If President Obama disagrees with the Republican National Committee members who use the word "socialism" to describe what the government is up to, who is there out there who agrees that the s-word fits? The answer is, of all people, President Clinton's left-leaning former secretary of labor, Robert Reich. In a blog posting this week, Mr. Reich uses the phrase "lemon socialism" to describe what is going on.
What is "lemon socialism" and how does it differ from the plain-vanilla variety? Mr. Reich offered a definition back in January: "Taxpayers support the lemons. Capitalism is reserved for the winners." The New York Times columnist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman, another left-leaner, used the phrase in February, writing that the Obama administration's bank rescue plans "are shaping up as a classic exercise in 'lemon socialism': taxpayers bear the cost if things go wrong, but stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right."
Now, it may be that the Republican National Committee are right-wing extremists who are wrong, and that Messrs. Krugman and Reich are left-wing extremists who are wrong. But it may also be that the fact that they are all using the word "socialism" to describe current American government policy is a signal to pay attention, because there may be something to that description. The earlier FutureOfCapitalism post on the Republican National Commitee resolution cautioned that it would be a mistake to get hung up on the word socialism itself. But if Americans come to believe that socialism is an accurate description of the government's policies toward the banks and the auto companies, the policies may become unpopular. A Rasmussen poll last month found 53 percent of Americans said capitalism is better than socialism, while 20 percent said socialism is better.