Is Barack Obama a Socialist?

by Don Boudreaux on October 29, 2008

in Politics

Is Barack Obama a socialist?  Here’s my take.

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Methinks October 29, 2008 at 8:20 pm

looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck.

Democrats wants us to believe it's a moose.

Speedmaster October 29, 2008 at 8:30 pm

I think he clearly is, but the problem is that McCain is only slightly less so. ;-(

Ron Paul, where are you!?

Don Boudreaux October 29, 2008 at 8:35 pm

I agree that John McCain is hardly any better than Obama in rhetoric — and, almost surely, will be no better at all in practice (adjusting for the fact that, unlike a President Obama, a President McCain will have a Congress controlled by a party different than his own).

tiger October 29, 2008 at 8:43 pm

You didn't really answer the question Don (at least not directly). And McCain no better than Obama? Are you serious? Obama's designs are clear. Redistribute wealth through the existing tax system, force health care on all until we are moved into a universal single payer system and then capture means of wealth and production through legislation and the court system. He said it pretty clearly through the years. He is a socialist. John McCain is populist (still dangerous…"my friends, Wall Street is greedy and we've got to do something about it…")

Methinks October 29, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Don,

In the beginning of your article you say that Obama is not a socialist. Then, you go on to list all the ways in which he is a socialist. Whether McCain is a socialist or not is irrelevant here. You asked about Obama, not McCain.

Martin Brock October 29, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Voters will choose Big Government Liberalism (not the classical sort) over Big Government Conservatism. The problem is that "conservatives" haven't give them another choice.

Ron October 29, 2008 at 9:03 pm

I think we are moving towards some type of pseudo-fascism-socialism blend rather than the traditional systems. What ever the specific form the government will have a growing "control" over many aspects of our lives, this will be particularly true if we get single-payor or national health insurance. It is a toss-up who will be worse McCain or Obama. A month ago I would have said Obama, but then the Bush administration "nationalized" the banks and is now considering "investing" in the auto industry. Yikes, Chevettes for everyone!

Babinich October 29, 2008 at 9:31 pm

"fascism"

Has there even been label more misused over time than this one?

You want to start to define fascism? Start with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer.

Daniel October 29, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Excellent article!

It's very interesting how the meaning of "socialism" and "liberalism" has changed over the last century.

james October 29, 2008 at 10:21 pm

The late Robert Heilbroner – a socialist for most of his life – admitted after the collapse of the Iron Curtain that socialism "was the tragic failure of the twentieth century. Born of a commitment to remedy the economic and moral defects of capitalism, it has far surpassed capitalism in both economic malfunction and moral cruelty."

I have a sinking feeling we will soon be seeing quotes like this one for the opposing viewpoint. Except instead of the words of Robert Heilbroner, the long-time socialist, it'll be of Alan Greenspan, the long-time capitalist.

Don the libertarian Democrat October 29, 2008 at 10:26 pm

By your definition, is a guaranteed income or negative income tax socialist?

Billy October 29, 2008 at 10:46 pm

1) McCain supported progressive taxation in 2000.

2) If progressive taxation is "spreading the wealth," then so are tax cuts for the highest income bracket.

3) McCain also supported the bailout.

4) Socialism doesn't apply exclusively to economics – where's Don on the Republicans repeated violation of civil liberties?

Obama is by no means the ideal candidate, but to label him socialist is to simply relegate this election to fear-mongering.

Trumpit October 29, 2008 at 11:03 pm

I guess it will take a 2nd Great Depression along with environmental calamity to replace greed capitalism with something better. The excesses, injustices, and gross inequalities of the present system will have to give way to a system that is fair and sustainable. Billionires will cease to exist in the future because that type of economic leeching is leading us towards revolution and collapse. So to will economists that favor a post-mercantilist capitalist system be disgarded as wrong and irrelevant. The instability economically, socially, politically, and ecologically speaking will drive a new world order that will chew up and spit out the super rich. They will have to seek meaningful employment and give up their extravagant lifestyles. We will no longer tolerate wastrels among us who simply live off other people's labor and suck the world dry. I want the full value of my work efforts and I don't want my output divided up among the loafing rich. The job of economists is not to be a cheerleader for an anacronistist immoral system based on greed, but rather to design a new way forward. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and get cracking!

