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Is Barack Obama really a socialist?

Not exactly, but his 'socialist-lite' policies should still be cause for concern.

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Since telling Joe the Plumber of his wish to "spread the wealth around," Barack Obama is being called a socialist. Is he one?

No. At least not in the classic sense of the term. "Socialism" originally meant government ownership of the major means of production and finance, such as land, coal mines, steel mills, automobile factories, and banks.

A principal promise of socialism was to replace the alleged uncertainty of markets with the comforting certainty of a central economic plan. No more guessing what consumers will buy next year and how suppliers and rival firms will behave: everyone will be led by government's visible hand to play his and her role in an all-encompassing central plan. The "wastes" of competition, cycles of booms and busts, and the "unfairness" of unequal incomes would be tossed into history's dustbin.

Of course, socialism utterly failed. But it wasn't just a failure of organization or efficiency. By making the state the arbiter of economic value and social justice, as well as the source of rights, it deprived individuals of their liberty – and tragically, often their lives.

The late Robert Heilbroner – a socialist for most of his life – admitted after the collapse of the Iron Curtain that socialism "was the tragic failure of the twentieth century. Born of a commitment to remedy the economic and moral defects of capitalism, it has far surpassed capitalism in both economic malfunction and moral cruelty."

This failure was unavoidable. It was predicted from the start by wise economists, such as F.A. Hayek, who understood that no government agency can gather and process all the knowledge necessary to plan the productive allocation of millions of different resources.

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