It is becoming increasingly likely that the United States, which supposedly won the Cold War against the socialist Soviet Union, will soon become a socialist society. A comparable country would be France, before the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.
This is the conclusion to be drawn from what our Democratic Party candidates have been saying the past several months. Both senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have indicated in no uncertain terms that they prefer an economic order in the United States that is regimented by the plans of some folks from above, not by the free choices of individuals from below. Clinton has said that what America needs is "a commander in chief of the economy." Obama has decried American capitalism and the profit motive that is its main economic engine. Clinton has taken advice from neo-Marxist Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine; Obama has stated that the greatest influence on his thinking and values was his mother, an avowed socialist and communist sympathizer.
I am not using "socialist" and "communist" as scare terms, only as accurate descriptions of what the two potential nominees of the Democratic Party believe. They are not simply welfare statists, people who believe that along with a substantial free market the country needs to have supportive federal and state governments who provide people with last-ditch economic security in the face of the vicissitudes of market forces. No, the two candidates appear to be impatient with such meager measures and want to take the reins once they enter the White House and shape the country's economic affairs according to a specific vision. They believe in the planned economy (with just a bit of hesitation from Senator Obama, who has indicated in a few of his speeches and interviews some skepticism about extensive government regulation).
Why are these people champions of socialism? Because, it seems, they believe that economic affairs in a society ought to be completely predictable and risk free. Only a system that guarantees success for everyone - never mind whether his or her work is in demand, whether luck is on his or her side, whether he or she is skilled and talented - would satisfy the criterion of a just socio-economic order for these candidates. And if the spontaneous processes of the free market fails to achieve this goal, then government must enter to regiment the country so that things turn out properly, as envisioned by those seeking such a system of guarantees.
This is what is called utopianism in the field of political economy. Most people know that it is an impossible dream, an ideal that can only be achieved in fantasy, not in reality. The world simply doesn't work in a way that can provide everyone with economic and related success.
To wish for this is comparable to wishing for a marathon race that everyone will win! Impossible. (George Orwell's "Animal Farm" shows this nicely!) And to attempt it must then involve massive coercive force. That is just what happened in the socialist bloc and why its system failed and left the countries where it was attempted a colossal economic mess from which recovery will take decades.
Unfortunately, over the past several decades, most Americans have been taught by teachers who pretty much share the two senators' economic philosophy. In elementary school students are indoctrinated about all kinds of topics, from sex to the environment, and how government must deal with problems therein.
The idea of individual freedom is, in turn, nearly completely neglected. In high schools very little economic literacy is taught, and most students are educated to care about fairness and equality, not about initiative and risk. Colleges and universities have little in their curricula that remind students of the most productive but also unsure economic system, namely capitalism. Instead the dream world of the top-down managed economic system is most widely championed.
In the American political arena hardly anyone opposes these trends. Certainly the Republicans cannot be counted on to challenge the socialist vision, since in the main they have their own similar moral authoritarian vision to offer. The ideas and ideals of the American Founders are nearly cast to the side by all but a small group of libertarians who aren't at this time a viable political alternative.
Maybe this is a temporary setback. I believe in the long run the free market alternative is going to be triumphant. But, for the time being, it is losing. So we need to prepare for some pretty awful times.
Tibor Machan's e-mail address is TMachan@link.freedom.com.