Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What is so bad about socialism?

The most recent issue of the Oklahoma Gazette has an interesting article about the Oklahoma Sponsoring Committee.

According to the OSC web site, this is a coalition of religious congregations that strives "To work with other institutions, including public schools and civic groups, to learn to use the democratic process effectively so that families can have a voice in what happens to their neighborhoods, schools and the greater community."

The Gazette article explores the controversy that has developed around the group. Although the OSC appears to be a coalition of both conservative and progressive religious groups, they are being accused of being socialists. This accusation seems to be based largely on their affiliation with the Industrial Areas Foundation. According to the Gazette, the "the OSC contracted with the Industrial Areas Foundation last year for training and technical assistance."

The OSC itself takes great pains to disassociate itself from socialism. In a section addressing "common questions" on their web site, they say:

Are you Marxist, Communist or for Socialism?

The answer on all accounts is again "No". We're actually the opposite in that we believe in empowering the individual citizen and decentralizing power and that a free market economy is the best environment to cultivate the strong family values our faith tradtions teach us.

Many people confuse advocating for the common good with socialism.  Social justice does not mean socialism.  For a more elaborate explanation, click here. If you ask someone who is calling the organization communist or socialist to define what they mean, chances are they won’t even know. The practice of calling people communists or socialists when they don’t fall in line with your ideology is called “red baiting”.

So what is socialism, anyway? According to Wikipedia, "Socialism is an economic and political theory advocating public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources.[1][2][3]" To me, this sounds like a point of view that a reasonable person should be able to propose without being accused of having horn, cloven feet, or elaborate plans to enslave the entire population.

Other reasonable people might believe that capitalism is a better way to organize economic life. According to Wikipedia, "Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit; supply, demand, price, distribution, and investments are determined mainly by private decisions in the free market, rather than by the state through central economic planning; Profit is distributed to owners who invest in businesses, and wages are paid to workers employed by businesses."

Some supporters of capitalism seem to believe that any time that government places any limits on what people are permitted to do with their private property, the very next step is going to be socialism. Placing any limits on what capitalists are allowed to do is exactly the same thing as endorsing the worst excesses of the old Soviet Union.

A reasonable person might note that capitalism without rules results in serious abuses of power, and in results that are catastrophic for society as a whole. Like, say that pesky oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Or the mess on Wall Street that helped to plunge us into the current Great Recession.

I would like to see us all move beyond red-baiting into a rational discussion of the relative merits of capitalism and socialism. In real life, what actually exists seems to be a variety of mixed economies. Do capitalists have the unlimited right to do whatever is most profitable to them in the short term? Is all public involvement in economic regulation a bad thing?

It's time to start discussing and stop name-calling.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fire and Rain

In the morning, I wake up in my little house and switch on the radio, and then I usually fall back to sleep for a while. I hear little bits of things and remember them. Lately, I have been hearing about floods in Pakistan and wildfires in Russia, and I've started thinking the obvious question--are these things related to climate change? has picked up a post from Reuters that tries to answer that question. According to this article, you can't really take any individual weather-related catastrophe and blame it on climate change. But the general increase in weather-related disasters probably is a result.

Reinsurer Munich Re said a natural catastrophe database it runs "shows that the number of extreme weather events like windstorm and floods has tripled since 1980, and the trend is expected to persist."

The worst floods in Pakistan in 80 years have killed more than 1,600 people and left 2 million homeless.

"Global warming is one reason" for the rare spate of recent weather extremes, said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

He pointed to the heat wave and related forest fires in Russia, floods in Pakistan, rains in China and downpours in countries including Germany and Poland. "We have four such extremes in the last few weeks. This is very seldom," he said.
According to JOTMAN, the Russian wildfires are doing more than spreading deadly levels of carbon monoxide:
As if things in Russia were not looking sufficiently apocalyptic already, with 100-degree temperatures and noxious fumes rolling in from burning peat bogs and forests, there is growing alarm here that fires in regions coated with fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 24 years ago could now be emitting plumes of radioactive smoke.
The Russian situation is serious enough, according to the New York Times, that it might force the Russian government to develop more aggressive policies to moderate climate change.
Recent comments made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev link climate change and the wildfires, stoking speculation about what Russia may bring to the table in the next round of international climate talks. But once the wildfires' smoke clears, they may not amount to much, according to Alexey Kokorin, the Moscow-based climate negotiator for the World Wildlife Fund.

Medvedev said in a public speech last week, "Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions," according to a published transcript of the speech. "This means that we need to change the way we work, and change the methods that we used in the past," he said.

In another speech, Medvedev said these events must act as a "wake-up call" for heads of state and social organizations, "in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate," as reported by TIME.

"These are not brave statements for European leaders or Obama, but for a Russian president, it's a new statement," said WWF's Kokorin. Even last year, Medvedev's speeches on climate change were more about helping other continents like Europe and Asia without really focusing on the negative and severe impacts for Russia itself, he said.
Meanwhile, environmental writer Bill McKibben discusses the need for a strong grassroots movement to force the US government to take responsible action:
Those demonstrations were just a start (one we should have made long ago). We're following up in October -- on 10-10-10 -- with a Global Work Party. All around the country and the world people will be putting up solar panels and digging community gardens and laying out bike paths. Not because we can stop climate change one bike path at a time, but because we need to make a sharp political point to our leaders: we're getting to work, what about you?

We need to shame them, starting now. And we need everyone working together. This movement is starting to emerge on many fronts. In September, for instance, opponents of mountaintop removal are converging on DC to demand an end to the coal trade. That same month, Tim DeChristopher goes on trial in Salt Lake City for monkey-wrenching oil and gas auctions by submitting phony bids.  (Naomi Klein and Terry Tempest Williams have called for folks to gather at the courthouse.)