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Monday, December 6, 2004


This, the 12th installment in a lengthy series on the innovative prowess of the U.S. economy --- always viewed comparatively with Japan and the EU countries --- takes up a key topic that has only been briefly touched on so far: the absence in American politics, historically and at present, of a strong left-wing ideological tradition . . . socialist, Marxist, or what have you.. Its absence, historically and at present, is unique among industrial countries, including Canada ---which has had both stronger left-wing and statist-conservative traditions; even more important, it has helped to make the United States the richest country in the world . . . with a per capita income 55% higher than the EU-15 average and 50% higher than Japan's.

What This Gap Entails

To drive home just how great this gulf in living standards happens to be, consider the four largest EU countries: Britain, plus Germany, France, and Italy . . . the latter three advanced welfare-and-regulatory states of the sort extolled by the left-wing radicals in US universities and among Democratic Party activists at the grass-roots as a model for this country: a saner, more equitable way to organize an economy, it's claimed. The reality? As a recent study by two Swedish economists showed, if any of these four big EU countries were suddenly to join the U.S. federation, it would be the fifth poorest of the existing 50 states, ranking just ahead of Mississipi, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Montana, and tied with Oklahoma . . . all five of these, please note, overwhelmingly rural states and far below average American per capita income. Sweden itself would be the 7th poorest state. The second richest EU country --- tiny Denmark --- would be the 10th poorest, and Ireland with the highest EU living standard would rank 14th among the poorest U.S. states.

For that matter, according to the same Swedish study, 40% of all of Swedish households "would rank among low-income households in the USA, and an even greater number in the poorer European countries would be classed as low income earnings by the American definition. In an affluent economy, in other words, it is not unlikely that those perceived as poor in an international perspective are relatively
well off."

Our Aim In This and the Next Articles

It's to clarify the ideological spectrum across industrial countries, historically and at present and --- more to the point --- pin down the reasons for the lack of a socialist or Marxist tradition in American politics. Those two articles will then be followed by a third that deals with another American exceptionalism, ideologically speaking: the absence of a right-wing statist tradition of the sort found in Japan and on the Continent of West Europe, and the reasons why.

A fourth article will contain some clarifying remarks about ideologies in general --- in particular, why they are relatively new in history, part and parcel of the modern world of industrializing, nation-states, democracy, free-market capitalism, and globalizing forces that emerged out of a complex of vast changes that are little more than 200 to 250 years old. The political reactions to these modernizing trends, full of turbulence and dislocation for the existing status-quo in countries around the globe --- for and against democracy, capitalism, market-oriented industrialization, and free trade --- are reflected in the ideological heritages that divide the advanced industrial countries from all other countries, and more to the point for our concerns, how even among advanced industrial democracies the American heritage is noticeably different . . . with the other great English-speaking democracies, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada sharing much, but not all, in common with that American exceptionalism.

Is it surprising --- an accident of history --- that the two giant liberal great powers of the last 250 years, Britain and the United States, have destroyed in war all the main challengers from the far ideological left or right: Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, Militarist Japan and Nazi Germany and its fascist allies, and later in the cold war the Communist Soviet Union . . . and not only destroyed them, but forced their successor regimes, directly or indirectly, to move in the liberal direction of democracy, market capitalism, and freer trade?



The Ideological Spectrum Across Industrial Countries

Look at the diagram here, a graphic effort to depict the variety of political ideologies --- democratic or anti-democratic; free-market or statist; left-wing or right-wing --- that have flourished globally since the end of the 18th century, at any rate among industrial countries: a two-century era marked by the handful of revolutions that have shaped our modern world and that we mentioned a moment ago: the industrial revolution, the nationalist revolution, the democratic revolution, the scientific and technological revolution, and the globalizing revolution, all topics that we'll clarify in due course here. For the time being, focus on the spectrum diagramed here without worrying about some complex points it entails, terminological and historical --- such as the meaning of liberalism or conservatism, which differs in the U.S. as compared with West Europe or Japan. That clarification, as it happens, will follow in due course too.

