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Tilting at Windmills

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October 29, 2008
By: Hilzoy

Socialism Is Everywhere

In a stunning reversal, John McCain today endorsed the redistribution of wealth:

"We have a plan of action to get America's economy going again, Maria, and it has to do with a wide range of prescriptions. But one of them is to keep people in their homes. Look, it was the housing crisis that started this, OK? Fannie and Freddie, this -- was the catalyst that blew this whole thing up. And frankly, the administration is not doing what I think they should do, and that's go in and buy out these bad mortgages, give people mortgages they can afford, stabilize home values and start them back up again. They did that during the depression, it was called the Home Owners' Loan Corporation.""

Did you catch that? John McCain wants to take your money and "spread" it to various mortgage lenders. Apparently, he thinks that he knows better than you do how your money should be spent.

On reflection, this shouldn't come as such a surprise. McCain has endorsed a variety of other socialistic, redistributive measures. His website notes that "John McCain believes we must enlarge the size of our armed forces to meet new challenges to our security." Needless to say, this amounts to redistributing taxpayer dollars -- your dollars -- to the men and women who would join McCain's enlarged military. Likewise, McCain proposes spreading some of your hard-earned wealth to defense contractors: "John McCain strongly supports the development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses", and he "has fought to modernize our forces, to ensure that America maintains and expands its technological edge against any potential adversary". In yet another capitulation to socialism, "he is committed to ensuring that veterans' health care programs receive the funding necessary to provide the quality health care our veterans need and deserve" -- in other words, to taking the money you have earned and giving it to veterans who get sick. Talk about the nanny state!

The horrors continue: "He will commit a $5,000 tax credit for each and every customer who buys a zero carbon emission car". Apparently, John McCain doesn't believe that you and I are competent to decide for ourselves whether to give money to people who buy hybrid cars. No: the government will decide for us, and let us foot the bill. Likewise, "John McCain Will Commit $2 Billion Annually To Advancing Clean Coal Technologies." Why can't I decide for myself whether or not I want to fund clean coal? Or to contribute to a $300 million dollar prize for the development of batteries for plug-in hybrids? Or give foreign aid to Israel? And why is John McCain so eager to expropriate my money to pay for his priorities?

John McCain might think it's the role of government to use my money to "provide $5,000 for health insurance to every American family". But those of us who cherish genuine American values know that that's just a fancy way of saying that he wants to spread the wealth.

This is socialism, pure and simple. John McCain believes that the President and the Congress should have the right to expropriate our money, and spend it on what they think matters. It's un-American, and I, for one, can no longer be a part of it.

That's why I'm moving to Somalia, where I can live under a limited nonexistent government that respects my freedoms, as the Founding Fathers intended.

Hilzoy 1:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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My goodness Hilzoy, I wish I could
write as well as you.

Brilliant !

Posted by: Terry on October 29, 2008 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy obviously didn't get the memo: it's only socialism when Democrats propose it. When John McCain proposes massive, government engineered wealth transfers and nationalization schemes, it's a rock-ribbed, flag-waving, freedom-loving response to help real Americans in need.

All clear?

Posted by: jonas on October 29, 2008 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

I wasn't quite so eloquent. Best I could do was "The whole Federal government budget is a form of redistribution of wealth."

Posted by: Linkmeister on October 29, 2008 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

Be sure and watch out for those pirates over there.

"The age of the mass media is just that -- an age. It doesn't have to last forever." - Jay Rosen

Posted by: daCascadian on October 29, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

Why doesn't the Obama campaign use such material in its ads?

And there is a lot more of this. From a New Yorker article linked earlier by TPM:

During the 2000 campaign, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” a young woman asked [McCain] why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain replied that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.” The exchange continued:

YOUNG WOMAN: Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?. . .
MCCAIN: Here’s what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

Where are the Democratic ads with this stuff?

