Thursday, October 23, 2008

What is this thing...called America?

Lately my local paper, the Morning Call, has been running letters from people reacting to this whole Joe-the-Plumber fiasco; most of them take a very strong stand against "redistribution of wealth." I'm betting that your local paper has been receiving such letters, too. Further, it clearly doesn't matter to anyone that the individual at the heart of it all, the actual Joe that Obama encountered out near Columbus, Ohio, misrepresented himself and his circumstances. What matters is that the issue that emerged from that campaign-trail exchangethe idea that we should "spread the wealth around" a little bit, as Obama put itresonates with people. And not in a good way. Win or lose on November 4, that may go down as the most ill-advised phrase uttered by Obama during the entirety of the campaign.

I've read maybe a dozen such letters in the Call* so far, a few each day since J-t-P exploded into headlines. Here's a typical one, from today's paper. I doubt seriously that all of the people who took the time to write out their thoughts with such passion (and even anger) are McCain operatives or seven-figure earners. For one thing, we don't have many seven-figure earners in my neck of the woods. I'm betting that they're middle-class folk, basically like me and most of the people I know. They are, in other words, the very people that Barack Obama's campaign was strategized to target. And yet they're taking a stand against the redistribution of wealth from on high. Even if the money is being extracted from those in the strata above them, and even if these letter writers are among the group that might stand to benefit, they just reject the idea on principle. (I am somewhat reminded of my father and many like-minded men of his generation, who, during the darkest days of the Depression, refused to accept any public assistance or even, later on, unemployment benefits. They considered such programs "stigmatizing"; it just "wasn't the American way.")

In short, these letter writers subscribe to the notion that
the money you earn is yours. Period. Yes, they would agree, it's unfair that there are people living in cardboard boxes, and that some kids don't have the right clothes to wear as they await the school bus on a chilly day like today. It's unfair that another 478,000 people are out of work this week. Butthey would tell youlife isn't fair. And I don't think that these are all callous, heartless people. I honestly don't. I'm sure they have genuine feelings, and that some of them would shed a tear for a family that just lost its house. For such reasons, they might set aside a portion of what they earn for charity, or volunteer down at the local shelter.

But the key word is volunteer. Their innate sympathy for those who are suffering is mitigated, if not overridden altogether, by a bedrock commitment to the fundamental precept of American democracy (as they see it): that it's not the government's job to even things out. Not even a little bit.

And so I'm left wondering, on this afternoon just a dozen days out from a presidential election, what is the nature of the American free-market democracy? Is it really supposed to be a Darwinistic, survival-of-the-fittest, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may affair?

As you consider that, consider something else, too. I find it interesting that midway through his chat with Joe the Plumber, Obama used a word that no one has really picked up on, even though it's a word that's central to how you're going to feel
maybe even how you ought to feelabout this subject, and money, and life. The word is lucky. While acknowledging that success is typically preceded by hard work, Obama told Joe almost in passing that many successful folks were also lucky. Obama has often said this of his own good fortune in life. We don't necessarily want to get bogged down in further discussions of determinism and whether or not we're just actors following a script that's already been written for us, but surely the question of whether one owes one's success at least partly to chance seems relevant here. After all, if you and I went to the park and sat under two different trees, and a bag full of thousand-dollar bills fell out of my tree while a bag full of Doritos** fell out of yours...can anyone say we're really "entitled" to our respective fates? More to the point, why am I more entitled to the money than you are? All I did was pick a tree to sit under. Again, as Obama puts it during his five-minute discussion with Joe, there are plenty of people in this country who work very hard. But we don't all get the same results. A lot of us just pick the wrong tree.

In this framework, clearly, spreading the wealth becomes a way of adjusting for the breaks
bad or goodthat many of us receive in life.

Anyway, I'm curious what you folks think.

NOTE: Before anyone points this out, yes, I'm aware that such a view of life is in fact the rough basis of dialectical materialism, which was the rough basis of Marxism. And damn, I hate to muddy the waters by throwing that loaded term into the mix. By the same token, I don't want people to think that I'm, well, historically unaware.

* which I expect to endorse Obama, by the way.
** that's not what I meant by "let the chips fall where they may."


Elizabeth said...

