public sectors in mixed economy liberal democracies."

I am talking about a public-private continuum where public equals socialism and private equals capitalism. If the words socialism and capitalism mean too much to you to grant those definitions, fine. But really, we aren't talking about anything different here.

My entire point is that you can't extract capitalism from socialism, or vice versa. People who call themselves capitalists or socialists are both deluding themselves. Every economic system has a public and private element. The main question is where it falls on the continuum.

A secondary question is how the public sector spends its money, and who benefits from it. While this is an important question, and there are many ideological differences to be found within it, the definition of socialism is not best found in how the money is spent, but in how it is divided up between the two sectors in the first place.  

[ Parent ]
Don't Oversimplify (4.00 / 7)
That's my bottom line here.

You can make your point about the public/private continuum without muddying the waters over the meaning of socialism.

I am talking about a public-private continuum where public equals socialism and private equals capitalism. If the words socialism and capitalism mean too much to you to grant those definitions, fine. But really, we aren't talking about anything different here.

Yes, were are talking about different things.  A vast public bailout of the failed financial institutions is not socialism, any way you slice it.  It simply isn't.  No socialist I've ever met would accept it as such.  And it debases the language to claim otherwise.  It robs the word "socialist" of all its specific meaning, and reduces it to a mere synonym for "public" or at best "public sector."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Language doesn't have fixed, specific meaning (4.00 / 1)
Paul, language doesn't have specific meaning. That should be pretty obvious to anyone who uses it. There is always fluctuation.

Abstract concepts will have even more fluctuation. Political abstract concepts will have the most of all, as opponents and supporters will use the term very differently. Claiming that a term used as widely and in such varying settings as socialism has a specific meaning is flat-out absurd.

Self-proclaimed socialists, who you keep invoking, aren't the only people who use the word socialism, and do not have exclusive say over its definition. Everyone who uses the term, including those who despise socialism, owns it. And I believe strongly that the definition I am using comes much closer to meeting the varying definitions that exist than the one you are using.

Everyone can agree that socialism involves the state distribution and administration of resources. Not everyone agrees that it must be done in an egalitarian manner in order to still be socialism. As such, the broadest, baseline definition is the former, not the latter.

You may not like the way conservatives use the word socialism, but they have just as much control over the word as do socialists themselves. Language owns, and is owned by, all of us. My use of the term recognizes that. You are deferring exclusively to a single definition of a very, very broad word.

[ Parent ]
Sure Language Is Fluid (4.00 / 2)
But see Mr. Orwell on the proper limits to that, particularly allowing concepts to be erased from public discourse through redefinition.

There's fluid, and then there's gaseous.  Letting the rightwing gassbags redefine "socialism" goes beyond fluidity to the purely gaseous.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Again, Great Talking Points To Opponents, But (4.00 / 2)

My entire point is that you can't extract capitalism from socialism, or vice versa. People who call themselves capitalists or socialists are both deluding themselves. Every economic system has a public and private element. The main question is where it falls on the continuum

          Actually, Western Europe and the Scandavian countries have a "social market economy".  Yes, it is mixed, but it not fixed on the capitalist/socialist continiuum which you state. It starts with democracy and social markets, and which way it best to build a healthy democracy using capitalism and socialism as a means.

[ Parent ]
Obama is a capitalist. (4.00 / 1)
I disagree with your definition and measurement.  It drains much meaning out of the term, although maybe Eduard Bernstein and history did long ago.

To me, government ownership, alone, is not socialism, if the society is still deeply class based and working people are still heavily exploited.  I choose my adjectives carefully there.  I am not arguing for a classless society.

Perhaps socialism no longer has a real meaning.  If so, we need a new democratic left and new ideas.  

Obama's neo-liberalism simply is not enough.        

Sorry about the double comment. (4.00 / 1)
I hiot it twice accidently.

Anyway, interesting post, even if I disagree with the premises.

[ Parent ]
But.... (4.00 / 2)
If government ownership assures equality, then class differences must be associated with the capitalist side of the equation. No?

On the other hand, one cannot disagree with your critique since income and wealth inequality in the US over the past 30 years has gained vast proportions, in spite of our being a society that boasts 35-45% socialism. Wealth is not equitably distributed, and while I too do not refer here to desires for a classless society, inequality has created numerous costly social problems.

There is marked economic imbalance in the US and only government can rebalance the scales, moving it over to more socialism.

[ Parent ]
Government Does Not Assure Equality (4.00 / 1)
     Conservatives have been hitting liberals over the heads for years with this serious misunderstanding; thus, creating in the minds of the masses that liberals believe government inherently assures everyone similiar equalities.  It assures the opportunity to equality.

