Seize the Moment

Friday, March 06, 2009

As conservative Republicans call President Obama's economic policies the advent of the U.S.S.A., writer Barbara Ehrenreich offers a socialist's view of the economic situation.

EVENT Meltdown panel discussion tonight at 8PM at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.


Barbara Ehrenreich

Comments [54]

Derek DeMarco from Wayne NJ

Barbara Ehrenreich of the Nation Magazine is a "Libertarian-Socialist"? Listen at 19:38 into the conversation she makes this statement. That is the craziest thing I ever heard. Libertarianism and Socialism are on the opposite sides of the political spectrum. She "doesn't want the government to tell us what to do" that is the essence of socialism. The great benevolent government headed by out pious uncorrupted politicians. The government knows what's best for the citizens of this country. Ridiculous!

Mar. 09 2009 02:59 PM
Office Worker from Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Steve, you can't think of anything that governments since the beginning of TIME have accomplished?

1) Roads.

2) Heath and financial relief services.

3) Irrigation.

4) Education.

As far as scientific advancement...of course technological progress comes from the educated private sector. Which, in turn, wouldn't exist without things like education and funding for the arts/creative fields.

Mar. 09 2009 10:28 AM
James B from NYC

Socialism*? *see 20th Century: Eastern bloc, USSR, Cuba, Nicaragua, mainland China, most of sub-Saharan Africa, et al.....been there, tried it, doesn't work well, or as well as greedy, profit-driven (regulated) enterprise in creating material abundance & technical innovations which improve life, living standards, health & longevity. Lets not go back there, let's repair the faults in our capitalist economies (particularly in the unsupervised financial sector) & get back to living better than our forbears did.

Mar. 07 2009 02:17 AM
mc from Brooklyn

I think that people are confusing socialist governments with social democracies which is what the Scandinavian countries are.

The problem that we have IMHO is that people's wages and salaries have not kept up with living expenses with the big increases in housing health care and higher education. Which leads to the question of how we solve the problem. I think that the greedy bankers, brokers etc., etc., are a symptom of the problem not the cause. this is a worldwide problem apparently. How do we deal with it?

Mar. 06 2009 01:05 PM
mc from Brooklyn

I listened to this segment but was unable to post while it was on. A caller had Karl Marx exactly right--he was not proposing a Utopia or even a Socialist state, he was studying capitalism and suggesting theories as to where it will lead. I think the current history has come to pass in much the way he said it would. But he never proposed an alternative.

Mar. 06 2009 01:02 PM
Bruce from NYC

While never much making it to the mainstream media (Jon Stewart had me nodding my head last night when he openly wondered why it was that the self-proclaimed omniscient financial news networks so entirely missed the boat on the meltdown. I guess they were off a cheer camp, honing their act), there has been a running discussion in some circles about how, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 'capitalist system' has been recreating the conditions under which Socialism and Communism were able to gain credibility.

Hell, I found it amusing that in the last several months, quite often I can sit there and listen to the newsies talk about but never acknowledge the fact of the regularity of panics and collapses in the markets over my lifetime. If I remember, it sort of works out to one every five years. What sort of system is it that works until it fails? But then regards everything but lost profits as mere 'collateral damage'?

To be simple about it, I just don't understand the American people. Where are the riots? It's as if there has been a spinalectomy performed and fear of losing theirs is the only condition that they live under anymore, with brief spurts of overspending. Although they occasionally overdose on the American opiate of choice, fundamentalist drivel.

Mar. 06 2009 12:53 PM
JP from Hackensack

I’m not sure why people keep pointing to Europe as a class A model for socialism. Have you not been reading the news lately? They are up the creek just as much as we are. Their unemployment rates are right on par with us. Huge companies and banks over there are also failing left and right. Add insult to injury and our unemployment rate has been much lower over the last decade then most countries in Europe. I don’t think socialism is a bad word. But how can you realistically expect socialism to work in a country that has so much built in bureaucracy and corruption? Lets look at some government sponsored socialism already at work in this country. Medicare and Medicaid. They both help a tremendous amount of people. That being said, both agencies are still extremely overburdened, corrupt and abused by people using it and by the medical industry as a whole. The idea that just switching from capitalism to socialism will make greed and all our problems go away is a really sad joke. If you truly want to change this country’s direction, publicly fund all politically held office elections which would eliminate all PACS and special interest groups. They are the true evil of this country. Socialism will not make PACS and special interest groups go away. Let me repeat that, socialism will not make PACS and special interest groups go away .Give the government back to the people by just saying no to PACS and special interest groups!