John V October 29, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Trumpit,

What a comfortable position you have. You can look at all the programs, all the grand ideas put into action, all the money spent, all the laws, all the regulations, all the incentive problems and in efficiencies created therefrom and all the ripple effects of problems it has all wrought…yet you look right past it and blame greedy capitalism.

How comfortable for you…lame, thoughtless and empty…but oh so comfortable.

Snuggle away.

brotio October 29, 2008 at 11:46 pm

"fascist"

Thanks, Babinich

I guess we're risking Godwin's Law and we'll be condemned to Hell for it, but my first thought was that Don's description of The Obamessiah sounded just like National Socialism.

muirgeo October 29, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Don what is it like to see so many of your readers blatantly disagreeing with your definition ( the standard definition) of socialism.

On that basis alone it's hard to take them serious. By their definition pretty much every country that ever existed has been socialist. Likewise free markets have never existed but are apparently the most successful way to run an economy. Its a three ring circus of silliness here.

Bottom line is the choice is unfortunately only between a Democratic candidate and a Republican one. All the evidence shows the economy consistently does better under a Democratic president.

So all the silly-people here complaining about socialism and how dangerous Barack will be for the economy will likely be voting against their economic interest when they pull the lever (or don't) for some one other the Obama.

Socialism lite seems to be the most successful economic and democratically representative form of government ever to exist.

It's got us to the moon, cured polio and invented this here internet. What the heck has Libertarianism ever done for us?

John V October 29, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Also Trumpit,

What you fail to see that everyone reading your knows instantly is how tried, tired, unoriginal, lame, shallow, chewed up/spit out, re-chewed up/re-spit-out, old, naive and simply unhelpful eye-roll inducing your stale POV is.

You're extremely far from the first person to wake up one day and be dismayed at the fact that the world isn't perfect or up to your standard. So, your simply do what others have done before you:

You blame everything that is not what you "feel" should be. You blame things that have existed since the dawn of time and think YOU know something the rest of us don't. Worse yet, you think there's some wisdom to be found therein. That's naive.

You remind me of "clever" children I've overheard telling kiddy jokes I heard when I was a kid as if they're original or new.

Life did not start with your awareness. And kids yet to be born will wake up one day and turn into an out raged little teenager ready to repeat all the unoriginal things you say while ignoring the idea that they know so little about what others have thought before them.

John V October 29, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Muirgeo,

You've become self-parody.

vikingvista October 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

Trumpit gives us the words of a true socialist–someone who believes the true value of someone's labor is determined by a central bureauocrat, not by the individuals receiving that value. And therein lies the important difference between a socialist and classical liberal. The former insists upon brute force to extract the value to which he feels he is entitled to. The latter insists on giving each individual total monopoly over his life, only granting his value to those he chooses. Obama and most Americans are scattered about the spectrum between those views. But clearly by his own rhetoric, Obama intends to achieve his ends through extortion to no less an extent than any president since WWII.

Sam Grove October 30, 2008 at 12:08 am

George, which party dominated the congress?

We're going to experience some decline. Obama will be nearly irrelevant to our economic course.

Socialism gave us the polio cure? You might as well suggest that socialism gave us medical science.

Good thing the FDA didn't have such tight control of medicine at the time or implementation of the vaccine might have taken years.

The_Chef October 30, 2008 at 12:09 am

Trumpit … you must be a troll. No one can honestly be that intellectually self-deceived. But hey it's your brain, do with it what you want.