Oh, the vagaries of the American brand of socialism... Yes, socialism. People who write these letters of protest seem not to understand that it's a Darwinian free market for Joe Shmoe and us, his working ilk; for the upper crust, it's been a nice corporate welfare ride for many long years now. This country has been ran like a banana republic rather than a modern democracy. That's why we are in the mess we are in now.

And those who object to fair taxation (or taxation, period) seem not to understand that taxes buy us a civilization (and its progress).

Next time they drive on a smooth and well-lit highway, they may thank our taxes for their smooth ride. And if, heaven forbid, they get into an accident and need the police assistance, they may thank taxes again for its availability. And, say, when they bring their car in for repairs, they may thank our taxes for educating their mechanic well enough to be able to fix it. (Or not, as the case may be.)

People who object to (fair) taxation should move somewhere where they can live unencumbered by the burdens of civilization and where they can keep all their money to themselves only, to do with it as they please. (The Amazonian jungle perhaps?)

Cal said...

I hope to post something of substance later, but I think Obama's most ill-advised comment was that some small-town Americans become bitter and "cling to their guns and religion." The GOP had a good run portraying him as an elitist with that comment, and rightly so.

Lana said...

It's interesting how people are reacting to the wording, "spread the wealth around." The redistribution of wealth has been going on for years, regardless of which party is in power. But a lot of Americans don't seem to realize it. This election year has been a huge learning opportunity for me :-)

Here's an excellent article I read today that brings together the many parts that have led to the current financial crisis. It goes to the heart of wealth creation and distribution.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are not "entitled" to more money than anyone else. You are "entitled" to an opportunity for, and not a guarantee of prosperity. The US has a very mobile wealth system - immigrants come here all the time very poor and become middle and upper class in under one generation. And the very wealthy see their family fortunes deteriorate quickly.

Wealth is earned by individuals, not created by governments. When tax rates go up, the incentive to take risks to attain more wealth goes down. And when the government takes money from the rich and hands it out to those who don't pay income taxes - that's redistributing wealth. Taking from the earners and giving it to those who did not earn.

Why does the government do that? To buy the votes of the 50% who pay no income tax?

There is a point at which the public safety net becomes a hammock for the lazy. Why pay for health care if the government will buy it for you? Why insulate your attic if the government will subsidize your heating bill? Why look for a new job far away from home when the government will extend your unemployment benefits? Where is the incentive to work hard if everything will be provided for you?

Capital investment creates wealth, and it goes where it is welcome. High-tax areas do not get the capital - financial or human that low tax areas attract ceteris paribus.

Do you want everybody to have the same size slice of the pie, or do you want a bigger pie? Do you want equality of outcome when there is not equality of effort expended?

What kind of utopia are you looking for?

Steve Salerno said...

And he (Obama) only makes it worse for himself by trying to un-explain it:

He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. He shouldn't try to backtrack from it now, because it makes him sound like a politician. Which is to say, disingenuous.

Shame on you, Barack.

Steve Salerno said...

Apropos of Lana and Anon 5:18: We have significant income redistribution right now--except that the money is going the wrong way, as many of us see it. The poor are subsidizing the rich. Though the skew isn't as bad as some raving left-wing types allege, the top 10 percent control a larger portion of the pie, in terms of overall asset-base, than they have at any time in the past 25 years:

Further, for some reason I couldn't find the stat I was looking for right at the moment (and I'm too busy to invest a whole lot of time), but the rate of growth--which is to say, the proportional share in America's total prosperity--among the top 10 percent has accelerated at a far greater rate than the share of prosperity enjoyed by the bottom 90 percent (and the bottom 50 percent in particular). So the simple fact is this: Wealth is not trickling down. Maybe in an ideal capitalist system, free of corrupting influences (and run by people of noble intent), the pie would indeed increase, and all would share in larger slices. But that isn't happening. What's happening that the rich are getting richer, and they're doing it at the expense of the poor.

Let me ask you, Anon 5:18: Are you seriously telling me that a guy who already controls, say, $5 billion, and has no real plans to do anything with that money (i.e. in terms of activities that generate actual jobs), is "entitled" to the lion's share of the next $1 billion that his company earns? What the hell does he need it for?

Further, if we assume that a lot of life is indeed about "chance," then why is a trust-fund baby or some other heir to a huge estate "entitled" to keep that money? (I'm not talking legally, but philosophically.) What did he do to earn it? It just fell into his lap.

