It seldom strikes me as correct when an American is referred to as being “right wing” or “leftist”. These 230-year-old terms are vague to the point of being useless. Wikipedia:
Leftist economic beliefs range from Keynesian economics and the welfare state through industrial democracy and the social market to nationalization of the economy and central planning, to the anarcho-syndicalist advocacy of a council- and assembly-based self-managed anarchist communism.
Similarly, people who are characterized as “liberal” or “conservative” seldom have a coherent political philosophy. “Socialism” is also a vague term. In the Soviet Union it meant that everyone had to work, even mothers of young children, for example. In the U.S., the same word has become associated with the idea that nobody has to work, especially not mothers (e.g., “single moms” or “welfare moms”).
“Transferism, Not Socialism, Is the Drug Americans Are Hooked On” (from the FEE folks who tilt at windmills in the belief that there are a significant number of Americans who want a market economy) delves into this question of terminology.
Socialism is state control of the means of production. The intent is that these means are to be used for the public good. By contrast, capitalism is simply private ownership of the means of production. The intent is that these means are to be used to advance the interests of those who own them, which will in turn create conditions of general prosperity that can be enjoyed by all.
It appears that what Americans really have in mind when they think about socialism is not an economic system but particular economic outcomes. And their thoughts seem to focus most often on the question of what people should have. The answer they arrive at most often? More than people typically get in a system based on the pursuit of profit. Capitalism, they believe, is immoral because it is a system in which some do without while others have more than they could hope to use in multiple lifetimes.
Transferism Is a More Accurate Term
These four in ten Americans, and the politicians who speak for them most vocally, are not advocating socialism at all; they are advocating what we should really call “transferism.” Transferism is a system in which one group of people forces a second group to pay for things that the people believe they, or some third group, should have. Transferism isn’t about controlling the means of production. It is about the forced redistribution of what’s produced.
Federal transfers to persons have risen from 11 percent of federal spending in 1953 to 53 percent today. As with persons, the federal government also sends transfers to state and local governments. Federal transfers to persons and state and local governments have risen from 17 percent of federal spending in 1953 to 69 percent today. As of today, almost 70 percent of what the federal government does involves simply taking money from one group of people and giving it to another. Less than one-third of the money Washington spends is spent in the name of actual governance.
Readers: What do you think? Is transferism a more precise term than those that are thrown around in an attempt to characterize Americans’ political wishes?