Socialism Misunderstood

Several candidate running in the mid-term election have either avowed or allowed others to paint them as “socialist”.  These candidates often speak to “medicare for all”, “free” college education, “housing for all”, “retirement with dignity for all”, and “progressive taxes”.  Conservative opponents reach quickly for the words “socialism” or “socialist” and brand these candidates with the heavy hint that communism will be next.  Hmmm.

Socialism is defined as a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  

I do not hear these candidates advocating for government ownership of businesses or total regulation of them either, but rather I hear a search for income inequality cures, particularly from businesses where productivity gains are not shared (fairly).  These candidates see too many Americans who cannot afford healthcare, get a good education they can afford, find housing that fits in their budget, or can expect to live on their retirement benefits.  These Americans do not hear the words socialism or socialist either.  What they hear, however, is a solution to a situation where for them the American Dream has turned to a nightmare.

Think about the world that these Americans see:

  • Fortune 500 CEO’s average over $10 million per year in renumeration and the top 10 average over $50 million.  Average earnings for all Americans remains about $55,000 per year, minimum wage is about $15,000 per year.  Hmmm
  • Most Americans receive their healthcare insurance through their employers.  Should any America become unemployment, these Americans experience higher costs if they can obtain healthcare insurance at all.  In addition, “pre-existing conditions” are often used by insurers to deny coverage (or charge exorbitantly premiums) essentially putting insurance out of reach for more and more Americans.  Obamacare, to some extent, helps but the present Administration is attempting to eliminate this coverage.
  • Americans are told the value of a college education at every turn in the road.  The only aspect not mentioned is the cost and the amount of debt a student will get with their degree.
  • For many Americans the cost to buy a home and/or the cost to operate a home (utilities, maintenance, and taxes) are squeezing them out of home ownership or ability to rent.
  • Social Security benefits do not provide for much of a retirement.  Combining social security with a pension, for most, makes retirement possible.  But pensions are vanishing and a growing number of Americans are thinking that neither social security or a decent pension will be available when it is their turn to retire.

So, it should be no wonder that when many Americans hear a politician promising “Medicare For All”, or “college education” one can afford, or any type of assistance which will help the voter have a better retirement experience, these promise attract attention. 

The knee jerk reaction of opponents has been to label such promises as “socialism” as if socialism was worse than having healthcare coverage, a decent retirement, or affording college.  What do you want, apple pie or a sharp stick in your eye?

Sooner or later Democrat candidates will sharpen their game and correct their conservative opponents. 

  • “Medicare for all” is about providing all Americans with superior healthcare at a global best price. 
  • “Medicare for all” is about adopting policies which have enabled over 20 other countries to provide better healthcare outcomes than the US at 1/2 the cost. 
  • These countries are “social democracies” and do not own all the means of production, distribution, and sales within their country. 
  • Counties such as Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and Japan can provide example after example.

But why is it at all necessary to look to other countries for “best practice” examples?

The most obvious reason is that America’s democracy and capitalist economy is not working for all Americans.  A rising economy is not raising all boats as politicians are prone to promise.  Human nature is such that “self regulation”, that is those seeking more and more profits (and of course larger personal renumeration) just are not likely to exercise constraint.  As long as the music is playing these leaders want to keep dancing.

The answer will not be simply to tax the wealthy and give it to the rest.  The durable answer must lie in looking at what a well working society should be and asking why America is not.  Then, progressive taxes combined with consumption taxes and fees must be voted upon “upfront” so that all Americans know what they should be receiving and how it will be paid for.

Social democracy with a healthy mix of financial conservatives, critical independents, and imaginative progressives could steer America back to a fairer but still vibrant society.   


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