Distinguishing between “isms”

Posted: November 17, 2010 in Healthcare, Non-AZ, Progressivism, The Economy

Here’s what bugs me about lumping all liberals together.  They’re not the same.  I know I’m just as guilty as those on the right by lumping all cons together.  So I’ll stop doing that.  What follows is a comparison of socialism and communism and how they fundamentally differ from Progressivism. And that’s what I consider myself, a Progressive Liberal.

Let’s clear up the lies that Beck and his ilk have been telling the public.  Here’s the truth about the isms.

Socialism generally refers to an economic system.  Communism is both an economic and a political system. Socialism seeks to manage the economy through deliberate and collective social control. Communism, however, seeks to manage both the economy and society through collectively owned property.  The control over the distribution of property must be centralized in order to achieve both classlessness and statelessness–two very important ideals.
 
Both socialism and communism agree that goods and services produced in an economy should be owned publicly, and controlled and planned by a centrally.  Socialism asserts that the distribution of goods and services should take place according to the amount of individuals’ production efforts.  While communism asserts that that goods and services should be distributed among the populace according to individuals’ needs. The problem with either of these systems is determining a “societal needs” and “individuals’ needs” and who gets to determine that definition. 
 
Another difference between socialism and communism is that communists assert that both capitalism and private ownership must be eradicated through revolution in order to form a classless society, the communist ideal. Socialists, however, see capitalism as a possible part of the ideal state and believe that socialism can exist in a capitalist society. In fact, one of the ideas of socialism is that everyone within the society will benefit from capitalism as much as possible as long as the capitalism is controlled somehow by a centralized planning system.
 
Progressivism, as it is defined by current liberals in the US (and as I see it), differs from both these other isms. It is a more general philosophy regarding how political systems should work.  Progressives believe in the non-violent reform, not revolution, of society through the use of government. Whether that effort is through local, state or national government is not important.  Thus all three isms are similar in that they seek to prevent the ill effects that are sometimes produced by capitalism.  Like Socialism, Progressivism accepts capitalism as a valid economic system.  Unlike Socialism, Progressivism does not necessarily advocate that goods and services and the means of production should be centrally owned or controlled.  This last point is important when discusssing pragmatism (I explore that later on in this post).

Why do Progressives feel reform is needed?  Reform is always needed periodically.  Injustice always exists in any society and wherever it exists, we have a moral obligation for our own well being and for our country’s well being to see that injustice is corrected.  A Progressive might feel this way due to a personal morality code based on mutual responsibility (religious or secular humanism based beliefs as a basis are not important here) or from a strictly pragmatic concern for societal productivity.  Many Progressives use both of these reasons when advocating for reform.  What’s important here is that Progressivism seeks to address problems as they arise.  They don’t seek to impose solutions to non-existent problems.  Stalemate can arise when Progressives and their counterparts on the right cannot agree that a societal problem even exists (again see this discussion below when I talk about healthcare solutions).

Why use government as the tool to achieve reforms?  The US is a capitalist society and this economic system has inherent biases built into it (e.g., the profit motive does not take into account the effect of societally based discriminatory beliefs based on race, gender, religion, orientation, economic class, etc. on decisions within a supposed free market).  Many on the right would argue this point and that discussion is more than welcome.  Progressives feel that fact to be crucial to why their philosophy evolved in the first place.  The only restraints, historically, on capitalism in the U.S. have come from three sources in the following order of effectiveness:  government regulation and enforcement of said regulation, pure market corrections, and entrepreneurial moral action.  Progressives do not believe that “market correction” will solve these problems as humans are not motivated to seek out only the best deal as pure market advocates believe.  Progressives maintain that humans make economic decisions based as much on emotion as they do on hard, cold facts (take any Marketing 101 course to find a plentitude of evidence for this ascertain).    Thus Progressives reject the libertarian ideal of unfettered markets  and their self corrections. 