Mar. 06 2009 12:02 PM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

Thank you for having Barbara E on the air. Thank you for not having some person from the Right to provide balance, as usually happens on NPR. Thank you very much.

Mar. 06 2009 11:41 AM
Eric from B'klyn

In a national crisis, as a citizen, I really don't care what a policy is labeled or called (by proponets or opponents), I want a policy that works. I want pragmatisism, And hysterics like Limblow and Hannity, do not foster rational pragmatic assessment and action. A policy that is designed to address the speciifc issue that needs to be remedied {and that is why a crystal clear picture of how this happened is important] is needed. Like the race issue, Obama ought to take the air out of the blowhards and explain his proposals. FDR got the same kind of hysterical irrational name calling from the Right in 1933-34, virtually interchangeable.

Mar. 06 2009 11:41 AM
frank from long branch

Brian or wnyc, I've been waiting for a discussion on this topic-please have more of it.Judging by your comments page it seems like a topic of great interest to your listeners. Hope you have a lot more of it. Please also bring more diverse expert guests. And I don't mean windbags like Beck or limbaugh. Thanks

Mar. 06 2009 11:31 AM
Steve from NYC

Can anyone point to a single meaningful opportunity that socialism, in any of its various permutations, has created? Since the beginning of time, all great discoveries have been made by self motivated individuals. With the exception of nuclear weapons, I can't think of a single similar accomplishment made by a government program.

Mar. 06 2009 11:30 AM
bob from brooklyn

Can someone post the info about her talk tonight. I hear Brian mention it but I was unable to write it down. I thought he said NY Ethical Society but nothing is listed on their website. thanks

Mar. 06 2009 11:22 AM
Alex Marshall from Roosevelt Island

John from Westchester -- if capitalism works so well, why are we in this fix? This isn't just a hiccup, it's a meltdown. Clearly some regulation is needed to ensure for example that rewards are fairly distributed. If "capitalism" can't do it -- Marx pointed out that it can't, by its nature -- then government must. (Government is of course us -- we elect our governments, precisely to act in the public interest.)

Mar. 06 2009 11:18 AM
William from Manhattan


I live in the Amalgamated Dwellings on Grand Street that was a rare moment of American Socialism where the Union sponsored, built and sold units to its employees at a discount and created an amazing and very valuable real estate in the process. In some ways its an alternative socialism that barely got started when the 29 crash and following depression altered the evolution of this type of balanced and sustainable development.

Mar. 06 2009 11:04 AM

Thank you caller Jessica from Queens! The most intelligent comments I heard during this very weak segment. Marxist scholars, socialist workers or organizers would have been great guests. BE didn't really seem to know too much about the topic.

Mar. 06 2009 11:03 AM
Bill from New York

Who enjoys the fruits, at least of socialization, more than capitalists? "Socialization of risk, privatization of reward," etc.

Mar. 06 2009 11:02 AM
robert from park slope

Had Karl Marx not referred to religion as an opiate and had he been a devout Christian, I do not think middle America would be so scared of words like Marxism, socialism, etc.

Mar. 06 2009 11:01 AM
Norman from Hell's Kitchen

Workers of the world unite, everybody.

Mar. 06 2009 11:00 AM
Jane from Ridgewood, NJ

My understanding is that socialism means the society or community has ownership of production, not private interests. Then society/community share the work and the production. Your guest and others speak a lot about shared health care systems, safety nets, etc. for unions and all workers. But no one speaks of sharing production, ie profits. I have no doubt the unions would balk when they hear their pay will decline because they now have to share it with others. Those who are not producing their share. You are presenting a one-sided view of socialism.

