Unlike The Phantom Menace version of Socialism paraded around at Tea Party rallies where Obama is compared to Stalin, there are actual socialists in the world who hold actual socialist views of what’s happening in the economy. Sometimes it’s useful to listen to these voices, not because they are right (although sometimes they are), but because they offer an alternative worldview that serves as a useful intellectual foil for our current austerity vs stimulus debate.
Capitalists prefer austerity for many reasons. Because universal suffrage allows politics to undo capitalism’s consequences such as unequal wealth, income and power distributions, capitalists worry about how far universal suffrage will go. Majorities may, during crises, reject bailouts and austerity. The Greek and French just did. They may then demand Keynesian “growth” via government jobs and income and wealth redistribution. Or they may demand transition beyond capitalism to democratize their economies by socializing means of production, planning the economy and transforming enterprises into self-directed worker collectives. No wonder that conservative mainstream economics (so-called “neoclassical economics”) celebrates capitalism as a self-healing system requiring no government intervention.
The “great” debate between neoclassical and Keynesian economists is neither great nor much of a debate. Both sides endorse, celebrate and defend capitalism. Their “debate” – between Plans B and A, more or less government intervention to sustain capitalism – periodically revives as a substitute for seriously engaging with critical economic theories, anti-capitalist social movements and their demands for economic democracy. The debate between austerity and growth policies is a sideshow for the main event: capitalism’s weakening battles with its own contradictions and with looming demands for transition beyond capitalism to economic democracy.
It’s important to keep reminding yourself that Keynesian economics is no more “socialism” than is neo-liberal economics. They are two sides of the same capitalist coin. Personally, I believe in market economies, but you can have free markets without capitalism. Or you can have managed markets with capitalism. Capitalism is not the same as free markets. Capitalism is about what you do with the surplus value created by labor and markets.
In the end, neither versions of capitalism, neo-liberal or Keynesian, address the question of economic democracy which is the principal concern of “real” Socialists.