To Muirgeo, Yup, socialism-lite has done all those great things for us. Markets, even constrained and strangled ones have managed to turn out these wonderful things. Things not given by governments. I wonder what sort of awesome toys and goods we'd have if we actually turned markets loose…

Akos Beres October 30, 2008 at 12:10 am

Trumpit,

Fortunately for you there are still some countries who believe in ideals that you mention. Move to Cuba, Venezuela or North Korea etc and enjoy the "full value of your work efforts and you don't have to worry about dividing up your output among the loafing rich" rather share it equally with its citizens.

Oh, wait a second; you'll realize when you get to one of those countries that there are people who are richer than others. How unfair!!!

By the way this comment comes from someone who actually lived behind the iron curtain.

Sam Grove October 30, 2008 at 12:13 am

Socialism gave us medical science?

Socialism gave us the recent bailouts, the invasion of Iraq, and our military empire.

Who says socialism isn't accomplished?

John V October 30, 2008 at 12:28 am

I agree however with Dr. Boudreaux.

Obama is not a socialist by the classical definition. It's not a position that exists that exists in serious discourse.

However, he does meet the European definition of socialist. In Continental European lingo, what we call a socialist is called a "radical socialist" or a "revolutionary/reactionary socialist" or a "utopian socialist". But in local European speak, the term "socialist" is a murky, fuzzy feel-good term that doesn't mean anything concrete or clear-cut other than someone who believes in social democracy…a social democrat.

That, by itself, doesn't make someone a Marxist. It basically means that the government should act proactively to promote social justice. Sadly, even that benign definition is subject to wild interpretations and degrees and depth of action.

I see Obama as someone who believes in the ability of centrally enforced measures to help the less fortunate without undermining the ability of others to improve themselves and gain as they see fit. Obama believes this while being a capitalist is a general sense.

That's all nice and admirable that he wants to help people. The problem is that Obama and others like him, IMO, don't appreciate the problems and counter-productive effects of the course of action they choose. They don't fear the ironies. They don't fear their very limitations to do what they want. The reality that what they think they can do is different from what will happen (in a negative sense) doesn't phase them or give them pause. They think they can overcome and have it both ways.

Again, it's admirable in some sense…even courageous in some others. However, in the end, it's a dangerous game og ever expanding promises that never get met and the power created is always a springboard to more power. As central power grows and the promises stay unfulfilled, the power is never relinquished…only usurped and abused for furthering of power by others.

It's disappointing.

Juan C. de Cardenas October 30, 2008 at 12:43 am

Akos,

I was about to post the same response. I lived in one of the countries you mentioned, Cuba and I have the same opinion as you. The system trumpit is advocating as something new has been bloodily implemented under the same premises, the results are for all too see.

"We will no longer tolerate wastrels among us who simply live off other people's labor and suck the world dry."

Trumpit, unless you are one of those wastrels in the highest level of the Party and State bureaucracy I can guarantee you will be infinitely much worse off than under the "greedy", corporatist version of capitalism we have, they really know how to suck the world dry when they take power.

John V October 30, 2008 at 12:52 am

Juan de Cardenas,

Thanks for your input.

As people like Trumpit say such tired and foolish things, they are guilty of intellectual laziness. It doesn't click in their short-sighted minds where the economic things they take for granted come from. They couldn't really tell where these things come from. They can critique, in a vacuum, the aspects of it that do not fit their fairy tale but that's about it.

muirgeo October 30, 2008 at 1:03 am

John,

From my view the Republican policies have led to concentrations of power that circumvented competition, promoted monopolies, depleted the wealth of the middle class and had weaker economies and even 2 major collapses compared to Democratic policies which actually improved competition and grew the economy at consistently better rates.

I'm just basing this on our history and nothing more. So the claim of the danger of Barack is hollow as he really is no different then a Kennedy or a Clinton both who presided over growing economies.

Sam Grove October 30, 2008 at 1:20 am

IT occurs to me that we should refrain from claiming that "capitalism" gave us this or that. The fact is that all the things that we enjoy, that support our lives, etc. are products of humans, the ultimate resource.

There is no created economic system that may be accurately called capitalism. All it means is the private ownership of the means of production, that does not begin to describe the complex of human economic relations.