Mar. 06 2009 11:00 AM
John from Rochester

There already is a system to distribute resources efficiently and fulfill human needs. It's called capitalism. Does it have shortcomings, yes, but these are often flaws in practice, such as compensation schemes that promote short-term views, and not in its overall effectiveness as a model. No serious economist believes that government control of the economy, in the long run, can more effectively allocate resources and improve people's lives than a system that allows individuals and businesses to contract and innovate freely, also known as capitalism.

Mar. 06 2009 11:00 AM
Alex Marshall from Roosevelt Island

Thanks for the discussion. Ms Ehrenreich missed an important point in Marx's argument -- that wealth is created not by the owners of capital but by the workers, who shd be rewarded accordingly. We have gone way out whack in this country, with CEO's "earning" hundreds of times as much as their workers. We need more fairness in the rewards system--which will do much more than tax breaks to ensure a sustainable economy.

Mar. 06 2009 11:00 AM
todd from manhattan

Isn't the national vaccination program a great example of how we already weave socialism into our society. Even though some children will get sick from the vaccines, some may even die; but we still do it for the greater good

Mar. 06 2009 10:58 AM
Nick from NYC

Forget labels, and ask the simple question: "who benefits"?

This will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Mar. 06 2009 10:58 AM
kai from NJ-NYC

Echoing #4, it's true, the US is NOT EVEN CLOSE to a socialist system (our form of Federalism with strong state determinism guarantees a tremendous check to that drift). Democratic socialism, as in Europe, is alive and well, offering its citizens good lives. In fact, societies in many European countries are much more equitable, and guess what, they still have loads of RICH people. Moreover, this form of democratic socialism actually works in tandem with capitalism's ability to generate capital.

Mar. 06 2009 10:58 AM
Nick from Atlanta, GA

Maybe here is something I don't get - what is the difference between "generating wealth" and redistributing it in a fixed monetary system? What are you generating? Why isn't labor generating when they get money?

Mar. 06 2009 10:56 AM

Ask if there is any country in the world where there is no socialism

Mar. 06 2009 10:54 AM
Robert from NYC

That's because capitalism isn't superior, caller.

Mar. 06 2009 10:54 AM
bruce from NYC

Thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich and others for helping to raise the ghost of socialism out of its grave.

the vast expansion (politically and economically) of the financial sector in the US at the expense of the manufacturing and other productive sectors is an outgrowth of modern American-style capitalism, and is fundamentally at odds with the increase of American standard of living. How can a country survive without a manufacturing base?

Mar. 06 2009 10:54 AM
Norman from Hell's Kitchen

Socialists around the world have built roads, electric power systems, farms, tractors, school systems.

Mar. 06 2009 10:54 AM
Jessica from Manhattan

we have seen that capitalism doesn't work. It is based on the premise that there are infinite resources. There aren't. It is time to conceive of a new economic model that doesn't rely on this falacy. Growth can't be infinite we can't measure the health of business or the economy as a whole bases on rate of expansion. What kind of alternate models are there?

Mar. 06 2009 10:53 AM
Norman from Hell's Kitchen

When has socialism generated wealth?

First, the Tennessee Valley Authority

Mar. 06 2009 10:51 AM

Perhaps we as a culture are overdue to get more comfortable with the terms "socialism" and "socialize".

We've been socializing resources for decades; arguably since the founding of the nation, while going through contortions to pretend that we aren't.

The result, as recent events have illustrated so starkly, is not absence of socialism, but a distorted socialism that some have called "socialism for the rich".

The question may not be whether we need more or less socialism, but better or worse socialism.

Mar. 06 2009 10:50 AM
barry from Manhattan

Problem is that the government can't create jobs in any meaningful way, even over time.
Human nature favors the free market.
If you take profit out of the equation you take out the motivation.
Has no one read the "the richest man in babylon?"
"The miracle of compound interest" drives the world.

Mar. 06 2009 10:50 AM
Scott from Cambridge, MA


Obama is not proposing a national health plan. He's proposing a public-private mix that aims for universal health care, but will fundamentally be unable to achieve that standard. A national health plan would be a single payer, Canadian-style system.