Posted by: JS on October 29, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

To be fair (though it's not entirely clear why one should be "fair" to malevolent idiots), the "spreading the wealth" and "socialism" arguments are not entirely ridiculous. They're sparked by Obama's comment that "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." It is fair to say that liberals do believe that an egalitarian income distribution is a good thing in itself, and that conservatives generally do not. The term "redistribution" as used by people like McCain signifies taking wealth from rich people and giving it to poor people for no other reason than that the former are rich and the latter poor. It is not ridiculous to allege that liberals like myself, and indeed Barack Obama, believe there ought to be redistribution in this sense, to some extent.

It is also not entirely ridiculous to call beliefs like this "socialism". Not all kinds of socialism have required exclusively collective/government ownership of the means of production. One could have called oneself a socialist in Germany in the 1970s and meant that one wanted generous public benefits and a regulated labor market, and still have believed that BMW should remain a private enterprise.

It's not really quite fair to claim that McCain is by his own lights a "socialist" or favors "redistribution". The grounds of a serious debate are a bit different. They include questions like: given that government takes money from some people and gives it to others, why should it be taking money from working people and spending it on fighter planes, rather than on schools or trains? When the government cuts taxes for rich people and this leads to lots of debt, is it fair to make working class people pay for that debt? Etc.

Posted by: brooksfoe on October 29, 2008 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

JS, I suspect they're about out of time to run more ads. What's available is bought already. The stories I hear from swing state TV viewers are that there ain't nuthin' but political ads on the tube already.

Posted by: Linkmeister on October 29, 2008 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

Linkmeister, the air time may be already booked, but content can be (and is) created in 24 hours these days.

Anyway, there is a lot more stuff like that that has been around since the beginning of the campaign that wasn't used. Like McCain being asked why insurance companies aren't required to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions and replying that that would be against free enterprise principles. (This is on youtube). Yet his health plan is to get more people to buy health insurance on their own -- where they are most vulnerable to free-enterprise cancellations. Who would vote for him if they saw this?

And where is the ad spelling out that Joe the Plumber was complaining about 3% extra tax on income OVER $250K? (Which was a hypothetical, because he later admitted he doesn't make that kind of money. And that the fact that McCain picked up on that PROVES that he is looking after the rich?

Or McCain repeating, on many occasions, "there will be more wars, there will be more wars" (also on youtube).

With one week to go, the Republicans are out with their big guns and the Gallup "traditional" poll of likely voters is down to a 2% Obama advantage.

Posted by: JS on October 29, 2008 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

It is fair to say that liberals do believe that an egalitarian income distribution is a good thing in itself, and that conservatives generally do not.

Huh? Which liberals have you been talking to that think everyone should get the same amount of money no matter what? You must still be in college if those are the only liberals you've met.

I could take your same argument and say that liberals believe that not letting people die of starvation in the streets is a good thing in itself, and that conservatives generally do not. Does that mean that Obama can run a commercial saying that McCain and Palin are in favor of letting people starve to death since it will be just as perfectly true as Palin claiming that Obama is a socialist?

Posted by: Mnemosyne on October 29, 2008 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

Tax brackets have been around for a long time. The argument that started with Joe the Plumber was about what the brackets should be. As others have pointed out, increasing the the tax on amounts over $250K by 3% is not socialism -- it is changing a tax bracket.

More accurately, it is allowing the tax bracket to return to its level before Bush's "temporary" tax cuts were passed by Congress (and due to expire soon). If this is socialism, then we had the same socialism under Clinton as well. Yet things were fine then.

I continue to be frustrated that these things are not spelled out on TV when McCain and Palin scream "socialism".

Posted by: JS on October 29, 2008 at 3:01 AM | PERMALINK

Why not simply take the argument to its logical conclusion, and identify the Republican Party as Amerika's Politburo? Why they even have a short, balding, doddering old fool with a temperament problem. He could stand before the world and bang
on the podium, screaming about how he will bury us all in an endless series of political intrigues, forcing us to sacrifice our children in meaningless wars.........

