For all those in the world who are decrying the United States’ apparent inevitable slide into socialism with the current govermental control of various portions of the auto and banking industries, in addition to the current plans for a government based health care option, I’m wondering if there is a larger picture in which to put these issues into perspective.

First, I’m wondering if the reaction to the potential slide into socialism is merely based on the historically “bad” versions of socialism that have come along and died, like the authoritarian socialism of the Communism of the Soviet Union. Broadly defined, socialism advocates an economic system in which the workers or “the people” directly own and control the means of production. Communist systems broadly construed advocate something similar, however, the manifestations of Communism–especially the “bad” ones–which we have witnessed take the form of state controlled means of production in an absolute form. Once this situation exists, authoritarianism creeps in for the purpose of the state maintaining its power.

So, in light of this, are we afraid of our government falling into the trap of “repeating history,” that is, are we afraid of becoming like the former USSR? If so, the fears seem legitimate. However, might I raise the question of whether or not there is something to be afraid of in free-market capitalism, the state of affairs in which we currently exist. Are there not serious problems to be dealt with here? Is it even possible to conceive of free-market capitalism without the current problems which we now face? I’ll address some of those issues briefly below.

Second, are those who decry the slide into socialism not aware of the current level of socialism in which our society seems to already exist, even if it has gone unnoticed for so long. I’m speaking of our education system, broadly construed–is it not fully in the control of the state? Who sets the standards? Who defines the program of being “prepared for college?” Private schools and institutions of higher learning don’t fit as cleanly into this issue, but there seems to be some level of uniformity at all levels of eduction in terms of the ideals which uphold a certain kind/method of education in our system which takes the form of an institution. Education aims at producing certain kinds of people. It’s generally successful at producing people who fit the current economic system.

Another example might be our emergency care/response system–the police, the fire departments, and many ambulance services (although there is more privatization in this field, the standards for service, credibility, and licensure are still controlled by the government). Who exactly owns these entities? You might say “the people.” (Who exactly is that anyway–do you feel like you own these entities?) Who controls them? The state.

I’m sure there are other examples. Needless to say, for my entire life, education and the emergency response systems of our society have been controlled by the government. No one really seems to be raising much of a stink about that. Yet when it comes to bailing out the auto industry, with the disclosed promise that when the money is paid back, there will be no more controlling ownership on the part of the government, people cry foul. The same is true with the bailout of the credit industry–even though it seems likely that the government is playing the moral role that ought to be occupied by “the people” who run the show in this industry, which will result in beneficial situations to the American public (for example, we might be raped and pillaged a lot less by simple limitations being set on the credit card percentage rates–something the government has promised, but not work that it should have been required to do), people still cry foul.

Now, it’s one thing to see the potential for governmental control of these entities such that, given our sinful human world where everyone wants to be number one, the government might go all authoritarian on the people and just take over everything. This is the kind of thinking of modern conspiracy theories. Not an impossibility, admittedly. However, such conclusions seem far from what might logically follow.

But what about the problems with free-market capitalism? Isn’t our current economic system the very means by which the credit companies were allowed to rape and pillage the pockets of America? Why has there been no oversight? Why has no one been crying foul about this? Why, dare I ask, has there not been some sort of internal controls or standards agreed upon (which might have only amounted to the idea that “we’re only going to rape and pillage the people ‘this much’ and no more”)? I’m not against anyone making a profit. But I am against anyone who abuses the privilege to make a profit, when their greed for more devalues persons to the extent that people are merely seen as potentials for further profit.

So should we ditch capitalism for socialism. I’m not sure. The bigger questions really seem to be, do we know what we’re talking about when we say that we don’t want to become socialist, when clearly it seems that we’re already partially there and have been for some time; and are we really sure that we think free-market capitalism is the place to be since that’s how we got into this mess?

No doubt, whether talking about thinking this through or changing the way things are, both are incredibly complex. But what does seem imperative is that we ask good questions and know what we’re talking about when we spout off our opinions. Too often, neither of these seems to be the case.

What does Christian teaching offer to this conversation? Well, for one, Scripture describes a sort of socialism/communism (see Acts 2). Do I think we should reprisinate this? That not the right question. I’m not sure it’s possible to repristinate. Even further, as ideal as it might seem, I’m not sure that its maintainable on a societal level. I think Reinhold Niebuhr was right in his conception of Moral Man and Immoral Society. Individuals might be able to carry this out, but not on a large scale. For now, as Christians, however we can help out our brothers and sisters, we should.

This post isn’t meant to offer any solutions to our contemporary economic problems. I can’t say that I really have any. But my hope is that we might think better about this situation in light of these questions. I appreciate your comments.