The US fear of socialism

When someone says they are not for socialism but for freedom, I can’t help but think it’s just a misunderstanding. Stripped of all the emotional attachments, “socialism” is just another word for government services. What is the ratio of government spending to GDP? By that metric, the US economy is about 38% socialist and Western European countries range from 41% (UK) to 56% (France) socialist. You might think we should slide a bit to the right or to the left, but no serious person thinks that existence of Medicare or state universities or the Center for Disease Prevention deprives them of their freedom and should be abolished.

But, those who fear socialism say, what about Russia and Venezuela? Why do you want us to become like them? This is a straw man argument. I have never heard a democratic socialist say that they would prefer a Russian or Venezuelan system. What they say is that they would like to adopt some of Western Europe’s more socialist policies per health care, education, etc.

Venezuela, anyway, is only about 40% socialist (based on the ratio of government spending to GDP), so the main problem there is not due to a higher measure of socialism. Yes, they did nationalize the oil, the cardinal “socialist” sin that always brings the US hammer down (cp. Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, etc.), but the biggest problem is internal (government corruption) and external (economic and political constraints imposed by the far more powerful US) pressures extraneous to socialism.

So we can argue about easing up or down on the socialist (government services) side rationally, or we can talk about people wanting to turn the US into Venezuela, which is just another way of saying we do not want to have a rational discussion. Politicians will endlessly try to foster the second option. They know that much of the US public can only grasp historical conditions in terms of football metaphors (good team/bad team), and they know very well how to exploit that weakness. But we need to step outside of that model, and start ignoring the politicians who deploy it, if we want seriously to better a system that is and will necessarily be a hybrid of capitalist and socialist formations.

xxx

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97 thoughts on “The US fear of socialism

  1. It’s about labels. Wittgenstein said a label is just an excuse to stop thinking. Kierkegaard said if you label me you negate me. But the problem is that people here don’t tend to think very deeply. It’s the ever present anti-intellectual strain. The bigger question is how to get people to accept a new definition of socialism. Bernie made headway with the younger crowd and that may be the only solution. Somehow I don’t see many old dogs like me learning new trucks

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  2. I watched a CNN interview that handled the topic of socialism in America. It was explained that the conservatives are members of a tribe, and to be a loyalist to the tribe, on MUST accept all of the beliefs of the tribe. Even though some of those tribal divergent ideas appear to be at least points for discussion, they cannot even begin to let the rest of the tribe see them weak. That is why Nuns had to travel in pairs, to make sure they don’t stray one bit from the “Sacred Doctrine”. That attitude is standing in the way of better healthcare and education for all. MAGA !!!

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    • I’m with you 100% but I don’t want to let my “progressive” brothers and sisters off the hook either. From hippie days up to the 1990s, progressives celebrated a cacophony of voices, but many younger progressives today are as tribal as your conservatives, enforcing their own norms just as inflexibly. So MAGA back to you, amigo!

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  3. Excellent essay, Doc! If you watch the Sunday morning news talk shows, the vast majority of the anchors and reporters promote the tribal trope; no room for nuance or rational discussion, just side-taking via labels. The media is feeding the ignorance from the same trough as the politicians.

    Division for the sake of political or financial gain is a slippery slope to national disintegration.

    “The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”
    ― H.L. Mencken

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    • I share your view of the news, Brahmachari. I had to stop watching CNN and the big 3 networks a few months after Trump got in. (I’d never watched Fox except to get a visual on what disinformation was active in the public sphere.) It’s tough to find actual news sources now. Politico is not too bad.

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  4. I’m not sure what the Australian percent of socialism is, but we believe in a fair go for all, so I’d hope it’s pretty high. Curiously, I believe all the unrest in Western democracies boils down to too /much/ capitalism and nowhere near enough socialism. :/

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    • The only stat I can find on Australia says 27%, but different researchers use different metrics (all of my other stats are from the same site so they use the same metric). I would guess that Australia is closer to the US using the common metric of my other stats (38%, and possibly a bit misleading to the outsized US military budget). I believe your “unrest” comment accurately sums up one piece of the puzzle. From the 1930s to the 1960s to Occupy Wall St., economic inequality under capitalism has been a big theme of unrest. Competing with it in recent years is a right-wing populist unrest and an identity politics unrest. The latter is interesting in that it carries the “progressive” banner of “eco inequality/capitalism,” but is in some ways antithetical to traditional progressivism, in that it draws battle lines in a way that reinforces racial and gender divisions rather than integrating those groups in a fight that is based on class or ideological battle lines.

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  5. Higher taxes and Socialism go together.
    I want to take care of myself,my family and donate to charitable causes.
    Keep the government out of my business and my pocket.

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  6. A middle path needs to be found. A benevolent government vs a capitalist state. When we adopt a model we forget there may be many dissimilarities among people. At the end of the day it is people that make system work. As a human being, most of us prefer a Mix and match, not a black and white approach.

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  7. Socialism contains within it the distrust of individuality. It’s the individual that we must protect. It is the person with contrary ideas that we must protect. It’s the person who comes up with a new idea, one that might engage our understanding, that we must protect. With freedom comes responsibility, individually, and that through our efforts, we can become a stronger nation. Socialism does not trust that. Socialism puts into the hands of a group to oversee everyone else.
    Yes, I understand that government services helps people. But many of us would disagree with the level of services provided. Do we move towards greater freedom, but also greater individual responsibility, or do we move towards reduced freedom, but also less individual responsibility? All one has to do is follow the rabbit trail. Look at an aspect, understand it, and follow it to it’s logical conclusions, rhetoric set aside.

