Progressive tax rates and social programs are not socialism

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January 28, 2009

Definitions of capitalism, communism, and socialism at end of article


“The end of an error 09Jan20” sums up the change that is taking place in our country this month. The slogan was seen on several bumper stickers around town showing the disgust for the last eight years of the Bush-Cheney leadership.

President-elect Barack Obama led a progressive social and economic campaign for change but that change is clouded in ideological fears. Two incidents in the Obama-Biden campaign illustrate those fears.

When Obama told Joe the Plumber during the campaign that he wanted to “spread the wealth around.” there was an immediate attack on Obama for uttering these words.

            Barbara West, a reporter in Florida asked vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, “You may recognize this famous quote, ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’ That’s from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?”

Biden was taken aback and expressed his surprise in the question by asking West, “Are you joking? Is this a joke? … Or is that a real question?”  (1) then Biden went on to answer the question in the negative.

Instead of dealing with the issue of “spreading the wealth around” West chose rather to engage in the fear of socialism.

            Is Marxism (socialism) the only form of spreading the wealth around? President Ronald Reagan in 1980 ushered in a new era of conservative Republicanism.  The income gap between the CEOs and the lowest paid employees was 40 to 1 then. The gap has now ballooned nearly eleven times that to 433 to 1 according to Forbes (2).  Now that is “spreading the wealth from the lower and middle income people to the wealthiest”.

            The rise in this income gap was not an accident. It was orchestrated by lower taxes on the wealthy and considerable deregulation of the business sector. The same policies existed in the 1920’s, a period of “very unhealthy corporate and banking structures, an unsound foreign trade, much economic misinformation” and a large gap in income, according to Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States. Sound familiar? Those policies led to the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression. Those words could just as well have been used to describe the years leading to the meltdown of the market in September 2008 and bailout of the financial industry.

The Great Depression and the current market meltdown show the weakness of capitalism which is based on profit motivation. Capitalism as a theory has nothing to do with morals and ethics, but since human beings act within this system, all the weaknesses of human morality, like greed, manipulation, fraud, get injected into capitalism and thus large income gaps, recessions, and depressions occur. Capitalism has nothing to do with the common good, which is an essential consideration if we are going to have a thriving society, not just a thriving economy. Today our government and corporate leaders, as well as the voters in both political parties, fail to look at the common good.

            Socialism is based on a theory of common ownership of property and the means of production. Social programs aim to minimize the weaknesses of our capitalistic economy.  Social security is a social program that has proven to be a life saver for millions of people. Obama’s plans for taxes, health care, and energy are not socialism but programs based on social justice.

            Compare the following quote with the one above by Karl Marx. Can you guess where this quote is from?

“All … were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need.”

            Sounds an awful lot like socialism, doesn’t it? This is a quote from Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible on the way the early Christians lived. Many Christians advocate the return of this country to Christian values and principles. I never heard them proclaim these values however.  Rather they uphold capitalism as if anointed by God. Perhaps Ms. West could have used this quote and ended with the question, “Is Obama a Christian?”

            I want to bring focus to the conversation we need to have in this country about our future in all dimensions. Let’s be open to various solutions to problems we face and evaluate them on their own merits, not the basis of ideology.


(1) “Right-Wing Florida News Anchor Asks If Obama Is A Marxist; Defends Questions As ‘Probing”

(2) Neil Weinberg, Michael Maiello and David K. Randall, “Paying for Failure”,

Forbes, May 19, 2008





a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

American Psychological Association (APA):

socialism. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved December 06, 2008, from website:



a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.


Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from religion. Capitalism is the system of of laissez faire. It is the system of political freedom.




: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market