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And 'After the Wall,' What of Socialism?

December 14, 1989

All the hoopla, euphoria and jubilation greeting the sudden collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe and its close call in the Soviet Union cannot mask the impotence of the other superpower, the United States, as well.

It is no exaggeration to state that we are unable, nay, unwilling, to undertake the immense task to right our near-bankrupt political-economic system, which is shot through with mismanagement, greed and corruption. The problems of the Soviet Union have been drummed into our ears ad nauseam, but the shambles of our situation is swept under the rug by benign neglect.

To heal an economy distorted by debt, burdened by growing numbers of the very poor, threatened with inflation, facing an infrastructure badly in need of repair and made anemic by the loss of markets for U.S. industry will take bold and imaginative leadership. In fact, we are even worse off than the Soviets, for we have no Gorbachev to realize the seriousness of the task. We have only a cautious, featherweight President Bush.

The nonstop prattle about the demise and failure of socialism only proves our abysmal ignorance about the essential role socialist ideas and principles play in a modern market system. There is no democratic state where socialists in government or in opposition are not major factors. Socialism in the U.S. was always a dirty word and our identifications of it with the perverse distortion of the totalitarian one-party rule in the Soviet Union was no help.

One must mention that social progress in every civilized country was initiated by socialists. The principle and nuts and bolts of the welfare state owe existence to socialist public policy and no East European has any intention of giving up the welfare state. They cannot believe that the United States has no socialized medicine. They cannot believe any advanced industrial country would be so barbaric.

Our sorry state was best illustrated perhaps when Lester Thurow, the respected economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, acknowledged with "shock" that 2% of our population owns 87% of the wealth and is the dominant force in the economic and political arenas. The figure is almost identical with that of El Salvador.

TED SCHOENMAN

Santa Barbara

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