Heil Who?

I have wanted to begin a civics discussion ever since I saw posters of Barack Obama wearing a Hitler mustache during the 2008 election.  The implication was that Obama espoused the Fascist dogma of Adolph Hitler, one of the most vicious authoritarian figures in history.  Indeed, I have heard persistent rhetoric over the three years Obama has been in office, referring to him as a Fascist and the political scale’s near opposite, a Socialist.  The absurdity of these analogies is striking.  I am left to wonder if they are used by people who are basically uneducated about political systems or are willing to use insulting and baseless information to fool an uninformed public.  The former is very sad, the latter just plain malicious.

Put simply, a nation’s political structure falls somewhere on the scale below with no country representing any category in its pure form:

1.  Communism     2. Socialism     3.  Capitalism     4.  Fascism

1.  Communism is an ideology as espoused by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels whereby societal structure is classless, and all means of economic production and distribution are owned by every person.  Put simply, no person has assets or owns anything other than personal possessions like clothing, food, and furniture.  Everyone owns all assets or all things like real estate and businesses.  The “state” or the central government regulates everything from prices and means of production to banking, agriculture, medicine, education, and all media.  Communist theory advocates class warfare or rebellion towards the ruling class.  Although countries such as North Korea, Cuba, and China are labeled Communist, they actually represent Socialism in its strictest form.

2.  Socialism is a system whereby the means of production and distribution are cooperatively owned by the population.  For Marx and Engels, Socialism was an intermediary step towards pure Communism.  Each country that is structured in a Socialist framework varies with regards to the extent of centralization.  For example, with Fidel Castro’s crushing takeover of Cuba, all privately owned enterprises were nationalized or seized by the “state” in the same way that companies were seized after the Russian Revolution in 1917.  The Communist Party in the former Soviet Union also imposed its strict brand of Socialism on the Eastern European countries under its “protection” after World War II, seizing private assets and setting up puppet governments in Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia.  These countries as well as the former Soviet Union (Russia) have moved towards a more mixed system in recent years, and private ownership has fostered burgeoning economic successes.

3.  Capitalism is the dominant economic system in the world today.  The means of production and distribution are privately owned.  The market determines price and payment to workers.  Investors and corporations drive the market.

4.  Fascism is an extremely nationalistic political system or philosophy led by a dictator who wields brutal power and control over individuals and economies.  Fascists seek to purge society of any race or ethnicity, genetic or physical abnormality, that might otherwise taint the glorified communal identity of a nation.  Hitler, for example, wished to rid the world of those he deemed lesser than the Aryan nation he was building, seeking out the mentally and physically ill and Jews, among others, to exterminate.  Fascism falls to the right by most historical standards due to the fact that corporations, while strictly regulated, are privately owned and use their power strategically to influence government.  In other words, business elites exert a measure of control of government by placing people in key positions.  Fascists disdain the arts, individualism, and equality of the sexes while using religious rhetoric to further its own end.

See what I mean?  Calling Obama a Fascist is ludicrous!

Countries such as the United States, Germany, Italy, and France are Republics and though officially Capitalist, espouse elements of both Capitalism and Socialism in their economic policies.  The amounts of each vary by country.  In the United States, for example, markets are highly regulated and have become much more so when the government opted to infuse capital into the banking and automobile industries to avoid perceived economic devastation.  In addition, the U.S. government heavily manipulates the monetary system by setting exchange rates and valuing currency.  Both Democratic and Republican Administrations have relied on this practice to stabilize markets.  See http://www.newgeography.com/content/00457-is-us-capitalist-socialist-or-something-in-between for more information.

Countries such as Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Spain are Constitutional Monarchies that also rely on varying degrees of capitalistic and socialistic practices in their social and economic policies.  They join the Republics of Western Europe and Scandinavia to provide fundamental healthcare to their citizens in addition to education and other “free” programs relying on taxation for funding.  The Scandinavian countries are the most heavily taxed, and therefore, provide the most benefits to their populations.  They are considered, by most political scientists, to have the most socialistic practices in the Western Hemisphere.  But, they are not Socialist countries!

Like Western Europe and Scandinavia, public education in the United States is free and relies on taxation (state and federal), whether people choose to take advantage of it or not.  Education, then, could be considered a Socialist program.  Because there is this thing called private education here in the U.S., most people do not howl about pulling our government out of this very expensive enterprise.  Why?  Because rationally thinking people understand that it is in everyone’s best interest to have an educated population.  It benefits us all!

With regards to Medicare, Social Security, and healthcare, the howls are deafening.  These programs represent Socialism at its best, guaranteeing that poverty and untimely death are not givens, guaranteeing that the citizens of this country can face old age with the certainty of medical care and some income.  Now that I have opened up this social programs “can of worms,” I add only the promise of future blogs to address it thoroughly.

In a perfect world, Capitalism would be a fine and beautiful system.  There would be no need for regulations because people would not only be motivated by their drives to succeed financially but would also be motivated by their wishes to make the world a better place.  One would not trump the other.  Companies would not pollute for higher profits because of the damage to the environment.  Doctors and hospitals would just treat patients for free if they happen to lose their jobs and their health benefits.  Investors would not speculate and risk people’s money because that would be just mean.  Can anyone imagine this utopia?

It is not a perfect world, though.  It’s pretty mixed-up, as a matter of fact.  But if we are to make it the best world to leave our children we must stop the name calling, finger pointing, and narrow judgments that reduce people who try to make a difference down to caricatures of crackpots of old.  I can’t imagine a Fascist bone in Barack Obama’s body.  He is also not a Socialist, despite arguments to the contrary.

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    Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thank you!

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