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    • Thanks, dolphinwrite. You raise good points, and it seems you and I could have a good long talk coming at the issue from different points of view. E.g., I think the individual is more likely to flourish with a measure of socialism comparable to Germany — where no individual ever goes bankrupt over health issues, no one carries crippling student debt into adult life, no one loses their health insurance when they change jobs, there is far less fear of street crime if you want to walk around the cities at night, the transportation infrastructure is infinitely better than in the US, and other policies are in place to insure that the middle class gets to enjoy the fruits of its own productivity. Many of these quasi-socialist policies seem to me to facilitate greater individual freedom. So at least we have some different angles should we ever meet up for discussion 🙂

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  8. This is a conversation I get so frustrated with. When did this horrible association start with the word socialist in the US? The same people who use the Venezuela argument are also the ones who talk about wanting a more universal health system, or better college tuition options similar to Europe. Then they declare loudly they in no way want the US to be socialist.
    It seems to be a fear mongering dialogue based on zero factual basis, meant to rally people behind our extreme capitalist society which doesn’t seem to be working for the majority. If only our media/government would stop dumbing down important conversations and falsely labeling and encourage people to make decisions and have conversations based on education of the topic.

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    • Thanks, Sooffwego. Yes, fear-mongering works with the electorate where nuanced conversation is needed. The media and government are both complicit. My only hope lies in the fact that Obama (to my mind, the best exemplar in recent history of nuanced conversation) was undefeated in his run. People will listen (not all people but a majority). But when I look at the divisive, scolding tone of Democrats/liberals today, Obama seems a million miles away.

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  9. Lots of good sense here. I simply so not understand the bogey-man approach to socialism whereby every public initiative is a descent into communism. Subtlety is not a feature of the debate in the US, and perhaps you’re right about football. Over here we’re used to three-day games of cricket that end in a draw.

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  10. The founders of the National Helath Service in Britain could not have envisioned how medicine would progress and how much longer people would live, so of course the NHS is overstretched and needs loving care itself, things can go wrong. BUT most of us would not be without it. From my mother’s life being saved when she had her last baby, through my three caesareans to my daughter being saved with pre-eclampsia – even if you are healthy there are times when you need help. What is wrong with all citizens contributing to a scheme to help each other? My daughter works for the NHS as do many people, making an important contribution.

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    • Thanks, tidalscribe. You focus exactly where we should focus. How is national health care working and what within it needs to be addressed? I’ve spent much time in Europe, and although some people had local complaints, I never met anyone who wanted to change for a US system. Most people who object to “socialism” here (US) just focus on the big, scary “S” word, and avoid zeroing in on the mechanics of national health care or other government-funded initiatives. The 1% and their right-wing allies just use that big word as a broad brush to preempt people from considering specific government initiates that would help the middle and working classes.

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  11. I’m going to agree and disagree with you. Yes, the 1% uses labels to scare people. Yes, socialism involves either the government or some collective entity doing useful things for people, like funding education and health. But–well, first, I don’t think there’s any single definition of socialism. It seems to be a spectrum, from the mild European experiments to the now collapsed Soviet one. To varying extents, I think all of them have to set limits on capitalism–some to the extent of trying to eliminate it, others simply by limiting, say, child labor or unhealthy working conditions or the dumping of toxic waste. Whic creates all that “useless red tape” that people who benefit from it can still get themselves worked up about–although I’ll admit that there’s no idea so good that it can’t take on elements of absurdity in practice.

    What I’m trying to get at is that socialism is, I think, more than simply government services. It also involves setting some limits on the powers of the rich, because if it doesn’t its work will be undone. It involves an effort (sorry–sports metaphor coming) to level the playing field, so those who have had little or no power gain some. Inevitably, that means that those who’ve had all or most of the power lose some.

    Which does not make them happy.

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    • I’ve just caught up on the exchanges. All good but where do those who oppose socialism draw the line? Do you want to do away with Medicare? Medicaid? The VA for medical care of veterans? The GI bill? All of these things can easily fit the more conservative definitions of socialism. But many people I meet who oppose “socialism “ are benefiting by these very programs.

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      • Based on my partner’s experience listening to her very conservative former high school classmates, they draw the line between the things that benefit them (they’re fine and moral and good) and the things that benefit other people (immoral, not good, and guaranteed to make people lazy).

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        • One other thought if I may. One of the things Marx got wrong about capitalism, which I see as a strength, is it’s ability to adapt. Many of the programs that free market capitalists rail against are reflections of that ability to adapt. Think of the various programs that occurred during the 30s when capitalism was challenged by Communism and Socialism. Is it really bad that during that time we embraced social security and unemployment benefits? Or After WWII and Korea with the GI bill—-which was one of the economic engines of the 59s and 60s. Or Medicare in the 60s. What would have occurred as the boomers retired if there was no Medicare? So I’m clear it’s not a zero sum game in my view. There is no such thing as a purely free market system. We need to get past labeling and as many folks have written here discuss policies and legislation on their individual merit and stop stereotyping or latching in to labels as an excuse to stop thinking.

