Democrats & Liberals Archives

We Are All Socialists!

Or at least a vast majority of us are.

I could have as easily titled this piece “We Are All Capitalists!”, with an identical qualification.

The point is, that with the exception of a few rigid extremists on either side, most of us acknowledge by our daily activities some acceptance of the fact that the capitalist model works quite well for many things in life, while a socialist model works for others.

Too many, especially on the far right, but also on the far left, have tried to make this into an either/or dilemma, when it really ought to be about AND.

Here in the United States and much of the Western World, we have settled on an economic model which is predominately capitalist, with a few socialist elements. I happen to think that is probably the best choice. I love pointing out to those who find my views to be radical, that this ought to place me - in an economic sense, at least - a little to the right of center.

But for many, the commitment to an economic model has become imbued with a moral element which simply isn't appropriate. It is quite true that economic models, if they become grossly imbalanced, can allow ghastly things to happen which DO have a moral element. Such awful scenarios have been played out many times in history. China's Cultural Revolution and the Indonesian extermination of the East Timorese are but two examples abetted by economic imbalances of different origins.

We need to be more concerned about what works, and be willing to draw from models which have succeeded before, without ascribing evil intent to any suggestion which can be remotely associated with an ideology that we disagree with. The public sector of our economy exists for a reason, and most Americans agree that it has its place. Schools, the Post Office, police, fire departments, parks, and resource management are integral parts of our society which operate predominately on a socialist model, with some incentive-based balancing elements. That doesn't make the participants in that part of the economy radical commies foaming at the mouth, any more than those working for or running our corporations must be evil capitalists intent on stealing from the poor to line their own pockets.

We operate in a mixed economy, and should be wary of those whose commitment to an economic model trumps practical considerations in determining how to structure our various institutions. It seems that the folks at the Heritage Foundation would have us privatize every institution rather that acknowledge that occasionally (often!) the public good is better served by public institutions with public accountability. It's not that privatization is never a good idea, but that it's certainly not always a good idea.

When I look around me in 2007, there's not much left that hasn't been privatized or partially privatized that needs more privatization. I'm far more often alarmed by the extent of privatization that has occurred already. Naomi Klein, recent author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", appearing on Democracy Now yesterday, said

The last frontier for the privatization of the state is the privatization of ... core state functions. You know, the only thing left that hasn't already been privatized and outsourced is -- and this is pre-Bush administration -- is the army, is the police, are the fire departments. And these core state functions are really seen as the last great privatization free-for-all. It's already entered healthcare. It's already entered water. It's already entered electricity, the media.
Those of us who are inclined to argue for de-privatizing some of that which has suffered from over privatization are frequently accused of being "far left" even when what is sought is simply movement back towards the way things were 20, 40, or even 80 years ago. And when someone like me suggests that in certain arenas, such as health care, we should simply acknowledge the net public good which could come from moving more fully to a socialist model, then in the eyes of some I might as well have suggested selling their children to work for Kim Jung Il.

Among the current crop of Presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich is bold enough to suggest that we need a single payer system for health insurance, even though in countries where such systems are standard, even political conservatives generally acknowledge the public good which they serve. I supported Kucinich's bid for the Democratic nomination four years ago, but recognizing that his selection would be undeservedly polarizing, was rather excited about the possibility that Obama might be less beholden to corporate interests than someone like Clinton, while speaking the language of unity which we desperately need, and hence center us. It is rather sad to me that Obama is obliged to take an improved but still timid approach to health care when it seems clear to me that something bolder is called for.

So call me a socialist if you like - I'll not deny that any more than I will deny that I am a capitalist. But don't be surprised after we spend some time together, if I call you a socialist too.

Posted by Walker Willingham at November 8, 2007 5:27 PM
Comments
Comment #237867

Walter,

Nice piece. I agree that it is truly the small minorities on either side of the political spectrum that would argue that everything should be private or everything should be public. The real agrument is about what should be private and what should be pubilc and to what degree. The rational arguments are carried out most often by those within one standard of deviation from dead center of the political spectrum over the how and the extent to which one solution should be favored over another.

For what it is worth, I think that the Healthcare argument will become an “only Nixon can go to China” issue and be ultimately addressed by a Republican. The reality is that the rising cost of healthcare is the primary factor for the stagnation of middle class wages. It is also eroding the competiveness of American companies in the global marketplace. Sometime in the next 15 years a moderate Republican will tackle this issue, bring together the constituencies most against the issue and convince them of the need.

What I’m not sure about is whether that solution will be a single payer system. My guess is that it will be a hybrid model that will blend public and private healthcare solutions with public and private financing similar to the way most middle class retirements are funded. That is a guaranteed floor below which health care will not sink, supplemented by catastrophic insurance (not sure whether this will be publically or privately funded, perhaps both as well depending upon income level) and employer provided insurance for increased service levels.

Posted by: Rob at November 8, 2007 6:05 PM
Comment #237871

The ultimate goal of the Heritage Foundation is to privatize government itself, and guess who they would choose to be the CEO’s and investors in it?

Conservative economic ideologues don’t like government or any organization that opposes business running the nation and society.

Liberal economic ideologues don’t like wealth and wage disparity as long as any in the society are wanting of necessities or quality of life that they can’t accept for themselves.

The consequences in applied government of both of these ideologies can be horrendous if carried to their logical conclusions and in the absence of opposing counterbalance.

Walker, you are quite right. We have a mixed economy and it would work very well for nearly all Americans IF we could reform and correct the horrible political system deficiencies that now fail all of us in fashioning long term stability and solutions to major problems facing us.

