POINT/COUNTERPOINT: The ‘S-word’
Politicians call each other socialists yet implement similar economic policies
It is nice to have all these wonderful talking points. One of my favorite things to be called for being liberal is a socialist. The idea behind the word is that the government will make sure the economy is stable and the practice is associated with some of our worst enemies. The definition of socialism, according to Merriam Webster, is "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration by the means of production and distribution of goods."
The thing about talking points is that they allow a political candidate to say what is close to his constituents’ hearts. Talking points allow a politician to run on the assumption that his constituency will believe his talking points without looking into them. Talking points give voters the confidence they need to endorse a candidate about whom they know virtually nothing. It is time to take the talking point "socialist" into consideration.
In 1996, the 104th Congressional session passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act. This session was controlled by a Republican majority under the administration of a Democrat. The bill authorizes a federal takeover of private industry known as a "buyout." This is a socialist bill. There are an equal number of Republicans and Democrats named in it.
The government tried to wean farmers off of federal aid programs in 1996 in what I term as "agribusiness welfare." This idea met some resistance. In 2002, there was a 50/50 split in the Senate, while the president, the vice president and majority of the House of Representatives were Republican. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act passed, which authorized more subsidies to farmers and much more aid to large farms. One alleged reason was to reduce low costs for the consumer.
Overproduction had been lowering prices on the market. By curtailing production and increasing subsidies, government essentially decided the level of production, not the free market. Is this socialism?
In 2004 the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act passed. Rather than going through the argument again, suffice it to say, this is very socialist in its "buyout" components.
The point of this is not to call Republicans socialists. That is what they have publicly done to my party while privately pursuing these policies. The point is there are problems in the idea of free-market capitalism that politicians on both sides of the aisle have to address.
The issue most commonly taken up is that prices must remain stable or increase. Overproduction decreases prices. This is good for consumers but bad for business. Allowing agribusiness to take over forced "Joe the Farmer" out of his job.
The lack of education in rural sectors leaves these guys without many options. However, Republican and Democratic leaders constantly vote to support putting "Joe the Farmer," plumber, factory worker, etc., out in the cold.
The biggest problem is that we categorize everything. It makes it easier for us. There is less knowledge needed to label. We do have problems, and what we say is evil actually works sometimes. Stifling the free market helped to stabilize the fisheries, farms and tobacco producers.
What is more important – a stable economy, or calling people socialists?
Khan, a political science and history junior, can be reached via [email protected]
Economic regulation routinely fails to improve what it seeks to remedy
Socialism, regardless of its Democratic or Republican forms, is bad – bad for the consumer, bad for the poor, bad for the economy as a whole and bad for Joe the Farmer. The best example of this is the government subsidization of agriculture.
The world governments are subsidizing their large-scale fleets in myriad ways. This causes overcapitalization of the fishing fleets, meaning there are more boats than would otherwise exist in a market without government intervention.
The situation is far from stable. It’s more like on the brink of disaster. Trawlers drag massive nets across the delicate ocean ecosystem turning coral and bio-diverse habitats to rubble. Longliners, which spread massive lines with thousands of hooks, kill millions of unintended sea creatures, producing bycatch. Bycatch produces no economic value as the dead or dying creatures are thrown overboard.
Fish around the world are being over-fished because of this problem. Fuel subsidies are allowing large-scale fishing to occur in the deep ocean outside of any governmental jurisdiction. The normal fish life in the deep sea is longer than coastal species, which means deep-sea fishing has a greater risk of species collapse.
These actions are pushing many fish species to the brink of extinction, driving up fish prices and exasperating poverty. Removing these subsidies would reduce overcapacity and move toward more responsible stewardship of the oceans.
Oceana, an environmental group, has stated that removing subsidies to fisheries is the greatest single action that can be done to help the world’s oceans. No regulatory measure will help without dealing with the core problem: government-encouraged overproduction draining the oceans dry.
These subsidies do not help the poor. Foreign access subsidies allow fishing fleets to gain access and out fish small-scale fishermen in the developing world. Daniel Pauly, director of the UBC Fisheries Centre, points out that our best hope at sustainable fisheries is small-scale fisheries, which use more passive fishing gear than the government-subsidized methods of trawling and longlining. Without subsidies, these destructive uneconomical fishing practices would disappear, the free market would work and fish stocks would rebound.
Search deep enough you will find disasters on this scale in every industry the government subsidizes. Take U.S. subsidization of biofuels production. The government thought it knew best, it knew better than the free market. It thought the free market could be planned, and it provided incentives to farmers to increase output.
There was no increased stability or benefit to the world economy. The result was the complete opposite of stability: food shortages and starvation. Mitchell Donald, lead economist at the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank, pointed out that land use was converted from food production to biofuels in response to U.S. government planning, beginning in 2004. He cites 70 to 75 percent of the increase cost of food this year was caused by government support of biofuels.
Without government meddling and government socialism, this would have never happened. The farmland would have been used for food production and prices would not have increased as sharply.
When will we learn? Neither elected official, Abdul Khan, any group of the smartest economist or I know enough to plan an economy. Only the free market with millions of players can coordinate production effectively.
Socialism fails everywhere it is tried. This debate should be over. From the U.S.S.R. to modern policy, socialism will fail to achieve its stated goals and will increase misery. But sure, you can ignore this simple truth, you can ignore history and keep making the same mistakes. It’s your world.
Gilson, a business sophomore, can be reached via [email protected]