David R. Henderson  

MSNBC Host Admits We Didn't Have Laissez-Faire

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Do you remember during the financial crisis when various commentators on the left were saying that Ronald Reagan had brought in an era of almost laissez-faire? In an April 13, 2008 article in the New York Times, for example, Peter S. Goodman wrote:

Five years later, Ronald Reagan entered the White House, elevating Mr. Friedman's laissez-faire ideals into a veritable set of commandments. Taxes were cut, regulations slashed and public industries sold into private hands, all in the name of clearing government from the path to riches.

I took on his article, paragraph by paragraph, here.

I always wondered whether people who made that claim were simply spinning or were profoundly ignorant. Although I lean to the former explanation, I still don't know for sure.

But someone who clearly understands how little we moved towards laissez-faire under Reagan is MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell. Check out this video, which is only 2 minutes long and is illuminating. Or, if you're in a hurry, check out this statement by O'Donnell from that 2-minute discussion:

Newsweek did a cover so many years ago - I can't remember - saying we're all socialists now. Medicare is a socialist program. Social Security is a socialist program. No politicians advocate the abolition of Social Security, therefore they embrace socialism at some level, Bernie [Sanders] much more than others. But he's not afraid of that word.

O'Donnell went even beyond where I would feel comfortable. We are NOT all socialists now. But many politicians are and it is true that Medicare and Social Security are socialist programs. This doesn't mean, of course, that the aforementioned Peter S. Goodman agrees with O'Donnell, but it's good to see O'Donnell getting closer to the truth than many of his colleagues on the left did only a few years ago.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
ThomasH writes:

Both Socialism and laissez-fair are so far removed from where the economy and the debate about economic policy is in any Western Democracy that I cannot understand why anyone would use those terms to in discussion. And why would serious people (not to be confused with Krugmann's VSP) care what Peter S. Goodman thought in 2008.

BTW, Medicare and Social Security are not "Socialist" programs. They are income redistribution programs, but the income being redistributed is mainly being generated in the private sector. Very few politicians nowadays favor a system of state ownership of the means of production or even the "commanding heights." It s perfectly possible to believe that ACA is not perfect -- inefficient, redistributionist -- without calling it is "Socialist."

David R. Henderson writes:

@ThomasH,
And why would serious people (not to be confused with Krugmann’s [sic] VSP) care what Peter S. Goodman thought in 2008.
Because Goodman wrote for the New York Times.

Geoffrey writes:

Lawrence O'Donnell is very good friends with Penn Jillette, a staunch libertarian. Probably some good info rubs off on him.

Jon Murphy writes:

BTW, Medicare and Social Security are not "Socialist" programs. They are income redistribution programs, but the income being redistributed is mainly being generated in the private sector.

I'm not seeing the difference between socialism and what you describe here, Thomas.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Mainly @ ThomasH:

The principal operative actions of Socialism for political and social objectives is to take from some and give to others.

In historic analysis of those actions they were to be accomplished by controlling means of production; thus taking directly the labor (or productive contributions) of some and directing them to others

It is the "giving to others" and the "directing to others" by means other than commutation or exchange that are its essence - distribution.

The same continues in the forms of redistributions to others of costs incurred by, for the benefit of, some.

As we are learning, all that we refer to as Socialism is not one, sole, thing like state control of the means of production. It is the taking from some for the benefit of others; it is the placing of burdens on some for the benefit of others.

We are currently moving deeper into the placement of burdens resulting in those placements spreading out through more levels of our society.
Socialists eventually run out of other peoples money; now they are running out of other peoples backs to bear the burdens.

Jon Murphy writes:

When there are over 1,000,000 federal regulations on the books, it's kinda hard to make the case laissez-faire is the dominating POV.

TMC writes:

@ThomasH "but the income being redistributed is mainly being generated in the private sector"

What other income is there? Does anyone believe the public sector actually produces anything?

Daublin writes:

It seems worth distinguishing wellfare from socialism. They are two different kinds of large government.

Wellfare means that the government is giving out goods to the general public, especially to the needy.

Socialism means that the government is heavily involved in multiple parts of the economy. In the strictest form, it means the government is *running* large portions of the economy.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

@ Daublin;

You say:

Wellfare means that the government is giving out goods to the general public, especially to the needy.
(emphasis added)

in an effort to distinguish "welfare" from "Socialism" as a matter of social policy conducted by "government."

Consider:

Social policy is conducted by people using the mechanisms of governments (including coercions). Government is not a person making determinations.

When government mechanisms are used for "welfare,"
humans determine the " giving out of goods;" They determine what kinds, how much, to whom, in what forms and when.

But, more importantly, those humans have to determine means of OBTAINING the goods to be given out. Those goods have to come from somewhere, they are not generated by the mechanisms of governments.

For goods to be given out, they must be taken in - they must be taken from those who have generated them. Using the mechanisms of governments, those humans determine the taking (which may be the imposition of obligations).

The results of the welfare via governments you describe is the giving out of goods taken from others.

That does not differ materially from the operative actions of Socialism.

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