The weirdly non-American influences of the American conservative movement

I was watching Fox News over the weekend and interviewer Chris Wallace tossed off a bit of information that made me blink.

Wallace was talking about the latest Republican battle plan for the 2010 midterms, a pamphlet called “Tread Boldly, which he described as ” a “big, glossy pamphlet, 22 pages, pictures of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill…”

The political irony here is pretty stark.

Since Democrats took the majority in 2006, Republicans have lambasted them for trying to “Europeanize” the United States, and for introducing “foreign” ideas.

On the eve of President Barack Obama’s election, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed warning of the “Europeanization of America.”

Then, last year, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell blasted Democrats for making what he called “an audacious effort to Europeanize the country…”

This spring, conservative columnist Johan Goldberg wrote in the conservative National Review, “By now you may have heard: America is on its way to becoming another European country.”

The sub-text is obvious:  We conservatives are normal, salt-of-the-earth Americans.  Democrats are…something else.

But then it’s the Republicans who actually paste photographs of foreign leaders into one of their policy booklets?  That’s pretty weird.

(Can you imagine the firestorm if Democrats pasted photographs of Pierre Trudeau or Francoise Mitterand into their campaign literature?)

The truth, of course, is that both sides of our political debate — conservative and liberal — lean heavily on influences that are at their core non-American.

I don’t say “un” American, because one of the enduring strengths of our culture is our ability to Americanize just about anything.

We’ve cheerfully co-opted everything from the Beatles to the tune of our national anthem, which is set to the music of a popular English drinking song.

Conservatives might argue that embracing things British (Thatcher and Churchill, for example) is slightly less offensive than cozying up to those suspicious Continentals.  (Remember Freedom Fries?)

But even here, the facts are a little more complicated.

Until the late 1800s it was Britain and British ideas, and not those of Continental Europe, that drew the ire of loyal Americans.

The greatest of our Founding Fathers — remember them, the guys who were divinely inspired and could do no wrong? — came to despise England, an enmity that lingered for much of our early history.

Thomas Jefferson argued that the English were a “nation who never admitted a chapter of morality into her political code!”

The second odd twist here is that it is now the liberals who are embracing British ideas, while conservatives are cozying up to an intellectual movement that formed on the Continent.

Most center-left thinkers in the US draw the core of their policies from John Maynard Keynes, the late British economist who died in 1946.

His ideas about government intervention in markets helped to frame President Obama’s controversial stimulus program.

Meanwhile, America’s center-right coalition is influenced heavily by a group known generally as the “Austrian school of economists.”

As the name implies, libertarian economic theories shaping the GOP and the tea party movement (Ron Paul is a big fan) originated with a group of scholars and professors in Vienna.

(One of the foundational texts of the modern American conservative movement, I kid you not, is a work by Carl Menger called Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre.)

Here’s how Barron’s magazine described the ideological clash in an article last week.

It may not rank ith the Hatfields and the McCoys, but there’s a battle raging. It’s the Austerians vs. the Keynesians.

In one corner are the advocates of fiscal austerity, many of whom are adherents of the Austrian School of economics. Hence, the contraction into “Austerian.”

Their motto is to rip off the band-aid and get the pain over with.

Opposing them are the Keynesians, who contend it’s counterproductive to tighten belts when people are hungry.

To cap all this not-from-around-here strangeness, Glenn Beck has turned one of the Austrian school’s leading thinkers, F.A. Hayek, into something of a best-selling author, urging viewers to read his “The Road To Serfdom.”

(The book hit #1 on Amazon’s non-fiction chart.)

Most conservatives, of course, would prefer to keep the academic ivory tower European pedigree of their policy proposals on the down-low.

They’re more comfortable with the idea that their vision of America’s future is cut from purely American cloth.

But for better or worse, we’re a mix-and-match society, the product of immigrant people and immigrant ideas.

That’s as true for Mitch McConnell and Sarah Palin as it is for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

34 Comments on “The weirdly non-American influences of the American conservative movement”

  1. Aaron says:

    “Most conservatives, of course, would prefer to keep the academic European pedigree of their policy proposals on the down-low.”

    Can you name one? What a baseless claim! Thinking conservatives are thrilled that core values/philosophies are being discussed. I pretty sure there is no secret society of conservatives keeping all hush-hush about european books! It may sound good to write sentences like that but it comes off as fairly childish. To be fair, you have an interesting point–you have just over shot the mark.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    If my memory of the history I learned in high school is accurate, our Founding Father’s toyed with the idea of making German the national language to take a slap at the English.
    A truly native approach might have been to embrace one of the languages of the Native Americans.
    Let’s face it. As things now stand, we are a bunch of mongrels. But then the truth of the matter is so is everyone else. People have been moving around the globe ever since there were people. This includes Native Americans. Europeans have moved from one area of Europe to the other, mostly running from this or that religion, or for economic reasons, which in the old days usually had much to do with what religion was in power in what area.
    If you want a prime example, look at the mess that Yugoslavia became when one area became primarily Catholic, another primarily Muslim and another primarily Orthodox. They are for the most part one blood but with different religions they claim to believe in.
    And the mess you have in Yugoslavia is one of the primary reasons the Romanians regard Count Dracula as a hero who scared the hell out of the Muslim Turks.
    Ah, what fun we have as we put on our blinders and see only what we want to see!