[ Parent ]
let's be honest: we're talking about a mixed economy here. (4.00 / 4)
an economy that's capitalist where the main goal is wealth maximization. but has a lot of social programs and regulations to protect the public good. and a few government run sectors of the economy, from the postal service to policing, where there are economic or social goals that make that a better choice.

the most successful economy in the world is the mixed economy.

all debates should focus on what's an appropriate mix, rather than absolutes.

Precisely (0.00 / 0)
That is it precisely.

I think that hysteria over ideological labeling is a hangover from the Cold War. Maybe we won't ever get over it, but reaching the sort of framing you present is a worthy goal.

[ Parent ]
yeah (4.00 / 1)
The elephant in the room of all this socialism talk is a dubious sub-lingual conflation of socialism with communism. To the older mind, which developed political consciousness during the Cold War, talk of socialism rings some subliminal bells that make people think of the soviet union, the warsaw pact, Castro, Mao, Stalin, and the political genocides practiced in a number of Communist nations. That's why 'socialism' is such a scary, evocative word for a lot of (mostly old) people. When McCain started this socialism talk during the campaign, it was just a subtle way to associate Obama with our old commie enemies (just as the Muslim smears were meant to associate Obama with our new enemies, Al Qaeda).

Of course, for those of us who have grown up since the end of the cold war, the response to the cry of "socialism" is more likely to be  quizzical bemusement.

[ Parent ]
Important Observations (0.00 / 0)
       I think that what your describe in your first paragraph really gives good examples to Chris's data, and the absurdity of how the term socialism is potrayed in this country.

      Unfortunately, your last sentence, does not ring true.  Today, it is still not a "quizzical bemusement"; I constantly speak to people who get scared by the word, socialism. I wish it were not true.  However, I think we started to de-stigmatize the word today with Chris' diary.

     Now, as liberals and progressives, we need to try to really start delineating how a Social Market Economy works compared to our Capital system and anemic social safety net.

[ Parent ]
There are so many definitions (4.00 / 1)
of socialism.  Is a European Social Democrat a socialist?  Not in anything approaching an absolute sense.  

[ Parent ]
No Way (4.00 / 2)

      A few government run sectors of the economy, as if private sectors in this country over the last 30 years have increased full employment!?

       Also, "wealth maximization" is not the goal, full employment is.  And wealth maximization does not always hand and hand in that matter.

       Also, did every forget the different programs FDR and New Dealers put into to place via government intervention to increase employment?  We need a lot of those programs now.  That would be more of a socialist mechanism to improve the economy.

[ Parent ]
Misleading (4.00 / 4)
Socialism is, broadly speaking, ownership of the means of production by the general public and distribution of goods.  What you've tallied up is simply public spending as a percentage of GDP, which is far, far different.  

Agencies owned by government directly, from Medicare to the Armed Forces, to the Post Office, are unquestionably socialized entities within our capitalist system.  But it's hard to understand how government expenditure going to private contractors is socialist.  The contracting process is often opaque to the general public, and besides jumping through a few more hoops and filing some more paperwork, it's no different for the business.  The money starts in private hands (as taxes) and ends in private hands - the government just passes it through.

Indeed, taken to the logical conclusion, tax rebates count as socialism in your definition.  They are a cost to the government after all, even though it's the money taken out of individual paychecks going right back to them.  

Basically, it think you're confusing supply and demand here.  The means of production are what supplies an economy with goods and services - factories, hospitals, offices, etc.  The U.S., by and large, does not offer these on a public basis (outside of education), and doesn't seem likely to do so any time soon.  But the U.S. does do a lot to pump up demand - Social Security, subsidies, private contracting, bailouts.  They're government expenditures, but the vast majority benefit the private sector.

Regardless, while it's a noble intent to try and make people not scared of the term, I think you're going about it in a wrong-headed fashion - as it also removes any possible positive connotations (revolving around, you know, public accountability of the communally-owned means of production).  

Taxes are a form of partial ownership (4.00 / 1)
Taxing business and individuals is the same as declaring a partial ownership stake in the businesses and income in question. Regulations are a form of dictating the actions and practices of the businesses and individuals.

The point is, that ownership and central direction are not either / or options. Through taxes and regulations, the government does partially own and administer just about everything.

