Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stuck in the middle

Harold Mayerson is a Washington Post columnist and an actual, real-live socialist. Russ Roberts is a George Mason University economist and an actual, real-live libertarian. These two recently took part in a discussion on the use and abuse of the term "socialist" in politics today (here's the Windows Media Player file and here's the Real Player file).

Many interesting points come out of this talk, but here's the takeaway:
  • Despite all the talk about socialism, the Obama administration is committed to private ownership of industry (see their resistance to nationalizing/re-privatizing the banks)
  • Despite all the talk about free markets, George W. Bush was not a libertarian (see his steel tariffs, budget expansion, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, etc)
Other democracies around the world support multitudes of parties (Israel, a country of 5 million people has 12 different parties currently represented in the Knesset. Another 21 ran but didn't meet the electoral threshold). This often means that a wide range of opinions are represented in government. Most European countries have socialist (and even communist) parties in governing coalitions. By contrast, American politics is mostly about the center right vs. the center left. Real socialist ideas, like government ownership of major industries, are not really on the table; neither, for that matter are real libertarian ideas, like privatizing schools.

For better or for worse, our politics is stuck in the middle. If you want real socialists (or real libertarians) in the mainstream, go somewhere else.

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