  3. Brian Mann says:

    Aaron –

    You ask me to name one person who has falsely suggested that Republicans have a more “American” approach to policy, while Democrats are more “European.”

    In my blog post, I name three: Mitch McConnell, Jonah Goldberg and a columnist with the Wall Street Journal.

    I could name far more — from Sarah Palin to John Boehner — who have argued that Republicans represent a “true” or “real” America, while Democrats have embraced something foreign and corrupt.

    –Brian, NCPR

  4. Paul says:

    The Britain that the US founding fathers knew is a different Britain than that of Winston Churchill. Just as the Britain of David Cameron is different than that of Churchill. Brian, get a clue, turn off Glenn Beck.

    Glenn Beck is not a conservative, he is a nut!

  5. BRFvolpe says:

    Jeesch, Brian, there you go again, trying to make something simple complicated. Why do you always seem to take a big picture view of contradictions?

  6. JDM says:

    Brian:

    You mix messages so much it is impossible to untangle them. Here are two quick ones:

    1) “Until the late 1800s it was Britain and British ideas, and not those of Continental Europe, that drew the ire of loyal Americans.”

    Remember “Taxation without representation”?

    2) “Glenn Beck has turned one of the Austrian school’s leading thinkers”.

    Sooooo, what’s the point? Many conservatives aren’t obsessed with Glenn Beck. Are you?

  7. Brian Mann says:

    You guys are straw-manning pretty aggressively today. I mention Glenn Beck, yes, but the thrust of my argument deals with Mitch McConnell, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Barron’s magazine, Jonah Goldberg, Ron Paul…

    And the founding fathers weren’t just angry about Britain’s ‘taxation without representation.’ They were furious about many of the things that Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher still espoused during their term in office.

    Namely, the maintenance of far-flung empires, the permanent political entitlement of a “House of Lords,” interference with global free trade, etc.

    But that’s all fine print stuff.

    My main point is simply that both political movements — liberal and conservative — have their own “foreign entanglements.”

    –Brian, NCPR

  8. anon says:

    “The second odd twist here is that it is now the liberals who are embracing British ideas, while conservatives are cozying up to an intellectual movement that formed on the Continent.”

    Don’t know if this is strawmanning (straw-MANN-ing?) or nitpicking, but “it is NOW the liberals” who draw from Keynes. Hasn’t that been happening since, like, the 1930s? Heard about the Lindberg baby, Brian?
    Second, you make it sound like the GOP accusation that liberals are somehow a “fifth column” from the continent is true. Name a Frenchman or Italian or German born in the 20th century who really influenced liberal economic and social policy in the last 50 years to anything like the degree that the Austrian school pushed conservatives. Maybe Le Corbusier, but he was an architect.
    You want foreign liberal infiltrators, by the way? You didn’t even mention John Kenneth Galbraith, a CANADIAN! My gawd, how did we survive the 20th century with all that foreign liberal influence?

  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I’ve got no problem stealing ideas from all around the world, that’s what made America great. Imagine how much worse off we would have been if we hadn’t gotten all those Germans who Hitler drove out. Einstein, Schoenberg, all the Frankfort School guys.

    Of course we have a rich history here as well that we choose to ignore including the founders of the worlds oldest representative democracy the Iroquois Confederacy.

  10. mervel says:

    The Road to Serfdom IS a good book and Hayek is one of the ground breaking economists of the modern time as is Keynes both should be read.

  11. Bret4207 says:

    Lets go back to the beginning Brian. Have you read the pamphlet? I haven’t seen it so I don’t know what’s in it. I don’t know, and you make the assumption, that Thatcher and Churchill are held up as models of some sort. If anything I imagine they took Thatchers famous line, “The problem with socialism is sooner or later you run out of other peoples money to spend”. Beyond that I wouldn’t hazard a guess to whats ‘s in it. Have you read it?

    And lets be honest, “European” is just a code word. What’s meant is SOCIALIST. But you can’t call people socialists without causing a major kerfluffle now can you? It amazes me that anyone, and I include myself, can argue we’re not becoming socialist when we have the US Gov’t seizing major auto makers and playing in the home mortgage arena. That is socialist behavior. Forcing people to buy insurance of face prison is socialist. But political correctness demands another word be used, so you get “European”.

    I’m rather amazed at the tone of the blog post. Americans shouldn’t learn from others mistakes Brian? I think you’re either stirring the pot purposely or you really have gotten your impressions of the conservative movement from 10 second sound bites on MSNBC.