It's enough right now to get a general working idea of what the range of ideologies is, and where the uniquely narrow U.S. spectrum lies . . . in the center.

Totalitarian Communism Democratic Socialism
Radicalism Liberalism Free-Market
One-Party +
Total Bureaucratic Rule
Advanced Welfare State Active Welfare State Mass Democ.
Active Gov.
Mass Democ.
Limited Gov.
Mass Democ
Active Welfare State
Human Rights
Soviet Union Maoist China
North Korea
Castro Cuba

Social Democratic Parties
Canada today; USA
Johnson's Great Society
(1965-1980) ;
Left-Wing of the Democratic Party Today The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s
Britain, Australia,
New Zealand,
all before late 1980s
Jacksonian Period 1830s; Progressives,
FDR New Deal,


New Zealand
Republican Party
Conservative Party

Some Latin American Conservative Parties
EU Continental Conservatives: French Gaullists
Christian Democrats etc.

Outside The EU
Ruling LDP
(Massive Regulations
Less Welfare )
Similar for Other Pacific Asian Democracies To An Extent
Some Latin American Conservatives

Arab Countries; Most of Africa; Most of Latin America in
the 1960s-1970s
Examples Hitler's
Mussolin's Italy; Clerical Fascism:
Franco's Spain;
Salazar's Portugal;
East Europe
Islamic Radicals
Taliban Afghan
Saudi Arabia


Making Sense of The Spectrum

Note, first off, that the spectrum runs between two poles: both highly statist and anti-democratic, culminating on the far left in the archetypical Communist systems of Stalinist Russia and Maoist China --- still found in North Korea today --- and on the right in Nazi Germany and (to a lesser extent) its fascist allies in WWII.
All of these, left or right, are vastly repressive and mass-murdering. They all scapegoat their alleged enemies, at home and abroad; they are totalitarian and lead to a full control of all economic and social life by a powerful centralized state, itself controlled by a disciplined elitist party of several millions; and those on the right like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy are invariably racist, blatantly militarist, and powerfully expansionist. That's also true of militarist Japan in the WWII era, despite the lack of an official fascist ideology and party at the time. By contrast, Communist totalitarian systems differ on this latter score. Stalinist Russia was powerfully expansionist and militarist too; China, even in the Maoist era from 1949 until 1979, hasn't been with one exception: the conquest and brutalizing of Buddhist Tibet, with roughly a million deaths there in the process. As for the fascist-like dictatorships in Spain or Portugal from the 1930s until the mid-1970s --- or most of the authoritarian militarist fascist allies of Nazi Germany in East Europe --- they were never fully totalitarian, and their militarism and expansionist ambitions were generally limited. If it helps, they look more like the repressive and hierarchically organized clerical systems of the kind that ruled in Argentina in the 1970s or in Chile under General Pinochet.


The Ideological Center

Shift your attention now to the center of the spectrum, which is democratic, moderate, and above all anti-statist: it tends to accept free markets and limited regulation (plus a modest welfare state), extols free trade if not always practicing it for political reasons, stresses a rule-of-law and democratic accountability, and is marked by a vigorous civil society of private businesses, a free media, political parties, voluntary associations, trade unions, universities, churches, and professions . . . all diluting the top-down authority and power of a state. Those ideologies, whether liberal in the American sense and at the core of the modern Democratic Party --- or conservative in the American sense again, embodied by the Republican Party --- dominate the political life of the USA . . again, remember, for reasons that will be explained at length in Part Three of this argument.

As for the ideologies immediately contiguous on the left-of-center or right-of-center, they too are democratic and moderate, but more statist --- more easily adapted to an advanced welfare-and-regulatory form of democratic government. These ideologies --- Social Democracy and statist-conservatism --- flourish in the EU, Israel, Chile, and Uruguay, and their conservative counterparts are found in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, India, and all over Latin America. What distinguishes these Asian and Latin American ideologies is a large regulatory system of state controls, with of course far less welfarism except for specific clients in powerful patron-crony networks: favored business firms, banks, urban trade unions, bureaucratic agencies, and influential families.