Mar. 06 2009 10:49 AM
Nancy from NYC

B. E. states that the socialist "solution" to the economy would be to get everyone's ideas and together figure out what to do. Well, that's what Obama's doing, at least with respect to health care (witness yesterday's meeting at the White House) -- SO, under Barbara's definition (above), Obama IS a socialist!?!?

Mar. 06 2009 10:49 AM
jean from manhattan

I love and admire Ms. Ehrenreich. And it's all true--people don't know what socialism really means--it's just a cuss word to throw at people like Obama. Who is not even really progressive-thinking in his plans. I do take your point, though, Brian, that it's incomprehensible why socialist thinkers are not coming up with better ideas. Unfortunately the people who are talking, even most of the labor leaders, are out for themselves and their own electorate.

Mar. 06 2009 10:49 AM
Leif Smith from redding ct

Do you think the green party has subjugated some of the Socialists Ideals?

Mar. 06 2009 10:48 AM
Scott from Cambridge, MA


I bet you grew up white and privileged. If you were born black in sub-Saharan Africa, I think you'd have a different view about the best form of government.

Mar. 06 2009 10:48 AM
Cory from Planet Earth

This is the radio equivalent of empty calories. Most of our ancestors came here under difficult circumstances because they made individual decisions to stop putting up with the crap they had to take in their native countries and to seek a better life. They didn't want to be bossed around by anyone, which is why we are individualistic and ornery. While socialism may work with the lazy, submissive slugs who stayed behind in Europe, etc., it will never work here. That's not say we won't accept regulation, but socialism? No way. Smoke better dope.

Mar. 06 2009 10:47 AM
Angela Welch Stucker from Brooklyn

I don't care what labels people use to define themselves and to castigate others. All I know is that the system we have now is broken, and the arguments of those on the right just sound pathetic and dated. Why can't we stop focusing on labels and just try to get things done? Perhaps that is just too grown-up. It's always easier to point fingers at others than to come up with solutions.

Mar. 06 2009 10:47 AM
Bill from Mamaroneck

As socialists we need to make the case that America needs a campaign for Workplace Democracy. For years the Democrats and Republicans have defined the terms of the political debate as an argument over whether government should be bigger or smaller, allowing them to relegate us to the margins by painting us as those “ultra-left extremists” who want the biggest government of all: communism. We need to make clear to America that the real issue is not the size of government, but the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracies that prevail in the private sector, that the term “capitalist democracy” is an oxymoron. Only when employees own and democratically manage the workplaces where they spend the vast majority of their lifetimes between elections will America fulfill its promise as a true democracy, for without it corporate power will always water down and corrupt our political system with money, lobbyists and propaganda and make decisions solely in the interests of maximizing shareholder profit.

Mar. 06 2009 10:47 AM
Nick from NYC

#5 is on to it.

The GOP and their ilk thrive on labels, like "socialism", and they will rely on the majority's ignorance of history and politics to understand the nuances of a term as broad as "Socialism". That's what the right is counting on.

Obama's administration (and I have high hopes for him being able to transcend simplistic labels as he did in the campaign) should keep the focus not on terminology, but come back to their critics and say "we're going to provide health care", "we're going to provide affordable education", etc., and then say, well, if helping most Americans is "socialism", well, then, whatever. This will be the best thing for demonstrating how empty the "threats" of windbags like Limbaugh are.

P.S. - "no plan"??!!! not so! - what about the progressive grass roots movement that helped sweep Obama in? The "plan" is government of the people, for the people, by the people. Anathema to the right - substitute "corporate profits" for people in the above.

Mar. 06 2009 10:46 AM

It's difficult to come up with a plan when the public is not given all the facts.

Progressives in America does not have institutions of the scale and ability to influence that the Libertarians and other conservatives.

Mar. 06 2009 10:45 AM
Chris from NJ

Ask your guest for an example of when socialism has generated wealth rather than redistribute it.

Mar. 06 2009 10:44 AM
Gary from UWS

WE ALREADY LIVE IN A SOCIALIST SOCIETY. The government takes care of the very poor (e.g., food stamps, Section 8 housing, etc.) and the very rich (e.g., off-shore tax heavens, trillion-dollar bailouts). And then the government spreads the cost to the middle class so they get screwed with the bill.