    BTW- Aaron did not ask you to “…name one person who has falsely suggested that Republicans have a more “American” approach to policy, while Democrats are more “European…” He asked you to defend your statement that “…”Most conservatives, of course, would prefer to keep the academic European pedigree of their policy proposals on the down-low…” Your statement could properly be put in terms of “do conservatives deny that they strive to learn from European or other historical mistakes?” in which case your argument goes no where.

  12. Bret4207 says:

    Well, I did your homework. You forgot to mention that also on the over are Reagan, Eisenhower, Lech Walensa (sp), Jack Kemp and Teddy Roosevelt. I found nothing endorsing “European” ideas. Of course, it’s typical RNC hyperbole and rhetoric about how they somehow change everything for the better, while still being part of the problem

    Talk about strawmen…

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/35208808/Tread-Boldly-GOP-2010-August

  13. hermit thrush says:

    bret,

    unfortunately your comments are overflowing with misinformation.

    first, as you can plainly see from their triumphant photos on the cover, thatcher, churchill, and walesa are all held up as models, just as brian depicted.

    second, i agree that “european” is some kind of dog whistle, but it’s much more complicated than just meaning socialism — never mind the fact that europe no longer has any socialist countries. “european” is a loaded term in many other ways, connoting at a minimum a kind of effete snobbishness together with military weakness together with godlessness. and in the u.s. it gins up some good old fashioned xenophobia to boot.

    third, it’s completely risible to suggest that the u.s. is becoming a socialist country. the gm bailout is the exception that proves the rule. if conservatives like you had had their way, i think there’s an excellent chance gm would no longer be with us and the economy would have been dealt a huge blow right in the midst of the worst recession since the 30’s. but thanks to federal intervention, the u.s. auto sector and gm in particular are returning to profitability (though admittedly that may not be sustained while the economy remains weak) and the plan is for gm to eventually become a purely private corporation again.

    fourth, i don’t even know if it’s true that “Forcing people to buy insurance of [sic] face prison is socialist,” but of course no one in the u.s. is going to prison for not complying with the mandated insurance provisions of the affordable care act. failure to obtain adequate insurance will result in a fine.

    fifth, well, come on. brian’s point is obviously not to suggest that “Americans shouldn’t learn from others [sic] mistakes,” but to highlight conservative/republican hypocrisy for its ready euro-bashing on the one hand and for its embrace of these european “heroes” on the other. surely real american patriots wouldn’t have given three of the seven photo slots over to foreigners, right?

  14. anon says:

    Isn’t Lech Walesa a European union leader?
    Doesn’t that kind of bolster Brian’s argument?

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    God bless our great Socialist institutions! Social Security, fire departments, police departments, the military (at least for now–thank god Rummy didn’t privatize it more than he did). Give me more Socialism in this country before the Capitalist Pigs–and we have seen just what pigs they are–ruin us.

  16. Bret4207 says:

    1- I don’t know exactly what the RNC thought they were saying by having 3 non-American politicians on the cover. I certainly didn’t find anything inside mentioning any of them. Considering the idiots at RNC it’s possible they think those ARE Americans!

    2- No socialist countries left in Europe? You mean like Britain, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Italy and all those other little countries with hard to pronounce names?

    3- Yup, GM would have had to make some tough cuts and so would all those banks. All we’ve done is delay the inevitable with borrowed money.

    4- As I understand it the IRS will be handling the non-compliant people. Tell me. what happens to people who refuse to pay fines to the IRS? They let them go???

    5- If you can’t differentiate between conservatives and Republicans (Democrat lite)….well, no way to start a conversation without a starting point.

  17. mervel says:

    There are trade offs to both places there are things we could adopt from continental Europe and things they could adopt from us. I believe that we have a better overall system for a variety of reasons. The thing is we are not Europe nor can we be; simply because we are not European we are a different culture. What works in France or Germany will not necessarily translate to the US not because it is bad but because we are not French. Likewise what works in the US does not translate to what works in Afghanistan or Iraq, one would think that we would have figured that out!

    But things like the US government taking over GM or giving Chrysler to the Unions as owners are indeed very troubling. What they should have done is let those companies go, Ford survived, Toyota survived, others survived and they would have even been healthier if we would not have used borrowed government money to prop up badly run companies. Look how well the Soviet Union did with their ownership of car companies. This does not work it has been shown over and over again that in these cases the markets work better than the boot of government. That is socialism Bret is correct about that, command and control of the economy based on what some government planner thinks people need, versus what people freely choose. As Hayek pointed out if your economic decisions are controlled by an authoritarian government then you are no longer really free.

    I will never buy a GM car as I think doing so is indeed un American. But who knows maybe the government will force all others out of business and then we will have no choice?

  18. hermit thrush says:

    1. the pamphlet is a publication of the house republican conference. its introduction is written by representative mike pence, chair of the conference and also chair of the extremely conservative republican study committee. while i think it’s safe to assume that the cover layout wasn’t his responsibility, i think it’s pretty far fetched to suggest anything other than that the people who put together the cover knew exactly what they were doing. who doesn’t know that margaret thatcher is british?