Historical Origins

Observe, just in passing, some historical points of key relevance here.

(i.) It was these center-spectrum ideologies --- moderate liberalism, moderate conservatism, statist-conservatism (Napoleonic France, for instance), and political radicalism as found in revolutionary France in the Jacobin era or, in far more moderate fashion, in Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy in the United States of the early 19th century --- that emerged initially out of the five revolutionary changes that were began shaping the modern world with quickened, tumultuous force in the late 18th century and the next few decades that followed.

(ii.) Statist-conservatism grew out of the reactions to revolutionary France after 1795, first in the Napoleonic imperial sense in France itself --- even though Napoleon would evoke revolutionary ideals in his 20 years of expansion and continued warfare to dominate Europe --- and then in a clear defense of social hierarchy, political authoritarianism, despotic regimes, and preservation of a clerical order (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran) in Prussia, Austria, Czarist Russia, and Iberia after 1815.

iii.) The latter --- which flourished recently in Franco's Spain and Salazar's Portugal from the mid-1930s until the mid-1970s --- is best referred to as reactionary conservatism. The closest approximations to reactionary conservatism in the Muslim world would be, these days, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Shiite Iran ruled by the die-hard mullahs. The difference would be that these radical fundamentalisms --- two Suni, the other Shiite --- support terrorism and Islamic expansion by means of violence, whereas neither Francoist Spain, Salazar's Portugal, nor the Latin American imitators were ever in support of terrorism or, for that matter, ideological or territorial expansion. General Pinochet's Chile --- with a strong thrust toward modernizing Chile's economy in an era of repression --- is a good case in point. So, without the thrust toward modernization in any effective sense, was the even more murderous repression in Argentina during the military rule of the 1970s.


Socialism and Marxism

All modern socialisms emerged somewhat later, roughly starting in the 1860s. All were initially Marxist in inspiration, and all of them --- until the Russian Communist revolution split the Socialist International movement after 1918 --- preached socialist revolution as the cure for the alleged evils of modern capitalism. The socialist movements that were found in democratic countries themselves split. Those that aligned themselves with the Communist Soviet Union joined the Kremlin-run Third International and became Communist parties . . . the case in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and most of East Europe amid the fledgling, unstable democratic systems there. Smaller Communist parties were developed in Northwest Europe and Britain, but they never had much appeal. Japan in the 1920s --- beginning to democratize --- also experienced a small Communist party.

Those socialists who denounced Russian Communist dictatorship refused to join the Kremlin-manipulated Third International . . . the First International, created by Marx in the 1860s, was short-lived and self-destructed when anarchist members gained influence; the Second International was then created by Marx and Engels in the 1870s, and it lived on until the giant split in 1918-1919. These anti-Communist socialists retained the name of Social-Democracy; renounced Communist revolution and dictatorship; and saw socialism as something that would advance in democratic countries through democratic means, gradually and with the support of the electorate. In Marxist terminology, they were revisionists, unable in Lenin's view (set out in 1903) to establish socialism of any sort beyond tepid trade-unionism and what we would now call the welfare-state.



What follows? Different State-and-Economic Systems

To get a fuller sense of what the ideological spectrum entails, shift your attention now to a second diagram that appeared last month in this lengthy series on the US economy.

The diagram here sets out in skeletal form, nothing more, but also nothing less, the huge differences across major countries in political-economic terms: in particular, the interaction between state-economy relations. Obviously, the totalitarian dominance of all forms of economic, social, and political life in Communist systems --- say, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Cuba, and North Korea today --- is found at the statist-pole for purposes of illumination, nothing more. More to the point is how democratic industrial countries differ in the state role in their economies.

Untitled Document
Communism / Asian Capitalism / EU Welfare State / US & UK


The free-market pole is itself hypothetical. Only Hong Kong practiced it in the last century, and probably only Britain in the 19th century . . . at any rate during the first seven decades. These days, the English-speaking countries --- the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland --- are nonetheless found closest to that pole. Canada, as we'll see when we look at governmental expenditures as a % of national income, was much closer as late as the mid-1990s to an EU Continental welfare state: in 1995, total government expenditures in Canada were 42% of GDP and 35% in the USA. Since then, to Canadian credit, government spending fell continually, and by the end of 2003 the figures were 37% for Canada and 32% for the USA. Whether this impressive record in Canada will be sustained is more problematic now, given that the Liberal Party returned to office in the general elections of June 2003 as a minority government, dependent on the support of a left-wing party, the New Democratis.

