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U.S. becoming socialist? It already is

Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds ... A nation of men will for the first time exist."

"In [the] market-oriented economy [of this nation], private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace."

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the CIA World Factbook entry on the U.S.A.; it doesn't get much more American than that. Self-reliant, capitalist, free. That's how America wants to see itself, economically and socially.

There used to be a time when we prided ourselves on our corporations' ability to compete independently overseas and scoffed at Germany and France handing out governmental props to their "national champions," chortled that Renault and V.W. would never be able to hack it in the wider world without their governmental aegis. Merrill Lynch and General Motors shook the earth with their footsteps, and the world craned to hear what Wall Street and Detroit had to say.

That is not how America truly is - not now, not anymore. Now Congress is planning a $25 billion hand-out to American automakers, the nation's largest insurer is 80 percent government-owned, and Wall Street, despite the bailout proposal failing in the House, still has the possibility of becoming the beneficiary of a $700 billion no-strings-attached hand-out from the Treasury.

After Congress gets through with nationalizing our financial system, America will have completed a relatively thorough transition to state-run socialism. America will be a socialist country. Just not a very good or well-planned one.

After all, what else do you call a nation where corporations can reliably depend on the government to purchase them or bail them out in times of need, other than socialist? America is even beginning to toy with the delightful draw of dictatorship, which always accompanies state-run means of production - just look at the bill "President Paulson," as congressmen have begun to call the treasury secretary, is jamming down the throats of legislators. In exchange for the truly stringent and thoroughly-enumerated requirements that the secretary considers the stability of the financial system and the necessity of "protecting the taxpayer," the secretary's decisions will become "non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

What kind of country have we become when a non-elected official can hand out $700 billion in taxpayers' money and not be subject to review by any court of law? Where exactly did all this money come from? For decades, we've been debating universal health care, which the American Medical Students' Association estimates would cost at most $70 billion per year, but could never afford it. Yet, we can afford 10 times that much for Wall Street in a matter of days?

Forget all the crap about change in Washington; there can't be any reliable change when the rails of America's future have been so strictly laid by the trillions of dollars we owe to some of the world's most despotic nations, from Saudi Arabia to China. America needs to cut its profligate habits and begin to put its own people first.

The most important thing we can do is to stop pretending that the federal government isn't an integral part of our lives. Privatization has been a screen pulled over America's eyes for far too long, used to justify everything from poor-quality health care to technological stagnation. Energy companies, automakers and financial institutions have betrayed the American people and now they want us to save them.

Well, enough is enough. We need to mandate stricter oversight of financial institutions, close offshore tax loopholes and cap executive pay; we need to mandate stricter miles-per-gallon requirements for car companies and begin to seriously investigate alternatives to oil. If industrial lobbyists cry foul and complain that such changes would seriously inconvenience them - well, I think having to shell out $700 billion for others' mistakes is seriously inconvenient, too.

The American government needs to start proactively throwing its weight around, not just waiting for crises to come and then start handing out checks. We should use the massive size and wealth of federal programs to drive harder, better bargains with health care providers, industrial producers, energy suppliers and, hell, everyone. One of the main ideas behind socialism is to gain the economies of scale that come with nation-wide programs, and when we're on the hook for all of socialism's costs, we better damn well demand the benefits.

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