NATIONALIZING RESOURCES ISN'T SOCIALISM?

Coulda fooled me. Yesterday, Ambinder noted that, though McCain is accusing Obama of pursuing socialist policies, Sarah Palin, as governor of Alaska, really spread the wealth around when she instituted a wind-fall profits tax on oil companies and gave every citizen of the state a check for $1200. Palin, Ambinder muses, actually achieved a socialist goal.

But Jonah Goldberg, who has shown his difficulties distinguishing between ideologies in the past, retorts that:

In Alaska, the people own the oil as opposed to in Ohio where the people don’t own Joe the Plumber. That’s the system that Sarah Palin inherited…. But as a philosophical matter comparing Barck Obama’s argument that we should soak successful small businessmen to spread the wealth is really not comparable to the steward of a resource owned by the citizens of Alaska in effect renegotiating the deal to more favorable terms for the owners.

Leaving aside the fact that Obama’s tax plan isn’t going soak small businessmen since their taxes, like Joe the Plumber’s, likely wouldn’t go up under his plan, I’m really interested in Goldberg’s idea that the government is the steward of natural resources owned by its citizens. Now, the U.S. government has taken different approaches to this issue, depending on the type of resource, but generally it lets a lot of natural resources (oil in the ground, for instance) be treated as private property -- unlike, say, Russia and Gazprom or the Saudis with their oil concessions. But since Goldberg doesn’t actually condemn nationalizing resources, I assume he would be fine with the U.S. government declaring that our oil/coal/natural gas reserves are owned by the citizens of this country, and that we ought to take a hefty percentage of their enormous profits to pay for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or a foreclosure prevention program.

But I assume Goldberg wouldn’t actually want to nationalize our natural resources, since he’s no socialist … right? But here’s his argument: Sarah Palin isn’t a socialist because she … inherited a socialist-style system where the government owns natural resources and then increased the rents on it, making it more pervasive. Whereas Obama is a socialist because he has inherited a progressive tax system that has underwritten our capitalist economy since 1913 and wants to adjust the rates to prevent growing income inequality, among other goals, mainly through tax cuts. Hmmm. I don’t even need to get into McCain’s vote for the bailout bill, his $5000 refundable tax credits, or his plan to buy your house for you in order to suggest that the GOP campaign shouldn’t be calling anyone socialist. It’s not like they’re running Milton Friedman up there.

Incidentally, for Goldberg’s sake, so this won’t be a mere low-rent hypocrisy complaint, I’ll cheerfully condemn most forms of socialism and note that though market interventions are necessary regularly on a small scale and during a crisis on a large one, I’ve never been impressed with Alaska’s natural resource management strategies.

--Tim Fernholz

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