Socialism

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The recent nomination of a democratic socialist in a NY congressional district has awakened the great red scare among some conservatives.

The standard conservative line regarding socialism is that there isn’t one successful socialist country and it is a stepping stone to communism.

But that begs the question.

There isn’t one successful libertarian country either, but that doesn’t stop many of those same conservatives from suggesting that an unfettered free market is the solution to all that ails us.

So let’s start with a simple definition of what socialism is and the fairly successful history of socialism in this country.

Here’s the definition of socialism from dictionary.com

A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Just for the purposes of comparison, here the definition of democracy.

A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

Notice the difference? Democracy is a system of government. Socialism is a political and economic theory.

A democracy can operate on socialist principles. There are many successful examples around the world. They generally provide a high level of services supported by a high level of individual and corporate taxes. In addition to taxation, industries are also highly regulated, workers generally have a place at the table when decisions are made, and public resources like air and water are protected. Fundamentally, the government is run by representatives, just like this country, who are elected by citizens who have decided that this is the way that they would like their government to operate, just like this country.

A dictatorship can also claim to operate on socialist principles, though that dictator would have to be benign. But just saying you are a socialist country, doesn’t make you one any more than just saying that you are a democracy, as Russia does, means that all elections are fair, opposition parties are free to campaign, and voters really have a choice.

Milwaukee was dominated by a Social-Democratic party for the first 60 years or so of the 20th century. The focus there was worker’s rights. They successfully eliminated child labor and ushered in the 40 hour work week. All this was accomplished in addition to all of the day to day operational needs of big city.

By definition, police and fire departments, our military, public schools, public libraries, and public infrastructure are all examples of communities getting together to provide a service that is owned collectively and regulated either locally or nationally.

Suggesting that socialism is bad for free markets also misunderstands both free markets and socialism.

We have seen over and over that free markets operate best in well-regulated environments. Those regulations and laws also provide a means of enforcement and a method where those who have been injured can seek redress. If you don’t pay your bills, someone can take you to court in order to get paid. If you fix prices or inhibit competition in order to illegally inflate your profit, the government can levy a penalty that could include repayment to those who were harmed. Google was fined $5B by the EU for that very reason. If you want to sell a drug, you have to prove to the FDA that the drug is effective and that all of the potential side effects are well known. If you want to start a bank, there are all kinds of rules to insure that your bank is going to be able to manage your deposits in a responsible way.

All of this regulation fits the definition of socialism. The community (voters) are agreeing to regulate the means of production/distribution/exchange for the benefit of the community.

So the REAL discussion should be HOW MUCH socialism is appropriate.

This is the same discussion that we should be having about libertarianism – HOW MUCH government is appropriate.

Serious questions have been raised that the United States is not really a democracy, at least if you look at the outcomes of legislation. A ground breaking study suggests that we are really an oligarchy where the rich and powerful, though a small minority of the total population, are the ones who benefit from virtually all of the legislation and rule-making done by our elected representatives. That study has since been questioned by a closer examination of the alignment between middle class and upper class interests. But clearly the poor are not well served in this democracy even though they represent 15% of the population.

There are good reasons to have a discussion about how healthcare is delivered in this country. The facts are that we continue to spend more money per person on healthcare than any other country in the world, but our outcomes are far worse than even the average among our industrialized peers.

There are good reasons to have a discussion about income inequality and economic mobility. The number one factor in this country that influences future success is your father. In other words, if you are the child of a poor father, the barriers to you becoming wealthy are significantly higher than if your father was wealthy, even if everything else in terms of talents, ambition, and determination are the same. The reasons are that poor kids simply don’t have access to the same levels of nutrition, healthcare, education, and investment that are available to wealthy kids. That’s not the case in the rest of the industrialized world. All children have access to healthcare. All children have access to high quality education. All children have access to good nutrition. The best and brightest have a much easier time rising to the top in other countries than they do here. That said, those who have received their education elsewhere are attracted to our country because of the advantages available for the well-off.

There are good reasons to talk about the influence that money has in our politics. Corporations and wealthy individuals have tilted the playing field to their advantage. The result is that taxpayers and small investors end up subsidizing CEO pay, for example, because of tax and trading rules that are in place. Other countries (e.g. Austrialia) have taken successful steps to rein-in corporate pay without damaging their economy.

