Why is socialism controversial in the United States?
Some media and elected officials are yelling the term “socialism” over and over until it becomes something people are afraid of discussing rationally. This is exactly the orchestrated goal. It may be because of the upcoming presidential elections and the few incremental gains that working-class Americans have made in the areas of wages, healthcare, and education. This false narrative is unfortunate for the simple reason that socialist governments today enjoy strong, vibrant economies and widespread democratic freedoms.
How would you describe socialism?
Socialism is an economic system where the ways of making a living are owned by society, meaning the value made belongs to everyone in that society instead of a group of private owners. Social security, for example, we all pay into by law expecting we get it back when we are in our most vulnerable stage. The problem with definitions and labels is that the various forms of governments in the world today are really mixtures. Communist China, for example, has specific controls over personal freedoms, to the degree that speaking out loud can be hazardous to your health. Yet when it comes to making a buck, the state-controlled economy is so capitalist driven that China owns much of America’s debt. Your iPhone is made in China. Venezuela is labeled as a socialist government though it is a dictatorship protected only by the military and on the verge of being overthrown. Until recently, we supported that government by importing 7% of our oil needs. Some of us drove to church on Chavez/Maduro gas.
Why is socialism popular among some Democrats?
Governments of all kinds, including our own, can be corrupted to the point of doing the bidding of a few at the expense of the many, which is exactly the government of kings, tsars, and emperors that revolutions fought to overthrow. We did it ourselves once. Today, the king has been replaced by billionaires, lobbyists, and bought politicians who would hate to see economic gains made in our country shared equitably. The results should not be a surprise. We have a few American individuals reaping oligarch-level profit while 44 million young Americans carry student debt, defaults, and high levels of personal bankruptcy. These are the seeds which breed dissension and revolution. Working to deflect from the real culprits for the bogus threat of socialism is a leap.
What is your view of how socialism works?
Socialist governments in place today work by capturing excess wealth through taxation. Countries like Finland, Denmark, and Germany represent citizens who enjoy long lives, political freedom, and capitalism. Their government sponsored healthcare and education sits alongside powerhouse businesses such as Nokia, Novo Nordisk, Maersk, Mercedes Benz, and Lego. These governments don’t do handouts. They do investments in their citizens.
Can you give practical examples of how socialism would work in the U.S.?
Medicare for all is much like a Capital Health Plan on our local level. Everyone pays in for coverage and economy of scale and there is no infringement of political freedoms. We already share resources to have one of the best city park systems in the nation because we value public spaces. We do the same for police, fire, schools, trash pickup, roads, libraries, street lights, and so on. We value the lower cost of pooling our funds so that everyone has the same access and expectation of service whether their house catches on fire or the pothole needs to be filled. Medicare for all would be no different. It is switching our values to healthcare for all regardless of ability to pay, rather than the current system that values the incredible levels of profit made by drug companies, insurance companies, and Wall Street. That’s what socialist governments of Germany, France, England, Denmark, Japan, and Finland decided long ago.
What is your best argument for more “socialist like” policies in the U.S.?
When someone can work their entire lives and die bankrupt from health bills, that should be scandalous. Where companies are allowed to be treated as persons by laws such as Citizens United but pay no taxes, that should be scandalous. To find common ground, the details matter, not the labels. An American who works and holds a job is worthy of investment, whether ensuring a decent wage, affordable healthcare, or protection from predatory lenders. It’s not socialism, it’s common sense.
Using socialism as some kind of scary catch-all label to distract from efforts that really can make America great again is factually incorrect, disingenuous, and as history shows us, dangerous. We can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.