Friday, October 1, 2010

OPINION: Socialism in Four Minutes and Twenty-five Seconds

The Pencil Warrior
by Dave Wheelock

I was driving home from the grocery store a while back with the truck radio tuned to National Public Radio, beamed over one of Albuquerque's two public stations. The usual hodgepodge of stuff was on parade: dismal U.S. employment levels, American military action across the Pakistani border, hip-hop artists still selling albums, etc. But as the broadcast seamlessly shifted to an installment of the NPR feature Planet Money, I nearly dropped my teeth.
  "The upcoming elections will be decided in large part based on what voters think about economics. So Planet Money is looking into the economic thinking behind much of today's politics. We're going to start today with socialism."
 "This should be interesting" I thought as I turned up the dial and slowed down so as to hear the entire report before arriving home.
It had been a while since I'd heard, seen, or read anything in the commercialized U.S. media about socialism - with the exception, of course, of various condemnations of Barack Obama's policies by Republican politicians, Tea Partiers, or Christianshepherds.
Now, I don't harbor any unrealistic expectations of objectivity from our woefully-funded version of public information. If you listen to this September 16 Planet Money segment in the NPR archives you will learn it was supported by Allied Bank, a true transnational with myriad operations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Still, I was curious to see if an outfit called National Public Radio could provide a more thoughtful and honest approach than the normal fare.
The very fact an economic theory as complex and globally diverse as what goes under the term "socialism" is routinely used to stifle dialog should raise our collective eyebrows. And perhaps it has. As more and more Americans experience firsthand the cruel inequities of a society defined by a minority in control of what the nation produces, they are beginning to relate to the complaints from others they so long ignored and even looked down upon. As they see their misery unmitigated by the rebound of the stock market and the further enrichment of the wealthy elite, they might wonder what substance the capitalist tenet of meritocracy actually has.
 For those fantastically wealthy few for whom American-style capitalism has worked so well the restlessness of the natives represents their worst nightmare. In fact, besides continued ownership of the natural resources that makes them rich, control over the humans whose work they rely upon is their only worry.
This class has long cultivated strategies for maintaining control over the potentially dangerous business of exploiting those who do the work. Over and above the distractions of technological gadgets, spectacular events, gambling, and drugs of all types hover the ultimate engines of social control: ignorance and fear.
The level of ignorance of the modern American populace is one of our worst-kept secrets. A 1999 Gallup poll reported that just 76 percent of adult Americans surveyed knew from which country the United States gained its independence. 18 percent thought the sun revolved around the earth. We've all heard stories about the dumbing-down of America , and sadly many are true. Combine this level of education (not to be confused with innate intelligence) with the disinformation campaign that has blanketed this country for generations, and it's not hard to equate socialism with authoritarian state control, or to convince people that socialism is incompatible with democracy and has succeeded nowhere in the world.
At least since the rise of socialism in Europe, here in the United States it's not been important whether socialism is practical or fair. What is important is that socialism is not only wrong, but also evil. The God and Country folks really like that word; it is an article of faith that Christian zealots particularly have embraced with a single-minded ferocity.
In the United States there has been no frank, honest, and public discussion of the relationships between things produced, those who produce them, and those who control their distribution. This situation is unique in the rest of the world, where a greater percentage of citizens can debate economy and government more proficiently than in our country.
We are left with but a single model with which to try to solve our challenges. Perhaps it's time to consider not only how well this is working, but also whom it serves. 
And the NPR piece on socialism? It turned out to be relatively agenda-free, tied as it was to an interview with University of Massachusetts economics professor emeritus Richard Wolff, a real live socialist (who does not appear to have green hair). You can hear all four minutes and twenty-five seconds of the NPR piece at his website,, plus more that you might find stimulating.

Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, holds a history degree from the University of New Mexico . Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail. Reach him at

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