Don’t look now, but there’s a monster hiding in the attic; or is it crouching behind the garden wall? Maybe it’s lurking with a troll under the bridge? There are a growing number of Americans who think that socialism is a threat to our free-market economy.
Now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it will commit millions dollars—maybe as much as $100 million–to a long-term campaign to teach the verities of capitalism and free markets.
“Supporters and critics alike agree that capitalism is at a crossroads,” said U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue, “It’s time to remind all Americans that it was a free enterprise system based on the values of individual initiative, hard work, risk, innovation, and profit that built our great country. We must take immediate action to reaffirm the spirit of enterprise in America.”
In his statement, Donohue did not mention socialism; but the implication is that it is coming in with the policies of the Obama administration.
Indeed, President Obama has not been squeamish about government intervention in the market. The economic stimulus package, the bailout of the banks, General Motors and possibly some states, the wishful “green”energy bill on Capitol Hill, and, front and center, health care reform all add up to a fear by many Americans that the United States is headed toward European-style democratic socialism.
The U.S. Chamber’s “Campaign for Free Enterprise” will feature a grass-roots movement, a “vigorous” media and public education campaign, focusing on the “economic literacy of younger Americans,” and issue-advocacy program, leading up to the 2010 elections and, of course, lobbying. It reflects a deep concern by the board of the chamber that the country really is heading down the path of Euro-socialism.
This concern begs the question: Is that so bad?
Putting aside those who think Europe’s social contracts of today are a kind of Marxism redux (they are not), what are the fears? Mostly, Europeans like their system and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds the countries of western Europe out-score the United States in terms of national happiness. The socialized service most feared in the United States,
nationalized medicine, is both criticized, particularly in the United Kingdom and Italy, and loved. No politicians dare suggest privatizing it. The same goes for subsidized and pervasive public transportation,
The real problem for Europe is rigidity. Business has no freedom to act, and successive governments have mortgaged themselves to public service unions in country after country.
Margaret Thatcher loosened some of those bonds in Britain; but compared to the United States, business is still shackled in a way that would be hard to swallow here. Particularly, the American employment model is at odds with the European one. U.S. employment law is built on the concept of employment “at will.” In Britain, and most of the rest of western Europe, a fired employee can drag the employer before a labor tribunal and force an arbitration that usually will side with the worker.
This may be noble in concept, but it is devastating in reality. Even in good times, employers fear increasing payrolls. So permanent jobs are treated as temporary, and contract employees are favored over regular ones to protect employers from the rigors of hiring.
European governments do try to fix everything, and pass laws and rules to implement the fixes. I have heard social workers complain that they have to tell people who rip off the system how to do it more efficiently. In Britain, welfare, unemployment insurance, and other welfare-state handouts are known as “benefit”–and it can work like an annuity, especially in disability cases. I have heard British social workers complain that they feel complicit in abusing the system.
In Scandinavia the father, as well as the mother, can get a year of maternity leave, The “coddled society,” you might say. Yet as Harold Meyerson, a declared liberal, writes in The Washington Post, conservative parties embrace most of the same goals as the left-of-center ones.
Certainly cradle-to-grave Euro-socialism is expensive. It also stifles the business dynamic; business just has so much more to overcome to succeed and to survive in Europe. If you want to start a business, better do it in the United States. But if you want your opera produced, try Europe. Good and bad things come in the European package.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will get something for its efforts and its money if it admits that the door to more government was opened not by incipient socialists but by the excesses of capital managers, and that the threat to American business is wrong regulation not regulation itself. The specter of socialism in the U.S. context is a political device to frighten the gullible. –For Hearst-New York Times Syndicate