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          • Thanks for the instructive historical examples, Mike. That’s a good point about capitalism’s ability to adapt (underestimated by Marx) and a good lead-in to your central ideas, which I wholeheartedly share (i.e., that it’s not a zero-sum game and that the pre-existing labels falsely present it as such and thereby stifle progress).

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            • I don’t know if Marx underestimated its ability to adapt–I’ve read a bit but by no means all. He did think it would be destroyed by its own contradictions, but the opera’s not over till the fat lady sings. The contradictions do continue to push people to look for other solutions. Sometimes it’s socialism, sometimes it’s less focused rebellion. What will happen as time goes on is anyone’s guess.

              If we all last long enough for the question to be relevant.

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    • Hi Ellen. I resent you for dragging from me a football metaphor approval, but yes, leveling the playing field is the endgame of all socialist formations, whether health care, public education, or graduated taxes – sometimes it’s heavy-handed, sometimes a lighter touch. To me, though, the most objective measurement (of a term supercharged with subjective emotional content) is still govt spending to GDP. Now, don’t you guys have a cricket metaphor or something we can use.

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      • Gary, Can I quarrel with your “leveling the playing field” comment? Having Social Security retirement, as an example, is not the same as having a SEP or larger personal retirement. Having Medicare is not the same thing as being able to afford to go to Mayo and pay out of pocket. Yes, these programs help but I disagree that it is a one to one comparison. Not sure that’s what you meant by leveling but a clarification that I think is necessary. Access yes. Equal no.

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        • Hi Mike. We may or may not be talking about the same thing. By level the playing field, I mean it takes a capitalist system, which in its pure state would mean that the capitalists who own the means of production get increasingly wealthy at the expense of everyone else, and creates (publicly funded) formations through which some of that wealth gets spread around to benefit of middle and working classes, i.e., formations that decelerate wealth inequality, such as publicly funded education, health care initiatives, etc. E.g., without the Medicare you speak of, many middle- to working-class folks would not have health care at all. Having a govt-funded initiative that provides that makes the field a bit more level — not entirely level of course, but more level than it would be without the government service/spending in question. I guess I am not sure of the quarrel.

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  12. While I think most people need some health insurance, I don’t believe this is a constitutional right nor absolutely necessary in a free country. I can still remember, a couple of times, having to pay out of pocket for some injuries, and it didn’t cost and arm and a leg (Hah). When regulations explode, lawyers debate everything, and we become a sue-happy state, prices go through the roof. In an attempt to solve every medical problem, they actually create more problems. I know of a business man who pays $21,000 a year for health insurance due to a previous heart attack. Ridiculous. Actual costs would probably be much less, and in a capitalistic country where hospitals and insurance companies would have to compete against each other, prices would immediately drop. No, there’s no perfect solution, but freedom is far better.

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    • I have to disagree with your rationale. In the 90s long before ACA I had difficulties getting my then wife insurance. I ended up paying $900 a month with a $5,200 deductible. I could afford it but I’m certain many could not have. So much for premiums being low in a free market. That’s a fallacy that has never existed.

      But there is an underlying difference I suspect in how the different sides see the world and our place in it. I made a good living (retired now but not old enough for Medicare and if you say to me that I may have to contribute more so others not similarly situated can have health insurance (as an example) I have no problem with that. However I have friends who vehemently reject that they should have to contribute to help others. There are psychological and economic reasons perhaps underpinning both views but peeling back the labels and the parrotting of platitudes by both sides I think this is the fundamental difference: how we view the world and our place in it and what responsibility, if any, we believe we have for others (including those that don’t look like or think like us).

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        • Dolphinwrite,
          You are correct. We each see the world through our own lens which is melting pot of experiences. In many instances there is no “right” answer and hopefully Gary’s exchanges remind us of that. It doesn’t mean we can’t stand our ground on a given point but the current environment concerns me because we too often can’t even agree on underlying facts which makes consensus impossible. I run into this too often and try my best to assure I’m not falling into the same trap. And there is a lack of civility—I’m guilty on occasion. Not sure how we overcome these things but always appreciate the exchanges.

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    • Hi Dolphinwrite. There is a certain logic to your argument, but it isn’t borne out by empirical evidence. 32 of the 33 developed nations have universal health care (only the US doesn’t) and all 32 have considerably lower health care costs per capita than the US (in most cases they pay less than half what we do per capita). And they get better outcomes (US is ranked 37th worldwide). I’m sure your friend who pays $21,000/year would be much better off in any of those other 32 developed countries. (Btw, I spent two years in Germany with extensive travel in Europe, and my sense was that no one ever spent money like that on health care — in fact no one ever expressed concern about how they would pay for any health care need — and they seemed happy [or at least happier than my US friends] with the services.) So anecdotal evidence (in my case) and empirical data suggest the more purely capitalist approach reduces access, increases cost significantly, and has a neutral to negative impact on outcomes. And per freedom, it seems like a country where no one ever goes bankrupt over health care, never has to worry about access to health care, never loses health care when they change jobs, etc., might create a greater, not a lesser, sense of personal freedom.

