Peculiar days at Alabama’s Statehouse
by Gerald W. Johnson
Special to The Star
Jul 15, 2012 | 5345 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo: Special to The Star
Photo: Special to The Star
These are strange times in Alabama politics. What used to appear to be quite clear and understandable is now quite cloudy and confusing.

Recent conventional wisdom portrays Democrats as liberals at best and sinners and socialists at worst.

Democrats are for more government, not less. Democrats want and need government to take care of them. Conversely, conventional wisdom portrays Republicans as conservatives, capitalists, freedom-and-God-loving, free-enterprise advocates. Republicans are for less government, not more. Republicans want government out of the marketplace and out of their personal lives.

However, the political world of Alabama has rotated on its partisan axis. Alabama is currently engaged in a broadscale form of neo-socialism. Neo-socialism is a belief in the idea that capitalism can be resuscitated by stronger government intervention in the private market through incentives and subsidies to recruit or retain business and industry. The implication is clear.

Core to the current Republican administration’s role in economic development is the use of government and taxpayer dollars to reduce the risk of failure in the marketplace, a core value of socialism. The $158.5 million in incentives for Airbus, which is building a production plant in Mobile, is the latest example. The Mobile Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development has stated, “Without those incentives, the business model wouldn’t have worked.”

In addition to marketplace intervention, some members of the current administration advocate using government to intervene in the most personal aspects of life, including marriage contracts and covenants, intrusive medical procedures to achieve social objectives, and dictating local government decisions.

While both Democratic and Republican administrations have used market subsidies (incentives) to attract major (automotive) industries to Alabama, the current Republican administration is involved in the enactment of neo-socialistic proposals to a greater and different extent than previous Democratic administrations.

The Republican administration has extended the use of subsidies to retain existing businesses and industries and has expanded the use of subsidies to support a broad range of businesses and industries from the movie industry to agriculture. Importantly and differently, the Republican leadership, including the governor, proposes paying for this new round of market incentives by diverting taxpayer dollars designated for public schools and other essential state programs and services.

State intervention in personal areas and at local governmental levels may be even more invasive. A marriage covenant bill was introduced in the last session of the state Legislature that would provide for a voluntary covenant that would make divorce more difficult, require counseling and limit the reasons for which married couples can divorce. An abortion bill was proposed that could result in a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound examination in which a doctor or technician must perform an invasive procedure using an ultrasound transducer. While the proposal to establish charter schools to remove state regulation of local schools failed, the Legislature enacted a standard public school calendar law to require local school boards to adopt calendars that allow for more vacation time in an effort to promote the costal tourism industry.

Neo-socialist programs and structures in Alabama are not limited to the state level. Many municipalities have programs that provide incentives to businesses and industries to locate or stay in their communities — clear government intervention in the marketplace with winners and losers. Some communities have gone even further and have created governmental businesses and industries in direct competition with the private market, including utility and cable services.

Neo-socialism that results in increased governmental intervention in the market place, in personal lives and in local arenas raises important issues of ideological and empirical character. However, while neo-socialism may sound like a bad thing, it may not necessarily be so. People need jobs, and government and private-sector partnerships have a long and productive history in this nation and state.

Neo-socialism is what it is — a plan of economic and political development. What it is not is either Republican or Democratic, and it clearly is not Libertarian. Democrats are not of one label (socialist) and Republicans are not of another (capitalist). In fact, in the pursuit of wealth and market opportunities, if not jobs, Republicans are leading the way in developing neo-socialistic plans for state government.

Former Republican Gov. Bob Riley recently joined a Texas lobby firm established to get state legislatures to divert more taxpayer money to subsidize businesses and industries.

What is bad, shortsighted and counterproductive in this new round of Republican neo-socialism is the diversion of scarce taxpayer dollars to the private market that are needed for schools, health care, roads, prisons and other essential state services — services that provide the base for economic development. If neo-socialism is a valid component of a mixed market, other options exist to produce the revenue needed for private market subsidies, including tax reform, earmarking oil and gas revenues and closing corporate tax loopholes and appropriating those revenues for economic development. The logic for these options is compelling and apparent.

What also is apparent is that responsible citizenship (voting) will require more than partisan labels and profiles to make informed decisions.

Gerald W. Johnson is Auburn University emeritus professor of political science.
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Peculiar days at Alabama’s Statehouse by Gerald W. Johnson
Special to The Star

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