Obama’s Father and Socialism

Some on the right have been trying to fabricate a case that Barack Obama is a socialist–which is quite far fetched considering that much of his economic advice comes from the University of Chicago. With that ridiculous argument not taking hold, some have turned to trying to prove that his father was a socialist. Some of them base this on an article written by Obama’s father.

There are two problems with this line of attack. First of all, his father’s economic views don’t necessarily have any bearing on Obama’s own economic views. The second problem is that an analysis of the paper cited by conservatives does not back up the claim that Obama’s father is a socialist. The Politico had an economist review the article, and his analysis is quite different from the arguments made by many conservatives:

…Kenya expert Raymond Omwami, an economist and UCLA visiting professor from the University of Helsinki who has also worked at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, said Obama senior could not be considered a socialist himself based solely on the material in his bylined piece.

Omwami points out that the elder Obama’s paper was primarily a harsh critique of the controversial 1965 government document known as Sessional Paper No. 10. Sessional Paper No. 10 rejected classic Karl Marx philosophies then embraced by the Soviet Union and some European countries, calling instead for a new type of socialism to be used specifically in Africa.

The government paper rejected materialism (i.e., “conspicuous consumerism”), outlined the nation’s goals to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and disease, and also laid out important decrees regarding land use for economic development. Obama senior’s response covers these issues, frequently focusing on the distribution of real estate to farmers. Since most Kenyans could not afford farmland in line with market forces established earlier by white British farmers, the elder Obama argued that strong development planning should better define common farming space to maximize productivity and should defer to tribal traditions instead of hastening individual land ownership.

In other words, Obama senior’s paper was not a cry for acceptance of radical politics but was instead a critique of a government policy by Kenya’s Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, which applied African socialism principles to the country’s ongoing political upheaval.

“The critics of this article are making a big mistake,” says Omwami, who at Politico’s request read the document and the associated Internet debate over the weekend. “They are assuming Obama senior is the one who came up with this concept of African socialism, but that’s totally wrong. Based on that, they’re imbuing in him the idea that he himself is a socialist, but he is not.”

Omwami says he would instead refer to the elder Obama as “a liberal person who believed in market forces but understood its limitations.” Sessional Paper No. 10 centered on the new control of Kenya’s resources, promoting a form of trickle-down economics in which financial aid would be consolidated in more populated areas with the hope that positive effects would eventually be felt by smaller villages.

Obama senior argued against this notion, and Omwami suggests history has proven him correct since most, if not all, small communities in Kenya have yet to benefit from monies that poured into larger cities since the nation’s independence four decades ago.

The elder Obama also looked ahead to what has become a shaping force across Africa — urbanization — arguing that the government’s efforts to lure citizens back to the land were futile.

“If these people come out in search of work, it is because they cannot make a living out of whatever land they have had,” he wrote.

In retrospect, it was one of several warnings in the paper that would prove true.

“If you understand the Kenyan context, you can clearly see in that paper that Obama senior was quite a sharp mind,” Omwami concluded. “He addresses economic growth and other areas of development, and his critique is that policymakers in Kenya were overemphasizing economic growth.

“We had high economic growth for years but never solved the problems of poverty, unemployment and unequal income distribution. And those problems are still there.”

Obama senior’s projections and critiques are so spot on, says Omwami, that he plans to assign the paper to his classes in the future.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Martin says:

    It is not the case if Obama’s father was a socialist. The fact that Obama’s own words favor wealth redistribution speaks for itself. His philosophy is against every principle that the US economy stands on. His election to office will be the long term demise of our international economic strength. NO TO OBAMA !!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Martin,

    If you paid attention to what Obama is really saying, rather than the distortions from the right wing kooks you obviously listen to, Obama, and not McCain, is the stronger supporter of the free market.

    Obama is heavily influenced by free market economists at the University of Chicago, and certainly does not support redistribution of wealth. On the other hand, if you listen to McCain he is a hyper-nationalist without a clear economic philosophy. Actually he is the one whose economic policies could best be described as redistribution of wealth–that is redistribution to the top one tenth of one percent.

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