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      • My view comes mostly from the idea that in a free country, one that was founded upon individual liberty and responsibility, the best nation ever created, the government should be as small as possible with more responsibilities shouldered by the people. In such a nation, universal health care or health care mandates are simply not part of the equation. The market would take over. Insurance companies would arise out of the needs of the people, the market creating the opportunities. As such, insurance companies would share what they are trying to do, then each one of us would determine whether we wish to participate or not. After leaving home, I went over 12 years without any kind of insurance. I hadn’t even really thought about it, I did some jobs that we’re somewhat hazardous, participated in some sports, and somehow, luckily, didn’t need more than one minor medical treatment. I didn’t want to pay for insurance at that time. While I know there are those who have serious medical needs, that’s where the market would take over, not the government. I don’t want any over-riding entity taking care of all my needs or mandating that I do. I don’t feel a sense of “safeness” in that. In fact, the more my needs are taken care of, that I did not seek, the more I wonder about what the founding fathers were attempting to create. Remember the Pilgrims? They braved dangerous seas, braved the terrors of a new world which was freedom to them, many dieing, but finally finding liberty and the freedom to worship as they felt was good for them. I know we live in different times. But I also wonder, having seen much of this, the cost to individual determination. Thoughts?

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        • Hi Dolphinwrite. I share some of your premises. I think the founding fathers (not so much the pilgrims, who wanted to lock in their own form of religious tyranny, but the founding fathers of the 1776 Enlightenment) did much to advance a system based on freedom. As times (and corporate mega-formations) have changed, however, I still feel per my earlier comment that, contrary to a certain ideology out there, government sometimes (not always) facilitates greater freedom. Civil Rights, public education, disease control, highways — these things seem to liberate us from environmental constraints that had held people down. Same with health care. As I said, it’s hard to imagine that people don’t enjoy a bit more freedom of movement in a country where no one ever goes bankrupt over health care, never has to worry about access to health care, never loses health care when they change jobs, etc.

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          • By it’s very definition, other than supporting our freedoms, no entity can facilitate your freedoms by creating more rules and regulations. Rules and regulations, in my understanding, for the most part, must more closely support freedom with individual responsibility.

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            • There is a certain logic to that in the abstract, but applied to real life, the logical conclusion would be that places like Somalia, where there are no government-provided services — no disease control, no education, no government infrastructure for health care or security, no regulation of any kind — people there are more free than in the US, where the government does provide some of those services and regulatory protections. I suspect, though, that people there, in the absence of government, feel less freedom of movement and opportunity than we do.

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        • Dolphinwrite,,
          Well laid out. You set forth the rationale for the creation of the country though I don’t believe we have ever truly lived up to that aspirational standard—even as it relates to religious liberty, not to say anything about slavery, child labor and other historical abuses. Normally these would not be relevant to current day discussions but I always think it important to distinguish the mythology of the country’s founding with the reality of the aftermath because too often that mythology morphs into an imagined glorious past that someone wants us to return to. (Take “Make America Great Again”—what period is the time when it was great that this refers to? Many of my Trump supporter friends say the 1950s to which I must respond that this was probably so if you were a white male but not too good if you were in another category)

          Having said that I’m probably closer to you than to Gary on the idea of individual responsibility and less government. I consider myself a Jack Kemp Republican (scarce as hen’s teeth these days). And I think it is a legitimate worry about whether increased cradle to grave intercession by government changes recipients for the worst. (Over generations does it get passed on like hidden secrets?) It’s a complicated question. How many single parent homes helped out with government assistance turned out very responsible children? Paul Ryan comes to mind right off the top. So do we deprive the child of nutritional meals, a safe place to live, educational support, to punish the parent? Just an example of the layers and complexity.

          But as it relates to health insurance we simply disagree about the dangers of a free market system. The most common reason for individual bankruptcy in America is unexpected medical expenses. To me it’s unconscionable that I can get a life saving procedure because I can afford the insurance premium but someone who can’t, through no fault of their own, dies.

          Sometimes people who say people should be responsible for themselves claim they made it on their own. I ran into this often when I was on a local Habitat board and someone would object to giving by claiming no one helped them in their life, they made it on their own (“pulled themselves up by their bootstraps “) I would always politely ask if that was really true. In my own life people gave me a hand up, took bullets intended for me (metaphorically), mentored me etc, and I think that is true for all of us. So why not toss the ladder over the fence to help another as others did for you? (By the way—at least when I was on the board—the default rate on Habitat mortgages was lower than bank defaults on mortgages by the general public). So while I agree with you on the need to be responsible I extend that in some wats to be responsible for others.

          The purpose of government (Locke?) was in large part to keep us safe. How far does that extend?

          A question for you. To what extent are we responsible for our fellow man?

