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Ron Radosh

Is Obama a Socialist? An Answer to Milos Forman

July 11th, 2012 - 11:01 am

To make this case hardly “cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism,” as Forman claims. The problem is that the social-democratic governments in Europe that Forman claims only favor “government provision of social insurance and health care” have their own serious problems. Most conservatives favor a social safety net, adequate health care, and other common-sense measures. What they do oppose is the limitless welfare state that seemingly never ends in its quest to further extend its grasp, in a manner that produces a whole new set of problems and brings modern economies to a grinding halt.

The problem of the social welfare states in Europe was addressed most succinctly by Josef Joffe in a review of the late Tony Judt’s book Ill Fares the Land, in which Judt argued for real social democracy in the United States. Joffe, editor and publisher of the German newspaper Die Zeit, wrote the following:

The central problem with “Ill Fares the Land” is a classic fallacy of the liberal-left intelligentsia, more in Europe than in the United States. Call it the “Doctor State Syndrome.” The individual is greedy, misguided or blind. The state is the Hegelian embodiment of the right and the good that floats above the fray. But the state does not. It is a party to the conflict over “who gets what, when and how,” to recall Harold Lasswell’s definition of politics. It makes its own pitch for power; it creates privileges, franchises and clienteles. This is why it is so hard to rein in, let alone cut back. The modern welfare state creates a new vested interest with each new entitlement. It corrupts as it does good.

Joffe also points to the failures of the very welfare states in Europe, like  Sweden and France, that American left-liberals have extolled for quite some time. The West, according to the social democrats, has succumbed to greed, egotism, and to false free-market prophets like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. “The wages of sin [to the social-democrats],” Joffe puts it, “are the loss of community, trust, equality and social justice. And the true god…is European-style social democracy à la Scandinavia.” But, as he adds,

the market is the best information system known to man: it has millions broadcasting in real time what is offered and what is wanted at what price. This is why capitalism learns from its crises, whereas the Soviet Union just accumulated them until it collapsed.

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