Likewise, Progressives reject entrepreneurial or Galtian good will, as expressed by Ayn Rand enthusiasts. It is insufficient to stand against market forces that often crush society’s most vulnerable citizens.  From a pragmatic standpoint, Progressives believe that individual good will either doesn’t exist or if it does exist, it would be overhwelmed by market forces.  Recent history provides plenty of such examples.  One negative market force is institutionalized greed.  Another force that overwhelms individual good will is the practice of aggregate investment. By it’s very nature, investing as a group through a third party divests an individual from moral responsibility by making it harder to see the consequences of said investment.  The latest housing bubble caused market crash is a prime example of both “institutionalized greed” and “aggregate moral divestment”  at work.  As result, Galtian good will is far from sufficient to protect people from predation of pure market profiteering.  To rely on it, from a Progressives standpoint, is naive in the extreme.

That’s not to say that “market correction” never occurs–it absolutely does, but not enough to be relied upon.  Thus, Progressives feel that government is the only reliable tool left.    Furthermore, insofar as the US government is a representative democracy (i.e., a republic) it is thus the only reliable and fair tool (or as close to fair as humans can devise). Thus, any pure centralized government (i.e., communism, fascism, oligarchy, plutocracy) would disqualify the government as a fair tool in the eyes of a Progressive.  Another reason to reject the false equivalency being promoted by the right wing. 

Fairness, or the closest approximation to it, is a cornerstone of Progressivism.  They do not seek a classless society so much as a fair one.  Progressives would rather the burdens of society, where possible, be shared (referring now to the concept of the Social Contract).  Progressives do not reject Capitalism’s calls for individual reward but demand a recognition within the U.S. that shared burdens that cause society-wide problems should produce a shared solution.  Progressives feel that when that does not occur, the social contract is in jeopardy. The recent growth in the economic gap between the top 2% versus the bottom 80% is worrisome because of this principle.

It is also important to note that Progressives tend to emphasize inclusivemess and pragmatism.  In spite of their idealistic intentions to protect people from the excessives of pure capitalism, they tend not to be idealogues.  Let’s delve into this for a moment.  An idealogue is someone who starts with their ideals, then looks at the facts through the lens of those ideals and comes to a conclusion.  A non-idealogue looks at the facts, considers how the facts affect their ideals, and then comes to a conclusion.  Let’s take the recent national healthcare debate.  Many Progressives advocated a “single payer” system.  It also happens to be a model that relies on socialist economic implementation.  A Progressives thought process can be represented as follows:  1) Fact:  it works in other countries and it could be applied here in the U.S. (many conservatives would dispute that it works but I believe that has been settled for those who want to deal with facts and not make believe); 2) Fact affecting our ideals:  Our principles of fairness could be served because this is a society-wide problem and the burden of the solution would be shared; and, 3) Conclusion:  single payer is a viable option in the U.S. as a means of healthcare reform.  In contrast, a conservative idealogue’s thought process when considering a “single payer” model would be something like the following:  1) Ideal:  Our capitalist democracy is the best economic system requiring little to no intervention.  2) Fact:  Single Payer is often used in socialist countries and relies on central, government administration.  3) Conclusion:  Single payer isn’t a possible solution.

This type of idealogue approach resulted in the complete stalemate of health care reform.  Not to mention juvenile and incorrect name calling.  Conservative pundits and commentators labeled Progressives as socialists, communists and even fascists because of their advocacy of the “single payer” model.  In fact, any Progressive advocacy in the growth of government was vilified.  Again, let me emphasize the pragmatic point here.  If there had been a healthcare solution that otherwise looked like it would work, Progressives would get behind it regardless of who thought of it, where it came from, or what economic philosophy it favored.  It could have been from Mars for all they cared.  The main point to Progressives was that tens of millions of Americans were suffering from a lack of insurance and many more from underinsurance–an unfair and society-wide problem.  To ease that suffering, from either a moral standpoint or a practical standpoint, solving the problem was all that mattered.  If Progressives could have found a way to do that using the private market as it existed, they would have seized that chance.  Again, from a practical perspective, using our existing system would have been the easiest course.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible.  Conservatives who countered that it would turn us into a socialist country and that it wasn’t worth it due to that issue alone, were coming at the problem as idealogues.   Indeed, they didn’t even feel it was a society-wide problem. They disputed both the number of uninsured and the humber of underinsured.  Some of them went so far as to ask why should we be responsible for the poor who can’t pay for insurance?

To be continued…….

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