28 April 2010

Socialist!

Ahh the amusement of attempting, and failing, to talk to conservatives these days. I don't presume to be on the level of a Mr Manzi (that would be crazy, and besides, I disagree about the viability of a theoretical carbon tax with him anyway), but dealing with the trenches is apparently little different than dealing with the top dogs.

Let's summarize briefly:
Socialists are opposed to the ownership of private property
I am of the opinion that the defence of private property rights is one of, if not the central function of, governments (after assuring that governments do not violate our civil rights).
Socialists support a centrally planned agricultural system. Such as the price controls or subsidies that we use as a form of such planning, though this functions in real life more as a form of corporatism/fascism than pure socialism.
I oppose farm subsidies, not merely for ethanol and fuel production, but for regular crops as well.
Socialists support a publicly run and controlled education system.
The only interferences I support for education are that there should be a tax levied on taxpayers/property owners that they could then spend at their leisure or choice on education (or surrender to the state). I don't support public schools or the present distinctions between public and private schooling. I also don't support subsidies for college education, certainly in the manner we presently maintain them.
It goes on from there: I oppose centrally planned industrial policies, we subsidize all sorts of industrial production through tariffs and tax incentives, I'm no fan of the excise tax levied on inheritances, mostly because I think it's a waste of energy to get rich people to give their money to the state. I even oppose the housing tax subsidies and cheap money loans that have allowed Americans to pursue living in the suburbs and exurbs, yet another measure proposed by Marxism (to distribute the population over the land more equitably from the cities).

On the actual economic and political measures of socialism versus capitalistic notes, I am pretty sure I would pass with flying colours relative to the average American citizen, particularly since only one of these is even relatively popular among the average American citizenry (private property rights) and none of the other planks on Marx's famous manifesto are greatly opposed by public supports as expressed in votes. (Okay fine, I do support a central banking system over some other method of currency (specie standards for example) but I have a much more limited view of what, if anything, that central bank is empowered to do other than distribute money at a fixed rate of growth based on low inflation or modest NGDP targets.)

And yet, because I have the nerve to think that the health care bill is anything other than a retrenchment of the status quo and not some bold path to socialism worthy of repeal as a symbol of its un-American-ness (and took the time to outline a market-based alternative to it rather than simply say we must repeal it immediately with no plan like an idiot, on the apparent belief that the system already was market based and was working fine, both horrible errors in my view), and thus disagree with conservatives on this point, or because I think that deficit reduction is important enough for our long-term economic prosperity and the likelihood of real budget cuts being made is so low (for political reasons, the two things that need cut are untouchable, Medicare and Social Security) that I might support measures to raise government revenues as a stop-gap until such hard cuts and choices are made, such as a VAT or a carbon tax, I am a socialist.

Now if the definition of "epistemic closure" is not including something like "everyone who disagrees with me must be a socialist", much as for Mr. Manzi it means that his global warming policy skepticism makes him a "global warming fanatic" when he demonstrates the stunning ignorance of a popular conservative icon on that topic, then I'm not sure what it does mean. It's funny for a while. And then eventually you just end up pretending that these people don't exist and don't matter. Except they still end up voting and reproducing and passing on their use of logic to the next generation.

I could put up with being labeled a "liberal", because on most matters of discussion, I think my opinions and political beliefs have been framed in that way by people and political philosophers who are famous "liberals" (JS Mill, Thoreau, Kant, Adam Smith, and so on). One of the most common definitions often applied to a libertarian is "a liberal who likes markets". So "liberal" doesn't strike me as an insult or even an attempt at one sometimes. When I'm in discussion over civil liberties or war or authoritarian state actions, I'm easily taken in by those "evil liberals" as one of their own, and thus when they think I am a liberal, it's not a shocking development or even a problem for either of us (at least until Citizens United comes up for debate). But when my economic views have in large part been shaped by Chicago school economics or some derivation thereof (Friedman, Hayek, etc) and I've actually read Marx (and with Mill and Russell a smattering of ambivalent or even positive views on socialism as an economic system, though not as a viable political imposition), the "insult" of calling someone a socialist eventually gets so annoying that further discussion is pointless. I may as well talk to a wall instead. Because it becomes clear that you are talking to an idiot when this happens.

This happens to be appropriate. Except that it's not clear that I am engaged in talking to intelligent people. "The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him." - Tolstoy.
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