There are good reasons to talk about the cost of higher education. Our current system is warping the future of kids with huge student loan debt when they graduate. Rather than start their own companies, they are forced to work for big companies that pay well for a decade or more so that they can pay off that debt. Other industrialized countries subsidize the cost of higher education which frees up those graduates to take more risk early in their careers than their peers in this country.

There are good reasons to talk about our spending priorities in this country. We spend way more money on defense and far less money on infrastructure, education, and social services than our industrialized peers.

Trump’s message to Make America Great Again was in part a promise to get government working again for those who felt government has ignored them.

The conversations that I’ve suggested that we need to have are motivated by the same interest. We need to get the government working better for those who aren’t getting healthcare benefits from their employers. We need to get the government working better to help working people who are not getting their fair share of the benefits of economic growth. We need to figure out how government can be made less responsive to the wealthy and more responsive to the majority of voters. We need to figure out what role government can play in making higher education more accessible to those who can’t currently afford it without going into debt.

None of these topics are specifically socialistic, but all of them can be organized under the larger banner of making government work better for the majority rather than the minority.

No one is suggesting that we dismantle our current representative democracy.

What is being suggested is that voters have a serious discussion about the way our government currently operates.

What is being suggested by some candidates who call themselves Democratic Socialists is that if they are elected, they will advocate for changes to the way government operates in some of the areas that I’ve listed. The ONLY way that these changes will occur is if a majority of voters agree that these changes make sense.

How different are these changes than the changes that outlawed child labor, the 40 hour work week, public schools, or public libraries?

IMHO, there is no difference.

So let’s try to have these needed conversations without the hysteria that the country is being overtaken by some evil force. It’s not, unless that evil force is the people who resist change and are willing to demonize even a discussion about change as a slippery slope into communism.

17 Responses to “Socialism”

  1. Keith says:

    A very simple comment – the less government does the better. The less government provides the better. Why? Because if government can give you something it can also take it away. And I understand that is overly simplistic.

    There are things that necessitate governments involvement, I agree, both in providing a service or regulating them. However if we reduce too many things to the lowest common denominator then that’s where get uncomfortable.

    Hope you are well. Forgive me for the lack of responses. I’m knee deep in travel and work.

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:

    A very simple comment – the less government does the better.

    Government is not the problem.

    The influence of private money in government is the problem.

    If our government were truly responsive to the majority of voters, you would feel very different about the role of government in your life. That’s because government would be working for you.

    As it is, our government is working for the small number of people who are able to invest the largest amount of money to influence the political process.

    When you suggest that government is wasteful, for example. You jump to the conclusion that the waste is result of bureaucracy. But it could also be the result of a “deal” that a company won for themselves. Big Pharma, for example, has been able to prevent Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices in the same way that private insurance companies can do today. Is that the fault of too much government, or too much Pharma money IN government? But the direct result, is that Medicare and Medicaid cost taxpayers more than they otherwise would.

    https://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/jan/17/tammy-baldwin/tammy-baldwin-federal-government-prohibited-negoti/

  3. Keith says:

    I was referring to the Govt getting to the point of “requiring” they provide to you, I.e. controlling you and your behavior in ways you are no longer free… slippery slope.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I was referring to the Govt getting to the point of “requiring” they provide to you, I.e. controlling you and your behavior in ways you are no longer free… slippery slope.

    Sorry, but you are going to have to be more specific. There are plenty of laws requiring you to do or refrain from doing something. You have to honestly report your taxes, as just one example. You can’t build something on someone else’s property without their specific written approval. If you live in an area with zoning laws and building codes, you can’t build whatever you want on your property. In the past if you were of a certain age, you were required to serve in the military. That was a severe restriction of freedom for those who served. I could go on for quite a while, but I think that you’ve got the picture.

    IMHO we don’t go far enough in regulating externalities. Those are the costs that the taxpayer typically supports, but that companies create. A simple one is the developer who builds a subdivision but isn’t required to support the costs for building another elementary school for the kids in that neighborhood. Or the company that extracts tax relief to build a factory, but then isn’t responsible for retraining the workers when they close that facility.

    I would be interested in some examples that you might have of the government “controlling” you in ways that you feel are inappropriate. While you’re at it, I would be interested in how you propose to distinguish between impositions and necessities. IMHO as long at a majority approves it and the courts uphold it, I’m ok.