Oh---wait. Does "Real America" realize that their standard bearer is Nikita McKhrushchev?

Posted by: Steve W. on October 29, 2008 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK

Huh? Which liberals have you been talking to that think everyone should get the same amount of money no matter what?

You need to work a little on the definition of "egalitarian". It doesn't mean "equal". As a clue, an income distribution can be "highly egalitarian," "relatively egalitarian" or "not very egalitarian".

For instance, the fact that not everyone in Sweden makes exactly the same amount of money does not necessarily mean that Swedish society is "inegalitarian".

Posted by: brooksfoe on October 29, 2008 at 4:34 AM | PERMALINK
CHAOS, n. A supremely egalitarian form of social organization in which the only meaningful distinction is between those who are alive and those who are not. Societies which have achieved a perfect state of CHAOS cannot benefit from further Deregulation, q.v.
Posted by: Jassalasca Jape on October 29, 2008 at 4:35 AM | PERMALINK

Also, this:

liberals believe that not letting people die of starvation in the streets is a good thing in itself, and that conservatives generally do not.

is not true. Conservatives do believe that not letting people die of starvation in the streets is a good thing in itself. But, as I said, most of them truly do not believe that having an egalitarian (i.e. relatively compact, not inegalitarian) income distribution is in itself a good thing. They don't care about inequality, and they'll say so themselves. They see inequality as an inevitable result of meritocracy. This is a major and genuine difference between conservatives and liberals.


Posted by: brooksfoe on October 29, 2008 at 4:42 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives do believe that not letting people die of starvation in the streets is a good thing in itself.

If I may interject into this back-and-forth of strawman arguments, I do think that many in the Republican base would be perfectly comfortable with allowing persons outside their own circle (however defined) to starve, and would be happy to say so. This follows from the vulgar understanding of the red-meat talking points on "personal responsibility" (i.e. don't hold us responsible) and "small government" (i.e. government handouts only for us, whoever "we" are).

Whether people that far disconnected from social reality should be called "Conservatives" in polite company is, of course, a bit of a question.

Posted by: Jassalasca Jape on October 29, 2008 at 5:03 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatism does think it's a positive good let people die of starvation in the streets.

What the fuck are you smoking, brooksfoe?

Conservatives are not going to SAY "let them starve" because it's transparently awful politics, but the entire conservative philosophy points to "let them starve" from several different directions:

a) starving people will be motivated to work.
b) people who are starving are likely poor, and are likely poor for a good reason, and if we let them starve we can take care of the poverty problem.
c) churches and private individuals can feed the poor, it should not be the role of the government to do so, because it robs people of their right to do good works.
d) if people are starving, that means that food prices are too high. if the government feeds them, it will be artificially inflating food values, making it MORE LIKELY that people will starve!

I can do this all day.

Whatever the practical applied versions of conservatism look like, the pure principles of conservatism lead to people starving in the streets. If there was a conservative principle that said it's not ok to have people starve in the streets, we'd call that system liberalism.

Posted by: inkadu on October 29, 2008 at 5:38 AM | PERMALINK


I do think that many in the Republican base would be perfectly comfortable with allowing persons outside their own circle (however defined) to starve, and would be happy to say so.

That's not true. Evangelical Christians and many other Republicans donate generously to charities, supported US aid to Indonesia after the tsunami, etc. What they do not support are the kinds of thorough, solid and powerful government interventions that can consistently prevent poverty-related ills like starvation and homelessness, because they have a misguided antipathy to anything government-run.

It's too easy to short circuit these arguments by claiming your ideological opponents support starvation, totalitarianism, or what have you. What makes Barack Obama a stellar politician, and a stellar human being for that matter, is that he engages other people's arguments on their own terms, even if he profoundly disagrees with their premises. I think that is a good habit to develop, and I'm somewhat disappointed in Hilzoy's approach here.

Posted by: brooksfoe on October 29, 2008 at 6:15 AM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget "moral hazard." If people get the idea that society might not let them starve, they will refuse to work and earn money, and then they will starve (until of course, society feeds them outdated Velveeta cheese, contaminated dog food, or whatever).

