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Ron Radosh

Are We Really All Socialists Now?

February 13th, 2009 - 2:54 pm

The question of whether or not we are all socialists now is not as silly as it may sound.  Jon Meacham and Evan Thomas argue in their  cover story for Newsweek that the United States, though remaining a center-right nation culturally, is increasingly coming to resemble the  European social-democratic welfare states.  While conservatives blast the Obama Administration’s new bailout and stimulus plan as filled with pork and not doing enough to produce real stimulus of the economy, and those on the Left argue it has not gone far enough and has capitulated to conservatives who want more tax cuts, most Americans simply want something to pass, and are deferring to the corporate based economic advisers who put it together.

But I think that Meacham and Thomas are right about their main point: the American economic system is not one based on laissez-faire economics, but a mixed economy that has long accepted the contours of a modern welfare state. Years ago, in a pathbreaking but not too well known book, The United States as a Developing Country, the historian Martin J. Sklar argued that at the turn of the century, the United States was transformed from a country based on a “proprietary-competitive market” system to that of an emerging “corporate administered market.”

The result, according to Sklar, was the emergence of a new “corporate capitalism” that mixed together elements of both populism, capitalism and socialism. The modern American state, he concludes in an essay he wrote for this book, was a system that mixed public and private, socialism and capitalism- “A Mix,” Sklar calls it, that has made the United States not only stable and dynamic, but the most progressive of any nation in the world.

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