    2. no, i mean none. the thing about socialism is, while all those countries bret listed stand to the left of the u.s. politically and economically, none of them are actually socialist. it wasn’t so long ago that countries like the u.k., norway, italy, and spain stood with us as nato allies against actual socialist countries like the u.s.s.r. and east germany. this is part and parcel of the conservative corruption of language that has been discussed here before (though i don’t seem to be able to find a link to the post i have in mind).

    3. none of us can see the future, but from what i understand i think it’s much more likely not that gm would have made some “tough cuts,” but that it would have been liquidated. gone. no more. and with it would have been a gaping wound in the economy at the time it could least afford it, the sort of thing that can help tip a recession into a depression. obama did the right thing, as has been borne out by subsequent events.

    and reading over again what you’ve wrote, i’m a bit flabbergasted that, for how often you complain about how this or that self-professed conservative isn’t a true conservative, you make the deeply unconservative argument that we shouldn’t have bailed out the financial sector. what a shocking risk to take! what a reckless, wild gamble! the net cost of tarp is going to be something like a hundred billion dollars. relative to the size of the economy, that’s a hell of a bargain to have ensured that the economy didn’t implode.

    4. again, more corruption of language. it’s true that that the penalty for not obtaining health insurance is a tax, to be paid with one’s federal taxes. and if you’d been honest in what you originally wrote you’d have mentioned that. you’d have mentioned that one can pay the tax penalty without the slightest worry of jail. it’s just like if you, say, withdraw early from an ira. the penalty for that is a tax! but as with all federal taxes, if you don’t pay them, then yes you might go to jail, never mind that it’s much more likely that the resolution will be obtained through the civil process. but no one ever says that the penalty for early withdrawal is jail. this is bringing us to the point of absurdity.

    5. please. as brian’s post makes completely clear, conservatives and republicans alike are ready euro-bashers as well as proponents of various european historical figures and ideas. i’ll just note further that once again we see bret’s belief that conservatism has never failed because it’s never really been tried. i on the other hand believe that conservatism is as conservatism does.

  19. Bret4207 says:

    2- Learn the difference between communism and socialism. It’s not that hard.

    3- No, we can;t see the future, but we can see a poor choice being made when there were others that could have been made. You seem to think everything is all hunky-dory. We have a 16%+ unemployment rate by that latest figures. We have unsustainable debt. But your idea seems to be to simply keep throwing money at the problem. Politicians love that idea.

    4- So do you or do you not admit that if one refuses to buy insurance or pay the fines that one will go to prison? So for the first time in American history we pass a Federal Law mandating people purchase a product or face eventual prison.

    5- If you have to rob Peter to pay Paul, you’ll never hear Paul complain. Thinking like yours has encumbered our great grandchildren with debt, has offered them the chance at a lower standard of living and is, in a word, criminal. I honestly don’t know how liberals sleep at night.

  20. hermit thrush says:

    2. i’m all for snark, and i certainly don’t mind seeing a few elbows thrown around the comments. but when your whole response consists of

    Learn the difference between communism and socialism. It’s not that hard

    then you really ought to be straight on things yourself. it doesn’t look too good otherwise. as jdm has helpfully already pointed out this morning, wikipedia defines socialism as

    an economic and political theory based on public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources.

    which happens to be a spot-on description of the former u.s.s.r. and east germany and really i think all the countries behind the iron curtain. do you need to be reminded of what the second s in u.s.s.r. stands for?

    3. you’re not making any sense. i don’t think everything is hunky dory at all. i agree that the employment situation is terrible and that the prospects for economic growth are terrible. the difference between you and me is that you want to pursue policies like putting gm out to pasture or not having the stimulus that will make growth and unemployment worse, whereas i want policies that will make them better.

    4. you’re misinformed, and i’m embarrassed to admit that i’ve fallen for your misinformation. although early versions of the health care bill did allow for imprisonment of those who failed to pay the tax penalty for inadequate coverage, that provision was removed from the final bill:

    In addition, the statute waives criminal penalties for non-compliance with the requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage.

    see here.

    5. that’s nice and i’m sure it feels great to call my thinking “criminal,” but what does this have to do with anything?

  21. Bret4207 says:

    2- “Communism is a sociopolitical structure that aims for a classless and stateless society with the communal ownership of property.”

    Actually the USSR in it’s hey day existed under Stalinism according to Wikipedia. Regardless it’s not “spot on” for socialism in the terms we think of. Do I need to spoon feed you the difference between, say, France or Great Britains socialist methods and the USSR or Chinas? Please, you’re just being obtuse and stubborn. Most of modern day Europe has socialist governments. To argue that’s not true is just silly. East Germany used to be the GDR- the German Democratic Republic. Do I need to remind you that it was neither democratic nor a republic?

    Snarky, eh?