That's not the free market at work, Anon. That's just the plain dumb luck of being born into the right family.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:18 have you been drinking the Kool-Aid? Our economy (U.S) looks like an hourglass with the middle class incomes being squeezed out. The richer are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Most middle class are not advancing up the finanical ladder. With the huge deficit, the wars, and bank bail outs, everyone will be paying more taxes.

Here are a few questions for you Anon 5:18, will corporations get better if they get tax credits? Will CEO's learn ethics if they get bigger golden handshakes? Will public companies become more transparent in their dealings with shareholders if the government (taxpayers) keep bailing them out? Corporations eat from the public troth too.

Anonymous said...

'Spreading the wealth' is already a reality in the US, don't you pay taxes?

It might be worthwhile to consider that governments don't generally 'spread the wealth' from a wish to do good or to make life fair.

It was recognised after the various European revolutions several hundred years ago that a disenfranchised underclass posed a significant threat of violence and mayhem to their wealthier fellows.
A starving man with no prospect of food or work has very little to lose if he decides to attack a fatter cat.

Perhaps 'spreading the wealth' could be seen by the more fortunate as a small price to pay
to keep the unfortunates just above the breadline and less likely to engage in violence to survive.

Such taxation is pragmatic on the part of government, not altruistic.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Corporations eat from the public troth too."

And they consume far more than do those unfortunate "ne'er-do-wells" who need - or simply finagle - assistance. Eliminating the assistance programs because there are some who abuse those programs is both illogical and mean-spirited. If we're going to punish someone, let it be those who structure and manage the programs in such a way as to allow (encourage?) widespread abuse.

It has been said that the measure of a civilization is not in its most powerful members, but rather in the plight of its poorest (I paraphrase). If the "conservatives" in this country are so insistent upon its being founded upon Christian principles, it would seem to follow that they would treat the "least of their brethren" as they would treat Christ himself. Though I am not a "Christian" per se, I still believe that is a pretty good rule to live by.

Yekaterina said...

Anon 5:18: There is a point at which the public safety net becomes a hammock for the lazy. Why pay for health care if the government will buy it for you?

I live in Spain and the government pays for my health care, yet I have(and everyone I know has) private health insurance. Why? Because using the public health care system is very time consuming and not worth the hassle. Anyone who can afford not to use it doesn't.

You ask: Where is the incentive to work hard if everything will be provided for you?

Most people would rather work hard and earn a nice income than squeak by on the bare necesities provided by government assistance. Everyone is not born with the same capabilities. Taking care of the less unfortunate is the humane thing to do.

Anonymous said...


Here in London we have very little taxation of the rich and non domiciled gazillionaires and a strong wealth distibution social benefits system. This helps everyone stay exactly where they are, the rich get richer and the poor, stay poor as they are locked into the benefits trap.

There must be a better way.

Also, you'll notice that it isn't the millionaires that are angry about paying more tax - whats a million or two less when you're that rich! Its actually a fictitous Joe the plumber, who probably didn't go to a fancy university, who worked hard to qualify as a plumber and worked all the hours in the day possible to set up his business. I can see his thinking, well I worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get to where I am, why can't anybody else? It is this mindset that the public are revolting against.


Anonymous said...

'This helps everyone stay exactly where they are, the rich get richer and the poor, stay poor as they are locked into the benefits trap.'

As a fellow Londoner, I have to point out the hole in your argument and must assume from your argument that you adhere to a deterministic doctrine.

The point of social security 'benefit' is to provide emergency survival help at the point of need. 'Benefit' is not intended to be a lifestyle choice for anyone. It is a leg-up, not an invitation to give up.

Immigrants, notably, take advantage of the system on arrival, when they need it most.

The most canny then work hard to establish themselves, educate their children to a high level and repay any benefits they have received in the taxes they and their high-earning progeny subsequently pay.

Sub-continentals are noted for the high achievments of the second-generation immigrants.

The impetus for this personal progress can only come from the hard work and aspiration of the person; no government, community or religious leader can mandate this impetus if the person cannot find the motivation within themself.

If the motivation cannot be found within the person, it will never be found elsewhere and no amount of outside effort will make an iota of difference to that person.