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          • There is no perfect solution. But there never can be. That’s what life is all about. We are born, our parents raise us, and if we garner good lessons, see it in the home and around, then we benefit and our lives begin with less difficulties to overcome. Of course, there are those coming from difficult beginnings that rise above. But either way, the closer we are to self-determination, the more we rely on our own resources, the better off we are in the long run. The more we assign to others to help run our lives, the less our freedoms. There is a fine line. I look at it this way. If my friends help me, are they being friends (After all, family and friends help each other, and this is healthy.) or are they encouraging dependence? If they are helping me, which I will help them in return, then we both gain. If they help me where I could do the project or solve the problem on my own, out of their own need to be needed, then they’re encouraging a dependency, and nobody gains. Try to look at healthcare this way. Don’t worry about the physical problems that might be in the future. Nothing in life is set. Also, consider this: in a world or nation free and responsible, if someone in the neighborhood is suffering, and the neighbors are used to being there for each other, wouldn’t the neighbors offer their help? We see this even now, in today’s society. We talk about how yesterday’s world is different from today. Yes and no. Not in principle. And many of the problems we have today were “created”, we have grown up thinking in their terms, and without the experiences of living with individualism and self-dependency, many of us have lost the ability to function in those conditions. I know, to some degree, I’ve lost some of my self-dependency. I don’t like it. But like many, I’ve been conditioned to seek help where I can do for myself. What does this do? It makes me more dependent: less willing to seek my own solutions. And those of my friends that are more independent do so. Thankfully, I still remember the experiences of my youth and earlier career years. And I tend more towards that with each succeeding day.

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  13. Socialism is an interesting topic to ponder as my wife and I travel on our current road trip across the U.S. The more I see evidence of it particularly on the west coast, the more I support it. Trump fears has also driven more toward socialism.

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  14. First off, thanks for liking a post of mine, even though it was a re-blog of someone else’s. It brought me here to a very interesting discussion featuring some of the bloggers I follow. I absolutely agree with your original premise that there is far too much polarization in political discourse today. I found it interesting that the debate centered around health care, avoiding the elephant in the room – defense. You mentioned in one of your responses that the US ratio of gov’t spending to GDP is distorted by the huge expenditure on defense. I wonder how many of those opposed to big government would argue for a return to local militias to defend the nation?
    Your correspondent who said he never needed to spend on health care in his 20s (or words to that effect) could well encounter problems in his 60s if he has not saved so as to ensure he has enough in his personal kitty to cover the cost of treatment for heart conditions, cancer, dementia, etc.
    We pool resources to meet the cost of high tech defense systems and the training and deployment of crack troops. What can be so wrong about doing the same for our healthcare in a time when we have an ageing population and high cost meditech and pharmaceuticals?
    Of course, one factor in both is the greed of the capitalist corporations that control the supply of all that high tech defense and medical equipment/pharmaceuticals. I can’t offer a satisfactory solution to that – I certainly would not advocate nationalizing defense or pharmaceutical companies.

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      • For what it’s worth the 2019 federal budget shows 21% for defense (this includes VA), 28% for Medicare and Medicaid, and 25% for social security and disability benefits. (Suggesting Gary’s “socialism “ percentage for America is low).

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        • Thanks for the reference data, Mike. I’m not sure how this impacts my thesis definition of socialism, which does not distinguish these categories. I had defined socialism as the ratio of total federal budget to total GDP (that’s how much of the economy is “socialized”).

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          • I guess this would bean indicator of how much of the federal budget is tied to such programs. Perhaps another way of looking at it but I suspect most fights about entitlements (read “socialism “) will be based on the budget percentages.

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            • Hi Mike. You are right about day-to-day fights being about such programs and their budgets. I was looking at the bigger (or perhaps the conceptual) picture — the global, broad-brush rejection of “socialism” as if it were some alien monster and not simply a marker of how much of GDP falls to the government.

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  15. Socialism is anti-American and anti-freedom. The entire premise of a free country is based upon the human race being created a free people. And freedom is not the right to do anything one wants, nor is it to assign to any human agency to take care of our every need. Freedom is the right to live responsibly, but also to suffer the consequences of not living responsibly. Freedom comes with correction. But each and every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but not to look to agencies or an over-riding entity to guarantee these things.

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    • Dolphin,
      So I assume that means you want to do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits for veterans, the GI Bill etc—correct? Or are these exceptions to your view?

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      • It’s kind of like when I taught soccer. One of my players fell after a collision, and though he said he was hurt (I had watched the collision and knew he was okay.), I told him to get up and get the ball back. He did, then scored the next goal. So, someone says so you want to do away with compassion and concern. No, I care for all of my players. Getting him to ignore a collision but focus on pushing ahead taught him something about determination. People can always argue in this way. It seems to be becoming more and more common place. We will always have difficulties. There will always be people who need help and those who have the resources to help. The question is how do you want to live? What do you want to do in this life? What opportunities do you want to have that you opened the doors? The more individuals and families take upon their own shoulders, the more they endeavor, the more people there will be to help others when help is needed. Also, those who need help, with time, will need it less and less, taking the opportunities they have, perhaps creating jobs that others need. It’s all in how you look at the world. The more you can do.

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        • Dolphin, I note you don’t respond to my questions. That’s ok. Here’s what I think. Too often folks say “I believe this” or “I don’t believe that” but there is nothing behind it. We merely parrot something. As I noted earlier the problem with labels is that it’s an excuse to stop thinking. The same is true with platitudes—of which we are all guilty on occasion—-it’s just an excuse to stop thinking, an excuse not to challenge ourselves. It’s worst now as people seem to only seek confirmation of their existing biases.

          As a Jack Kemp Republican (my description) like you I worry about folks becoming dependent but I don’t accept the sweeping generalizations that underscore many of the platitudes that suggest the same concern. Are there people gaming the system, yes—- and they have done it since governments were formed. That doesn’t excuse it but we don’t dismantle the systems that help those in need as a result.