    BTW, in the context of socialism, there are plenty of things that local, state, and federal governments have “provided” to the people for decades. None of them resulted in the weakening of democracy. Clearly if Trump’s election proved anything, it is we are still willing to live with the outcomes of our elections, no matter how bad they may be.

  5. Keith says:

    YS) IMHO as long at a majority approves it and the courts uphold it, I’m ok.
    MR)sorry but you’ve clearly never supported this idea. Homosexual marriage, I mentioned several times a few years ago that it had never passed when on a ballot. You’re good with that now? Majority rules? Surely not….

    Example you asked for above – govt controls to the point, futuristic I’m conceding, you can have access to government services but you must subscribe to x, y & z. What are those I don’t know but given time I could imagine.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/opinion/if-we-silence-hate-speech-will-we-silence-resistance.html#commentsContainer

    Maybe it looks something like that link

    So, in other words, the author, in our comments above GOVERNMENT, was ok with the fascist tactic of silencing someone he didn’t like, but now he realizes how many of his favored groups also spew hate…

  6. Keith says:

    Or way forward how about those not having the mark of the beast not being able to do commerce? How does that happen we can only guess.

  7. Keith says:

    Observation.

    21 white nationalist , idiots who don’t matter, showed up in Charlottesville. National news and all the mainstream media were there reporting on it. Classic example of the media playing the race card hopeful to help decide us. More people gather to talk about big foot. Media bias?

    Meanwhile 80% of companies reporting Q2 earning expectations. I believe the avg increase in earning over last year is 25% or so. Great news for the economy.

  8. Keith says:

    https://www.infowars.com/antifa-vows-bullets-for-political-enemies-media-ignores-threat/

    I know you don’t like infowars but do you find any mention of Trumps murder or bullets to conservatives in the national media?

    21 people have n Charlottesville got national coverage leading up to and during the “rally.”

    92% of Trumps coverage is negative. Surely you can see the narrative? Bias doesn’t have to be factual errors. Cheerleading for the home team is enough.

  9. Jeff Beamsley says:

    YS) IMHO as long at a majority approves it and the courts uphold it, I’m ok.
    MR)sorry but you’ve clearly never supported this idea. Homosexual marriage, I mentioned several times a few years ago that it had never passed when on a ballot. You’re good with that now? Majority rules? Surely not….

    You clearly didn’t think about my comment very deeply.

    I do believe in democracy and the rule of the majority. I also believe that the courts and the constitution protect the right of the minority. But when BOTH a majority approves AND the courts agree that it is consistent with the constitution – then it doesn’t matter what I think. If I believe in democracy and the rule of law, then I’m going to have to accept the outcome.

    BTW, your stat regarding ballot initiatives isn’t an accurate measure of public opinion. Prior to the SCOTUS ruling, 36 states had PASSED laws legalizing some form of marriage equality. I would suggest that this is indication that it was sufficiently popular in those states for a majority of elected representatives and in most cases the governor to sign the legislation. At the moment, 67% of Americans approve of marriage equality.

    Example you asked for above – govt controls to the point, futuristic I’m conceding, you can have access to government services but you must subscribe to x, y & z. What are those I don’t know but given time I could imagine.

    Some people are also concerned about the “singularity” – the time when AI robots are able to control their own replication and will revolt. Sorry, “some point in the future” doesn’t cut it as a legitimate example of current government overreach.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/opinion/if-we-silence-hate-speech-will-we-silence-resistance.html#commentsContainer

    Maybe it looks something like that link

    So, in other words, the author, in our comments above GOVERNMENT, was ok with the fascist tactic of silencing someone he didn’t like, but now he realizes how many of his favored groups also spew hate…

    This is an interesting issue.

    Free Speech in this country has ALWAYS had limits. The famous, “yelling fire in a crowed theater” is the normal example. So the discussion isn’t whether speech can be limited. Rather it is what the appropriate limits are. Right now the legal limits appears to be speech the incites violence. That leaves it up the courts to decide, which is probably where that decision should be made.

