[ 1 ] The full quote reads, "We’re saying that for American to get back on track, we’re going to cut [the Bush tax cuts] short and not give it to you. We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." So spoke Hillary Clinton on the record in a 2004 fundraising speech to wealthy supporters in San Francisco. In the modern parlance of social welfare governance, the "common good" is often spoken of but a clear and limiting definition of it is never forthcoming. How much of the balance between public and private is public? Ten percent, as was the first concepts of tithes, as taxation to run the Israelite tribes? 40-50 percent, as is common throughout the US and Europe? Is there an upper limit to what constitutes the common good, or might one expect government to require "more" of its citizens?
Some might complain that it is unfair for place a quote by a sitting US senator alongside the campaign lies of Hitler, but the truth is that a great many well-intentioned Germans of so long ago believed a campaign's rhetoric -- for peace, for equal rights and for disarmament. And for this, they supported him with their vote; this included Jews and Christians, homosexuals, and many others who were unprepared for what came next.
Moreover, it is important to remember -- or learn anew -- that the "common good" was often a lure dangled by totalitarians, as one sees throughout history: "If we are to go forward we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because, without such discipline, no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good." (Italian dictator Benito Mussolini)
And lest we forget its American roots, we should revisit the following quote: "Conformity will be the only virtue and any man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty." (Woodrow Wilson) Within this range of expression about the "common good," Senator Clinton's remark is neither unusual nor surprising.
[ 2 ] The full quote reads, "The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more."
So spoke Michelle Obama, as reported in The Charlotte Observer (a McClatchy Company) in April 2008 during campaigning for her husband's candidacy this year. I find it amusing and ironic that so many well-spoken politicians urge social welfare from those less fortunate than themselves, when in fact they could easily live in less expensive homes or travel economy class in order to "give" to the poor.
Not surprisingly, they do not for their privilege and connection to power will not allow them to be equal, when they can be more than equal. As has been darkly observed, Washington, D. C., is filled with the "rich" of both parties working each year on the problems of the poor only to become even wealthier through it -- in part by voting themselves raises in salary and perks as well as tax benefits which do not apply to the average "Joe."
[ 3 ] This well-known quote comes from the works of Karl Marx. Marx spent most of his life, essentially, as a welfare recipient, pleading often with Friedrich Engels to send him money. Even with this continuing stipend -- let us call them welfare payments -- he did not fully conclude the terms of his agreement with Engels, which was to complete a far larger work than Das Kapital.
[ 4 ] In German: "Mit Adolf Hitler 'Ja' für Gleichberechtigung und Frieden."
[ 5 ] It is first and foremost not an economic philosophy, but rather a political one. It is about governmental power over an economy, which is utterly different than an economic philosophy of how transactions between provider and consumer function and are conducted.
As we are now seeing in the liquidity and credit crises throughout the world as of 2008, social welfare demands have become massive debt as socialist-led borrowing from "tomorrow" to fund "today" is simple coming due for payments which likely many nations will not easily make. Were a nation an individual and such a credit crisis was to be dealt with, simple credit counseling would be in order, a sort of fiscal "tough love" in which the avenues of credit would be closed, credit cards canceled and a regime of rigorous repayment advised, and even expected.
So will it turn out to be for the various social welfare schemes, I believe, which are spending through deficits and borrowing. What is most amusing to note, therefore, is that socialism has a greater reliance on growth and capital than does orthodox capitalism per se; this Marx never foresaw.
The notion of socialism begins with high sounding words. "From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs" resonates with many as a sensible and even Judeo-Christian concept. But charity -- voluntary giving -- is a far different thing than compensatory taxation for charitable reasons.
Oddly and perhaps not surprisingly, many of the most ardent proponents of socialism fund themselves out of the "public trough," such that politicians might acquire greater wealth than those in the private sector, while the truly super rich of the private sector are susceptible to the power which wealth influences over them. One can look to the majority of politicians and see wealthy people emerging from a career in public service, generally far better off than the average worker in the private sector.
One saw this in the recent bankruptcy of the City of Vallejo in California, a small city of 120,000 citizens which was spending most of its taxes on the costs of government alone, especially salaries and unfunded pensions in perpetuity. This is equally true of the new class of super-politicians in Europe, with the rise of the European Union which requires more funding for its new clusters of politicians than were necessary before its creation. How long can a population afford through taxation to fund a wealthier class? How long can a population afford the debt service on borrowing from tomorrow's as yet unpaid taxes to fund today's government programs and costs? I suspect not long.
Therefore my own personal definition of socialism is not the opposite of capitalism, but rather the opposite of small, less powerful government. It is not a definition of fixed borders, but of degrees. On a sliding scale from no government to massive, invasive and powerful government, there is a range of great latitude. It becomes therefore important to note where on this sliding, gray scale one finds one's self and one's politics.