The EU Continental welfare state has, of course, a much greater statist role than the Anglo-American free-market model, whether it's a matter of of regulations, taxes, governmental expenditures, labor markets, welfare payments, and public ownership of certain key industries like transportation or utilities. That's also the case, needless to add, of most social spending, except for education (where the US, with a large private sector at all levels, spends more than almost any other industrial country). As a result, total government spending in the EU averaged around 48% of GDP by the end of the 1990s. In the US, government spending was 35.5% (a different calculation than the one used by a Canadian statistical study just cited). The differences in social spending were even greater: 25% of GDP in the EU vs. 16% in the US. As we'll see in the next article, good recent studies have shown that the higher government spending is in countries, the lower is the growth rate of GDP.


The paradigm of the Asian capitalist model is Japan, emulated mainly by South Korea but also --- to a certain extent --- by all the other Asian industrializing countries. In this model, the state has an even greater regulatory control over the economy, has engaged actively in industrial targeting, will manipulate financial markets to allocate credit mainly to chosen industries, and does what it can --- including constant intervention in currency markets --- to encourage exports and limit import competition. In South Korea and Japan, moreover, cartel-like corporate organization has been encouraged, the easier for state bureaucracies to deal with their CEO's and corporate boards. Compared to the EU model, though, taxes and welfare payments are relatively low.

And China's model? Its existing CP leadership no doubt has in mind a continued transformation of its country's economy in the direction of South Korean corporatism during the authoritarian-military rule of the 1960's, 1970s, and 1980s . . . the CP itself withdrawing from day-to-day interference in the economy in order to concentrate on controlling its commanding heights: a few dozen giant corporate-conglomerates, the Central Bank's allocation of credit that favors their investment, and privileged access to bureaucratic and political heads by those corporate managers and the representatives of labor in those privileged industries. Whether a highly privileged CP itself --- 60 million strong, with a powerful party bureaucracy in charge --- can adapt to the South Korean model of the authoritarian period is another matter. Then, too, even if it could, that model has itself run into tremendous problems --- like the rest of the Asian industrializers, not least Japan --- because of the small mountains of market inefficiencies that have grown up over the decades.

No need to elaborate further on this diagram here. To the extent it's not self-evident, buggy visitors are urged to go back and look at the article, a few weeks old now, from which it is republished. Click here. In any case, not to worry. In the second article in this mini-series on American ideological exceptionalism, we will tease out the numeous economic implications that follow from the free-market orientation of the US, compared even to Britain these days --- whose governmental expenditures as a percentage of GDP are still noticeably higher than here. The same is true, for that matter, of social and welfare expenditures.

In the meantime, shift mental gears now and note . . .



Americans and Others Mean Different Things By Liberalism and Conservatism

This different usage causes endless confusion. What underlies it?

Essentially this. In the U.S since the New Deal of Franklyn D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, liberalism has become identified with what we could call modest Social-Democracy: a fairly active role of government in regulating the capitalist econom and a fairly moderate welfare state, the latter funded by progressive taxation . . . very steep even in the US until the end of the 1970s and the Reagan era. In West Europe and elsewhere in the world, by contrast, liberalism retains its late 18th-century and 19th century meaning: free market capitalism, democratic government, a rule-of-law, civil liberties, and limited government. In the American context, all this would be called libertarianism, and when Americans discuss political views with Europeans, Latin Americans, or Asians, we should remember that liberalism for them is what we mean by libertarianism . . . part of American conservatism. Similarly, if in speaking to Europeans or others, you yourself have the Democratic Party in mind as the exemplar in our national context of liberalism, then think in terms of modest Social-Democracy; nothing less.

