A large problem with us Americans is our ahistorical nature. Consider the news. I strain to remember the big stories of last week or last month, much less last year. And we rarely talk about them. Yes, there is an on-going presidential primary, and the economy stinks. But beyond that? Such is reflective of our ahistorical perspective. Most of us don’t know very much about it, and most of us don’t really care.
This is entirely reversible with today’s technological age, where media of all sorts contribute to a huge mass of information, including historical. How to sift through all of this is quite the challenge. Some companies make good money doing this (i.e. Google).
As Mormons, we have been told to teach one another dilligently. And what are we to teach? “Things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass, things which are at home, things which are abroad…a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:78-79). Such is the comprehensive historical understanding we should strive for.
The Fabian Society is one historical chapter we seemed to have forgotten about. It is still on-going. A group of British intellectuals in the late 19th Century had a common belief in socialism. They wanted socialism gradually, through slight reform, rather than through violent revolution, as others did. They called themselves the Fabian Society after the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, whose military strategy of attrition and harassment became very effective against the Carthaginian army. A survey of western history since the late 19th Century would indicate they have been successful.
Successful how? Consider some of their goals and instituted accomplishments:
- Minimum wage
- Socialized health care (witness Europe)
- Welfare state (witness Europe, or Medicaid, Medicare, and SCHIP in America)
- Imperialist (i.e. Interventionist) Foreign Policy
John Maynard Keynes become an important member in the 1930s. The fact that a leading American economist (at least in terms of modern popularity) was not only a socialist, but that he headed a socialist organization, doesn’t sit well with me.
Perhaps I should talk about socialism. Socialism is essentially the abolition of private property. The idea is that free markets and capitalism lead to all sorts of problems, only resolvable by government intervention. (It’s like a domestic version of our foreign interventionist foreign policy.) This is the central premise of The Jungle. People in the private sector are inept without the government to solve problems of food quality, education, health care, unemployment, saving for retirement, etc. However, the benevolence and objectivity of government central planners cannot be understated. Simply put, to a paleo like myself, this is balderdash.
There used to be a big stink in this country about socialists. Conservatives in the Republican party wanted to distance themselves from these central planners, especially during the Cold War.
My, how times have changed. Now, our government can do no wrong. Sure, there may be some management issues, but that’s nothing that can’t be solved with another appointed boss (I’m sure no cronyism is ever involved), more money, or both (here and here). This is not a Democrat issue. Plenty of Republicans have signed on for the increase and growth of government to solve many of our problems.
Nor is this a recent change. This has been going on for some time. The New Deal was a watershed of change. Even before that, though, there were expensive public works projects, like the Hoover Dam, for instance, and a government-approved central bank (The Federal Reserve). Over time, we can see the government increasing in power and influence over our lives.
How I wish that we could remember history, and that we could see life as it was before Leviathan got out of control, where freedom was important, and private property rights were protected by the government. We would see people working to better their condition through economization and exchange. We would see huge increases in economic conditions of all different sectors of society. The middle class grew. The poorer classes became less poor. This is a historical pattern that has been observed in 18th Century England, 19th and early 20th Century America, and post-WWII era countries like Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea. Now, in the 21st Century, we struggle with booms and busts, unemployment, a weak dollar, fluctuating commodities prices, an oppressive government debt, and an increasing cost of living. For decades, we have heard how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When will we wake up and ask what effect our government policies have had on this divide (among many other things) rather than assume that more government is the only answer? Until we understand this principle, the fabian creep to socialism will continue.