August 6, 2011; Source: Wall Street Journal | In the political debates around the federal budget and whether to raise the debt ceiling, many conservatives have complained about what they see as the Democrats’ and specifically President Obama’s proclivity toward “class warfare,” “redistributive economics,” and “socialism.” The Democrats, Eric Cantor (R-VA) told the Wall Street Journal, “believe in a welfare state before they believe in capitalism. They promote economic programs of redistribution to close the gap of the disparity between the classes. That’s what they’re about: redistributive politics.”  

This must be a source of some consternation to the nonprofit sector which functions partly as a mechanism of wealth redistribution (see Cerulli for an interesting discussion of the kinds of redistributive roles of nonprofits).  By their very identity, nonprofits function in a way that is at a minimum supportive of the redistributive, welfare state socialism that conservatives decry.  But aren’t there examples of socialism that are feted by conservatives, examples in which conservatives participate, relish, and celebrate?

We were prompted to this by a contrasting article in the same issue of the WSJ in which Rep. Cantor expounded on the politics of the left during debt ceiling negotiations.  A sports columnist wrote about the positive aspects of the largely rich man’s game of golf, one of which was its built-in socialism:  “The handicap system is pure socialism, but no one objects. That’s how nondivisive golf is. Handicaps take strokes from the strong and give them to the weak, allowing golfers of all ability levels to play together as friends. It’s brilliant, and everybody’s pleased.” 

There is, in fact, much “nonprofit socialism” out there that attracts conservatives as well as liberals.  For example, earlier this year, the nation celebrated the victory of “for professional sports’ only publicly owned nonprofit organization, the Green Bay Packers — a team whose quasi-socialist structure allows Wisconsin’s proletariat to own the means of football production.”  Although long-decried by the Steinbrenners, the revenue-sharing system of Major League Baseball, which compels the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox to transfer some moneys to small-market teams, is a kind of redistributive economic policy that smacks of socialism.

As everyone gets poorer in the wake of “debtaggedon”, the market crash, and S&P’s downgrading of U.S. creditworthiness, perhaps the opposition to redistributive policies is not that they don’t work, but that they actually might, if not hobbled by policies that water them down, or, even more frightfully, that the nonprofit sector that believes in the expansion of redistributive policies such as golf handicaps and MLB revenue-sharing might heed New York Times columnist Tom Friedman‘s call for a third party movement that should nominate Vermont’s socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, as its candidate.  We wonder if Sanders has a golf handicap.—Rick Cohen