I don't think something becomes more or less socialist based on who benefits from the expenditures accrued through this ownership and administration. While many may take the goal of socialism as an attempt to provide broad solidarity around the country, in practice socialism can, and has, disproportionately benefited only specific segments of the population. In the Soviet Union, this meant Communist Party members. In Nazi Germany, this meant ethnic Germans. In Sweden, maybe it means the general populace. And there is no reason that large financial institutions or private contractors can't be the beneficiaries either.

Who a particular version of socialism ends up benefiting doesn't make it less socialist. It just makes it a different kind of socialism.

[ Parent ]
What you miss (4.00 / 1)
in your example is the extent to which the government is changing the allocation of captial.  When government spends on a particular project, it is supplanting the role of private capital markets in determining which projects are worked on.  That level of intervention in the economy is far more important, in my opinion, than whether the work is performed by a government or private entity.  

[ Parent ]
. (0.00 / 0)
That's more related to a centrally planned market economy though. I still wouldn't call it socialism without actual government ownership. Hell, I'm hesitant to call socialized entities and example socialism if the private industry competitor isn't banned. Yes, the government owns a postal service, but since making a Fed Ex is still legal, I wouldn't equate it with flat out socialism.

[ Parent ]
and note that the inverse is true, too (4.00 / 3)
Whenever a private business starts up, it depends trememdously on public infrastructure, like roads and utilities; a public education system to build an educated workforce; a security apparatus, to provide for the stability within which private enterprise can function; a regulatory regime, to allow trust in the free market; etc.

So not only is the government constantly involved in the allocation of capital, any and all investments made by private entities are inextricable from the functions of government.

[ Parent ]
This Is, At Best, Just ONE Dimension Of Socialism (4.00 / 7)
Socialism is economically non-private, but it's a whole lot more than that, as others have noted.

Government bailing out the wealthiest capitalist sector of the economy doesn't really increase how socialist that government is in any sense that any self-described socialist I've ever met or read would hold to--at least so far as I can recall.  Well, except for the "national socialists" aka Nazis, who were only using the socialist label because capitalism had been thoroughly discredited at the time.

That doesn't mean I think this analysis is useless.  Obviously it tells us something.  But not enough.  There's an enormous difference, for example, between free public education all the way through grad school and 100% government guaranteed education loans, which is not simply captured in the amount of government money spent in one system vs. the other.

There are two subjects in particular that I've diaried about that are relevant here, both of which have to do with intent.  The first is the nature of the welfare state regime--liberal, conservative, or social democratic.  It's only the later that has actual socialist intentions built in.  The others use socialist means (to varying degrees) to achieve other ends (again, to varying degrees).  Along the way, inevitably, socialism happens, but it's not the point.

In quick shorthand, the liberal welfare state (US and UK are typical) aims to make the market work better, the conservative welfare state (France, Germany) aims to consolidate the power of the state and social elites, the social democratic welfare state aims to promote broad social solidarity and decouple the provision of basic human needs and rights from the vicissitudes of the market.  Both the size of the public sector as well as the mix of means-tested and universalist programs vary between these three models. The conservative welfare state can (not must) actually be more committed to socialist ends than liberal welfare states, since providing for citizen needs helps legitimize the state and the elites whose power is partnered with it.

I have argued that movement conservatives want to dismantle the welfare state, but find it politically impossible, and thus settle for transforming it into a particularly pernicious form of conservative welfare state, with its elite patrons as prime beneficiaries (the military-industrial complex, extractive industries, privatizing Medicare & Social Security, etc.)

So far, all in all, Obama seems to be pretty much okay with continuing that agenda, albeit with considerably less excessive greed in the mix.  He's fine with the systemic upward redistribution of wealth and power, however.  

The second thing I've diaried about that's relevant here is the distinction between government spending that contributes to individual economic mobility (such as mortgage tax deductions, which subsidize asset accumulation) vs. that which merely sustains people (such as Section 8 vouchers).  This distinction doesn't cut the same way as the previous one.  But it does point to how very significant differences in social and financial purposes can inform policies that superficially look quite similar on first glance.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

We woudl do well to remember the fascist economic model (4.00 / 1)
where the government devolved much economic control to favoured corporations.  It is fundamentally quite different from the socialist model where the government does the opposite, and nationalizes those industries.  

Of course, there is a continuum, and there are government controls over the private sector, both in the size of subsidy, and the ability to change where money goes (and of course, the threat of summary arrest or violence that often went with these governments).  

Talking about the size of the public sector, however, is a start.

[ Parent ]
This Happens With Any Totalitarian Regime (4.00 / 1)
      This is not unique to facism regimes.

