What Socialism Looks Like

Have you heard that the United States is headed toward socialism? Jonah Goldberg says it is. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby says it is. Phyllis Schlafly says it is. Richard Viguerie says it is. The Republican National Committee says it is. We must be getting pretty close.

How close? This is what socialism looks like:


socialism chart.png

The hot-pink portion of this pie chart is the percentage of listed American business assets that have recently been nationalized by the American government (ie, General Motors). Obama's version of socialism is so sneaky you can hardly see it!

(And there is some reason to think this actually overstates the portion of the corporate landscape that's been nationalized, but more on that at the end of the post.*)  

There is a serious discussion to be had here, and I think Jon Henke is having it: Socialism, like farenheit, comes in degrees. Sure, a government that nationalizes GM is "more socialist" than one that does not, even if it doesn't mean we're living "under socialism." But differences of degree shouldn't obscure differences of kind, and as Tim Fernholz says, "it's clear that putting the government in charge of private production is not the Obama administration's guiding philosophy."

If it were, 99.79% of the American corporate assets that existed at the start of the Obama administration would not remain in private hands. The differences of degree are so small that they aren't worth mentioning. And yet, somehow, they keep getting mentioned.

Update: A couple of commenters have asked for a different chart, so I've posted another item on this here.

Update 2: For something that resembles socialism more closely, you might check out Sarah Palin's state of Alaska.

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*(I'm using asset information from the US flow of funds account. This chart is basically an updated and modified version of one I did for the business site, using slightly different data and a slightly different metric. There were some very thoughtful criticisms of that chart, so I decided to make a new one using asset information.

That said, this measure isn't perfect.
I'm excluding a lot of assets -- households, farms, the financial sector -- in part because there's no precise data (see here for more) and in part because I want to avoid the same assets being counted twice. And I don't include liabilities. Please let me know of other methodological suggestions in the comments section.)

Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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