    Here’s a thoughtful article from the Wash Post on the subject.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-losing-math-of-hate/2018/07/28/87ee562c-91b3-11e8-b769-e3fff17f0689_story.html?utm_term=.f7bafbe6e28c

  10. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Or way forward how about those not having the mark of the beast not being able to do commerce? How does that happen we can only guess.

    Would require some change to constitution to implement something like that.

    But as far as discrimination is concerned, there have been plenty of examples where appearance was cause for abuse. We have since passed laws that make it illegal to discriminate based on race. Do you think that is government intrusion, or simply a logical extension of a constitutional right?

  11. Jeff Beamsley says:

    21 white nationalist , idiots who don’t matter, showed up in Charlottesville. National news and all the mainstream media were there reporting on it. Classic example of the media playing the race card hopeful to help decide us. More people gather to talk about big foot. Media bias?

    Nope.

    Trump has provided White Nationalist a platform by failing to reject them in the strongest way possible. I agree that they get more press than their numbers probably support, but the do represent a significant minority in this country.

    IMHO that is one of the good things about the Trump presidency. It has brought this particular perversion out into the open where it can’t be ignored and has to be dealt with. The reality is that most of these groups are deeply disappointed in the Trump administrations failure to deliver on what they perceived was going to be a white nationalist resurgence. Those who organized the first Charlottesville rally are dealing with lots of legal issues. Those who have been outed have lost their jobs. Many are now turning their focus to Europe where they hope they will find more support.

    Simply reporting on their actions is NOT playing the “race card”. It is simply reporting the news, and if you bothered to read some of the news being printed about these groups by credible news sources, you would have read many of the same things that I just posted.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/us/white-nationalist-rally-charlottesville-mayor.html

    Meanwhile 80% of companies reporting Q2 earning expectations. I believe the avg increase in earning over last year is 25% or so. Great news for the economy.

    Please post something to support your claims, particularly on wages.

    In fact, middle class wages have gone down when you take inflation into account.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-finance-202/2018/07/19/the-finance-202-republicans-have-a-tax-cut-problem-here-s-how-they-want-to-fix-it/5b4f69b61b326b1e6469543a/?utm_term=.4c87daf2c74c

    What is NOT great for the economy is the huge debt that these tax cuts are creating. The deficit (not the debt) is expected to top $1T next year.

    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-deficit-now-projected-to-top-1-trillion-starting-next-year-2018-07-19

  12. Jeff Beamsley says:

    https://www.infowars.com/antifa-vows-bullets-for-political-enemies-media-ignores-threat/

    I know you don’t like infowars but do you find any mention of Trumps murder or bullets to conservatives in the national media?

    That’s because it likely isn’t true.

    Here’s a story in the Wash Post covering Antifa in Portland.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/08/04/protests-again-convulse-portland-ore-as-groups-on-the-right-and-left-face-off/?utm_term=.982fa8bb58a5

    21 people have n Charlottesville got national coverage leading up to and during the “rally.”

    Already commented.

    How big do you think Antifa is? Yet you were complaining that they DIDN’T get enough coverage. Can’t have it both ways.

    BTW, there were a lot more than 21 people at the Unite the Right rally a year ago. So an anniversary rally with such a small turnout is news from a historical point of view. It indicates that the movement, at least in this country, is likely weakening.

    92% of Trumps coverage is negative. Surely you can see the narrative? Bias doesn’t have to be factual errors. Cheerleading for the home team is enough.

    You’re just wrong here. The news is the news regardless of whether it is positive or negative. First please post a reference to your 92% quote. Second, please post some examples of “cheerleading for the home team”. If the visiting team is losing, is it bias or cheerleading to report the fact that the visiting team got beat? No. It’s just news.

    When Trump LIES every day, he is going to get coverage that points out those lies. Is that bias?

    If he would just keep his mouth shut and stay off twitter, whatever good news is also being printed would predominate.

    We’ve had this discussion before.

    Most White Houses control their own narrative by working with the press to get their story out. Trump has chosen to demonize the media. That was his choice. He has been paying the price ever since. That price is that they are going to fact check everything. That’s their job. It is neither bias nor cheerleading the “home” team.

    The top story on google news today was Trump calling Omarosa a “dog”. That’s HIS fault.

    It was also his fault that he used the “n” word and then denied it.

    His tweets lately sound like a guy who is mentally unhinged. They are all news. They are mostly all lies. NO ONE IS FORCING HIM TO DO THIS.