[ Parent ]
In the Soviet model, the government just explicitly took over the means of production (0.00 / 0)
yes, they put a bunch of favor into preferred sectors, but this is not the same as directing a bunch of favor toward private actors.  

[ Parent ]
You Had This Post Up Before I Finished Typing Mine (4.00 / 2)
     This is so germane to this debate that, if we do not move past our current model towards a Social Market Economy, will start from a false premise.
     Great post!

[ Parent ]
there are no doubt lots of ways to paint a more nuanced picture of socialism (0.00 / 0)
But the conservative argument has been of the form:

1. Obama/Democrats propose more government spending.
2. (Implied.) Government spending = socialism.
3. Therefore, we are headed towards socialism.

As a response to that argument, Chris' post, and his definition of socialism, are perfectly sufficient.

[ Parent ]
No Need To Get Dumb, Just Because They Are (4.00 / 3)
The way to counter that argument is with "Well, if all you mean by socialism is government spending, then..."

This doesn't buy into their definition at all, but still responds to the claim.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
A much needed post (4.00 / 2)
Modern democratic countries have mixed economies, with varying degrees of social spending.  

Capitalism is a government sponsored program.  

There are minor quibbles to make: perhaps the biggest distinction between economic models today concerns the "commanding heights" of the economy, and whether and to what degree they should be controlled by the Government.  What is missing in the US, and what is sorely needed, is an industrial policy that will allocate capital based on values other than those reflected in the capital markets.  On this issue the Obama Administration preaches the virtue of free markets (see Summers when he says there will be no industrial policy) while practicing something else (see the investments in green technology).  

A great post.

Commanding Hieghts (0.00 / 0)
The commanding Heights is an interesting book (I taught it once), but ultimately I think the formulation is took vague. Is there a clear line between "the commanding heights" and "non-commanding heights" within an economic system? I'm doubtful.

Thanks for the kind words.

[ Parent ]
As i understand the term (4.00 / 1)
the idea behind "the commanding heights" was an attempt by the left to recognize the effeciency of the markets in delivering some goods while holding to the notion of an economy where capital allocation was still determined by the state.  It is a vaugue concept, in part determined by the notion that state technocrats (I use the term knowing Paul will not like it, but it is a term from the early 60's) could build a better and more just society than if economic decisions were simply made by the markets. In alternative formulations the focus is on values expressed through democratic institutions.  

The term is also the title of the book by Daniel Yergin (to which I think you refer), which was written in part to celebrate what Yergin thought was the idea's demise.  It is a good book, but it is hard to think of that book now without thinking that it reflected a now discredited example of market worship.

Two asides:
1.  For an example of "comanding heights thinking" see an article written by Obama's father (which subsequently got him in trouble).  

2. Also see the song IGY by Donald Fagan

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young  

[ Parent ]
What Gets Lost In All This (4.00 / 5)
is the simple notion that one can have partial central planning.  And, in fact, that's what we already have, only in a half-assed way.  For example, for decades we've had central planning against developing a vibrant alternative energy.  There are enormous subsidies underwriting the status quo, and they can't reasonably be called anything other than an example of central planning, however half-assed and numbskull it may be.  The Interstate freeway system was a direct lead-in to this, as was our WWII-era commitment to military control of the Persian Gulf & vicinity.

Now, finally, we are coming to realize the downside of that policy, and we're struggling to see if we can change.

Still, our commitment to half-assedness remains unchanged.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I could not agree more <nt> (4.00 / 3)

[ Parent ]
Very Vital Information, Though Missing Some Context (4.00 / 2)
      I think this diary should be e-mailed to everyone, printed and hung on every available site possible for the human  eye to see. The evidence is so clear and irrefutable that the propanganda that spills out ad-nauseum in our discourse, in regards, to the term socialism is fatuous.

     My problem--and though I think Chris hints there will another journal on the subject--is the not the quantitative comparisons--which are of vital significance--but the lack of qualitative comparisons.  (Again, another diary would be would be needed.)  However, there are some things that I disagree with: mainly, regarding how are economy--the socialist part equation--is portrayed compared to other countries.  


US closes in on Europe: In just two years, the United States has almost, but not quite, entered the normal range of Western European socialism. However, much of that is inflated through our enormous military spending, without which we would be down around 40% socialist. We are becoming more socialist, but we would still have a long way to go to catch western Europe.

