Does Obama the socialist threaten America?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 13, 2010

In American politics we have entered the era of hyper-claims, that is when the polarized political parties cannot simply articulate their disagreement, they must claim that the sky is falling to gain media attention.

So when Newt Gingrich writes a new book, marketed to the Tea Party supporters, he feels compelled to make a claim that will be outrageous enough to both sell books and position him for a run for the presidency in 2012.

The claim is that President Obama’s secular socialist agenda is a threat to the American way of life.

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Others have taken up this claim, and the Tea Party supporters often scream they want to “take back our country.”

Is Gingrich right? Are the Tea Party advocates harbingers of the truth, accurately predicting America’s doomsday from socialism?

To argue the claim we must consider just how socialist is America compared to other countries. And that can easily be done.

First, socialist countries have, generally, high taxes to pay for their socialist program, and they redistribute significant portions of the income of their most wealthy citizens.

But federal and state taxes in America are at their lowest in the past thirty years, and as a share of GDP represent 28 percent. That percentage is nearly the lowest among the 31 nations in the OECD. Only four of the 31 nations have a lower tax rate. And Obama’s contribution to this measure is his tax cut for 95 percent of Americans in 2009, a strong contra-indicator of socialism.

Can it then be that America accomplishes its socialist agenda by redistribution of its wealth?

While that is a measure more difficult to identify, there is a metric in place to do just that. The tool is the “Gini coefficient” and it gauges the redistribution of wealth in a nation.

America does redistribute wealth, but its Gini coefficient is a modest 0.38, placing the U.S. as the least redistributive country of all developed nations, hardly evidence of this creeping and threatening socialism.

But what about economic mobility, the measure of how generations advance in society by wither their own efforts or their family inheritance? It turns out that in America, once known as the land of opportunity, we have one of the lowest economic mobility rates, indicating that we pass on a good deal of wealth from one generation to the next.

As it turns out several of the “socialist” countries, including Denmark, Finland and Norway, have a higher degree of economic mobility than the US. They are more successful at individual economic advancement on a merit basis than we are.

Surprisingly, many of the same Americans that worry about socialism favor the elimination of estate taxes on our wealthiest families and the end of taxation on dividends, the primary income of many wealthy Americans.

These policy prescriptions would serve to further decrease economic mobility.

The Gingrich claim and the Tea Party shouts are false and insincere.

It is certainly true that, no matter how our taxes, Americans always wanted lower taxes … but with their Social Security, Medicare and other government services fully funded.

And Americans also are rightfully worried about spending during the Bush years and into the Obama presidency.

But the truth is we can only repair our debt and deficits as a nation by controlling spending and increasing some taxes. Spending cuts alone cannot succeed. A good beginning is the end of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that have been paid for by debt. Those tax cuts have hurt our budgets and reduced our economic mobility.

But the socialist president? Hardly.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.