Coronavirus may not make us all sick, but it may make us all socialists.
Washington is suddenly awash in ideas that some might call socialism. Some ideas are coming from people who regularly denounce socialism.
The Trump Administration first floated a trillion-dollar-plus stimulus, including a bailout/parachute for airline companies and help for cruise lines, casinos and the hotel-hospitality industry. Then Republicans and Democrats in Congress battled over a recovery plan that could cost nearly $2 trillion.
One idea was direct cash payments to Americans. One of the first politicians to endorse it was Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who in the 2012 presidential race criticized the “47 percent of Americans…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Now Romney sounds like Andrew Yang, whose signature issue in the Democratic presidential race was a $1,000-a-month Universal Basic Income for every person over 18.
In fairness, is this all socialism?
The dictionary defines socialism as “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
Not even Bernie Sanders – who calls himself a “democratic socialist” and Republicans call a “radical socialist” – calls for public ownership of “the means of production, distribution, and exchange.”
Sanders does call – loudly and often – for Medicare For All. But that’s a single-payer system. The government wouldn’t own and run hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies.
In truth, “socialism” is an epithet we use for things government does that we don’t like.
Conservative Republicans once called Social Security and Medicare socialism. Today Republicans denounce Democrats’ “radical socialist agenda” on issues like economic inequality, health care and climate change.
On the other side, liberals decry “corporate socialism,” which is what they call cash payments to farmers hurt by trade sanctions and tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations.
Rather than “socialism,” it’s probably more accurate to call all this “redistributionism.”
I’ll show you a real redistributionist.
In the early 1930s, Americans were suffering through a real Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt came along with the New Deal. Republicans called it socialism or even “Bolshevism.”
But Huey P. Long, the “Kingfish,” the Governor of and (for a while, simultaneously) Senator from Louisiana, thought FDR didn’t go far enough. If an assassin hadn’t killed him, Long might have run against Roosevelt for President.
In his autobiography, “Every Man a King,” Long said his “Share the Wealth” program would mean “all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life.”
Long said of the 1929 crash, “The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men….When the fortune-holders of America grew powerful enough that 1 percent of the people owned nearly everything, 99 percent of the people owned practically nothing, not even enough to pay their debts, a collapse was at hand.”
He added, “I have expected this crash for three years. It is here for many, many years. It cannot end until there is a redistribution of wealth.”
Huey would be right at home in America today.