    3- So instead of letting poorly run and mismanaged companies reorganize and learn from their mistakes, you’re in favor of rewarding them with more money to keep doing the same old thing and leaving the taxpayer with the bill? Wow, great idea. Wish I could get some of that multi billion dollar corporate welfare. We really taught those bankers a lesson too. Did you hear sub prime mortgages are back? Oh yeah. But hey, we fixed it and all is well, right?

    4- I don’t believe it. Then there is absolutely no incentive to participate. Time will tell. There are all sorts of people suddenly discovering all sorts of things that were never discussed about he health care bill. I’ll tell you what- if it all works out just dandy and costs really do go down and taxes don;t have to be raised to cover things in the bill and no one ever goes to prison for refusing to participate I’ll be more than happy to admit I was entirely full of bull feathers and you and Obama were right.

    5- You and those who follow the liberal line of thinking have no qualms about stealing from someone else to further your agenda. No qualms about encumbering future generations with obscene debt. What is has to do with this is the fundamental difference between liberal attitudes and conservative attitudes.

  22. hermit thrush says:

    2. fair enough about the gdr!

    but aside from that… well let’s just note that the first sentence in the wikipedia article on east germany begins (my emphasis) “The German Democratic Republic…, informally called East Germany by the West, was the socialist state established in 1949….”

    later in the article we learn that (again my emphasis) “The ruling political party in East Germany was the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany, SED).”

    the first sentence in the article on the u.s.s.r. begins (again my emphasis) “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics…, informally known as the Soviet Union…, was a constitutionally socialist state….”

    and more to the point, both the u.s.s.r. and east germany did in fact feature extensive public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources. it’s open and shut. so i haven’t the foggiest idea in what terms you think of socialism, but in my book satisfying the definition of socialism makes you socialist! and i think the u.s.s.r. and east germany were pretty much textbook socialist countries, as far as it goes.

    as for the modern-day western european countries you’ve been talking about, let me again make the point that these are the kind of countries that were aligned with us against actual socialist countries like the u.s.s.r. and east germany. britain’s and france’s and italy’s and norway’s economies are all much more like ours than like the u.s.s.r.’s. i don’t mean to say that they’re all raging free market engines — the health care sector of the british economy really is fully socialized, for example (and is vastly more efficient than ours with about the same quality of results, but that’s a topic for another time). but all of these countries fall well short of the standard of actual socialism. it’s really you who’s being silly.

    3. yes bret i am in favor of that when the alternative is the implosion of the economy. context matters. if the economy were better then i’d be very happy to let them all fail. but i think depressions are things to be avoided. it beggars belief that your ideology is so rigid that you’re led to disagree.

    4. this is comedy gold. i cited a letter from the joint committee on taxation — this is part of congress! — reporting unequivocally that there are no criminal penalties for failing to obtain adequate insurance under the affordable care act. it’s right there in black and white. and bret just refuses to believe it. it’s truly the triumph of ideology over reality.

    5. ok i tried to come up with some kind of substantive rejoinder but it’s clear that you’ve lost interest in what we were originally discussing and just want to rant. so yell louder! scream it out! you’ll feel much better.

  23. Bret4207 says:

    Okay, one more time- “One point that is frequently raised to distinguish socialism from communism is that socialism generally refers to an economic system, while communism generally refers to both an economic and a political system. As an economic system, socialism seeks to manage the economy through deliberate and collective social control. Communism, however, seeks to manage both the economy and the society by ensuring that property is owned collectively, and that control over the distribution of property is centralized in order to achieve both classlessness and statelessness. Both socialism and communism are similar in that they seek to prevent the ill effects that are sometimes produced by capitalism.

    Both socialism and communism are based on the principle that the goods and services produced in an economy should be owned publicly, and controlled and planned by a centralized organization. Socialism asserts that the distribution should take place according to the amount of individuals’ production efforts, however, while communism asserts that that goods and services should be distributed among the populace according to individuals’ needs.

    Another difference between socialism and communism is that communists assert that both capitalism and private ownership of the means of production must be done away with as soon as possible in order to make sure a classless society, the communist ideal, is formed. Socialists, however, see capitalism as a possible part of the ideal state and believe that socialism can exist in a capitalist society. In fact, one of the ideas of socialism is that everyone within the society will benefit from capitalism as much as possible as long as the capitalism is controlled somehow by a centralized planning system.

    Another difference between socialism and communism is centered on who controls the structure of economy. Where socialism generally aims to have as many people as possible influence how the economy works, communism seeks to limit that number to a smaller group.”

    3- All you’ve done is delay the implosion to a slightly later date. The basic problem is now worse instead of better. How you can fail to understand that a band aid won’t cure cancer is beyond me.

    4- Reality? Ideology? YOU are putting your faith in the same Congress that lies and fails to do as promised every single day. If this was a Republican controlled Congress and a Republican Administration would you have the same faith in their “black and white” promises? No way. That my friend is putting ideology in front of reality.

