So what’s wrong with Socialism?

I mean that as a serious question. Last week, everyone on the gopper side was accusing Obama of being a Socialist, and in at least one case he was called a Marxist. It was weird, seeing the GOP so flustered, so driven to mortal frenzy, that they didn’t really care what they were saying. “Obama is a giraffe! No one has ever proven he isn’t one!! Can we trust our nation to a giraffe!?!?” they might as well have been screaming, for all the sense they made.

It was weird to watch how low and pathetic the GOP apparatchiks were willing to go, as they ate themselves alive. Fun, but still weird.

So what is the problem with Socialism, anyway? Obama doesn’t actually show any signs of being a Socialist, but just for the sake of argument, so what if he did? Why specifically would that be bad? Americans are really strange about their ideas of Socialism. When you hear a right-winger, hair perfectly parted, shake his empty head and moan about how this or that person wants to bring the evils of Socialism to America, I always want to ask them what they think they’re talking about. Do they imagine Obama up there on the podium, wearing a heavy fur hat with a red star on it, as he salutes a parade of goose-stepping soldiers and ICBMs pulled by tanks? Are they imagining the National Guard burning down churches, and people lining up around the block to pick up their government-issue toothpaste ration? Seriously?

Yes, apparently most Americans really are that stupid. It would be as if the word Democracy could only be used in reference to white-bearded Greeks in togas, arguing and lounging on white marble and furs while boy-servants poured wine from amphorae. Yes, the people who came up with the concepts of Democracy were boy-loving olive eaters who sacrificed bulls to Zeus. We aren’t. Except the boy-loving part…. I understand a lot of Republicans are way into that.

Democracy in practice today has nothing to do with togas, and Socialism today has nothing to do with red stars and toothpaste rationing. Today the most peaceful, successful and non-corrupt societies on the face of the Earth use aspects of Socialism to get things done. The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark rank higher than anyone else – anywhere – in general peace and prosperity, education, health, infant survival, and quality of life. Those nations all have working, healthy free enterprise systems where individuals can start companies, sell products, and make money. There is essentially no abject, Appalachian-style poverty in Scandinavia; most people there are in the middle class, and everything is really clean.

Families in Scandinavia aren’t forced to live like sardines, crammed by the government into socialized housing. They don’t have their food rationed. They don’t worship the state as a god. They seem to be mostly free of oppressive politics from both government and religion. They vote in elections, and their votes are counted accurately. They have their problems and their fights, as all people do. They aren’t perfect, and I don’t plan to move there anytime soon. But the facts of life are that they use a measure of Socialism in their public policy, and it seems to work pretty well.

So why do most Americans have a pathological fear of Socialism? Taxes. To many Americans, the worst thing that can ever happen to you in life is to pay taxes, ever, for anything. A single penny of tax is such an onerous and tormenting burden to a lot of Americans that they are willing to vote for someone… anyone… who will promise to relieve their terrible, terrible tax afflictions. Such Americans are spoiled brats.

How, exactly, is a complex civilization of hundreds of millions of people supposed to operate for free? Should we beseech the Baby Jesus for an interstate highway system? Perhaps instead of calling the Fire Department when your smoke alarm goes off, you should pray for angels to come put out the blaze. Instead of a police or military, perhaps we should deploy priests to wish criminals and foreign armies to death.

Well, until such options become available, we’ll have to make due with money. Money, in the form of goods and services, enables us to have a functioning and peaceful society. Money – specifically taxes – pay for police, firefighters, soldiers, running water, roads, and all the other things we love to use but detest paying for. Libertarians are especially rife with lunacy on this score, and to my mind calling someone a Libertarian is about a thousand times more insulting than calling them a Socialist. There are plenty of examples of practical, working societies that use Socialism in moderation to great benefit. There are plenty of other examples of Libertarian societies, but usually such places require UN Peacekeeping troops and you need a lot of immunizations before you go there.

To me, Socialism in the real world means simply acknowledging that some jobs cannot be trusted in unaccountable hands. I want my running water to come from a system managed by elected people who can be watched closely. I want my military under the command of elected people who have finite terms of office and powers that are checked and balanced, not profiteering monsters like Blackwater. I want a medical system staffed by the best professionals from the best schools, using the best technology available…. not a for-profit nightmare machine run by insurance companies who get rich by clutching their pennies and laughing as people die.

America needs to wake up and grow up. Taxes are the price of civilization, and every penny of tax you pay goes to something that is socialized. Pooled wealth pays for national defense, reliable roads, and firemen. Misused, Socialism can cause misery just like a misused Free Market can and does. Used wisely, both save lives and create prosperity. It’s way past time Americans stop thinking like selfish babies and start thinking like grownups. We have Socialism now, right here in America, and I can still walk down to Walgreen’s and buy thirty different kinds of toothpaste, 24 hours a day. Imagine that.

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~ by Planetologist on November 7, 2008.

4 Responses to “So what’s wrong with Socialism?”

  1. Absolutely right, that we are still getting over our cold war phobias.

    One of my best friends is a doctor in Canada, and I’d take their health care system over ours in a heartbeat.

    One of my other close friends is a Canadian chemical engineer. He went to university for free, got a first rate education, and now works in the petrochemical field. He pays a little more in taxes (maybe), but weighed against not having to pay a dime for his education or his health care, I think he got a pretty sweet deal.

    He still has plenty of cash left over to buy Xbox games with.

  2. Canadian opinions definitely count, as far as I’m concerned. And yes, also I do think most of the blame for Socialism-phobia rests with the Cold War. It was drummed so relentlessly into people that Socialism = Communism that now the association is almost taken as a given in the US. It’s a sacred cow, an extremely irrational and self-defeating one, and very hard to overcome.

  3. Every time I tell someone I’m a socialist, I feel like I’m being persecuted by McCarthyism. Every time it within the context of explaining why I think social democracy is the greatest idea ever hatched. So why are so many rightwingers confused about socialism? I blame the cold war, and you can link a lot of hatred and judgmental thinking to war. Even those silly bronze aged ideas people have where inspired and spread through military conquest.

  4. Well said. Done right, socialism is a good thing. Capitalism, too. You need to pull each lever just a bit, to get the mix right. Socialized health care? I’d say that’s a good thing. Socialized industrial production? Not so much. Obama’s a smart man. He’ll know which lever to pull, and by how much. That’s how it should be.

    But then, I’m Canadian, so what I say may not count.

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