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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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What's in a name?

Uploaded: Oct 21, 2015

... That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Not to say that the politics of the Montagues and Capulets weren't fierce, but would Juliet feel the same way about voting for an avowed Socialist?

That's the stake that Bernie Sanders is placing -- that he can overcome that label on his way to the Democratic nomination and the Presidency. Far from shrinking from it, he has embraced the term to describe his candidacy. It's an unorthodox move, and consistent with his thirty years in office.

But is it true, and what does it all mean?

The term ˜socialist' has long been radioactive in American politics. It is considered to be a first cousin to communist, with all the leftover baggage of the Cold War and bygone McCarthy era witch hunts. Politically, the ˜socialist' label is used as a pejorative, to discredit policies and delegitimize candidates. It's like ˜librul,' only a lot more so.

It was flung improvidently to the current inhabitant of the people's house, usually preceded by the term "Kenyan." The term did not seem to stick adequately in that case (Mr. Obama was re-elected, after all), but for a candidate to actively adopt it, as Mr. Sanders did in last week's blessedly issues-focused debate, is counter-intuitive, to say the least.

My Econ major's understanding of socialism is that it consists primarily of government ownership of the major institutions of the society, including its economic means of production, and some manner of centralized planning of the economy.

Pure capitalism, by contrast, entails private ownership and conduct of most important things, and heavy reliance on the market's ‘invisible hand' to maximize performance and the general welfare. As such, they are very different ways of organizing the society, and defining the relationship between the public and private sectors.

So, is ol' Feel-the-Bern really an economic socialist? Let's look at his actual policy proposals to seek answers, especially in those areas linked to matters economic.

Income and Wealth: Sanders favors raising taxes on the wealthy and trying to repatriate corporate overseas earnings. He has been coy about by how much, but he clearly has in-mind another hot-button for The Right: '€˜wealth redistribution,' which The Left calls '€˜paying one's fair share' -- so we have dueling sound bites.

But #socialism? The marginal personal tax rate was as high as 92% applied to exceptionally large incomes during the Eisenhower Administration, and he was nobody's socialist. We may safely guess that the Sanders rates â-- if they could be achieved via legislation, would be substantially less than that.

Of course, rates themselves say very little about what percentages actually get paid. The tax code contains more than 72,000 pages of dodges. And they are ably applied to the famous point that a billionaire's assistant can pay a higher percentage than her boss. 'Tis said that IRS officials go home at night -- CPAs do not.

This issue is actually pretty popular among Democrats, having finally found some traction among the governed. Sanders' proposal is neither confiscatory nor an outlier among Dem candidates.

College Tuition : it's notable here that a majority portion of the US education system is already publically owned and conducted -- at both the K-12 and college levels. In our mixed system, some goods and services are seen to have a sufficient ˜public benefit' that we are expected to pony-up for them, regardless of our individual usages. They are investments in our collective future. Public education has been around since the days of Horace Mann in the 1830s.

Sanders advocates treating, and funding undergraduate college much the same as K-12 -- free to students. He would pay the tab via a tax on financial transactions -- purchases and sales of stocks in the speculative casinos of capitalism. He considers the proposal to be an extension of the present approach -- a bow to the evident needs of the 21st century world. Of course, funding by securities sales implies continued private ownership of companies, in contrast to the socialist model.

Bernie would also substitute the federal government for the banks in issuing and pricing student loans, for the same reason as above. This step would, indeed, replace private sector lending with government funding; as such it is socialistic. Frankly, for the '˜investment' rationale above, I'm okay with that.

Campaign Finance: Sanders would work to overturn the (wretched) ‘Citizens United' Supreme Court decision that auctions political offices and influence to the highest bidders. While some might call the current approach the ultimate 'free market of ideas,' democracy was never meant to be a financial bazaar. The marketplace competition is supposed to be in the ideas themselves -- most of which get drowned in a flood of spending by well-heeled individuals. Our representatives should be '€˜unbought.' Today, they are the wholly-owned subsidiaries of 166 wealthy pipers who fund campaigns, and call tunes.

This Sanders position stands for the separation of either economic system from the fundamental electoral process of small-d democracy. It is anti-oligarchic, but not socialistic in an economic sense.

Jobs/Wages: Sanders would seek to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour by 2020. The federal number of $7.25 has lagged twenty-nine states and many cities (LA, Chicago, SF, Seattle), which have announced similar moves. The purchasing power of the min wage peaked in 1968, at about $8.54/hour. 73% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor raising it, at least to more than $10/hour.

Now, the minimum wage, first enacted federally in 1938, is clearly a socialistic response to employment markets in which some desperate folks would literally '€˜work for food.' It establishes the economy's minimum decencies as to wages. Dire economic assumptions about throwing low earners out of work, and the mythology that it is a '€˜gateway wage' for youngsters have just never stood-up to actual scrutiny. So it's socialism, all right, but also firmly entrenched in the culture.

Is $15 the right number? It was chosen because it is slightly above the so-called poverty line for most families. Regardless, it represents a difference of '€˜degree,' rather than ‘kind.'