Labels tend to obscure realities.

"Socialism" obscures the resentment and envy of the wealthy which drives many of its supporters. "Capitalism" obscures the political advantage that the captains of industry often obtain.

Muirgeo believes that George Bush and company represent "capitalism" and little wonder as they often claim to be proponents of same. But then, don't most politicians claim to be proponents of "freedom and democracy"?

I support free markets, because I am a market participant and I wish to be free of being forced to contribute to the wars, the bailouts, the subsidies, the empire, etc.

I want to keep my product away from such misuse, grow it, and use it for good things, not just my own consumption.

I suppose the muirgeos have beneficent intentions, at least they believe they do, but intend to empower some elite of their choosing to manage my and my product and it seems to me that's exactly what is wrong with the world.

Sam Grove October 30, 2008 at 1:23 am

Kennedy cut taxes, didn't he?

Yes, the GOP deserves to lose good and hard.

John V October 30, 2008 at 1:44 am

Muirgeo,

You're comment is empty….and partisan.

You see a difference between bad economic policies among the parties. I don't. You're speaking in vague terms that you don't and can't explain either. That says something…just not what you think it does.

From my view the Republican policies have led to concentrations of power that circumvented competition, promoted monopolies, depleted the wealth of the middle class and had weaker economies and even 2 major collapses compared to Democratic policies which actually improved competition and grew the economy at consistently better rates.

You are incapable of explaining this. Both parties have done these terrible things. It's sad that you can't see it. Nor can you explain the second part where you blindly praise the Dems. You speak with such authoritative generality that you cannot explain.

The economy growing and Dem (or GOP) policies "growing the economy" are two totally different things. The first actually happens in spite bumbling in DC. The second is partisan wishful thinking that you cannot substantiate on partisan grounds. What growth policies would these be? Do you control for demographic shifts? Technological/innovation cycles/shifts? Do you specify which policies had effects on the growth you brag blindly about? No on all counts.

What's "Democratic" about these policies (if you even name any)?

And your meme that constantly repeat about the performance of the economy under different parties is like crediting them with the weather. My football team has only reached the Super Bowl while a Republican was in power. Should that matter too??? I would be embarrassed to say such things as if they mean much. There's no there there. Besides, over a period of some 6 decades, there's hardly anything policy-wise that binds either party together over such stretches of time.

Stop with the meme. It's an unserious thing to say and makes you look even worse than already do.

And again, stop being such a silly partisan. It makes you look bad. You are about the only real partisan I see here. Go to RedState if you want to have silly and vacuous GOP Vs. Dem discussions.

John V October 30, 2008 at 1:53 am

BTW, Muirgeo:

I have had thoughtful and interesting discussions with liberals about economic policy and government in general. There are good and intellectually serious discussions to be had. If those chats rank as a 10 in terms of substance. The kindergarten-level and sophomorically dense drivel you spew and pointless talks in provokes rank as a 1 (at best) by comparison.

Grow up.

Randy October 30, 2008 at 5:11 am

Socialist, socialist-lite, fascist, fascist-lite, conservative, social-conservative… whatever, they're all the same to me. They're all political. Nothing but thugs and con-men. I'll have as little to do with that breed as humanly possible.

Babinich October 30, 2008 at 5:30 am

Trumpit says:

"I guess it will take a 2nd Great Depression along with environmental calamity to replace greed capitalism with something better."

Define "something better".

Dr. Sowell: spot on as usual.

http://townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2008/10/30/a_perfect_storm

Babinich October 30, 2008 at 5:51 am

muirgeo says:

"From my view the Republican policies have led to concentrations of power that circumvented competition, promoted monopolies, depleted the wealth of the middle class and had weaker economies and even 2 major collapses compared to Democratic policies which actually improved competition and grew the economy at consistently better rates."

Every time muirgeo pops off I keep thinking of the Star Trek episode 'Day of the Dove'.

