Colummn on Socialism and the Rich

Socialism and the Rich

Tibor R. Machan

There has been some silly outrage on the part of his supporters at the
claim that Senator Barack Obama may be a socialist. The idea arose after
in his exchange with "Joe the Plumber"–and I haven’t investigated whether
Joe is a plumber–the Democratic presidential hopeful remarked that he
supports "spreading the wealth." Socialism is committed, in part, to the
idea that all wealth apart from some purely personal stuff (like one’s
toothbrush) is in fact collective, public property. In the Communist
Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote that the first order of business for
socialists is the abolition of private property.

This notion, by the way, stems from something more basic. That’s that
there are no human individuals, only social wholes or bodies of which
those we take to be individual human beings are, in fact, mere cells.
And then, of course, there is no room for private property either, nor to
any right to it. Which is why the wealth needs to be spread. It belongs
to us all. (Only this poses the problem of which individuals will decide
what use will be made of this wealth!)

A colleague of mine disputed the view that Senator Obama is advocating
socialist measures by observing that Warren Buffet is one of his economic
ad visors. This objection assumes that the rich are enemies of socialism,
which, of course, is flatly wrong. But it does again reflect a Marxist
idea, namely, that of economic determinism: because the rich are
surrounded by wealth, they will hold views that are favorable to wealth
creation. Only this is flatly contradicted by the plain historical fact
that socialism has been supported by many wealthy people. A most notable
example is Armand Hammer, an American industrialist who was an avid fan of
the Soviet Socialist Republic during Lenin’s reign and even Stalin’s, if I
recall right. And Buffet himself is a great fan of wealth redistribution,
which is one reason he supports the death tax that deprives the relatives
of wealthy people from making use of this wealth once the original owners
dies. (This would make continuing a productive enterprise impossible
since the government would take possession of the wealth required for

Quite a few people who are personally savvy when it comes to running, let
alone building, a vast business enterprise haven’t much of a clue about
what are the soundest principles of political economy. We may say they
are micro economically but not macro economically prudent. They are often
sentimentalists, apart from running their own firms, and give their wealth
to various utopian communities an projects. Sometimes they feel guilty
for having wealth in the first place, given how bad the reputation of
riches has been from time immemorial. Both in secular philosophers, such
as Aristotle’s, and a many theological systems, the idea of profit has
been denounced as evil, even while poverty is decried as well. One thing
though is clear–just because someone is wealthy, it doesn’t follow that
one will support the system of economic and political principles that most
effectively promote wealth creation.

Nor is it the case that someone who promotes socialist notions, like
Senator Obama is, must do so in every instance, consistently. One can be
predominantly socialist but not go all the way, like a Hugo Chavez who
will try to silence all of his opponents. Nonetheless, the socialist
elements of such a person’s outlook can undermine such goals as creating
wealth in a society, lifting a poor from their poverty in something close
to an ongoing, continuous fashion.

When someone sees that Senator Obama has very strong socialist tendencies
it doesn’t even mean that his opponent, Senator McCain is necessarily a
better candidate for president. After all, the continuation of the costly
war in the Middle East could just as easily damage the American economy as
the adoption of various socialist public policies can.

Most people haven’t a fully worked out, consistent system of political
economic ideas, even when they aspire to be president of the United States
of America. It is important, however, for American citizens to learn
whether some of their more basic beliefs are likely to lead the country in
the direction of a whole impractical and, ultimately,
misanthropic political economic era.

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