Monday, November 16, 2009


Welcome to Tantrumville

The following is from a column that ran today in the Boston Globe. Guest columnist Steve Almond compares our economic system to a children's playground.

"The one challenging thing about the playground," he writes, "is that you have to do a lot of resource management. Because there’s always some moment when my daughter and another child decide, more or less simultaneously, that they want to ride the last open swing.

Which means I have to launch into The Speech, the one that begins, 'OK, honey: there’s just one swing left and this nice little girl wants to play on it now. So we’re going to have to share. I know it’s hard to share, but we can do something else fun for a few minutes, and then we’ll get a turn.'

Does this work?


The rest of the time, you wind up in Tantrumville.

But that’s part of growing up. It doesn’t mean you stop giving The Speech. Because we all want our children to learn how to share. We all know that there are a limited number of swings in the world at large, and our children are eventually going to have to learn how to defer their own desires for the sake of the common good.

In fact, most parents are mortified when their children refuse to share on the playground, when they hoard toys, when they decide it is their right to smash a sand castle they played no part in building.

These basic rules of the playground are sometimes given a more sophisticated, adult name: socialism. Which makes all us good parents de facto socialists.

Welcome, comrades!"

Tantrumville seems like a good name for some current behavior on the playground that is Washington, D.C. Almond's analogy also got me to thinking: Is Obama a socialist? It is obvious that he is not, but would it be so bad if he was?

A recent issue of The Nation featured the story of the Berlin Wall coming down from the point of view of the people who were once behind it. In that issue, Ronald Grigor Suny writes,

"The events of 1989 are most often depicted as the failure of socialism. It's a powerful interpretation that has served to discredit alternatives to the capitalist system, which is said to have triumphed, and to bestow upon capitalism an aura of legitimacy based not only on a reading of recent history but also on assumptions about the natural order
, not least human nature. Capitalism, it is proposed, is the normal state of human traffic in what people make and value and need; socialism is the deviation. Capitalism responds to the nature of 'man'--acquisitiveness, competition, egoism and the insatiable need for more. Socialism stands in the way of initiative, creativity and competition. Going by its nom de guerre, communism, it proposes radical equality in a world of unequals. Therefore, it can be maintained only by the coercive power of an entrenched elite and a repressive state."

Suny is a college professor, so his writing style isn't as much fun as Almond's is to read, but he is on to something. Is a playground without parents, or a society without a strong central government, destined to be a replay of "Lord of the Flies"? I'm no socialist (at least not anymore) but that version of capitalism seems to call for more, not less government.

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