Hi Kelly and Joe. The discussion is extremely pertinent as so many examples have shown: the rescue of banks on both sides of the Atlantic after the 2007/08 financial crash; the privatisation and then constant rescue of all sorts of originally public infrastructure (railroads in the UK, health care and education almost everywhere else)…
I think, however, that it is misleading to label those phenomena as “socialism for the rich”. I’d argue that, as economic decisions and processes, they’ve all come from the classic toolbox of states leading a fully Capitalist economy. Think about Europe after WWII, the US with the New Deal, the Asian tigers during the 50s and 60s, and many other examples of the “developmentalist states”. They were doing exactly the things that are now labelled “socialism for the rich”, and yet their goals and the environment in which they were developed were fully and exclusively capitalist.
Capitalism, especially if you follow a Keynesian perspective, requires big public investments to be sustained. And investments here do not only mean money poured into the engine: it means the full support of the state (be it through force and coercion, like the example of the enclosure movement recalled by Joe; through political manoeuvring or through setting a legal framework that defends the rationale and the stability of private economic activity). In that sense, when the state rescue banks or when they privatise public assets (or the results of public investments such as internet, railroads, etc.) they are clearly not delivering any socialist measure nor paving the way for a socialist future, albeit one exclusively for the capitalist. Au contraire! What the state is doing is ensuring that the basis upon which the whole capitalist system is built are re-strengthened. The state is facilitating a process of accumulation by dispossession (as David Harvey would say, which is in itself based on the Marxist concept of primitive accumulation), so there’s not much of socialism in that. I think we’ll do better on our explanations of what is Capitalism and why it doesn’t work (as good as other systems could) if we also contested the mainstream left-of-the-centre assumptions such as “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor”.