There's a further twist to the different meanings between Americans and others that adds to the confusion if you're not careful.

Essentially, Europeans, Latin Americans, and Asians --- never mind Arab intellectuals --- focus exclusively on the free-market nature of liberalism and use it almost always pejoratively. Hence the term neo-liberalism, identified ever since the era of Ronald Reagan in this country and Margaret Thatcher in Britain as a menacing regression to callous, free-for-all unregulated capitalism . . . when not just a cover for American neo (or Neo-neo) imperialism. When European socialists and others --- including Gaullists on the right in France or extreme right-wing populists like Le Pen's National Front and his populist imitators elsewhere in Europe --- denounce globalization as ominous and threatening to all the alleged progressivism of the European regulatory-and-welfare-state, they have in mind a monstrious mixture of cold-blooded, hard-hearted, endlessly disruptive menacing free-market capitalism and globalization that threatens their social stability, their existing welfare state, and their independence . . . whatever the latter might mean in an increasingly integrating European Union. Ronald Reagan was the biggest bogeyman of the 1980s. These days, his insidious spectre is overshadowed by the turnip-ghost Frankenstein of George W. Bush, the Texas-Toxin running-amok over the global scene.

Remember, you don't have to agree with these European or Latin American or Asian views of globalization and free markets. Obviously, the buggy prof doesn't --- just the contrary. But you do need to know what you and they are talking about.


Conservatism Too Can Be A Source of Confusion

Conservatism in America is similarly different too from what Europeans, Asians, and Latin Americans usually mean by it, They have in mind something like Japan's Liberal Democratic Party or almost all EU conservative parties, something brought out in the earlier references to Christian Democracy, Gaullism, and so on indicated: European conservatism --- at least the democratic kinds, as opposed to militant reactionary dictatorships and outright fascisms --- has always been far more statist that its American variety, far more concerned with social stability, far more skeptical of free markets, and far more willing to see a larger role for statist regulation of capitalism and some redistribution. Since 1945, it has also swung toward the Social Democratic spectrum on the left in the EU and championed a large welfare state, including high levels of taxation . . . all anathema to American Republicans and to the British Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher's impact of the 1980s.

By contrast, whatever differences exist among Republicans these days, all major factions --- libertarians, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives like Pat Buchanan's isolationist wing, and the moral majority Christians --- agree on the desirability of as much free-market capitalism as possible, within the limits of the small regulatory-and-welfare state that we have. About the only difference here of note --- given that Ronald Reagan espoused the regulatory and welfare innovations of the Frankly D.Roosevelt era (as opposed to the Lyndon Johnson Great Society programs of the 1960s, further implemented by Richard Nixon's two terms) --- is that the small Buchanan wing, which is reminiscent of right-wing EU populism, balks at free-trade.

Small wonder, given this confusion of terms, that Milton Friedman --- one of the three or four most influential economists of the last century, and along with Frederick Hayek and Robert Nozick the biggest influence on contemporary libertarianism --- once told Der Spiegel, a leading German weekly of the left-wing, politically correct sort interviewing him, that he wasn't a conservative . . . not if that term conjured up in German minds the Christian Democratic Party. He was, instead, a liberal --- more like the small centrist Liberal Democrats that were once in coalition with the Christian Democrats from the 1960 through the late 1990s (the Liberal Democrats also were in coalition with the Social Democrats in the 1970s and early 1980s).


Radicalism As Confusing Too

The confusion here is two-fold.

(i.) Historically, radicalism meant little more than a demand in the late 18th and early 19th century for mass democracy . . . as opposed to parliamentary or representative government; nothing more really. In concrete terms, that meant universal suffrage (male); annual elections to parliament; and other forms of holding political leaders accountable directly to the electorate. From that viewpoint, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson --- especially the latter, who removed all property qualifications for male (white) voting in the 1830s --- are radical in historical perspective. And later on, in the progressive era of the early 20th century, there were further reforms in that direction: voter initiatives or referenda; open primaries for selecting leaders; direct elections of U.S. Senators; the recall initiative; elections of judges and district attorneys, directly or indirectly (the latter by legislative approval of federal appointments), at all levels too.

