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Dueling Socialisms

In his column yesterday, George Will decried the "government spreading of wealth" embraced by both parties:

This is the only major industrial society that has never had a large socialist party ideologically, meaning candidly, committed to redistribution of wealth. This is partly because Americans are an aspirational, not an envious, people. It is also because the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g., sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking -- bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.

There's a sharp point in there, but Will (unsurprisingly) lets conservatives off too easily. Yes, there's plenty of blame to be shared around, but insofar as there are two kinds of spreading the wealth around, "rent-seeking" (which we can all agree is bad) and "socialism" (which Will implicitly concedes is less bad), conservatives are relatively more friendly to the former and liberals are relatively more friendly to the latter.

Indeed, political negotiations between the parties not infrequently come down to just these kinds of compromises--fine, you can have your prescription drug benefit for millions of seniors, but only if we get to lavish goodies on the pharmaceutical industry. The GOP is not merely "complicit" in this "surreptitious socialism of the strong," it often demands it as the price for the other kind.

--Christopher Orr