          As to social security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits etc I think we can all agree—-regardless of political affiliation or label—that it needs to be as efficient as possible, fraud and corruption need to be weeded our and prosecuted. And we have to get a grip on it fiscally so it does not continue to eat up so much of the budget. Some will say higher taxes are the answer. I think as a sole response that’s myopic. But these ways of addressing the problems I think are shared by all.

          You are right that their are real needs by real people. And we may differ on how to address these in the best way but what we can’t agree to do is say it’s someone else’s problem. Gary may censure me here but when I here platitudes about self reliance but who don’t reach out to help, or don’t want the government to help, I’m reminded of a saying by my marine father (I’m sure someone else said it first) that seems more relevant to me all the time: “Hooray for me and fuck you.” This brings us back to my point about the differences in the world we want to live in. We agree we should do for others. But despite their best efforts some folks can’t get ahead. There are over 500,000 people in Louisiana who signed up for Medicaid expansion. That means there are at least 500,000 people in Louisiana who earn less than $16,800 a year. Government has a role here as in many other areas to help those who need help, whether that’s called socialism or any other label one wants to give it. Peace out, as they used to say.

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          • Often times, what people want to hear and what is the answer are two different things. What I shared is easily understood and explains a view that is closer to America as it was intended to be, and also upholds a way of life that inspires. What I was communicating was how much individuals and families play a part in their own happiness, that the will be happier with the opportunities they take on and encourage in others. **It’s kind of like saying, do you like blue or brown. If the responder says purple, then the questioner wonders why the responder won’t answer the question.

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  16. This is such a rational commentary. Now all we need are a plethora of rational voters willing to opt for rational programs.

    I’m one of many who fear for our democracy due to the vast and growing income inequality in the US (and elsewhere). I explore this in my most recent post: “How Do We Avoid the Pitchforks and Achieve Greater Economic Equality?”

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  17. The government does an inefficient job of delivering goods and services, because they have no competition. Plus, the government has no money. The government gets its money that it wastes from the US Taxpayers.

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    • Government efficiency is definitely a challenge, more so here in the US than in northern Europe, where they’ve been more successful implementing socialized policies that allow the middle class to recapture the fruits of their own productivity.

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      • But there are some things that government, however inefficient, must supply. The notion that government must always be run as a business, for example, is short sighted. Businesses (unless a non-profit) are run for a profit. Some things government must do even if it loses money or makes no economic sense.

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        • I guess it all boils down to if you pay more in taxes than benefits your receive, I would expect such a person to like socialism. I don’t blame them. But if you are like me and pay more in taxes than benefits you receive, you may not be as keen on socialism.

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          • I’m sure your formula holds for some, though it seems to assume the worst impulse in everyone. But it’s equally plausible that some of us are OK paying if it benefits others, even if it benefits them more than it benefits us.

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            • It may also depend on how you define benefit. E.g., William probably benefits from a lot of government-provided services, from transportation and security (police, military, fire) infrastructures to disease prevention agencies to public education (either as a user of public ed or a beneficiary of the fact that he lives in a country with an educated populace), etc. How to measure this against the taxes Wm. Allen pays? I don’t know. That’s tough to calibrate. But overall, he and we are probably better off than in a country where the government doesn’t collect taxes and provide service (e.g., Somalia).

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              • The line falls where we have services, but take on more of the responsibilities ourselves, not looking for every security to be serviced by an over-riding agency. We come into the world with so many “needs” taken care of, so much done for us, and outside agencies answering the calls that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be truly “free”, how good that freedom is, but that it also comes with everything not done for us. I gather, if those who began this country were here today, they would be “frightened” by the amount of outside agencies, but would prefer more as individual responsibilities.

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                • We are getting closer to a compromise, I think. We all seem to agree there is some space for government services and some space for individual responsibility, but we have strong opinions about where to draw the line. If we three were the triumvirate (dolphinwrite, Michael, and I), I suspect from here we could work out a compromise on where to draw the line.

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                • Dolphin,
                  We can’t go back to the beginning and no sensible person would want to. That is the desire for an imagined glorious past that never ever existed. But you are right the founders would be “frightened” by, for example, the freedom of African Americans. The right of African Americans to vote and be citizens. They would be frightened by the freedom of women to vote and work and they would be frightened by many other things that didn’t exist in the limited world they lived in back then.

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  18. Michael, per your last comment. I have a higher view of the founders. I don’t think they would be frightened by equal rights for blacks and women. Although they were not ready to codify such rights, they were part of an Enlightenment in which many contemporaries were actively articulating theories of full equality between races (e.g., William Godwin, Olaudah Equiano) and genders (Mary Wollstonecraft and many others). I might even tentatively put forth the dangerous idea that although all continents and peoples had practiced slavery, it was the 18th-century Enlightenment that gave us the discourse of universal humanness and universal rights that would pave the way for worldwide abolition (although this took a while, and in the case Africa, legal slavery persisted until 1981, when the last African country abolished it).

