David Boaz’s article “Conservatives against Trump” is cited on WGMD Radio’s The Mike Bradley Show

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

What Socialism Requires

We’ve heard a lot about democratic socialism lately, as the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders poses an ever-bigger threat to Hillary Clinton. But what is democratic socialism?

Wikipedia defines it as “a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production.” The Democratic Socialists of America explain that “democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically.” That doesn’t sound so bad — running things “democratically.” But what it means is that the government would run the entire economy and society, and all decisions would be made by the political process.

Now, Sanders dances around just how far his own socialism goes. At a recent speech he said,”I don’t believe government should own the grocery store down the street or control the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.” But he has spoken at numerous DSA events, and in the past he has written about putting television under “democratic control.”

I doubt that the 26 percent of young people who tell pollsters that they have a favorable view of socialism actually want television put under the direct control of politicians. But be careful what you wish for.

Robert Heilbroner, perhaps the best-selling socialist writer of the 20th century, was more honest than many socialists. He wrote in Dissent magazine:

Socialism…must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity….

If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means…

The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated…and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan…

The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal… Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.

Not only does a socialist economy require a central plan, he said, but a plan will require us to subordinate our personal liberties — liberties of choice and free speech, associated with John Stuart Mill — to the plan of the government. That hardly seems like a future today’s millennials — or any other American — would want to live in.

Voters should be very skeptical of any candidate who speaks warmly of socialism or can’t explain how his or her own political views differ from socialism.

By the way, Dissent republished this article this past November under the heading “What Is Democratic Socialism?”

Heilbroner also noted that “democratic liberties have not yet appeared, except fleetingly, in any nation that has declared itself to be fundamentally anticapitalist.”

Heilbroner understood socialism. Sanders is evasive about just what he means by socialism. And recently, both Hillary Clinton and Democratic national chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz refused to answer the question, “What’s the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?”

Real socialism has been a disaster in countries from the Soviet Union to Tanzania. Attempts to move sharply toward socialism have produced results such as today’s Venezuela, with shortages of toilet paper and soap. And even the European countries that Bernie Sanders praises, such as Sweden and France, have higher unemployment rates and lower overall incomes than the somewhat more capitalist United States.

Voters should take note of socialism’s failures and of Heilbroner’s warning about what socialism requires. And they should be very skeptical of any candidate who speaks warmly of socialism or can’t explain how his or her own political views differ from socialism.

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Enlightenment Values and the Anglicans

Leaders of the worldwide Anglican church are meeting at Canterbury Cathedral this week, with some observers predicting an open schism over homosexuality. There is fear that archbishops from six African countries – Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – may walk out if the archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, won’t sanction the U.S. Episcopal Church for consecrating gay bishops. Since about 60 percent of the world’s Anglicans are in Africa, that would be a major break.

I am neither an Anglican nor a theologian, but I did reflect on the non-religious values that shape some of these disputes in the Guardian a few years ago:

The Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, says his church should abandon its “practices of discrimination” and accept the gay Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. That makes him unusual in Africa, where other Anglican bishops have strongly objected to the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

The Nigerian primate, for instance, Archbishop Peter Akinola, condemned the consecration of Robinson as bishop, calling it a “satanic attack on the church of God.” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “He even issued a statement on behalf of the ‘Primates of the Global South’ - a group of 20 Anglican primates from Africa, the West Indies, South America, India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia - deploring the action and, along with Uganda and Kenya, formally severed relations with Robinson’s New Hampshire diocese.”

So what makes Ndungane different? He’s the successor to Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, one might recall. And they both grew up in South Africa, where enlightenment values always had a foothold, even during the era of apartheid. Ndungane studied at the liberal English-speaking University of Cape Town, where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy gave a famous speech in 1966.

Ndungane didn’t hear that speech, alas, because he was then imprisoned on Robben Island. But after he was released he decided to enter the church and took two degrees at King’s College, London. The arguments of the struggle against apartheid came from western liberalism - the dignity of the individual, equal and inalienable rights, political liberty, moral autonomy, the rule of law, the pursuit of happiness.