Rights of women, racial minorities, LGBT citizens: to summarize these points inadequately, they concern primarily social issues, such as contraceptive coverage and equal pay for women, and freedom from physical violence, voting disenfranchisement, and job discrimination against minorities.

Anti-discrimination laws and policies are theoretically socialistic, I suppose, in that they countermand unfettered freedom-of-choice -- as by employers in the hiring marketplace, or landlords of apartments. They are also deeply woven into the American fabric, at least since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Climate Change: The website is a bit spare here, but unsurprisingly, Sanders favors a carbon tax, opposes the Keystone Pipeline, and voted to secure federal grants for greenhouse gas reduction (I think these encourage solar paneling).

Frankly, a true socialist might've gone much farther -- say, by nationalizing the utilities or even the car companies to promote a cleaner agenda, sooner. The above proposals and record are pretty mainstreamy on his side of the aisle.

Wall Street Reform: Sanders calls for re-establishment of the separation of banking from speculation that ended with repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. He wants to break up the Big Banks -- '€˜too big to fail' means ‘too big to exist.'

These are unabashedly liberal policies, but they go to reforms to a regulatory system that is distinctly, rapaciously capitalistic. Reinstatement of Glass Steagall is hardly radical-- it just requires banks to avoid risking depositors' money on speculative adventures; it posits that banking should be a boring servant of the value-adding economy, rather than a master of the universe.

And breaking-up the banksters is mostly a matter of antitrust law enforcement. Those are laws in-place since 1890. They address market failures, rather than replacing markets themselves.
A true socialist would move toward public ownership of financial institutions, rather than tinkering with the existing, market-based system.

Prescription Drugs: Here Bernie would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices for seniors paid-out by the program (from everybody's taxes); he would also open the US market to Canadian drugs, remove restrictions on generics and require pricing transparency.

Each of those concepts is distinctly capitalistic -- they all go to improving market circumstances for consumers, rather than replacing markets themselves. Medicare payments are made out of everybody's money, broader markets mean more competition, and even Milton Friedman would agree that competitive market models assume transparency -- what the econ wonks call "€œperfect information."

None of those reforms exists today, but all of them are predicated on a market economy, and a reduction in artificial imperfections leading to so-called monopoly profits. Adam Smith would be proud -- Karl Marx, not so much.

Okay, so Mr. Sanders' policies must surely be a disappointment to the radical socialists among us, Kenyan or otherwise. So, if his proposals are so tepid in that regard, why does he embrace the socialist label?

More on that next time.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Oct 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

The weird punctuation markage has been reported to the PsTB. Not sure what caused it this time.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 21, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I appreciate Bernie Sanders and experience him as a honest man. If he lies, I don't know about it.

He comes across as sincere, not pandering to large corporations who are driven by greed. Having been raised in places where dire poverty/hunger was abundant, I welcome anybody who supports feeding and providing shelter/health care/education to the poor. He doesn't seem to support racist/class policies that favor the wealthy only! I'm by no means wealthy, but I'm comfortable and quite capable of meeting all of my needs for a good life. I share what I've earned with those less fortunate.

I've dedicated the last 10 yrs. of my life to tracking down images of clergy sex predators who rape/murder children/vulnerable adults. To date, I have tracked down a minimum of 250+ clergy and their names/faces are online.

America's children are a gift. They deserve every possible advantage in this wonderful and complicated world.

I could easily vote for Bernie Sanders but I'm not ready to make a final decision at this time. VIVA BERNIE! VIVA! GORA!

Posted by Barbara Dayan, a resident of California Reflections,
on Oct 21, 2015 at 10:16 pm

‘We Love Bernie’ Community to Mobilize Progressive 99% Movement!
Inspired by Bernie Sanders and his message about taking back America for the 99%, the social network offers the bells and whistles of Facebook where users can post profiles and photos, promote their organizations, books, music, artwork, films, documentaries and other items of interest to this community.

Join the Progressive Revolution here: Web Link

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:27 am

Michael Austin is a registered user.

The weird punctuation is probably residual remaining from the hack job of a few weeks ago. It also appears in other areas of this publication. After last weeks maintenance on Sunday, the pages load slower and when clicking on yours and other blogs, they load much slower, when clicking on a comment, it takes double the time to load. Clearly issues remain, that no doubt are being addressed. Gina has been silent on this issue.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:37 am

What I've learned is that I can't fix it here, but there may be a work-around for next time. Apologies.

I also learnt that I use a Lot of quotes marks and dashes.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Oct 22, 2015 at 1:42 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

This is an interesting blog and I have a lot of comments on it. In fact I have so many, I may write my own blog instead of a reply.

I just posted a blog on Halloween, possibly too early, so I won't be writing or posting another one for at least 3 or 4 days, but I watched the Dem Debate, and the Saturday Night Live parody (one of their best), and will write some(thing) on it soon.


Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Oct 22, 2015 at 1:44 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

That should have been, "I will write something on it soon." I hate that I can't correct my mistakes on someone else's blog.