  24. hermit thrush says:

    2. it’s too bad bret didn’t extend the courtesy of linking to his source. i found it here. apparently its written by a ms. rebecca partington. after a quick google i’ve learned that there are lots of people with that name, but none of them jumped out at me as being the one we have here. so bret’s source is some apparently uncredentialed individual writing on some website. and i don’t mean to overly disparage that, but why should we regard it with any authority at all? why is that any better than wikipedia saying that communism is a branch of socialism, so that any communist state is a fortiori socialist? why is that any better than the article on socialism on the same site, which refers to “Russian socialism”? i of course say it’s not. i say (to borrow a phrase of bret’s) that in the terms we think of, the definition of socialism in wikipedia is perfectly good and that therefore of course the u.s.s.r. and east germany were socialist.

    i think it’s also worth pointing out that marx himself saw socialism as the transition phase on the way to pure communism (in the technical sense). and since these countries clearly never made it to pure communism (though my knowledge of east german history is so poor that i don’t know if it considered itself as being on the road to communism), doesn’t that kind of suggest they must have been socialist in fact?

    3. even if all these companies end up failing later, that will be a better outcome since it’s overwhelmingly likely to occur at a time that the economy can better absorb the blow. but of course i also disagree that all we’ve done is delay the inevitable — gm and the banks that survived are all in better shape now than they were before the crisis hit. i just think you’re wrong on this.

    4. good grief bret, we’re not talking about “promises” made by members of congress in campaign stops or on sunday talk shows. we’re talking about the official analysis of the bill by the jct, a nonpartisan congressional committee with a staff of economists, accountants, and attorneys. one of the jct’s functions is to advise members of congress on what’s in a given tax-related bill. so if the jct says plainly that there are no criminal penalties for non-compliance, then there are no criminal penalties! would you rather suggest that the jct lied to congress?

    as a final point, please don’t go projecting your own partisan and ideological pathologies onto me. you couldn’t be more wrong. if this were a republican bill and the jct said there were no criminal penalties, then i would believe it! if this were a republican bill and the cbo scored it as a deficit reducer, then i would believe it! obviously you and i have different political philosophies, but i work hard to keep mine tethered to reality.

  25. Bret4207 says:

    2- I looked for a simple definition that laid out the differences as we speak of them. wisegeeks just happened to be where I found a convenient definition. Can you grasp that Soviet communism or Cuban communism or Venezuelan communism is a different than the British socialist economic system? By your argument they are both “the same”. Give me a break here.

    3- Look at what you said in 3 and then 4. You say something will happen at a “better time” and then say we’re not talking about promises. So you base both points on your personal “faith” in what is being said depending on which subject you cherry pick.

    The banks and GM are “better” because we gave them money we borrowed to make up for poor management and stupid choices. The banks are floating sub-prime loans again and GM still has no hope of rebuilding it’s former market share while fulfilling it’s obligations. Yeah, that’s better.

    4- You refuse to accept reality. Reality is that there is no way that there will be “no criminal penalties”. That’s simply ridiculous. There is no law on the books anywhere that I’m aware of that carries zero penalty if enforced. And if it’s not enforced then you will have no law. That is a go nowhere argument based in your faith and desire for it to be true, for this healthcare plan to actually work as you want it to. There will be criminal penalties and it will cost far more than projected and it won’t fix the problem. It will work like every other Gov’t program and bureaucracy- it will be more expensive and less effective than proposed and as it was sold. Find me 10 examples where this hasn’t been the case, for that matter find me 5 good solid cases where that hasn’t been the case or even one case that rock solid and not open to interpretation. You can’t do it!

    Your blind faith in gov’t’s veracity is well meaning I’m sure. But if you haven’t seen gov’t out and out lie about things numerous times then you just aren’t looking.

  26. Bret4207 says:

    Yeah, GM is really doing better- apparently well enough to go elsewhere!

    http://www.industryweek.com/articles/gm_to_build_new_vehicle__at_plant_in_mexico_22462.aspx

  27. hermit thrush says:

    2. i love how earlier in this thread bret accused me of being obtuse, i really do. i reread what i’ve written and i honestly think i’ve been perfectly clear and for whatever reason things are not penetrating his filter. so for the record i’ve been saying all along that countries like the u.s.s.r. and east germany on the one hand, and the u.k. and italy and norway on the other, are not the same, and that in particular the former were socialist and the latter are not. that’s been the whole point! to say that the u.k. is socialist is to say that socialism has lost all meaning.

    (fwiw, since when in venezuela communist? huh?)

    to clarify further, all these western european countries we’ve been talking about (and one can throw in the u.s. and canada too) have certainly integrated some aspects of socialism, but none of them comes close to actual socialism in aggregate. i mean, get back to me once one of them nationalizes the means of production and starts issuing five year plans.

