Regulated Capitalism

GrrlScientist, a prolific linker to quizzes, fished a socialism/capitalism quiz, which asks various questions that are supposed to tell whether you are a socialist or a capitalist. In principle, it’s a good idea, though it will probably not match the Political Compass quiz in depth. In practice, the questions it asks don’t distinguish socialists from capitalists, but moderate capitalists like most liberals, and extreme libertarians.

For example, let’s look at the first five statements that you’re supposed to agree or disagree with.

  • Welfare tends to hurt people more than it helps them.
  • The best kind of health care is private health care.
  • Free trade is a good thing- even if some jobs leave your country.
  • Taxation should be kept at a minimum, even if government services need to be cut.
  • Education is a luxury, not a right.

The only question in this set that would distinguish people like Stiglitz and Sen from Chavez and Chomsky is, arguably, the third one, even though before criticizing globalization Stiglitz wrote about the problems of socialism, and Sen comes from a firmly liberal tradition.

There are questions that easily segregate liberals and socialists. Good examples of agree/disagree statements that distinguish the two are, “Nationalization of industry is not justified,” “Corporations should not be forced to become cooperatives,” “Individual interest is more important than collective interest,” and “Political interest groups should compete with one another instead of set policy together in tripartite meetings.”

Very few European social democrats, who are very tame as far as socialists go, would agree with the first, third, or fourth statement, and not many would agree with the second. And there are statements you need to be even further to left to disagree with: “Land reform is inappropriate,” “Collectivization of agriculture is always a disaster,” and “Private ownership of land is preferable to communal ownership.”

The Republican Party has done a good job shifting the center to the right this way. Instead of identifying socialism with land reform and nationalization, it exploited Americans’ fear of big government to trash-talk public health care and unemployment benefits, both of which are mainstream ideas even in economics departments, which are traditionally libertarian or neo-liberal.

Everywhere but in the skewed milieu that is American politics, those ideas will be called moderate capitalism, or regulated capitalism, or perhaps a mixed economy. Lately, when most American Democrats are right of Keynes, calling their ideas socialist is parochial beyond belief.

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One Response to Regulated Capitalism

  1. I believe that you can be an unabased capitalist and believe in democracy. You can believe in free capitalism where people are free to come together and create democratic corporations that have nothing in common with collectives or socialism. We need not follow in the path of Marks and Engles to start corporations anew, but can celebrate Henry Ford and Lee Iaccoa but believe that they should be held to the periodic purifying force of an election of the people who dedicate their lives to empowering those companies (i.e employees). Just because the market is unfettered does not mean that companies do not have bylaws. Lets just write checks and balances on power into them.

    This could be the great project of our generation.

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