So it’s no surprise that a man steeped in that struggle and educated in the historic home of those ideas would see how they apply in a new struggle, the struggle of gay people for equal rights, dignity, and the pursuit of happiness as they choose.

The South African Anglicans remain in favor of gay marriage. And of course, such church schisms are not new. The Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches in the United States split over slavery. The Methodists and Presbyterians reunited a century later, but the Baptists remain separate bodies.

Posted on January 14, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Just Say No to Socialism, Hillary

This week Hillary Clinton became the second prominent Democrat to refuse to answer the question, “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?”

In July MSNBC host Chris Matthews stumped Democratic national chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) with the question. Asked three times, Wasserman Schultz first looked blank, then evaded: “The relevant debate that we’ll be having this campaign is what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican….The difference between a Democrat and Republican is that Democrats fight to make sure everybody has an opportunity to succeed and the Republicans are strangled by their right-wing extremists.”

On Tuesday Matthews asked Clinton the same question. Clinton could see it coming, and she did say of socialism, “I’m not one.” But pressed to explain “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” she too retreated to boilerplate:

I can tell you what I am, I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done. And who believes that we’re better off in this country when we’re trying to solve problems together. Getting people to work together. There will always be strong feelings and I respect that, from, you know, the far right, the far left, libertarians, whoever it might be, we need to get people working together.

Hey, thanks for the “libertarians” plug, Madam Secretary! But seriously, why is this a hard question? Here’s a clear answer:

“Socialists believe in government ownership of the means of production, and Democrats don’t.”

Would that be a true statement? If so, why don’t Clinton and Wasserman Schultz just say it?

One possibility, of course, is that they don’t actually think there’s much difference between Democrats and socialists. Clinton, after all, voted with taxpayers only 9 percent of the time as a senator, according to the National Taxpayers Union. She calls herself a “government junkie.” She says, “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” a strikingly collectivist thought. She tried to nationalize health care long before President Obama. Voters could be forgiven for seeing a socialist lurking there. But Clinton has never called for mass nationalization of the Soviet or even the British Labour variety.

Maybe Clinton and Wasserman Schultz see socialism as a beautiful dream that simply can’t be achieved with the current American electorate. Take a look at Clinton’s answer to Matthews: “I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done.” That reminded me of her comment in 2008 when she was running against Barack Obama: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done.” Perhaps in that case and the current one she’s saying that speeches are fine, but she’s the candidate prepared to dig in and do the hard work to “get things done” – the things that King and Obama only talked about, the things that Bernie Sanders gives speeches about, maybe even the things that socialists aspire to do. In 2008 she also explained that she had never supported a single-payer health care system – medical socialism – because “we had to do what would appeal to and actually coincide with what the body politic will and political coalition building was.” That’s a rejection on political grounds, not on the basis of economics, political philosophy, or an understanding of the failures of socialism.

My guess is that politics is driving Wasserman Schultz’s and especially Clinton’s evasion on the question of socialism. This week we’ve seen repeated charges in the mainstream media that Republican presidential candidates were treading cautiously on the issue of the takeover of a federal building in Oregon – or even “flirting with extremists” – because they don’t want to offend voters who are angry at federal land ownership or at federal overreach more generally. Democrats also have base voters, and extreme factions, and voters who might stay home or vote for Ralph Nader if they feel disrespected. Apparently Wasserman Schultz and Clinton think enough Democratic voters to worry about are sympathetic to socialism. They may be right. Although most Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a socialist, a majority of Democrats report favorable views of socialism. Clinton doesn’t want to diss those voters.

And that seems like something that journalists other than Chris Matthews ought to ask about. Let’s see some articles about the refusal of arguably the two most important leaders of the Democratic party (other than President Obama) to state that Democrats are not socialists.

Posted on January 7, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses his book, The Libertarian Mind, on Blog Talk Radio’s 1DimitriRadio

Posted on January 5, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.