Gil October 30, 2008 at 5:59 am

Actually, the debate of Libertarians versus Socialists (apparently = non-Libertarians)is bunk as it's akin to the Creation versus Evolution in the sense that most people don't care much for either Creation or Evolution. In the same vein Libertarians see the world as being full of Socialists because it isn't Libertarian. Likewise card-carrying Socialists see a world full of evil Capitalists. In reality most people are Mercantilists – they don't care where their profits come from – as long as they profit. Far from the Libertarian view that most people are mindless, brainwashed slaves who blindly follow Guvmint's orders, most people get excited about Governments as to what they can get for their tax dollar. Bummer, eh?

Randy October 30, 2008 at 6:42 am

Gil,

"…most people get excited about Governments as to what they can get for their tax dollar."

True enough. But few understand the true cost in relation to the true value of what they receive. The political class informs them at every opportunity that government and government alone is responsible for all good things (and what else would an evolutionarily successful political class tell them?), and so they believe.

Bummer? I suppose – as in really sad.

Keith October 30, 2008 at 7:31 am

Quote from Billy: "Obama is by no means the ideal candidate, but to label him socialist is to simply relegate this election to fear-mongering.

Quote from Trumpit: "The excesses, injustices, and gross inequalities of the present system will have to give way to a system that is fair and sustainable. Billionires will cease to exist in the future because that type of economic leeching is leading us towards revolution and collapse. So to will economists that favor a post-mercantilist capitalist system be disgarded as wrong and irrelevant. The instability economically, socially, politically, and ecologically speaking will drive a new world order that will chew up and spit out the super rich."

Nothing to fear here. Move along.

Martin Brock October 30, 2008 at 7:45 am

The instability economically, socially, politically, and ecologically speaking will drive a new world order that will chew up and spit out the super rich.

I rather suppose that Obama will be super rich within a few years of leaving office.

cpurick October 30, 2008 at 8:01 am

By limiting yourself to the "classic" definition of socialism, you minimize the threat to freedom that Obama really is, Don.

The problem with socialism has never been that the capital belongs to the state; the problem is that capital which belongs to the state is not run like capital which belongs to investors.

Toward that end, Obama seeks to have the means of production operated for the benefit of the state rather than the mutual benefit of producers and the consumers. Regardless of who owns the means of production, the process of production will suffer as if it belongs to the state. It's the definition of fascism, and the reason fascism is actually far more left-leaning than right.

J Scott October 30, 2008 at 9:01 am

Dr. Boudreaux, Using this quote from your excellent article:

"A principal promise of socialism was to replace the alleged uncertainty of markets with the comforting certainty of a central economic plan. No more guessing what consumers will buy next year and how suppliers and rival firms will behave: everyone will be led by government's visible hand to play his and her role in an all-encompassing central plan."

The "bailout bill", so called, was an effort by the government to remove one large portion of "certainty"—certainty that the wrong-headed/extra-constitutional/failed involvement of the government in the mortgage banking industry and credit markets (via Freddie/Fannie,CRA) was going to lead to a collapse of most large banks. The government's entry into the market, ostensibly to "save" us from the markets, when indeed the government is attempting to save us from the leftist fiscal policies of the past 70 years (the entitlement mentality gave us CRA, et al).

All that said, Senator Obama's own words about the inadaquacy of our Constitution to address economic injustice/inequality coupled with his now famous "spread the wealth" comment is more than enough proof that he's enough of a socialist to drive me to vote McCain. And since the folks in Washington don't seem to want to be bothered by the Constitution they swear an oath to defend, we find ourselves with a stark "lesser of two evils". The governing class in Washington has so involved the Fed in every aspect of our lives, and is proceeding to effectively nationalize our banking industry, that it remains unlikely that we can call our Nation "capitalist" or "Constitutional" in the future. The election will simply alter the rate of acceleration of our Nation toward socialism, collapse and/or fracture.

save_the_rustbelt October 30, 2008 at 9:15 am

The Democrats want to redistribute downward.

The GOP has been redistributing upward (our money went to failed banks so the executives could get bonuses for failure) to KBR, Blackwater, and a whole host of well connected "corporate welfare queens."

