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.


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