The GOP applies this principle to sectors of our society such as disabled veterans and single mothers who cannot work because they cannot afford child care. Financial, automotive, and oil industry executives are, of course, a different matter, as they donate heavily to the Republican Party. The goal for them is to see that they make as much of their income from capital gains taxed at low rates (preferably 0%) and passed on to their heirs tax free. This system produces citizens such as George W Bush, Grover Norquist, Cindy McCain, and in its ultimate form, Paris Hilton.

What is interesting this year is that (a) some of the low to middling income Red State chumps who have been taken in by this scam for decades are finally waking up to the fact that they are moving backwards economically; (b) a fair number of educated people in the upper financial strata have figured out that continuing in this manner leads to revolution, chaos, poverty, and even death at the hands of enraged sans-culottes who do not want to starve (see France, 1789-96, and Russia, 1917-1990).

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously remarked that taxes are the price of civilization. This sounds very nice, but is a bit abstract. A more concrete way way to put it is that just taxation is the price of keeping your head on your shoulders.

Posted by: jh on October 29, 2008 at 6:53 AM | PERMALINK

The dysfunction isn't in wealth distribution, that is only the symptom of the dysfunction.

The real dysfunction is in the distribution of bargaining power.

This country is based upon one principle: free contract. In such a society bargaining power is everything.

Wealthy people have been very clever to use cultural issues, that aren't really issues, to get poor people to surrender their bargaining power in vote box to them. As result, in the last 30 years, GNP has more than doubled but working people have gained less than 50 cents an hours and in the last eight years medium family wages has gone down while the top .01% has gone up 500%.

That bargaining power, baby. If you've ever had it, you know what it's like. Wealthy people know and understand, that's how they got that way.

Historically, We are an anglo-saxon Common Law country. That means ideological battles are centered in the judiciary where decisions are narrowly taylored choosing from the entire market place of ideas based upon pragmatism (in the ordinary use of the word), i.e. what ever works best.

Socialism? It means nothing in this society. Bargaining power? That means everything - and the playing field ought to be level.

Posted by: Bub on October 29, 2008 at 7:22 AM | PERMALINK

John's just for continuing "reverse" socialism where it is redistributed to the top.

Posted by: Former Dan on October 29, 2008 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK

What is all this stuff about taxes? Or where is the beef?

This money mess is huge and Mainstream Media is complicit to the gigantic dodge involved in real money problems. The media is not reporting the cool good stuff and they know it.

The IRS is obviously loaded with a range of corrupt cronies.

Sheesh, if you Google and take a look at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. What the hell is that? Well that’s where the administrators of the IRS came from. Can you imagine the IRS is managed by former the stock market swindlers? The tax money that is swindled through all the Wall Street bullshit bail out is likely to be enough to pull everyone out of poverty, pay for universal health care, have the capability for the boomers to retire in annual incomes of at least fifty thousand dollars, and build the entire American infrastructure once or twice.

E gads, If Obama gets to open the pages of the IRS highly and likely decades of racial banking redlining, and job discrimination will be discovered. Yikes, for one to realize the secrets of the IRS are likely as ugly as the America’s National Security Secrets, but they both tell the real truth about our history.

Hell, if Obama get elected, the Fox news Corporation is probably going to have to burn and shred their archives to prevent criminal cases of slander smear and hidden corruption. Andrea Mitchell and Allen Greenspan will flee the country with a few billion tax dollars in secret accounts. Bush and Company already bought their ponderosa in Argentina. Heck, that’s why the Jekyll Island group, you know those that started the Federal Reserve, Rothschild, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, JP Morgan, and a host of others, they do not want you and me to see the inside real structure. Obama would likely open these pages and change a lot of stuff.

The Stock Market is selling out because the Arabs are shutting down their off shore tax havens. They have literally hundreds of them, pretty neat huh.