It's that hoary old saw about leading a horse to water but not being able to force it to drink.

Personal responsibility, in other words.

And yes, unfortunately there is a strata of society that is, for now at least, a lost cause.

Reality bites.

Anonymous said...

Steve - I'm Anon 5:18.

1) The poor don't subsidize the rich. They can't because they are poor. The rich don't get money from them via the government because they don't pay income taxes and their payroll taxes are credited back to them.
2.) The top 10% are growing wealthy faster than the other 90%. True. Those that are doing great pull away from the pack. No problem there because the top 10% is constantly changing. In my area, 5 years ago, the guys developing condos and strip centers were making tons of money. Now they are watching their wealth vaporize - they aren't in the top 10%. They have been replaced by others. Getting in the top 10% is difficult; staying in the top 10% is much tougher. A dynamic, fluid environment is healthy for the economy as a whole. "The rich" are not a static group. Think of the line-up of the Yankees, constantly changing from year-to-year.

3) Your mythical guy worth $5 billion can do whatever he wants (legally) with his wealth because the wealth is his (hers?). There should be no litmus test to determine if he can keep the next billion he generates: create 7,000 jobs or the government will take it from you. Look at Warren Buffett - the guy didn't give money to charity at all over the decades his wealth grew - he just kept reinvesting his money where he saw fit; kept is taxes low and amassed more wealth. Forbes pegged his wealth over $60 billion recently. Only recently has he given anything to charity - 83% of his fortune goes to the Bill and Melinda Gates charity. Under your plan, he would not have been able to donate $50 billion to charity by capping his wealth @ $5 billion.
4) Trust fund babies tend to blow their fortunes - they redistribute it all by themselves. There are very few Walton families (Wal-Mart fortune) that not only manage to hang on to their wealth, but make it grow. There are many dumb, lazy, talentless members of the lucky sperm club who are wealthy through no effort on their part. Big deal. They can't hold back anybody from becoming wealthy -it's not a zero-sum-gain where they took a finite resource from the rest of us.

Elizabeth - it is one thing to tax people in order to pay for roads, defense, water, schools and other infrastructure necessary for a civilized society. But the objections arise when taxes are taken from half of the population and given to the other half of the population who pay no taxes. If I wanted to invest in banks, I would have done it myself. But now the government is doing it for me? Why?

- Anon 7:00 Corporations will not get better with tax credits. They should be allowed to fail and not propped up by taxpayers. Transparency will not improve with bailouts. I'm against welfare for corporations - it's not up to the government to decide which companies should survive. Only one of the largest 25 companies from 100 years ago is still around as a top 25 company today - (General Electric) - yet the country thrived over the last century. We don't need government politicians deciding which companies get bailed out and which fail. Let the market pick the winners and losers.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 5:18/9:45...

Just quickly, re the poor subsidizing the rich: If, in a given company, a CEO makes a seven-figure salary plus, say, a $10 million bonus--especially in a year when business is down and workers are being laid off--then the poor are subsidizing the rich. That pool of money was there equally for everyone, but the rich took it.

Or just answer me this, without getting all huffy and capitalistic about it: If I'm making $1 million a year, and my company has an absolutely phenomenal year in which it suddenly makes a billion dollars in earnings...why do I need any extra money at all? Why not just distribute that billion to the workers, or give it to charity? (Stop laughing, think about it, and answer me.) See, the thing that bugs me about all this is that it assumes that greed is the only thing that can motivate people to excel, which is a very Hobbesian view of life. Why can't altruism motivate people to excel?

Steve Salerno said...

Amy, you make a very good point that ties back into the founding purpose of this blog, which was to examine the ways in which self-help-based thinking has corrupted American society. This is why I give people like Anon 5:18 (above) a hard time, or try, anyway--because it wasn't always like this. Yes, there has always been greed and self-interest, but there was a time in American society when people grew up knowing that they were supposed to be squeamish about such selfish inclinations, and they struggled against them. I don't care how much money my father had earned, it would never have occurred to him to seek out a solid-gold toilet (or many of the other items showcased on sites like Luxist). Nowadays people celebrate self-interest and look for increasingly over-the-top ways to flaunt it. And to no small degree, as I try to document in my book, it is the self-help industry that has encouraged the wanton celebration of ME.