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  19. Gary,
    As usual my dear friend you refuse to plumb the depths of human psychology and find anything bad!! I think the facts on the ground in the late 1700s are against you. Humboldt visited with Jefferson (while Jefferson was president) and Madison (while president) and expressed his horror at slavery. They ignored him. Many other countries outlawed slavery long before the US did. And as we all know Jefferson in all his enlightenment had slaves as did many other founders and refused to free them (in his will) even upon his death. The founders get credit for creating a system of government that was and is unique. But don’t conflate that with dismissing their other human foibles and worst. You are creating Trumpian “alternative facts.” I’m guessing if you were a slave or a woman who had no rights in the late 1700s you would find little comfort in the Gautier notion that since the founders were “enlightened” that somehow made your situation more tolerable. As far as projecting how the founders would feel today I’ll stick with the facts as we know them and gladly cede to you the illusions in your head!!!

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    • As far as “dismissing their other human foibles,” I think no generation can outdo the present one at glorifying their own sense of enlightenment and criticizing those who came before them, on whose shoulders they stand. If the next generation is as unforgiving as the present “woke” generation, we ourselves will be damned more surely for our foibles than we damn those who came before us.

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  20. Hmm. I just got on my laptop and now see the entirety of your initial response. On my phone, which is where I initially saw it, it ended with your second sentence which merely said you didn’t think they would be frightened by equal rights. Still having issues with getting your blog and responding. Must be on my end. So it appears that what you are arguing is that because later enlightenment thinkers (whom you cite) started to champion equal rights, it is likely the founders would have fallen in line as well. Perhaps. Presumably we can agree that based on their actions while alive they did not and would not have changed, as indeed they did not at that time and, however enlightened, rejected the requests to do so. As to whether they would have changed their minds in the future no one knows. But I reject Dolphin’s attempt to use the founders as a litmus for today. It is in a sense the reverse of what you you accuse me of with your woke comment. Frankly, I could care less what the founders would think of today. They were indeed human and had many foibles. It’s like Pat Buchanon recently saying America needs to make sure we have the same system of government etc 100 years from now. I won’t be here then and I think it presumptuous to say we should dictate to that generation what they want. I don’t want to be governed by the ideas/dictates of the early 1700s.

    As to your woke comment. I think when we discuss past generations we should do so without rose colored glasses. That is one of the purposes of historical study. America has always had moments of greatness and moments of small minded thinking. To use the founders as examples, they should be lauded for the system of government they created. I commend Jefferson for his approach to biblical studies and his crafting of the Jefferson Bible. I commend Madison and Jefferson for their approach to science and scientific studies. But I see no basis for dismissing their treatment of blacks and women. Some things are inherently wrong at any time and I don’t think we are wrong to say so. I disagree with the folks who want to harken back to that imagined glorious past without acknowledging the blemishes. People may need such illusions, as they do in many areas of their lives, but I think it is a recipe for disaster as no time period will ever live up to that imagined past time. If that makes me ‘woke’ to use your phrase, so be it.

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    • We are close to agreement – view blemishes as well as beauties. The horrific blemishes, which you and I basically agree on, were once ignored; now they are overplayed, as the current academic trend is to see Western culture and its roots as intrinsically evil. I deplore the 18th-century oppression of women and blacks as you do, but refuse to write off individual thinkers of those times, even if they owned slaves or did not think in as enlightened a manner as we do. I suspect it was complicated. E.g., the first thing the great abolitionist Olaudah Equiano did when he purchased his freedom (after years of slavery to Africans followed by years of slavery to whites) was go in on a plantation venture with a former master on the grounds that he, Olaudah, got to purchase the slaves from the slave ships. It would be easy to dismiss Olaudah as a hypocrite, but we would thus miss much of the complexities of the age.

      If anything, in the long lens of history, the Enlightenment will go down more favorably than our generation. At least their philosophy of universal rights and universal humanness was trending in the right direction, laying the groundwork to bear liberatory fruit over the next hundred years or so. Sure, our social structures are more equitable today (thanks in part to the slow work of those Enlightenment philosophies, as MLK and Obama both acknowledged), but our philosophy is trending backward. After a brief upward surge in consciousness (on race and gender) from circa 1965-1990, we have been sliding back into a Dark Ages, with Obama as the last gasp of that upward surge. Where once it was only conservatives pulling against that tide in consciousness (a pull that unfortunately continues with Trump), now we see the “woke” move toward segregated university housing and racially segregated arts and culture, toward openly generalizing about people based on race or gender, toward avoiding “colorblind” judgments at all costs, toward emphasizing how impossible it is to cross those racial walls and see things from the other person’s point of view. In a word, today’s so-called “progressives” will go down as the generation that tried to drag us back to the pre-Enlightenment consciousness, where tribal “truths” and tribal prejudice trump any idea of universal truths or rights or humanness. To my young woke friends, I say, be careful whom you judge, for you may be judged twice as harshly by history.

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  21. I’m always interested when people wax intellectual. I understand they are smart. Over the years, though I used to wax intellectual, I’ve learned to speak very plain. The reason being understanding is clear and concise. The problem with socialism is that others are deciding what the masses will do (So, this begs the question what is their interest in deciding for us?). The individual is taken out of the equation. The individual must blend into the background, believing an over-seeing group can best decide for them. That negates individual responsibility and freedom of choice, which the Constitution explains, in depth, the effort to protect our rights and responsibilities. Of course, with freedom comes dealing with consequences, but rising up again to find one’s own way. Having experienced dictatorships, which socialism eventually becomes, they fully appreciated living their own lives, even if it came with hardships. That’s something many today have forgotten, but would be wise to research.