      The paragraph gives a misleading perception to readers: the United States will enjoy a more socialist economy nearing our Europian allies.  Even if we decreased our bloated military spending, it would not render us nearly equal--for better or worse. Maybe in dollars spent--though that is a poor indicator. It is where and how money is allocated to social markets.  For example, we know that we have been giving huge subsidies, bailouts, tax credits to Agri-Corporations wiping out local farmers over the years; giving huge subsidies, tax breaks, and bailouts to the financial sector; giving huge subsidies, bailouts, tax breaks to the oil and coal industries; the list goes on.  

    Yes, maybe we have increased via "lemon socialism", but not spending on our social safety net. So, our "wealthy democracy" (I am afraid our wealth is dwindling) palls in comparison to other wealthy democracies in the way their government spends money for their social programs, public goods, etc.


Four systems - two economic and two political. (0.00 / 0)
Socialism and Capitalism are economic systems. Democracy and Fascism are political system. Mix degrees of the four and you get various kinds of societies. Progressives tend to want the highest mixtures of Socialism and Democracy while Authoritarians want the highest mixtures of Capitalism and Fascism.

Simply speaking, of course.


Jeff Wegerson

An interesting discussion (4.00 / 4)
I don't suppose it would surprise anyone to say that I agree with Paul. Managerial decisions about where and on what capital is expended would probably matter more in a post-modern society than where or how it's accumulated, had we not largely outsourced wage slavery to faraway continents. Be that as it may, I think that it's still safe to say that if we've come to any wisdom about mixed economies since Marx, it's that while capitalism may be the engine of prosperity, you can never trust it to be the control room, not if you want to save the majority from misery.

There is a corollary, of course, one which divides things like state ownership of the means of production (communism, for short) and what we call, for lack of a better phrase, democratic socialism. In terms of the general misery index, it doesn't much matter what type of economy you have, if the bottom line is that it's managed exclusively by an elite, nor does it matter, when it is managed by an elite, whether that elite is aristocratic, plutocratic, or ideological.

When I say -- as I often do, pace Marx himself -- that politics should always trump economics, this is what I mean. I'm certainly not describing the status quo, but I believe I am describing the only process by which you can reasonably hope to cobble together an economy in which the greatest good for the greatest number is uppermost on the agenda. The decision-making in such an economy simply must not be managed exclusively by any kind of an elite.

Greens, sustainable development folks, defenders of the middle class, are you listening? This is the real task -- making sure that broader participation in decision-making is codified and put in place in a way which is compatible with all the beneficial features of an advanced economy. That's been the real agenda, whether anyone said so explicitly or not, ever since the meeting of the First International.

We Have "Lemon Socialism" For A Long Time (4.00 / 1)

    Can we start using the term Social Market Economy?   I think this better underscores how other countries using this model have afforded a better and more just  life for their citizens.

[ Parent ]
It's okay by me, (0.00 / 0)
so long as anyone other than the two of us actually knows what we're talking about ;-)

[ Parent ]
Socialism is immoral (0.00 / 0)
While it is interesting to compare the level of socialism in different countries, and point out that the military and the police force are socialist, all of that misses the point.  Socialism is immoral.  It is theft.  True, many, many people accept this "protection racket" arrangement. The government says "I will use force against your enemies, in return I (government) get a monopoly on power (elections don't change that monopoly)."  Surely you realize that almost all of the founding fathers were NOT socialists.  Surely you realize that socialism goes against america's legacy principles.  Socialism should be minimized.  Where it exists we should try to eliminate it.  Will we ever completely succeed?  Of course not.  Just as we will never completely eliminate all other injustices in the world.

Aux armes, citoyens! (4.00 / 4)
Is this the tip of the libertarian spear, the vanguard of that idiot army always prospecting for some new place to plant the flag of narcissism? If so, let me be the first to the barricades. Kindly bugger off, will you jscottu? Ain't no joy for you here.

[ Parent ]
Thank you for your kind words (0.00 / 0)
I mistakenly believed that all were welcomed here to discuss and/or debate.

[ Parent ]
give me socialism over panglossianism (4.00 / 3)

Just as we will never completely eliminate all other injustices in the world.

That's the underlying principle of the right wing worldview.  Abject cynicism that says "since shit will be fucked up no matter what we do, I may as well make sure I get my piece and screw everyone else"

Nope, we may not cure all the world's ills, but we at least think it is worth trying.

[ Parent ]
No need to rewrite my words (0.00 / 0)
There's really no need to rewrite what I said...especially since your translation is incorrect.  "...we will never completely eliminate all other injustices in the world" is not some kind of crazy radical "hope".  It is simply a statement of self-evident fact.  If you have figured out a plan for the elimination of ALL injustices then the world is waiting to hear it.

[ Parent ]

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