    3. oh please. what i said in 3 and 4 are totally different. in 4 i was citing the expert legal report of the jct. this is as credible a source as it gets. the kind of “faith” one puts in them is the akin to the kind of faith that “words have meaning” or “this thing i’m seeing now, i’m not hallucinating it.” in 3 i said that if problems occur down the road, then they’re likely (that that they will — stop lying about what i write!!) to occur at a time when the economy can better absorb the blow. which, sure, involves a certain kind of faith, but i also think that’s a pretty sound judgment!

    again the choice was between doing it bret’s way and guaranteeing yourself a depression, vs. doing it the way it happened, which clearly avoided a depression for now and i think is very likely to avoid one altogether.

    as for the banks and gm being better, well look the banks have paid the government back! the government actually made money on that part of tarp! so yes the banks really are healthier than before — maybe not healthy enough, but still healthy. as for gm, you do know it underwent a massive chapter 11 reorganization, right? you do know its old stockholders got cleaned out, right? you do know that its debt obligations have been massively reduced under the reorganization, right? so yes of course gm is in better shape (which i guess is just to say it still exists! but still). and it’s still on track to completely repay the government.

    finally, what on earth does gm building a new plant in mexico have to do with any of this?

    4. this really takes the cake, even for an ideologue like bret. i can’t say anything about what future lawmakers will or won’t do, but the status of the law right now isn’t in doubt. in fact it’s black and white. so look, here’s the relevant section of the affordable care act (from the absolutely incredible opencongress.org website). this is the bill signed into law by the president. the link will take you to section 5000A(g)(2)(A), which reads

    WAIVER OF CRIMINAL PENALTIES. In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to time3 ly [sic] pay any penalty imposed by this section [i.e. for not meeting the minimum insurance requirement — ht], such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such fail ure [sic].

    that means you can’t go to jail for not buying insurance, contrary to what bret said. now maybe bret’s right that because of this the law will be unenforceable (in the sense that although there is a penalty for noncompliance in the form of a fine, no one will pay the fine), but i doubt it. in fact i’m pretty sure we have lots of laws around without criminal penalties for violation. maybe bret thinks they’re all on the way out too!

    as for your final challenge, bret, i just want to note that your ideology aside, government is really good at insuring people. these problems with inefficiency and bureaucracy exist in any large organization, and in particular in the private sector. and in fact medicare is more efficient than the private sector. as for programs coming in cheaper, i’m out of energy find the reference, but i believe so far medicare part d is coming in cheaper than originally forecast by the cbo.

  28. hermit thrush says:

    sorry in the first paragraph of 3 the parenthetical remark is supposed to say:

    (not that they will…

  29. Bret4207 says:

    You do not get it do you? You refer to communists as socialists and then argue they’re different. Let me try this- Sweden for instance has a socialist economy. So does Great Britain, Italy, Spain, etc. Remember?- “socialism generally refers to an economic system, while communism generally refers to both an economic and a political system.”

    Can you start there as grasp the concept?

    Some banks have repaid some loans and yes, GMs stockholders sure did get the shaft. I’m glad you note the illegal action by Obama also defrauded stockholders, thank you. What does that plant have to do with anything? GM isn’t building that plant here, are they? Dang sure they aren’t putting it in Massena. Get the picture?

    Lets wait and see if there are truly no criminal penalties. I’m sure you’re aware that wording can mean different things to different people. You know, what “is” is and all that.

    Please provide proof anything in Medicare is coming for less than originally projected.

  30. Bret4207 says:

    Never mind, you’re right in a sense, but the future isn’t so bright according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

    “Medicare’s actuaries have attributed lower-than-projected expenditures to a combination of factors, including lower-than-projected Part D enrollment, slower growth of drug prices in recent years, greater use of generic drugs, and higher-than-expected rebates.42,43 With lower program costs now incorporated into future projections, it is unclear whether Medicare Part D spending can be further ratcheted down in the future under the current system, especially in light of recent projections that the growth in national spending on prescription drugs will rebound in the coming years as the generic dispensing rate levels off and new, expensive specialty drugs are approved.44”

    So far so good, but how will it all end up? Unlike you I have little faith things will magically “get better”. Not without huge infusions of cash.

    I missed the Venezuelan comment earlier. As with so many other things in this discussion there are degrees or shades of Socialism/Communism. Now Hugo Chavez has a clearly totalitarian socialist gov’t that is for all intents and purposes communist. When the gov’t seizes private property, business, limits speech by the opposition and uses strong arm tactics do you find that more akin to socialism or communism?

    On the banks- 14 of the 17 largest recipients of loans have repaid them, but not all is as rosy as you make it out to be- http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/banking/2010-07-14-tarp14_ST_N.htm

    Even Mother Jones see’s the problems- http://motherjones.com/bailout/2009/06/big-bank-bamboozle Pay particular attention to the part following “First off, it conveniently ignores the fact that TARP accounts for a fraction—about $700 billion—of the government’s $13 trillion banking stabilization scheme.” Yeah $13 TRILLION. Never heard that number bandied about on MSNBC did ya? And this guy brings up some interesting numbers that appear to be accurate- http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/490751-josh-dowlut/66744-how-banks-repaid-tarp-the-other-bailout-repayment-lie

    And lets not forget GM. News flash! They’re “repaying” TARP money with other public funds!!! http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/business/02gret.html Brilliant, but dishonest and in the end they aren’t repaying anything.