Watching MSNBC having a discussion about the economic theories. This doctorate guy made a very telling comment that Joe sham Scharbourgh slid right over. This professor or analyst said openly that if he was a teacher and a student submitted a certain type of theory, that he did not like, this professor would flunk the student. Well, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have its ways. Here, is a wonderful example of why America has a problem. Then one considers American agencies are likely loaded with Liberty University grads that have no clue on how to think for themselves. Sort of like watching Palin supporters.

Posted by: Megalomania on October 29, 2008 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

They don't care about inequality, and they'll say so themselves. They see inequality as an inevitable result of meritocracy.

This is not exactly true either.

Many conservatives poo poo the idea of "meritocracy" as a progressive conceit, if meritocracy is defined as a system where people can self-actualize in direct proportion to their talent and individual drive. The missing variable, of course, is "opportunity." Liberals believe the government should help to ensure that there is a fair set of game rules and a level playing field. It's OK to have an advantage if you are born on third base, but it's definitely not OK to institutionalize that advantage through nepotism, anti-competitive practices and policies that tend to amplify existing power structures at the expense of emerging power structures. In other words, if you allow those on third base to lay land mines between second and third because it's "all part of the game," then you are probably a conservative. To a conservative, amplifying advantages that have nothing to do with your inherent individual skill or will is acceptable if not outright encouraged. It's the very nature of conservatism because it preserves the status quo. The rich and powerful feel that once they have earned their perch on the staircase, they shouldn't have to work so hard for it on a day to day basis just because there are some really talented and motivated folks further down.

This philosophy presents obvious real-world choices:

1) Income resulting from work will be taxed at a proportionately higher rate than income resulting from investments.

2) Admission and hiring policies should reward historic position (nepotism, legacy systems, etc.) rather than attempt to even out the opportunity so that underrepresented classes are proportionately represented in the future (affirmative action).

3) Big business should be the benefactor of the redistribution of taxpayer dollars (subsidies), not small business entrepreneurs. Small business entrepreneurship should be discouraged because it threatens to disrupt the status quo. Pander away, but don't actually help them.

4) Institutionalize the policy of "private profit, public risk." Make sure that taxes are for little people and property ownership for big people. Set up a system whereby property can be forcibly taken from the little people to the advantage of the big people (eminent domain for sports arenas and shopping malls).

5)Any industry that makes money by skimming a bit off the top of a market transaction between buyer and seller should have a VERY favorable regulatory framework (credit cards, banks, health insurance, hedge funds, etc.) We must maximize the potential for redistribution of wealth through instruments that don't require real value-added work. The more arcane the rules, the better.

6) We should set up a system of credit that keeps most people in a perpetual state of indebtedness while providing effective barriers to the truly untouchable for interacting with the higher castes. The ability to secure transportation or lodging should be dependent upon one's enrollment in this system. We cannot allow the widespread use of cash, because it makes our skimming operations more difficult.

I could add more, but any working stiff out there who identifies themselves as "conservative" or "libertarian" and honestly believes that the current playing field is NOT set up to their disadvantage is a useful idiot. They've been led to believe that their ship will come in as long as their kindred spirits in the upper castes are allowed to participate in society with maximum authority and minimum accountability.

Posted by: lobbygow on October 29, 2008 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe: there are conservatives who take a consistent stand for smaller government. However, the current republican party emphatically does not, and neither does John McCain. They support massive federal spending programs, they support massive giveaways to large corporations, and they support things like taxing health care benefits in order to send money to corporations. The entire logic of the GOP is to take money from the many and give it to the few. It's hard to claim that this has some sort of libertarian virtue, or that it is somehow superior to the reverse.

