Conservatives recoiled when Barack Obama declared his desire to “spread the wealth,” the phrase being redolent of Johnsonian welfare-statism, and many on the right promptly denounced him as a “socialist.” But that is silly: Being a spread-the-wealther does not make one a socialist — it makes one a conventional politician in a modern liberal democracy (alas). Being a central planner makes one a socialist, socialism being the philosophy of imposing central planning on an economy in place of markets, and it is on that count that President Obama may be indicted and convicted of practicing the dark arts of socialism. From his hallmark health-care legislation to his broader economic philosophy, President Obama is the most committed central planner to occupy the Oval Office since Woodrow Wilson.
There are two species of central planner: the authoritarian and the progressive. Each species has its distinctive markings and characteristic habits: The markings of the authoritarian central planner are epaulets and a peaked cap, and generally some braid about the shoulders, and his distinctive habit is putting his boot on your face (forever). The progressive species is generally to be found in blue suits talking jabberwocky in front of joint sessions of Congress. Obama is a specimen of this latter type, though the two species share a preoccupation with quantifiable economic abstractions divorced from real-world economic activity. The presence of figures is soothing to the central planner, as it enables him to present to the public as science (remember Friedrich Engels and his “scientific socialism”) what is in fact merely political occultism. It is for this reason that Barack Obama’s forceful economic declarations — exports shall be x! unemployment shall be y! — are to conservative ears indistinguishable from those found in the five-year plans of various single-party states — the wheat crop shall be x! the potato harvest shall be y!