    So please stop making this about the media. It is not.

    It is about the guy in the White House and those who continue to support him.

  13. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW, here’s a Wash Post article about Antifa in DC. It was not complimentary. But was significantly more honest and balanced than the infowars article that seemed to be the substance for your last couple of posts.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2018/08/13/antifa-protesters-couldnt-find-any-fascists-at-unite-the-right-and-harassed-the-press-instead/?utm_term=.c532f5fbea61

  14. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW, one more thought on Inforwars given the context of your previous comments. If the mainstream press is somehow raising the profile of White Nationalists by reporting on their most recent poor attendance at scheduled rallies, that raises a question for me. How big is Infowars?

    Best estimates say that it has 97 employees and generates a little over $400K in annual revenue. If those figures are true, that means that the average employee makes only 4K/year. So that 97 employees figure is likely an exaggeration and includes a lot of stringers who are only paid when one of their stories is printed. What is more likely is that they have around 40-50 employees. That is significantly smaller than most small market newspapers who rarely get national recognition.

    That’s also why many much larger websites have started to drop them from their coverage. That’s because they realize that displaying infowars content on their site is costing them money in lost viewers who object to what infowars publishes.

    The ONLY reason why infowars has such an outsized presence in the media market is that they are willing to post inflammatory content of questionable origin that no other credible site will touch. The result is that those fringe groups in our society (e.g. white nationalists) who believe that mostly fabricated content is true are willing to spread it through social media because it supports their political point of view.

    We have always had conspiracy theorists. It is one of the costs of not restricting speech.

    We have also always had hate speech. It is another cost of allowing free speech.

    What is new in this mix is a leader in the White House who has convinced his followers that the ethical media who have a commitment to tell the truth are the ones who can’t be trusted and the unethical media who only have a commitment to their own bottom line are the ones that should be trusted. He has stated that this is his strategy to discredit media who dare to print stories that are critical of him. Just think about that for a minute. Our president is willing to punish ANYONE who prints a story critical of him whether it is true or not. What would happen to our country if the media were no longer able to publish stories critical of the president? Is that really a policy that you support? If not, then how can you support a president who advocates that policy?

  15. Keith says:

    YS)What would happen to our country if the media were no longer able to publish stories critical of the president? Is that really a policy that you support? If not, then how can you support a president who advocates that policy?

    MR) you’re right. I no longer support him. Let’s impeach him.

    Again look at what he DOES not all the circus. Like it or not that’s who he is. Our choice, in the end, was him or her. We choose him.

    Economic data is very good. Jobs are everywhere. Two great nominees to the Supreme Court, tax reform, cutting regulations left and right, fighting for “fair trade with our partners around the world, etc. sorry but I’m not watching the circus as you are…. I’ll vote for someone else if HOPEFULLY someone else is better at the above. NIKKI HALEY!!!!! Condo Rice, I’d vote for Kasish. Marco Rubio. Until and unless someone like that pops up and I’ll vote against Hillary or Joe Biden, though I like him, or Bernie, or any other leftist out there.

  16. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Again look at what he DOES not all the circus. Like it or not that’s who he is. Our choice, in the end, was him or her. We choose him.

    I’ll post something on this in more detail, but what he has done is effectively change the perception of a large percentage of the voting public with regard to a number of the foundations of our democracy, not the least of which is a free press.

    His POLICY is that if you criticize him, you are punished. That punishment not only includes his public rebuke, suggestions that you should not have the right to say what you are saying, and in some cases removal of security clearance. That can’t be characterized as just a circus. It has gone way beyond that.

    Economic data is very good. Jobs are everywhere.

    Job may be everyone, but middle class pay is flat. So if you are middle class worker, the news is not so good.

    You are welcome to vote for whomever you choose. That is up to you.

    The next election is in a couple of months. Those who care about limiting that damage that THIS president can do until he can be voted out of office are voting for every democrat they can find.

  17. Keith says:

    As Trump hurls racial invective, most Republicans stay silent – The Washington Post

    He called Omarosa a dog…. the basis for the article. The Washington posts stays with the racists narrative. He calls lots of people lots of names. How is calling her a dog racist?

    Note -he should never call anyone ANYTHING!!!!! Washington Post should be labeled race hustlers for this?

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