Posted by: Marc on October 29, 2008 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

McCain was for socialism(via monopoly) before he was against it:

"Some states, for example, give wholesalers exclusive rights to distribute alcohol in a particular region, effectively creating government-enforced monopolies. Other states (including Arizona) have enacted "franchise termination laws," which make it more difficult for retailers and/or producers to switch distributors once they've started doing business with one. Producers and/or retailers get locked in. If they feel their existing distributor is taking too much of a markup, isn't offering a wide enough variety, or is otherwise performing poorly, there's little they can do. The effect is to squeeze out the upstarts and the competitors. According to Whitman, the number of alcohol wholesalers nationwide has shrunk by 90 percent since the 1950s."

this is how his wife got rich.

Posted by: effluvientOne on October 29, 2008 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

The entire logic of the GOP is to take money from the many and give it to the few.

Private profit, public risk.

Authority for me, accountability for you.

Individual goes broke? You're on your own, deadbeat.

Small business goes broke? Sorry, you just couldn't cut it in the big bad market.

Corporation goes broke? Taxpayers will bail you out.

How can people not see this? The evidence is all around.

Marxism is the last thing we need, because "revolution," as it has historically played out, just changes the assholes in charge.

Libertarianism won't work because most humans can't ever get the "enlightened" part right in the concept of "enlightened self interest." Most Americans, hell, most people, are innumerate and prone to short term bias in their thinking. Not good if we are trying to maximize liberty, since individual liberty is ultimately constrained by systemic properties. We may want to live in a purely individualistic society, but that simply isn't possible. Especially given everyone's reliance on shared systems and infrastructure. If we both share a small enclosed space, I'm going to seriously question your "right" to fart with abandon.

We need a moderately regulated market that helps maintain a high level of permeability between classes and provides a safety net for everyone in this highly volatile global economy. We are going to have a rough ride for several decades until we get global price and wage leveling OR a return to highly localized markets for goods and services.

Posted by: lobbygow on October 29, 2008 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

You are seriously equating the government spending money on actual services (e.g. military) to giving it to people for nothing? Wow. People can honestly disagree on how much we should spend on things like the military, but calling it "wealth redistribution" is just silly.

Posted by: Chuck on October 29, 2008 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

This is clever, and well written, but the point with "spreading the wealth" that is contentious is that of income redistribution: from the pocket of one person, to the pocket of another. Many proponents of progressive income taxation have no problem with using the tax base (generated mostly from the wealthy) to perform the functions of government; building roads, fixing bridges, providing for a strong defense, etc. They get off the boat when its direct income redistribution. This strikes many people as unfair. I wrote about this in more depth at http://thethaxis.blogspot.com/2008/10/diatribe-addendum.html

Posted by: Erik on October 29, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

By purchasing mortgages, the government is receiving a good in return for it's money. McCain's mortgage plan is essentially what Fannie and Freddie should have been doing - helping people with RESPONSIBLE mortgages that can be kept through low rates thanks to Government backing. Barack Obama is sending checks to people FOR NOTHING IN RETURN! They could pay no income taxes at all and get a check in the mail. The claim is that those same people pay payroll taxes, but those are meant to come back to each person according to how much they put in. That's where Obama is providing people with increased benefits despite minimal contributions. That is Welfare. I have to hand it to him, he has a clever way of masking it

Posted by: Dan on October 29, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK


I imagine the reason that the Obama campaign can't/won't say "Look at what McCain is doing, it's socialist!" might be seen by some (not me personally, but others) as an admission of their own supposedly socialist plans. Whatever. I was pretty sure we got away from the socialist bogeyman after the Cold War, maybe with any luck an Obama win could move us beyond Cold War and Culture War politics.

Posted by: Andrew on October 29, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Have a nice trip and I hope that it's a permanent move...How do you think your new home will change the freedoms that you enjoy here in the US?

Posted by: on October 29, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yes. While Obama favors national SOCIALISM, McCain favors NATIONAL socialism. See cartoon here (scroll down):


Posted by: Dana H. on October 29, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

It's very discouraging to read all this stuff. No social democrat (which is what Obama would be if he were in Europe believes in egalitarian salaries. What we believe in is fair salaries progressively taxed you cornballs.

Posted by: Pogodancer on October 29, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK



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