Anonymous said...

'Why can't altruism motivate people to excel?'

Because, strictly speaking, there is no such animal.

If we are rigorously honest with ourselves then we will acknowledge that every motivation, even our most noble impulses, come from selfish desires.

I want my children to do well at least partly because that reflects well on me and vindicates the effort I have put into raising them.

I want to excel at my job because that allows me to think well of myself and increases my self-esteem.

I give to charity largely because I enjoy that glow of numbering myself among the right thinking, good people.

I espouse liberal politics because I like to consider myself a humane and decent person.

Note: all of the above is primarily about me and my own cherished, subjective view of myself. I would find it difficult to live with myself if I considered myself a greedy, grabbing, self-centred, narcissist, so I tend to avoid using that terminology. (except when my intention is to use that terminology)

Avoidance of particular terminology does not change the fact that what motivates me and everyone else--since we are all fundamentally the same--is self-interest.

I don't think this is a bad thing, it's just how it is.

Smart politicians, great leaders, advertising mavens, spiritual gurus, con-men and hucksters have always known and exploited this.

If we are smart, we should also acknowledge this and decide to be exploited only when it suits our selfish purposes.

Anonymous said...

'it is the self-help industry that has encouraged the wanton celebration of ME'

I would agree with the above statement to some degree, but only to the extent that there are hucksters and con-men in every type of organised endeavour.

In my view, the hucksters have abandoned all principle and have jumped on the self-help bandwagon just as they have jumped on the various banking, real estate, stock market, media, charitable, 'spiritual' and worst of all government bandwagons.

This has more to do with basic human nature and the ever-present desire to get something for nothing than with any intrinsic fault in the concept of 'self-help'

I have a very annoying friend, an old, old person who greets every modern revelation of dastardly greed with the worldweary comment:

"It was ever thus."

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:35

Its nice to see a fellow Londoner here.

Your answer actually illustrates my feelings on the negative impacts of a benefits society. Why is it only the foreigners who manage to use the benefits as a hand up instead of a hand out? Is it because they come from a place where there are no benefits and in their place grows a sense of personal responsability.

This lost generation you talk about are those that have been born into the entitlement of a benefits society. The longer it continues the less individuals will be able to learn personal responsibilty. Wouldn't you want to see an end to it?

And speaking of a hand up - are you meaning a £1.2 million 7 bedroom house in Ealing? I understand that this particular family has not worked for 7 years.


Steve Salerno said...

It was ever thus.

Uh, well, no, it wasn't. In fact, I think I recall researching and writing a book on the subject. Self-interest has always been with us, of course, and one can indeed argue that all acts are motivated by some level of self-interest, that even the masochist gets some kind of below-the-surface payoff from his self-persecution. So what? The real question is, what civic/social form does our selfishness take? I don't care if Mother Teresa did altruistic things for selfish reasons; what matters is that she did them. There are fewer and fewer people these days whose particular brand of selfishness takes the form of philanthropy. Today, selfishness looks more and more like selfishness.

It was the self-help movement that took the sting out of overt selfishness (through concepts like codependency, etc.), and it was hardly just "hucksters and con-men" responsible for this. The mainstream movement was fully bought-in. So is today's mainstream psychology, in fact, thanks to Marty Seligman's "positive psychology" and the School of Happyism.

Anonymous said...

'It was the self-help movement that took the sting out of overt selfishness (through concepts like codependency, etc.), and it was hardly just "hucksters and con-men" responsible for this.'

I think that you are desperately looking for a scapegoat, Steve.
'Movements' accomplish nothing, ever, apart from raising awareness of issues. People are ultimately responsible, individually, for their own individual actions whether those actions produce the effects of a Mother Theresa or of a Pol Pot.

Unless of course you are a determinist?

Oddly, you seem to undermine your own argument here in your next blog article when you cite someone testifying to the below-the-belt smear tactics in common usage in politics years ago.

A touch of the McCain afflictions, perhaps?

"It was ever thus."

Anonymous said...

'£1.2 million 7 bedroom house in Ealing?'

That can only be laid sqarely at the feet of an profligate and idiotic Ealing Borough Council. If someone offered me a £1.2 million house for nothing I would find it hard to turn down.

