Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Socialism: Wrap Your Head around it, America

We have a wide acceptance of socialism in America when it suits us and yet the word itself just makes Americans nuts. It’s not a choice between capitalism and socialism, America owes its historic economic success to a blend of the two—capitalistic socialism.

Our highways, schools, cities and towns wouldn’t exist without the government support that built them. Government itself is a social contract with its citizens: You give me your taxes and I re-arrange the distribution of them for everyone’s benefit.

Subsidies to agriculture, the oil industry, basic research and many other vital areas are socialistic—the packaging off of your and my tax contributions (by our elected government) to private interests. Some of them may realistically be controversial, but nearly all have given a particular quality or character to this great nation.

Gotta be careful with the bandying-about of isms. The media leads the frenzy against socialism—adding it to the stew of fascism and communism. But it’s not. Hitler subverted socialism by naming the National Socialist German Workers' Party and Stalin re-named Russia the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Hitler and Stalin were both clearly fascists and misused the term socialism for cover, but the stench remains.
Somehow we have come to make the loopy-leap that socialism means government will run everything and we are all about to become slaves. Should health care (as an example) be delivered in the same way we provide our military or postal service, we see ourselves as doomed.

Actually, the Post Office is a good example of why socialism (as we practice it) is not the nasty and fearsome old communist-fascist socialism every right-wing nut-cake drags out to strike fear in the average Joe.

The United States Postal Service is certainly a socialist entity, no doubt about it. Never a financial success, you’d be hard put to get any capitalist to touch it. The terms are too strict—deliver the mail to those easy and profitable locations in the cities, but deliver it as well to all the sticky rural addresses no one wants to touch. Getting a Mother’s Day card to dear old mom in Podunksville is a drag on profits, but by god the postal service gets it there.

Now we all know the US Postal Service is in trouble. Its base is shrinking due to email and Facebook, with FedEX and United Parcel taking over all the profitable delivery business (and doing a damn fine job of it) while leaving the unprofitable to the USPS. But not everyone is computer-savvy.

In a mean-old dictatorial communist-style socialism, FedEx and UPS would not be allowed to exist. Essentially, capitalism would be decapitated. 

Not so in American-style letter and package delivery. We work out the problem of mom’s Mother’s Day card while we send her gifts by other sources. It’s a tough call and will no doubt change as time goes on and the market shrinks, but it will be there for mom. That ‘socialist’ post office is looking into other services to retain their economic base such as check-cashing services. But the point is that we’re free to argue its future and let market principles inform the argument.

On the other side of the coin, we’re blowing money down a rat-hole by the way we deliver healthcare. Layers of insurance (that works tirelessly to disallow your claim), doctors saddled with incredible paperwork, drugs bought at retail prices and hospitals run as enormous profit-centers all conspire to give Americans the worst (yet most expensive) care on the planet. It’s not only overly-expensive, but forty-million Americans have none and are one serious illness or job-loss away from bankruptcy. 

All the best, most inclusive and cost-effective systems belong to socialist (but highly capitalistic) economies such as those found in the Nordic countries. Yet every logical move in that direction in America gets blasted as socialism (particularly Obama’s socialism) and a majority of us shrink back in terror.

Just who’s brand of socialism are we talking about? 

That would be a good point at which to start. Hitler’s didn’t work all that well, nor did Stalin’s. Cuba’s did some good for the poorest of the poor, but cut off any entrepreneurial spirit at the knees, so it is properly discredited. 

But Denmark, Norway and Sweden are rated among the best places to live in the world and they all have vibrant capitalist enterprises.

We Americans need roads and schools and various types of infrastructure that are already run in our country on socialist principles. Our tax distribution system is another good example of present and workable socialist principles—California, Texas, Illinois and a host of other wealthy industrial states give up a portion of their tax revenues to financially support services in Alabama, Mississippi and other poorer states in America. It works and we’ve had it in place for our entire history.

So the next time someone screams ‘socialist’ at you when considering a useful and economically feasible program, stop your knee-jerk instincts for a moment and consider their motives.

Are they profiting from socialism as a buzz-word? Do they have your best interests at heart or are they simply trying to drive an agenda that satisfies their own needs above yours? The world is changing quickly and socialist programs saved our ass during the Great Depression and brought us through to our previous greatness.

Maybe it’s way past time to lower the rhetoric and accept the term. To accept socialism in its true and unprejudiced definition doesn’t necessarily mean to apply it to all situations. What it does mean is to consider its application under appropriate circumstances.

That’s how responsible government runs—through an informed and educated electorate. When you react to a buzz-word, you leave informed consent parked at the curb, with its lights off and doors all safely locked for the night.

Locked is okay for the family Buick, but not all that great for an enlightened discussion.

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