Me too, Roz, so I fixed it -- professional courtesy, after all.

So, fire away! I'll be interested in your 'take.' -- TFC

Posted by StephanieStroh, a resident of Pleasanton Valley,
on Oct 24, 2015 at 2:42 am

StephanieStroh is a registered user.

Name gives u an identity. Without identity there is nothing in this world. The world recognises u by ur name. One has to do something remarkable throughout the life to become immortal. No body is immortal but the name, yes. Because there is a name there is this word immortality other wise this word wouldn't have been there.

Web Link

Posted by POLOLO MOLOLO, a resident of Livermore,
on Oct 25, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Culture also give groups an identity. Yaqui have been around lots 'n lots of time.

Web Link I understand that this video shifts away from Tom's focus but I want him to view it...Tom, enjoy T...VIVA! HOORAY!

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Oct 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

This day I noticed that the your blog and other blogs are loading at normal speed, and when I click on a comment it also is loading at normal speed.

Glad o see the fix.

Posted by Hotslide, a resident of Oak Tree Acres,
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

What a dance around the campfire for old Bern. You can call him a communist, because he has referred to his politics as such in the past. Gee, rub your chin a little more and give it some deep, deep thought: would I vote for a Capitalist or a communist? We are trillions in debt, $.53 of your tax dollars now go to paying that debt off (like to China folks), and along comes ol' commy Bern and wants to give everything free to everybody. There are some tiny minds out there, a lot of them. Sad.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Hi Hots -- so, if Bernie calls himself a socialist, somebody is bound to take it a (big) step further and call him a "commy." Which of his specific proposals do you think most fits the "commy" mold?

I also wonder if you really believe your dramatic 53% number, it's actually 7%, which means you've overstated it by 7 times -- about par for the internet hysteria course: Web Link

"Interest on the national debt: The federal government must make regular interest payments on the money it has borrowed to finance past deficits â€" that is, on the national debt held by the public, which reached nearly $13 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2014. In 2014, these interest payments claimed $229 billion, or about 7 percent of the budget."

Obviously, that $13T is now higher, but 53% is way, way out of bounds.

As to China -- it and Japan are running neck-and-neck ... at about 7% of the debt each, according to those commys at Forbes. Web Link

"According to the U.S. Treasury Department, at the end of August 2014, more than a third of the debt was owned by foreign countries (34.4%). The largest foreign holders of U.S. debt were Mainland China (7.2%) and Japan (7.0%)."

The sky is intact.

Posted by Hotslide, a resident of Oak Tree Acres,
on Oct 28, 2015 at 11:58 am

Tom: Somehow you overlooked the $50-60 trillion dollar "unfunded liabilities" on the books that we have waiting for the kids. You may want to add that in to the numbers you got from this administration. The one that told us "if you like your Dr. you can keep your Dr.", "not even a smidgeon of corruption in the IRS targeting Tea Party people", Harry Reid lying about Romney not paying taxes, then after the fraudulent kenyan is elected admits it was a lie "but it worked, didn't it"?, used the nuclear option to push us into the ACA as it now collapses wholesale. And yes, we have 94 million people of working age out of the workforce but obama says we have a miraculous 5% unemployment rate. Every time he meets with Putin it takes 6 gastro surgeons to get his vent back to normal size. Lie after lie. So that is where you get your numbers right down to .10% accuracy? The important element here is that "facts don't matter" because a huge block of non achievers would certainly vote for ol Bern, because he has vowed to take from the achievers and give what they have worked for to them. The very building block of communism, with the goal of the state owning everything. So tell me, when and where in history has this ever worked without a rebellion and war ? And don't tell me Denmark which has a homogenous population of 6 million people, strict borders, no military of consequence and is also nearly bankrupt. I would like to see you use your column more constructively and give some us middle class people more hope. Our family is not undertaxed and pay far too much to slackers at present.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Oct 28, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Hots -- if you are determined to live in fear and loathing, then I can't help you -- except to point out that your numbers continue to be absurdly wrong, as well as unattributed to any other source.

Item: 94 million unemployed: I'll do you one better -- there are actually over 101 Meellion Americans permanently out of the workforce! That is because they are under 15 or over 65. Web Link If you are trying to say that almost half of the remaining, working-age population is unemployed, then you will believe just about anything. There is nothing different about how the DOL keeps its stats now than there ever was -- this is simply nonsense, peddled to the credulous by the deceptive.

Item: if you were including your fanciful $60T.in unfunded liabilities in your earlier figuers, it would be three times the entire GDP and 20X the entire federal budget (not 53%). In other words, you weren't including it. The fun thing about that kind of estimate (and its an estimate, not a debt) is that it can be whatever you want it to be -- you just have to tinker with interest rates and longevities. So again -- you want the sky to fall? Okay -- there it is. Oh wait -- that's rain -- I didn't recognize it at first.

The rest of your comment is just grousing. BTW, you're not over-taxed; but you may have gotten used to receiving the bounty, while not even appreciating your good fortune.

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on May 12, 2016 at 10:41 am

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