There are supposedly 300 languages spoken in London, most of them in my street.
My local shops are run by: Tamils, Afghans, Punjabis, Iranians, Indians, Irish, Polish, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Lithuanians, Jamaicans and Chinese with one lone British glazier.
I like it this way.

These people came as refugees and economic migrants, they are hungry for progress in a way us Brits have long forgotten, to our collective detriment.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 12:30... If you are so duty-bound to nitpick every post of mine, almost as if it were your very raison d'etre here, could you at least do me the courtesy of reading the entire post, and maybe pausing to think about it for, oh, 4 seconds, before you fire off one of your "winning" retorts? Is that too much to ask?

You didn't bother to do that here, and it shows.

Anonymous said...

'before you fire off one of your "winning" retorts? Is that too much to ask?'

So what is it that you find so offensive, that my retorts are "winning" or that I do not agree with every word you write?
Or perhaps it is the fact that I am clearly female and consider myself equal to an argument with anyone?

I have noticed that you are quite selective as to which "winning" retorts of mine that you choose to publish and am very interested in the rationale behind those choices. I have, of course, formed my own opinion but would like to hear yours.

Elizabeth said...

Amy (and Steve, following) has a good point: the US capitalism post-WWII was characterized by a greater regulation, highest taxation, significantly less excesses, and a greater equality and social mobility -- it was possible to advance in the society if you were not born into riches, and create a comfortable existence for oneself and family. It was also the time when the US economy was based on our industry and not financial shenanigans. This all changed with the Reagan's introduction of the more vicious brand of capitalism ("the government is our enemy -- must drown government!"), the sorry effects of which we reap now.

Capitalism is a good thing when accompanied by regulation, but rabidly free market leads to a free fall for all (well, almost all, as the well-off do remain well-off despite their losses).

Steve Salerno said...

Or perhaps it is the fact that I am clearly female and consider myself equal to an argument with anyone?
You're kidding, right? About the female part? Methinks your mere question may have provided some answers. (HINT: If Napoleon had a Napoleonic complex due to his height, did Josephine have a Josephinic complex due to her gender?)

So what is it that you find so offensive, that my retorts are "winning" or that I do not agree with every word you write? First of all, it's not that you fail to "agree with every word" I write. But I have found in the past, in dealing with people who can't seem to agree with any word I write, that there's usually more going on than meets the eye. And it's clear to me, Enon, that you don't read my posts in their entirety; you get all caught up in a given word or phrase, otherwise you couldn't possibly have come up with the "winning" remark you made about me "undermining my own argument"--it simply doesn't fit the overall context/thrust of what I wrote. Not unless you simply pick out one phrase or sentence to apply it to.

As for my decision to spike some of your contributions: I kill any submission/comment that veers too far into the terrain of a personal attack. In the past I would often cut out the offending lines and re-post the material, myself, under a new anonymous heading, but I'm just too busy to do that all the time, and I shouldn't have to do that anyway. Suffice it to say that if you're going to act smug and superior and use words that are obviously intended to impugn the intelligence of another contributor (e.g. "I thought you were smarter than that"), your comment is not going to make it through. You can say everything you want/need to say without those little zingers attached.

I say again, and this applies to anyone: If all you want to do is point fingers and call people names and elevate yourself in your own mind, please do it somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

'(e.g. "I thought you were smarter than that"),'

Perhaps I really did think the 'you' was smarter than that. I've never claimed omniscience, and certainly not on the strength of a few isolated views expressed by anyone on a blog.
I leave that to those believe they are entitled to dictate the morality and thoughts of everyone else.

Black pots and equally black kettles, we're going to make slow progress.

RevRon's Rants said...

Yawn...OK, anonymous 4:03, etc., etc.... I'm impressed. We're all so very impressed. Dazzled. Humbled. Awed, even.

Think I'll go wash my hair & come back tomorrow. Y'all let me know who won, OK? :-)

Amy said...

All I know is this: when I was a kid in the mid-1960's, schools, museums, and libraries all had plenty of money, and rich people (synonymously called "millionaires") did not have solid gold trash receptacles in their bathrooms. "Sharing the wealth" makes for a more stable society, and the U.S. during the Great Compression (Paul Krugman's phrase -- read The Conscience of a Liberal) was hardly a socialist country.