28 October 2008

Republican Socialism

One of the main talking points for Republicans in this Presidential election has been to label Obama a "Socialist." But, when it comes to nationalizing industries, involving government in private economic decision making, favoring existing programs to redistribute wealth, and increasing government's share of the economy, Republicans look a lot like socialists themselves.

Governor Palin is a firm supporter of the socialist message of collective ownership of resources so that the government can share the wealth with the common man.

A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that "we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs."

From here.

McCain has repeatedly favored taxing the wealthy more than the middle and working class, something he now attacked Obama for as a form of "Socialism." Republicans also voted together with Democrats, and President Bush agreed, to create Medicare Part D, the new prescription drug program that is the largest expansion of the social safety net in the United States in a couple of decades. Medicare Part D costs an amount comparable to the cost of providing bare bones universal health care to all in the United States.

The Bush Administration, as a result of a proposal that both McCain and Obama voted in favor of, and that both men went to the White House to help negotiate, is currently in the process of taking equity stakes in all nine of the biggest banks in America, plans to do the same with many smaller banks, and has taken an 80% stake in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that collectively own 50% of the mortgages in America. The foreign press, and some of the domestic press, has accurately described this as a partial nationalization of the banking system.

The Bush Administration has also invested in a major international insurance company (AIG), brokered a banking merger (PNC and National City) designed to avoid the limitations on golden parachutes in the bailout bill despite the fact that the merger is financed with bailout bill money, and is reported by the Wall Street Journal to be working on a plan to use $5 billion in federal funds to broker a General Motors acquisition of privately held Chrysler.

According to the conservative Cato Institute:

President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years. His 2006 budget doesn’t cut enough spending to change his place in history, either.

Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush’s first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton’s last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush’s first term.

The Republican Congress has enthusiastically assisted the budget bloat. Inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs they vowed to eliminate in 1995 has grown by 27 percent.

Fiscal responsibility has suffered as a result. Bush has run up record deficits and is not the exception in this regard either. Republican Presidents have added far more to the federal debt than Democratic Presidents.

In the wake of 9-11, one of the Bush Administration's first responses was to nationalize the previously private sector function of providing airport security screening, creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA is the biggest new federal government function, in terms of employees added to the federal payroll, in recent memory, and has made a name for itself for its ham handed handling of its job.

Republicans have also favored prohibiting voluntary accurate labeling of U.S. farm products or additional inspections of U.S. farm products that would increase the marketability of these products abroad. Concerns about the safety of imports of food from the U.S. in the absence of these inspections and labeling has led to riots in the streets of Seoul, South Korea. And, the Bush Administration has also strongly favored protectionist prohibitions on importing prescription drugs from Canada, despite the fact that there are no genuine reasons to doubt the safety of Canadian drugs. Both Bush and McCain have proposed setting government targets in imports of oil to the United States. This doesn't sound like a party driven by a desire for free trade.

Pro-government conservatives have become one of the main constituencies for the Republican party as the Pew Research Center has noted for several years. They make up 10% of registered voters, and are 58% Republican, with most of the balance considering themselves to be independent voters. While pro-business "Enterprisers" and "Social Conservatives" make up larger shares of the Republican Party coalition, pro-government conservatives make up much of the balance of the Republican party.

In short, present day Republicans seem to favor bigger government, a larger role for government in the economy, redistribution of wealth, and a bigger social safety net, without much concern for the size of the national debt. This makes the sting of their "socialist" taunts unimpressive.

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