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  22. Sorry but have you read the Communist Manifesto? Marx clearly writes that the purpose for Socialism is to destroy the middle class/business class to usher in Communism. It is clearly anti-American as it is not a welfare state, as you propose. It is government ruling and intruding into every part of a person’s life. It is WE THE GOVERNMENT and not WE THE PEOPLE. I haven’t spoken to a Socialist yet who has read the pamphlet. Marx led a failed life economically and depended upon the charity of others to survive. His baby daughter starved to death while he partied in Europe because his wife was too poor to provide the baby with enough sustenance.

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    • Hi CattleCapers. I appreciate the added cultural history, but per the current US fears, Marx and Engels seem all but irrelevant. The current push by people like Bernie Sanders is not for implementation of the Communist Manifesto, but for specific programs on health care and university funding similar to those in Western Europe today. You may be against those programs, and that is fair enough, but references to Venezuela and the Communist Manifesto, although interesting in their own right, seem to bypass the issue of whether these specific public initiatives would be good for the country (including the middle class, which, thanks to precisely such initiatives, enjoys the fruits of its own productivity in Northern Europe better than the struggling middle class in the US).

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      • Bernie is an old style Communist. He had his honeymoon in Moscow during the time their Premier was threatening to bury the USA. He rejoiced when the killer, Castro, took over Cuba. When the Communist countries wanted to improve their economies, they introduced capitalism. But I appreciate that you were civil and not nasty in your response. I’m probably older than you and I recall being told to hide under my desk in grade school for nuclear war drills in case the Russians attacked. Please read this biography, “For The Hell Of It,. about Abbie Hoffman. He was an American Communist. He explained how they realized that Americans would never vote for the Communist party so they reviews the two main parties to decide which one to infiltrate. I quite the Democratic party in 2001 because I could see they were heading in the Socialist direction. Bernie is typical of government elites: He has 3 homes and millions of dollars. I’ll be more sympathetic when he redistributes his own wealth before taking mine. Socialism is destructive to liberty. They’re losing their freedom of speech and liberty in Europe. That’s why the people are starting to rebel. Nice to see several cops in Paris beating the snot out of a middle aged woman wearing a yellow vest as she whimpered while pressed against a storefront window.

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  23. Here’s one aspect, an important understanding, that might help to shed some light. When I was a child/teen, my parents could have completely protected me. Don’t leave the house or don’t leave the yard. And they could have sat outside, myself remaining within earshot. When I had a small cold, they could have kept me in bed, rather than my ignoring the cold and going outdoors. Interestingly, I can will myself not to be sick, because I don’t want to be sick. And as I got older, I did more, sometimes taking silly chances. But I learned. *To some, what looks like caring is not. What looks like compassion actually reduces the determination of individuals to rise above their circumstances. Could any of us have imagined the people who created this country, doing so, if they were looking for all of their future concerns to be taken care of by others? And would they have wanted that? It’s a matter of perspective.

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    • Dolphin, I think you are more or less right, but I fear you’re missing a crucial element. Up and down this comment thread, you appear to be assuming that the “rules of the game” are fair and just. One should be responsible for themselves, but if the rules are unjust then correcting them would not be “being taken care of by others”. It is not your logic that is in doubt here, but your implicit assumption that the rules are fair, that everyone got an equal shot, and so they should just need to live with the consequences of their own actions. Socialism is not taking from you and giving to someone else, it is about making fair rules that we can all live by so that we can live, prosper, or suffer by our own lights.

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      • Thanks, Charles. I think you just described how things work in the slightly more socialized European countries. Government policies adjust rules so the hard-working middle class gets to enjoy the fruits of its own productivity instead of sending all profits to the top 1%. I have a hard time understanding the US “freedom” argument. Are Germans really less free because they know they will never have a health-related bankruptcy? Because they will never lose health coverage for changing jobs? Because their children will never carry crippling student debt into adulthood? Because even single women walk the city streets at night with far less fear of street crime than in the US? Because they have an incredible transportation infrastructure that allows easy mobility without the need for a car? I lived in Germany for two years, and I hope my dissenting friends will forgive me if I share the German bewilderment at the peculiar US definition of freedom.

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  24. No, language can be utilized to make what is hopeful but not realistic an answer. Like many who support the constitution and how our nation was framed, we understand problems will exist. The difficulty is believing that through socialism or a set of new rules, by trying to make everyone have what everyone else has, we can answer the problems of society. This is just not possible. Every successful nation has to go through this. No matter how great a nation is, there are always those who aren’t happy, seek changes, and through this, we have ups and downs. The problems we’re having are not due to our constitution or the freedoms we have, but through a nation that has lost touch with the very principles upon which this nation was formed. And it can’t be fixed by utilizing the very concepts so many ran away from to find the freedoms they held so dear. *You’ll notice I stand alone in sharing. I also don’t wish to live in those “other” countries that people keep using as successful socialist countries. We have problems, but we will solve them here. And with time, with freedom and the constitution, I believe people rise up to the challenge, bringing things back to a more rational life. When I have a problem, I don’t look for the choice that “feels good,” but the one that will have good, long-lasting implications. It goes beyond me.

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