The election of President Obama has triggered a standard response by opponents to practically every idea coming from the White House: Socialism!
I disagree with the overuse of this label, seeing our political situation as constantly moving between extremes that favor the individual and those that favor society. We are constantly rebalancing the allocation of rights to wealth, income, personal actions, government protection and aid, etc.
But if we are sliding down a slippery slope to profound socialism (which I strongly dispute) we seem to be getting a few things done along the way.
Consider the Eternal EU Beef Dispute.
The arrangement is designed to allow U.S. beef producers to benefit economically more directly than they would from tariffs on EU goods. Obama administration officials said they simply decided to table the long-running hormone dispute in exchange for an enlarged EU market for hormone-free U.S. beef. An official at the U.S. Trade Representative's office said it was too early to say if the administration would seek to revive the dispute later.While it's hard to see any hint of socialism in that plug-ugly compromise, I'm pretty sure someone will make a abstruse linkage, if only to an overall Master Plan. However, even critics must admit something got done (which is a startling change in itself). I believe the American beef industry is marginally better off because of it. A baby step? Sure. But a step, nonetheless.
"We still believe that the EU's hormones ban is not scientifically justified," said USTR spokeswoman Nefeterius McPherson. "However, for the past 20 years, our beef industry has been virtually shut out of the European market. We therefore decided to set aside our differences, for the time being."
The deal must still be approved by officials from EU countries.
"This does not resolve the [World Trade Organization] case. It pushes it down the road for four years, with a sweetener for the U.S. beef industry," said Timothy Josling, professor emeritus at Stanford University's Food Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.
"We call this a first step," said Gregg Doud, chief economist of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which wants the administration to keep pushing the EU to drop the ban on hormone-treated beef. [More]
Moreover, the more overt threat of "socialized" medicine - which, as best I can tell, is what people who currently have good insurance coverage automatically call efforts to help everyone get coverage - is also causing some rethinking by the health insurance industry.
Here's what's putting the fear of God in them:
Senators are considering three different designs for a new government health-insurance plan that middle-income Americans could buy into for the first time, congressional officials said Friday.
Officials familiar with the proposals said senators plan to debate them in a closed meeting next week. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the controversial plans have not been released.
Creating a public plan is one of the most contentious ideas in the debate over how to overhaul the nation's health-care system to cover the uninsured and try to restrain costs. [More]
And behold, the threat seems to be working:
In effect, insurers said they were willing to discard an element of their longstanding business model, under which insurance policies are priced, in part, on the basis of a person’s medical condition or history.
In the past, insurers have warned that if they could not consider a person’s health in setting premiums, the rates charged to young, healthy people would soar, making coverage unaffordable.
But Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a major trade group, told lawmakers on Tuesday that insurers were exploring ideas to prevent such increases by spreading the risks and costs across a larger population of both healthy and unhealthy people.
Insurers said that they could accept more aggressive regulation of not just their premiums but also their benefits, underwriting practices and other activities. Such strict regulation, they said, would make a new public program unnecessary. [More]
and this surprising offer as well:
The health insurance industry offered yesterday to end its practice of charging higher premiums to women if all Americans are required to get coverage, its latest concession as it tries to head off creation of a government insurance plan that would directly compete with private insurers.Now humor me for a minute. If we end up with some admittedly bastardized (which is what our political process specializes in) health insurance system which essentially gets some minimal health insurance coverage to all of us, and weakens the shackles between your job and your access to health care, would most Americans really care which political label it best fit under?
Health insurers have offered to submit to a series of restrictions they contend would add up to a fairer marketplace and cut into the ranks of the 50 million uninsured. Last year, insurers offered to end the practice of denying coverage to sick people, and earlier this year they went still farther by offering to stop charging sick people more. [More]
This risk inherent in labeling everything the Obama administration does as socialism is perhaps larger than critics think. What if the efforts succeed - evenly partially? It is not impossible that more Americans will look at such effective policies that are actually far more pragmatic (like the beef agreement) than socialist and say, "Whoa - if this is socialism, sign me up."
This would be an outcome I would find ominous. By crying "socialist-wolf" every twenty minutes, the power of the word to instill fear is diluted, I think. It is already about to jump the shark for younger folks.
Why not judiciously save that warning accusation for programs and policies have demonstrably put the control of industries and individuals in the hands of government officials?A somewhat surprising poll was just released showing that only 53% of Americans “believe capitalism is better than socialism.” Amongst the under-thirty set, the two enjoy almost equal support, 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided.Despite this striking number, however, I’m disinclined to think that the Workers World Party will pick up any seats in Congress anytime soon. Had the question been phrased “do you support nationalizing the means of production and requiring government to distribute the spoils of labor?” I doubt that actual socialism would have fared particularly well.Rather, I see this poll as even more evidence of how widespread the American people’s rejection of conservative values has become. Ever since Sarah Palin ceased to be an attractive-but-unknown face from Alaska, conservatives have railed against any attempt to use government spending to mitigate the present economic downturn, labeling it “Socialism!” The alternative, they say, is to double-down on George W. Bush’s policies, cut taxes on the super-rich, and rely on the invisible hand of the market to make everything all better again.In other words, the American people have been subjected to a months-long campaign which defines President Obama’s popular policies to improve the economy as “socialism,” and George W. Bush’s disastrous policies as “not socialism.” Is it any shock, then, that many Americans no longer find the word “socialism” very scary? [More]
Like the farm program, for example.