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The new socialism

Suddenly, this scary "ism" is everywhere.
Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons None

This is the week, says Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman, that Gordon Brown, the dour Labour prime minister of Britain, seem to have stopped the plunge of the world's stock markets by putting British pounds directly into major banks. But what are we to call this phenomenon?

There is a name for it, my friends, and it is Socialism.

And the United States is trooping right into this dreaded "ism" as if Karl Marx were sitting in the Treasury.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith once declared that socialism was practiced in America only for the wealthy; indeed it is hard to distinguish pure socialism from our system of awarding no-bid contracts to Halliburton and other friends of the president.

Since the Reagan Era, the "Old Europe" mindset has fallen into disfavor, its mix of capitalism and socialism overrun by the American economic engine. Health-care proposals have been discarded as "socialism," despite their widespread acceptance in most of the developed world. Certainly anyone who proposed using billions of American dollars to buy shares in huge multinational banks would be routed from the stage by a conservative crowd. Suddenly that seems so yesterday.

And what of the manipulators of political rhetoric? If this new idea of socialism for the largest banks in the country works, will this mark yet another case of "language-change" in this election year? We have already seen the decline of "Republican," replaced at least in Washington state by "GOP." The word "liberal" is no longer used by "progressive" Democrats. What if "socialism" is no longer a term of approbation?

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it's no longer relevant to accuse anyone of being a communist, particularly after China formed a partnership with Wal-Mart, that most American of corporations. The fallback insult has been "socialist." Somehow it doesn't work as an insult when the president of Bank of America becomes one.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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