Message to the Reactionary Wing of American Politics: There is no Socialism in the United States

The U.S. Does Not Have a Socialist Economy or a Government Based on Marx’s Political Philosophy. But We do Have “The General Welfare Clause” of the Constitution.

There is no socialism in the United States: bupkus, nada, zip, none whatsoever. The United States has a capitalist economic system. Furthermore, we are a democratic-republic. That will not change in the foreseeable future.  What we also have is constitutionally justified “general welfare” for alleviating suffering of citizens left behind by advancing technology, for meeting fundamental needs of those who have experienced personal or societal catastrophes, and for addressing other threats to the “general welfare” of the populous, e.g., climate change, nuclear waste, and other threats to safety and health of Americans.

The framers of the constitution anticipated the probability of events or trends that would threaten the well-being of citizens on a wide scale. Hence, they included the “general welfare clause” in the constitution as a raison d’etre for federal spending to protect the populous from extensive harm.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that:

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

Libertarians, Neocons, and Other Right-Wing Groups Claim that the General Welfare Clause is Meaningless.  The Supreme Court Has Clearly Held that they are Wrong

Based on an interpretation of the general welfare clause, the Supreme Court has held that OASDI, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, and a Host of other Government expenditures for meeting threats to “we the people” are constitutional (see e.g., U.S. v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1, 1935, Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619, 1937, Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548, 1937, and New York v. U.S. 504 U.S. 144, 1992).

Those opinions are now part of the warp and woof of U.S. constitutional law. Nevertheless, conservative forces have been pushing a false narrative, i.e., “The Supreme Court is wrong and continuing to improve the welfare of U.S. citizens through government expenditures is moving the U.S. toward socialism.”  This kind of nonsense is coming out of the Hoover Institute, The Heritage Foundation, the Koch-funded Cato Institute and other reactionary, conservative propaganda organizations (see, e.g., John Cogan, “High Cost of Good Intentions: A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs”).

Liberals have Failed to Develop a “Constitutional versus Socialistic” Narrative Based on the Truth. Why is this important?

A radical, reactionary right-wing has always existed in the United States and has, since the rise of communism soon after the dawn of the 20th Century, labeled liberals as communists and socialists.  Indeed, red baiting has been a barrier to improving the lives of U.S. citizens left behind by industrial capitalism.

The “general welfare” clause justifies a safety net for individuals thrust into poverty by technological advancements which reduces the need for labor.  Furthermore, care for an aging population, extension of the benefits of advanced medical care to all citizens, and a morally decent standard of living for our society as it has evolved have been held to be constitutional under the clause by the Supreme Court.

Accusing Democrats and liberals of “socialism” and “radical leftism” should be laughable, but it is working for reactionaries.  It’s working because Democrats and liberals have failed to go on offense with a narrative based on the truth: (1) Federal expenditures are justified by the U.S. Constitution, (2) A capitalistic system will, of necessity, fail to meet the fundamental needs of all U.S. citizens, and (3) A decent system of government in the wealthiest country in the history of humankind has the constitutional duty and obligation to take up the slack between what private enterprise provides and what the entire population needs.

It is amazing to me how well right-wing red baiting has worked to keep people in poverty, without medical care, in substandard long-term care, in bad air, drinking bad water, and in all sorts of other threatening situations.  The liberal side of the political spectrum can do a much better job of framing and development of a narrative. Insofar as the accusation of “socialism/communism,” let’s just apply this metaphor: that dog doesn’t hunt. It is false. Let’s not stay silent in the face of it. Rather, let’s go on offense with our own narrative: “Yes we can afford to create a decent society and have the wealth to bring it about!”

Posted by Dave Kingsley 2/6/2021