What we need is true, unbridled, lazaire faire capitalism (no bailouts, no food stamps, nothing) where people are rewarded because of their talents and abilities--not because their race or their country club.

Mar. 06 2009 10:44 AM
Scott from Cambridge, MA

The Socialist movement has been pushed to the fringes by the corporate controlled mainstream media that echoes the voices of the corporate controlled policy makers. That's when the movement has weakened because people don't know it still exists.

Mar. 06 2009 10:43 AM
Norman from Hell's Kitchen

I've got a plan.

Use the scandinavian model.

Mar. 06 2009 10:42 AM
Jon from Brooklyn

Brian: why do you care more about what "president Obama needs" us to be talking about instead of what the people of the country really needs! I hope you dont spend this section talking about what to write or not, but about the real need to explore options beyond the savage capitalism that has destroyed the world economy.

Mar. 06 2009 10:39 AM
Leo from Queens

Thank you Brian for the discussion on this, but I feel that in the past couple of weeks you and NPR in general have been giving too much air time (Should I say HOT air) to these crackpots who are calling Obama a socialist when they don't even know what socialism mean. Rush, Santelli and Crame are nothing but drug addicts, bullies and mobsters. They should be in jail!

Mar. 06 2009 10:37 AM
hjs from 11211

socialism like liberal is just a dirty word.
people don't understand it but they just don't like it.

Mar. 06 2009 10:36 AM
Robert from NYC

LOL, USSA! LOL. How ridiculous. It's the ol'cold war scare, you say socialism and it's understood as communism and that scares the hell out of Americans who never even bother to find out just what socialism is. If they did they'd find out it isn't so bad. European countries (yes Sen Baucus, European) have social democratic governments since WWII and it works fine, yes they have problems, can you tell me what govt doesn't! Seems the free market failed us and the big babies who run it are crying and kicking and screaming they want to work back to an unregulated market so they can rip it and us off again. Greed, they learned, works. Well it failed! Some government control/regulation is needed and if they want to call it socialism, so be it. Wake up American, said Dennis Kucinich and the Democratic 2008 Convention, so Wake up America, get smart. Get off your bums and do for yourself; stop following and lead...yourself!

Mar. 06 2009 10:35 AM
Anne from Manhattan

Please explain why socialism is so bad.

When I think of socialism I think of Sweden - NOT the U.S.S.R. Why? Because Sweden's socialist government recently fixed their economic crisis. That's pretty good, right?

And please explain why capitalism is good. Clearly
capitalism is VERY bad when run by bad people.

(NY Times article on Sweden:

Mar. 06 2009 10:27 AM
Bill from New York

By all means let's have a legitimate discussion of alternatives deserving of the label "socialism" if only to end these ridiculous claims about Obama's policies. Shifting the tax burden and redistributing wealth are entirely different issues. Those of us with meager paychecks will start seeing a meager increase in our net, but our wages and the gulf between them and those of the wealthy, which has been widening for decades, especially during the period of ostensible prosperity whose bubble just burst, remain the same. No one's about to legislate wage increases for the nation's debtor class, even if that's the only way to get it to start spending again.

Mar. 06 2009 10:17 AM
Eric from B'klyn

Brian I commend your courage for taking up Ms Ehrenreich’s proposals on air. In light of the incredible fragility of the economic system evident in the cascading collapse we are witnessing, it is striking that there isn’t more public discussion about a system that is working fantastically well for a few but stagnant and failing the vast majority. It is remarkable that a frank discussion and assessment of the system in search of pragmatic policy is hostage to words like socialism, nationalization, and “the left”. It seems extraordinarily immature and imprudent in a crisis that all economic options aren’t on the table. Will “words” limit the options Obama can consider? Am I alone in suspecting the motives behind the decades-long campaign to demonize and invalidate basic economic ideas, and governance policies “government is the problem,” ‘socialized medicine’, ‘nationalization of the economy’, to name a few? This is a crisis and a non-ideological what-will-work pragmatism must govern policy making. Many of the Right’s fundamental assertions about free market and the invisible hand are dubious. While the ideas of prominent economists characterized as Leftwing seem to be radioactive politically when they deserve serious consideration.

Mar. 06 2009 09:37 AM

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