Sunday, April 19, 2009

If you don't know what a word means, you probably shouldn't use it

First he was a socialist. Now he's a fascist. And Obama has only been president for three months.

Fascism seemed to be the metaphor of choice at last week's Tea Party Protests. Consider this guy:

Or this guy:

As always, we can consult the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics to find out what a term like "fascism" actually means:
"Under fascism, the state, through official cartels, controlled all aspects of manufacturing, commerce, finance, and agriculture. Planning boards set product lines, production levels, prices, wages, working conditions, and the size of firms. Licensing was ubiquitous; no economic activity could be undertaken without government permission. Levels of consumption were dictated by the state, and 'excess' incomes had to be surrendered as taxes or 'loans.' The consequent burdening of manufacturers gave advantages to foreign firms wishing to export. But since government policy aimed at autarky, or national self-sufficiency, protectionism was necessary: imports were barred or strictly controlled, leaving foreign conquest as the only avenue for access to resources unavailable domestically. Fascism was thus incompatible with peace and the international division of labor—hallmarks of liberalism."
Of course, this is a terrible and inane metaphor for current policy. There are no plans to cartelize the economy, to set production goals or to dictate wages. The government is not going to take-over large segments of the economy. In fact, the Obama administration has consistently resisted bank nationalization, and has continued the "receivership" status of AIG--a particularly strange piece of legal gymnastics, which allows the government to own 80% of the company, but completely abdicate ownership rights.

The government is increasing expenditures to combat a recession, and is propping up the banks in order to combat a financial crisis. These may or may not be the right policies (I think the Obama administration has been a mixed-bag up to this point). But these policies in no way resemble fascism. Again, from the Concise Encyclopedia:
"Fascism is to be distinguished from interventionism, or the mixed economy. Interventionism seeks to guide the market process, not eliminate it, as fascism did. Minimum-wage and antitrust laws, though they regulate the free market, are a far cry from multiyear plans from the Ministry of Economics."
We are seeing an increase in government intervention in the economy. We are not seeing fascism and we are not seeing socialism. If you look at the definitions of the words, you can see that.

On a side note, it was sad to see the word "fascism" used not only by fringe protesters, but by anchors on Fox News. As a Jew, I think that comparisons to Nazi Germany should be treated with respect. Yes, you may not like the current administration's tax policies. But they are not comparable to the Holocaust. I think conservatives and libertarians would be wise to distance themselves from people who don't get that obvious distinction.

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