Much more recently, the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's succeeded, through direct but legal action --- fully in line with the courts' decisions at the time --- to redress the suppression of the democratic rights of African-Americans, especially in the segregated South, and to find ways through fully legal means to overcome decades or centuries of disadvantages and humilitation.

In Europe during the 19th century, radicalism early took a more activist and rebellious form, pitted as the struggle for democacy happened to be on the Continent against autocratic royal or imperial systems. Examples would be the revolutions of 1830 and 1849, or the later French commune of 1871, or the struggles to unify Italy by Garibaldi and others in the 1860s . . . or, moving east, the 1904-05 revolution in autocratic Russia. The 1917-18 era of revolutionary activity that overthrew the Czarist system mixed moderate conservatives and liberals with radicals and --- more ominously and with far greater success --- Communists led by Lenin and Trotsky.


(ii.) Since then, of course, radicalism has been identified more and more with zealous or full-blooded challenges to the status quo --- usually left-wing in the USA and far short of anything like communism, but also abroad in the form of right-wing populism (usually of a racist or fervent sort) and outright fascism. It's from that angle that we refer to radical Islamist fundamentalisms, or sometimes just radical Islam, almost always either actively involved in terrorism or heavily sympathetic to it. Still, Americans need to appreciate that most radical activism on, say, the left-wing of the Democratic party is fully in line with American populist traditions. That doesn't mean you have to agree with it: most of the time, prof bug doesn't and thinks for that matter that their objectives are mainly (but not wholly) misguided, but they aren't usually undemocratic, let alone violent.

The exceptions in the US context?

First and foremost, politically correct radical professors who seek to impose their views on students and faculty alike by means of coercive tactics: lop-sided speech codes (invariably thrown out by the courts), tolerance of student thugs who seek to drive off campus any speakers to the right of Al Gore --- sometimes even, active encouragement of these Red Guard hooligans --- lopsided reading syllabi and lectures that allow for no diverse viewpoint . . . not to mention secret tribunals, kangaroo courts, and efforts in some departments to use political criteria in hiring and promotions. These zealous, below-the-belt activities need to be publicized and combatted, all the time. The Storm-Trooper left-wing thugs who also show up at, say, anti-war or anti-globalization protests --- their aim to exploit legitimate dissent for violent purposes (usually to provoke the retaliation of the police) --- are other obvious threats to decency and free expression, not to mention the democratic rights of others. When they engage in clearly illegal activities --- property damage, violence, attacks on the rights of others --- they should be subject to the authority of the law.


How then to distinguish between legitimate radicalism and its illegitimate and threatening sorts, again in the US context?

That's easy to answer. The second any radicals cause violence or property damage, or threaten the rights of others to voice disagreement with their views, in that moment they should come under the purview of the law. That would also be true of right-wing radicals, let's say neo-Nazis. As long as their activities are lawful, then --- no matter how ugly or hateful their speech antics --- they should be tolerated. When they go further --- as they did in the Coeur d'Alene area of Idaho three or four years ago, beating up a boy in the presence of his mother near their compound --- the law should come down on them with kinetic force. In the Idaho case, a civil suit was launched in addition to the assult charges ; the court found in favor of the mother and son; the civil damages it awarded were sufficient to close down the compound and force its sale; and the neo-Nazis, maybe two dozen in all, had to move on or scatter.


Enough for the day.

The next article will zoom in on the absence of left-wing Marxist or socialist traditions in American life, much to the anger and dismay of the politically correct professoriat in American universities; tease out its implications that help account for the great success of the American economy in the global arena for the last 120 years --- a gulf between us and the next-to-rich Japanese and West Europeans that's almost as great as a century ago; and most important of all, set out the reasons for the failure of socialism and Marxism to gain a solid footing in American politics. The latter, needless to say, will require an abudance of concrete evidence like real wages among unskilled workers in the 19th century in Europe and the US; real wages ever since; poverty in the US in comparative perspective; property ownership; social mobility in the past and more important these days --- far higher here, as recent European studies now clearly show; and so on.