INDEX VERBORUM PROHIBITORUM.

The word of the day, dear friends, is socialism, and take a good long look at it, because after today you will not be allowed to use it anymore.

Now, if Dr. Boli actually had that authority, much more than our vocabulary would be improved. But he confines himself to what is in his power. If you wish to have a serious discussion with Dr. Boli about current politics, you will not use the word socialism. What you do on your own time is your own business.

Why has socialism been added to our ever-growing list of prohibited words? For the same reason as every other word that ends up there: it has lost all meaning. Ideally, the purpose of speech or writing is to convey thoughts. However, our sagacious readers are well aware that the true purpose of much speech and more writing is to avoid conveying thoughts: to seem to be saying something thoughtful while not having to think at all. Dr. Boli is not inclined to waste his time on such discourse, and his Index is a handy way to spot the blitherings that will not be worth his time. If they contain a word known to be a substitute for thinking, he stops paying attention.

Socialism has become one of those words. It is possible that it meant something at some time, although even socialists themselves could hardly agree on what that meaning was. It is also possible that it has a coherent meaning outside the United States, but we are not concerned with the rest of the world at the moment. Dr. Boli's readers in other countries are invited to continue feeling smugly superior.

In American politics today, the word socialism is simply a playground insult. It is a grown-up's way of saying, “I don't have to listen to you because you're a poopyhead.” An American—even an American who gets paid for supposedly insightful political commentary—can just haul out the word socialism and say, “That's it. Conversation over. I don't deal with poopyheads.”

The simple fact is that almost every single American has political beliefs that fall somewhere on the spectrum between government control of everything and government control of nothing. There are some who believe in complete anarchy, but they are not a significant part of the population. There are some who believe in complete communism, but they are not significant either. There is no sharp line between “capitalism” (which may also appear on the Index soon) and “socialism.” There are only disagreements about whether it is a good thing for the government to be involved in this or that.

Try this experiment. Ask a group of random Americans (a surprising number of Americans are random, so you should have no trouble finding test subjects) to tell you which is more “socialist”: highways or mass transit? Dr. Boli would be willing to bet quite a lot of money, up to 75¢ when he is feeling especially flush, that the majority will answer “mass transit.” Now consider these numbers: In 2019, American governments—federal, state, and local—spent about 203 billion dollars on highways and about 79 billion dollars on public transit. Most public-transit systems charge fares to recoup some of their expenses; the great majority of highways are supported by taxes alone. Which looks more socialist to you? And if you are about to argue with Dr. Boli (he knows who you are, the one over there in the checked suit) that mass transit is more socialist for some reason he has not understood, you are merely proving the more important point that the word socialism does not convey any coherent meaning we can rely on to make informed debate possible.

One of the curious phenomena of the last few years in American politics has been the rise of small numbers of politicians who are willing to call themselves socialists. But even in their mouths the word hardly has any coherent meaning. When we ask what they mean by socialism, they usually tell us that they are in favor of things like a national health-care system. In other words, their “socialism” is what the left-wing and right-wing parties in every other civilized country would agree on as fundamental political sanity. Otherwise, like every politician, they are in favor of good things and opposed to bad things. But the fact that socialism is now a permitted word in American political debate, that it is not automatically renounced by everyone on every side, may cause the word to become meaningful again at some point in the future. If that happens, Dr. Boli will be delighted to remove it from the Index.

Comments

  1. Dr. Boli is making the common mistake of comparing transit costs, which include infrastructure and operations, with highway costs, which include only infrastructure. Car and truck operators are almost entirely private and they collectively spend $1.6 trillion a year buying, operating, and insuring their vehicles.

    About 10 percent of that $1.6 trillion consists of tolls and other user fees that were created to pay for the roads. Only about $60 billion in general funds are spent on roads each year. That means 96 percent of the cost of motor vehicles and highways are paid by private users, while only 22 percent of the costs of transit in 2019 and only 12 percent in 2020 were paid by transit users.

    Yes, roads are public, but state highways are paid for almost entirely out of user fees. In the end, what is objectionable is not public ownership but public subsidies that have turned transit agencies from movers of people into bloated bureaucracies whose main goal is to transfer money from taxpayers to contractors, agency executives, and union workers.

  2. Fred says:

    I think its French for ‘taxation.’

  3. RepubAnon says:

    It’s unfortunate that so many people now consider anti-socialism a virtue, yet also complain that so many of us are anti-social.

  4. KevinT says:

    What caused Dr. Boli to ignore the fuel tax that pays at least in some small part for highways? Dare I suggest “ignorance”?

    • Dr. Boli says:

      This is a question worth a long discussion—long enough that it will appear as its own article tomorrow. But Dr. Boli cannot forbear expressing his gratitude before then. When readers provide material for an article, Dr. Boli is not left sitting up at twenty minutes to midnight wondering what the next day’s article is going to be, and whether he will be reduced to drawing on another contribution by Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle.

      • KevinT says:

        I eagerly await tomorrow’s instalment – to see whether the discussion pertains to fuel taxation or ignorance.

        • Dr. Boli says:

          Why not both? We are nothing if not versatile. We can discuss fuel taxation as ignorantly as anyone else in the room.

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