Look like the pendulum is gonna swing for at least four years.

The conservatives blew it. Now the liberals will blow it. Then the pendulum will swing again.

Mcwop October 30, 2008 at 9:24 am

Muirgeo,

From my view the Government's policies have led to concentrations of power that circumvent competition, promote monopolies, deplete the wealth of the middle class by making things more expensive and difficult to accomplish, and every weak economy and major collapse has occurred under the watchfull eyes of Governmnet…compared to the hard work of market participants that have actually improved the economy despite all the government roadblocks they constantly face.

Mcwop October 30, 2008 at 9:26 am

Muirgeo,

From my view the Government's policies have led to concentrations of power that circumvent competition, promote monopolies, deplete the wealth of the middle class by making things more expensive and difficult to accomplish, and every weak economy and major collapse has occurred under the watchful eyes of Government…compared to the hard work of market participants that have actually improved the economy despite all the government roadblocks they constantly face.

Mcwop October 30, 2008 at 9:29 am

Save the Rustbelt writes:

The GOP has been redistributing upward (our money went to failed banks so the executives could get bonuses for failure) to KBR, Blackwater, and a whole host of well connected "corporate welfare queens."

The whole crummy bailout bill was rubber stamped by the Democrats in congress and the senate – INCLUDING OBAMA and MCCAIN. Someday people will realize that there is little difference between the two parties.

J Scott October 30, 2008 at 9:46 am

save_the_rustbelt, With all due respect, one observation on your comments:

"The Democrats want to redistribute downward.

The GOP has been redistributing upward (our money went to failed banks so the executives could get bonuses for failure) to KBR, Blackwater, and a whole host of well connected "corporate welfare queens.""

The government shouldn't be "distributing" anything—therein lies the problem with both parties that rushed to pass the stimulus/bailout.

Until we untangle the mindset of government "distribution"/care/whatever, we will be plagued with these problems.

J Scott October 30, 2008 at 9:53 am

Here's a news article concerning the post above:

http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=38411

Mcwop October 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

Let’s do a little history here for the impaired, and here are 2 items:

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 passed by Republicans and signed by Bill Clinton. That is a bipartisan effort in my book.

Federal Housing Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, S. 190, which would have increased regulation/oversight of Fannie Mae was blocked by Democrats, Obama did nothing to support it. McCain sponsored it.

The recent TARP bailout bill, supported by the Democrats, and Bush. Simply, more crappy bipartisan regulation/interference.

So someone tell me what the difference is between the two parties?

Mcwop October 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

Sorry 3 items in the above.

muirgeo October 30, 2008 at 9:58 am

Jonh V,

You said, "You're comment is empty….and partisan.

You see a difference between bad economic policies among the parties. I don't. You're speaking in vague terms that you don't and can't explain either. That says something…just not what you think it does.

You are incapable of explaining this. Both parties have done these terrible things. It's sad that you can't see it. Nor can you explain the second part where you blindly praise the Dems. You speak with such authoritative generality that you cannot explain."

Now using exactly the same logic you tell me on what evidentiary or factual basis I should except your claim that free markets are better then say Democratic or Republican ones.

What is your basis John? You said, " Stop with the meme. It's an unserious thing to say and makes you look even worse than already do."

What about YOUR MEME John? Anyone?

I have data, logics and even economic theory that supports my position and IMO negates yours. What supports yours and makes it so self evident.

Gary October 30, 2008 at 9:58 am

"In the same vein Libertarians see the world as being full of Socialists because it isn't Libertarian."

The world IS full of socialists. We'd all like to believe that we could achieve great prosperity through socialism. That everyone would be equal, that fairness would prevail, is a noble goal to be sure.

It turns out that's an unrealistic goal, and that while free market capitalism can at times fail us, its never failed as miserably as socialist experiments. In fact, while socialism light created the internet, capitalism made it accessible to nearly everyone on the planet, made it inexpensive, and made it useful.

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