We’re All “Social Democrats” Now

Matt Yglesias, some time back, summarized Bruno Bezard’s resume (“Where Socialism Lives,” Think Progress, April 18, 2010). Besides senior posts at various economic and industrial policy ministries and the Treasury, he held directorships at the France Telecom Group, Renault, Air France-KLM, and France Televisions. “Try to imagine,” Yglesias asked, “an American having Bruno Bezard’s official biography.”

Well, I can imagine someone — namely Tim Geithner — whose resume includes Secretary of the Treasury, along with a string of posts at Treasury, the Fed, the IMF, and the Council on Foreign Relations. I can imagine his predecessor, Hank Paulson, having both Treasury Secretary and Goldman-Sachs CEO on his resume. A lot of Treasury Secretaries seem to have toiled in the vineyards at Goldman-Sachs, come to think of it.

I  can imagine someone like Jeffrey Immelt, whose resume includes Chairman at GE and Chairman of the Council of Jobs and Competitiveness (Immelt, by the way, is among the contenders to replace Geithner). On the other hand if Jamie Dimon takes Geithner’s spot, he’ll have Treasury Secretary and CEO of JPMorgan Chase on his resume.

And I can imagine — although listing them would take a year’s worth of columns — the same people endlessly shuffling back and forth between third-tier positions at USDA and FDA and the C-Suites at Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, Merck, and Pfizer.

So what’s Yglesias’s point? That some of the corporations on Bezard’s bio are — or were once — state-owned?  Frankly, under state capitalism — whether of the fake “social democratic” version or fake “free market” version — distinctions between “public” and “private” are largely nominal.

Center for a Stateless Society Director Brad Spangler once used the analogy of a stickup. The state is defined by the political means to wealth — a zero-sum game for getting wealth at others’ expense. Now, if a mugger holds you up at gunpoint, and his unarmed accomplice collects your money, who’s the robber? Just the gunman? Or the gunman and bagman together, acting as a team?

In this analogy, the nominally “public” member of the team — the actual state apparatus — wields the gun. But the “private” members — the giant corporations and banks — control the state and benefit directly from its coercion on their behalf. When the Fortune 500 get the major portion of their profits from state subsidies, state-enforced artificial property rights and regulatory cartels, and the state apparatus itself constantly exchanges personnel with senior corporate management — well, is it more accurate to say that the corporations are a component of the state, or that the state’s an instrument of corporate power?

If “public servants” with both government and corporate positions on their resumes is the mark of “socialism,” then America is “socialist.” European-style “social democracy” is government-corporate collusion;  American-style fake “free enterprise” is just the reverse.

A freed market is what I want. But the American system of cowboy capitalism — falsely called “the free market” by Dick Armey and his ilk — is no closer to a genuine free market than is Franco-German social democracy. The only difference is that in the American system all the welfare goes to the rich. When folks like Armey complain about “socialism,” what they really mean is too much of the welfare goes to the poor.

But the label “social democracy” is just as deserving of scare quotes as “free enterprise.” The European system’s just run by smarter capitalists, who know that long-run stable profits require avoiding political destabilization from polarized wealth or a general public too poor to buy their stuff. That’s not “socialism;” it’s  a system run by smart capitalists.

You know what real socialism would be? A genuinely freed market without the state-enforced artificial scarcities, subsidies and privileges that big business currently enjoys. In a freed market, all the benefits of increased productivity from technological progress would be socialized through market competition. In a freed market, competition would flush the embedded rents on artificial property and artificial scarcity out of the price of goods, and drive price down to production cost. In a freed market, labor would receive its full product instead of paying tribute to the rentier classes. In other words, socialism.

As a market anarchist, I want both totally free markets and genuine socialism — not a choice between fake “socialism” and fake “free markets.”

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist