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16 May 2012

Wherein I Depart from the Reich

Robert Reich has been a great voice of reason in the debate about the most recent--and ongoing--economic collapse. He has pointed to the problems of growing inequality and austerity programs both domestically and abroad. Reich, however, is a steadfast capitalist; he defends capitalism as just and efficient in the face of contradicting evidence. In this recent blog post, he writes:
Socialism isn't the answer to the basic problem haunting all rich nations. The answer is to reform capitalism.... We don't need socialism. We need a capitalism that works for the vast majority.
Reich does not explain in this piece why capitalism is preferred over socialism. Capitalism creates the very problems that we are currently trying to correct. Capitalism, when it works as it is supposed to and not when it is in dysfunction, creates the cycle of boom and bust with which we are currently struggling. It is wrong to think of the recent recession as an aberration; this is what capitalism does. Capitalism also, by definition, increases inequality by concentrating wealth in the hands of those who are able to control the means of production by exploiting their workers; this is what capitalism does.

What I believe Reich is doing is preemptively countering the "We've found a witch! We've found a witch! Burn her!" arguments that will inevitably be leveled against Pres. Obama and the Democrats in the upcoming campaign rhetoric. Few in the U.S. really understand what socialism is. The term has been stripped of meaning and replaced with a reflexive fear. If we hope to have any meaningful conversation about what our domestic economy can and should be, we need to move past this.

On the global scale, Paul Krugman warns us--and I think rightly so--not to interpret France's election of a socialist president as evidence of "any particular ideological tide." Those who have been in power are simply being ousted and replaced by those who were not in power. I think the same can be said of things in the States. A victory this fall for Pres. Obama would hardly be an endorsement of leftist ideology, just as a victory for Gov. Romney would hardly be more than an anti-incumbent effect.

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