At an aggregate rate of taxation of fifty percent, one might well define one's self as fifty percent enslaved. Government of the avid Social Democrat would rage against this notion, of course, especially as it often knows clearly how well it lives for this fact being obscured from the general public.
What is more generally true than not is that the highest political figures who have in the past advocated or now continue to advocate various forms of "social justice" take out of the social system far more than the "average Joe." One only need research the median income and average individual wealth for a citizen of any nation, and then compare it far above average income and wealth of all the loudest proponents of "taking things away from you for the common good."
If the common good was so truly appealing, then the greatest proponents of it would be in the media of income ranges rather than simply rich.
[ 6 ] For this I wrote a short and most cynical poem, as below:
Modern Times and Charity
"I need your cash for charity,"
The upper crust said to me.
"The more you'll give," they really mean,
"'s the less they'll want from me."
"We urge you to dig deeply down,
To pay the freight for love.
It's how you'll stay just where you are,
And how we'll stay high above."
Movie stars and moguls
And politicians crowd
Around the public forums
To wail and cry aloud.
"It's not too much for you to do,
(Though far too much for us).
Dig deep from your percentage
(While making little fuss)."
The rich pay fancy wages
To charities they employ
To tell the middle class
They've more than one should enjoy.
The upper crust is charitable
With other people's cash;
They'll do quite well with yours,
While peddling balderdash.
When upper crust is middle class,
Their riches will have gone
To feed the poor and needy
Which most they prey upon.
When rich folks give a little,
And counsel you to give,
Consider for a moment
Just how it is they live.
Millions, billions seems a lot,
For those in the middle class;
Such numbers in one's bank accounts
Defines the upper class.
With so much ardor, so much class,
Why aren't they less than rich?
And why the press relations
and why the bait-and-switch?
The rich are rich because they give
Far less than we should know.
That's how the wealth is spread above
And not spread down below.
[ 7 ] One notes the newest of the modern-day socialist heroes, Hugo Chavez, has managed to spend much of his nation's wealth on military armament, exactly as did the Nazis, all the while he and his family have been documented to have benefited from the "land reform" by acquiring ranches which they theretofore did not own.
Venezuelan socialism seems to profit -- think, "greed" -- its elite very well indeed.
From one article, "Venezuela's National Assembly opened an investigation Wednesday into a congressman's accusations that two of President Hugo Chavez's brothers acquired 17 ranches in recent years if true a potential stain on the image of Chavez's socialist movement. Lawmaker Wilmer Azuaje detailed his allegations in a closed-door committee session, presenting documents that he says show how an assortment of ranch lands were obtained by Chavez's brothers Argenis and Narciso."
That socialism has served the wealthy -- and to make many more wealthy -- is not arguable; it is both historical and ongoing fact, one of the many "inconvenient truths" about this political philosophy which has masqueraded for more than a century as an economic theory.
[ 8 ] "The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing." (Karl Marx) It is another historical fact that the working class has been used and then generally tossed aside when an elite has ascended to power. One notes the Nazis leaned on the support of "workers" only to ultimately enslave many for work; "Arbeit macht frei." In a similar vein, the Soviets under Stalin did much the same. The "little guy" is expendable, except in a world of protected individualism, the antidote to the enforced collective.
[ 9 ] "The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance." -- Cicero, 55 BC. It is interesting that such seemingly modern sentiments have a progeny millennia old.
[ 10 ] Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith has been called the "father of capitalism." In no way has enlightened capitalism ever argued for complete abandonment of the commonweal, but rather quite the opposite. But as a set of economic principles, capitalism never proposed government become the main arbiter of social funding, whereas socialism, a political philosophy masquerading as an economic theory, has always proposed the use of government power, which many critics rightly suggest is not "use," but "abuse."
Certainly the twentieth century history of socialist governance gives credence to this argument, from the National Socialism of the Nazi Party to the Soviet Socialism of the now-failed USSR, to the political governance of nations such as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Cuba, wherein complaints about their populations' low standard of living is somehow the fault of other nations' investment in capitalism, rather than their mismanagement - for that it what it has been -- of an economy through the ultimate one-party politics of socialism. Yet unsurprisingly, the elite in such seemingly impoverished nations live lives of wealth and status. Where is the "common good" in this? Where is the "common good" in millionaires and now even billionaires taking ruling positions in politics?
[ 11 ] For those who find the notion of government coercion somehow passé in the modern Western world, it is not. From the "universal" service of the Mitgleider of the Hitler Youth to the United States' compulsory draft which manned the Viet Nam war there has been the notion of compulsory service which continues to this day.
One reads, "We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service." The Plan: Big Ideas for America, p. 61, by Rahm Emanuel (Barack Obama's choice for chief of staff) and Bruce Reed.
The notion of "compulsory service" is the antithesis of freedom, for among other things "universal civilian service" is not service, but coercion. "Service" implies the freedom to choose to serve, while "servitude" implies the opposite. And this "new" idea is certainly not new, but reflects the pop sentiment, "meet the new boss, same as the old."