    Maybe you just have more faith in Gov’t than I do, but I’ve seen Gov’t, especially the Federal Gov’t, out and out lie more times than I can count. I’ve never seen anything I can recall run or work as they claimed it would. Once burned, forever shy, right? Sorry if you find that objectionable, but it’s just a big ponzi scheme and we’re the victims.

  31. hermit thrush says:

    i think bret and i must have different approaches to language. i believe that words have meanings. when we speak, our choice of words communicates those meanings. bret apparently feels otherwise.

    despite having gone around now a few times, i think it’s pretty clear that bret don’t have any idea what “socialism” or “communism” means. by no standard whatsoever is venezuela communist. i know bret is a “conservative” and these days part of that typically involves being extremely anti-venezuela and maybe he’s just calling it communist as some of kind of slur. but to have said that in the context of this discussion reveals that he has absolutely no idea what communism means.

    the u.s.s.r. and east germany had socialist economies. take a look at the definition of socialism again — again, it’s open and shut. if you want to say they were simultaneously communist countries, then fine. (as before, i don’t know if that was actually the case for east germany, but for the time being who cares.) but according to the very definition of socialism, these two countries unquestionably had socialist economies.

    on the other hand, the u.k., italy, spain, and sweden do not have socialist economies. more precisely, their economies integrate certain socialist aspects (as does ours!), but overall they fall far short of actual socialism. their economies are much more like ours than like the textbook socialist economies of the u.s.s.r. and east germany. again, let me know when any of them nationalizes the means of production and starts issuing five year plans.

    more corruption of language with regard to gm. there was nothing “illegal” about the government’s intervention. no stockholders were “defrauded.” what in god’s name are you talking about, bret? and yes i get perfectly well that the upshot of the factory being located in mexico is that it’s not in the u.s. that’s nice but it has nothing to do with what we’ve been talking about.

    “I’m sure you’re aware that wording can mean different things to different people” — yes this is truly the triumph of ideology over reality! bret clearly believes that words do not have meaning — that somehow the law saying “not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty” actually means that criminal penalties are possible! and look, i totally agree that sometimes laws are not clear precisely because some words can be interpreted in different ways. but this is not one of those cases. this bit of the law is clear as day. there’s only one way to understand it, short of insanity.

    i was a bit incorrect in my previous comment about medicare part d. it was actually the center for medicaid and medicare services, not the cbo. as of last year, medicare part d spending was coming in around 37% below the cms’s original 2003 estimate. i failed to find a really good link, but this one will do — scroll down to “update, nov. 18” for som discussion.

  32. Bret4207 says:

    Man, you sure are stubborn. Look, I don’t know how old youa re of if you remember the USSR and it’s satellite countries- trust me, look for yourself- they WERE COMMUNIST. YOU are mincing words by calling communism socialism.

    And let me give you some examples of why “not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty” may not mean what it says. Consider that in law wording has different meanings than in the normal everyday language we use. “Commerce” to the average person, probably to you, means a business, right? No, commerce means an act wherein a form of compensation is received in exchange for an act. So in Federal Law a gymkhana is commerce for the participants as is a stock car race. “Interstate commerce” to the average person means commerce crossing state lines, right? No. Interstate Commerce can occur entirely within one state according to the Federal Gov’t. Tax=contribution. Just because it says “criminal penalty” doesn’t mean that’s what they mean. You simply use a different term from “criminal”. It’s done all the time. Change the term used and do what you want.

  33. hermit thrush says:

    i have to admit i’m pretty conflicted, bret. on the one hand you’ve written a couple comments that i find, like all of your comments in this thread, to have a lot of nonsense in them. and for whatever reason it bothers me that that nonsense goes out there unchallenged, and i have a strong inclination to stand up to it.

    but on the other hand, what’s the use? you have such a perverse relationship with language that it’s impossible to communicate with you. and we’re far enough down in the thread now that i doubt (actually hope, for their own sake) anyone else is paying attention. words have meanings for me — fixed, agreed-upon meanings. when i use a word, i mean to communicate that agreed-upon meaning. when a certain “whatever” satisfies the agreed upon definition of a word, then that word applies. that’s how language works.

    for you, on the other hand, words do not have meaning. or rather, their use and interpretation for you is endlessly malleable, all at the service of ideological convenience. anything can mean anything. it’s like the calvinball of language.

  34. Bret4207 says:

    HT- no offense intended as I’m sure you think you are using the terms correctly. But when you call the USSR socialist you are making a huge mistake and I know of no one that ever thought of the USSR or it’s satellites, including Cuba, as socialist.

    Just because you think you are using the correct definition doesn’t mean you are. And certainly just because a nation calls itself socialist, democratic or a republic doens’t mean it is. Same thing with legal-speak and political-speak. Words don’t always mean what we think they mean. That is the reality you desire to base you opinion on.

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