The mixed economy works best when the mix can be adjusted modestly as economic, social, and foreign issues determine for the long term stability. That, of course, requires a functional political system, which America has all but lost since the Reagan era. Our political system has lost more and more capacity to address long term stability issues. Time is running out to get the political system fixed, before we have to face dire economic realities unprepared for.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 8, 2007 6:25 PM
Comment #237885
Those of us who are inclined to argue for de-privatizing some of that which has suffered from over privatization are frequently accused of being “far left” even when what is sought is simply movement back towards the way things were 20, 40, or even 80 years ago.

I’m not sure what you’re talking about here, could you please elaborate? You seem to be making the suggestion that today’s society is more ‘privatized’ than it was than, say, the great depression. It’s funny because as a Libertarian I’m always told that wanting to get the government out of our lives would take us back to ‘the times of the depression and robber barons when everything was privatized.’

So you can see I have some trouble understanding what point you’re making here.

But, remember, we didn’t have an income tax all that long ago (less than 100 years) and once we did the amount of our annual budget spent on ‘wealth redistribution programs’ was less than 3%… compare that to now when we have a department of education (less than 40 years old) that has resulted in a drop in test scores of our children each and every year since it was created, nearly 75% of our budget going towards wealth redistribution programs, government involved in healthcare (when it was previously, less than 100 years ago, not involved in anyway), government control of our monetary system, government control of our media (FCC), government control of what we ingest, government control of what we drive, government control over…

Well, let’s just wait until you actually put some detail to your article before I label it as revisionist pablum. Perhaps I’m wrong and you can shed some light on me and help me twart all of those that tell me that my ideals want to take us back to those ‘dark days of privatization’, those very days you say we had less of it than we do today.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 8, 2007 9:28 PM
Comment #237889

It is already here. This was passed with the medicaid prescription provision in 04’

“The bipartisan Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act includes a provision for establishing HSAs. HSAs are tax-free savings accounts that can be used to pay for medical expenses incurred by individuals, spouses, or dependents.

HSAs are open to individuals covered by a high deductible health insurance plan. The annual deductible must be at least $1,000 for individual coverage, and at least $2,000 for family coverage. HSAs are a significant improvement over previous savings vehicles, which were limited to employees of small businesses and the self-employed and required health insurance policies with much higher deductibles.

Individuals with existing medical savings accounts (MSAs) can either retain them or roll the amounts over into a new HSA.

Contributions to HSAs by individuals are deductible, even if the taxpayer does not itemize. Contributions by an employer are not included in the individual’s taxable income. Individuals, their employers, or both can contribute tax-deductible funds each year up to the amount of the policy’s annual deductible, subject to a cap of $2,600 for individuals and $5,150 for families. In addition, individuals over age 55 can make extra contributions to their accounts ($500 in 2004, increasing to $1000 by 2009) and still enjoy the same tax advantages.

The interest and investment earnings generated by the account are also not taxable while in the HSA.

Amounts distributed are not taxable as long as they are used to pay for qualified medical expenses. HSA funds can be used to cover the health insurance deductible and any co-payments for medical services, prescriptions, or products. In addition, HSA funds can be used to purchase over-the-counter drugs and long-term care insurance, and to pay health insurance premiums during any period of unemployment.

Amounts distributed that are not used to pay for qualified medical expenses will be taxable, plus a 10% penalty to be applied to deter the use of the HSA for non-medical purposes.

HSAs are portable, so an individual is not dependent on a particular employer to enjoy the advantages of having an HSA. Like an individual retirement account (IRA), the HSA is owned by the individual, not the employer. If the individual changes jobs, the HSA goes with the individual. “

I have belonged to one for three years. It covers 100 per cent after your deductable (the savings part). The price for a couple is about 200 bucks per month. This idea was called medical IRA’s in the beginning.
I like it because the savings part is rolled over and the rates go down the more you have in it. My experience with employer blue cross was as we all paid big bucks, people would abuse it while I lived healthy and never went to a doctor. It didn’t seem fair. Socialized medicine will do the same only the so called “rich” (most of us normal working people) have to foot the bill for the abuses. A person who pays his own way will pay closer attention to his health.

Posted by: Kruser at November 8, 2007 10:05 PM
Comment #237891

Yay to HSA’s, I was given the option to employ one this year and I think it is a GREAT option, one that actually uses the power of free-markets (something distinctly lacking in today’s government control of the system) and will hopefully bring down the artificially inflated prices of medical care.

And that it can be used as a ‘401k for retirement medical care’ because it earns interest and rolls over… What is the down side again? Why do we need government stepping in now? NOW would be the worst time since we actually have a good solution starting to be implemented.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 8, 2007 10:15 PM
Comment #237906

Rhinehold

I’m not sure what you’re talking about here, could you please elaborate? You seem to be making the suggestion that today’s society is more ‘privatized’ than it was than, say, the great depression. … Well, let’s just wait until you actually put some detail to your article before I label it as revisionist pablum.
The move toward privatization is often touted as a reversal of the socialized programs instituted by FDR, and there’s no denying that is largely the case. Never mind that those who decry FDR’s New Deal ignore how extraordinarily popular it made him with the public at large, or how successful some of those programs were in improving the lives of millions of Americans.

My additional stretch in claiming “even 80” years was merely in reference to today’s push toward privatization in certain areas beyond even the start of the New Deal. Being only 50 myself, I won’t try to pretend to be an expert here, but looking specifically at schools (e.g. Edison Schools) or the military (Blackwater & other mercenary firms) or even now fire protection (read halfway down in the interview with Naomi Klein about the firefighters with AIG), I at least feel safe in claiming that there are new privatization schemes being hatched that weren’t even thought of in those bad old robber baron days. Of course it’s a mixed bag. I am NOT claiming that the New Deal has already been totally reversed, or even that the total amount of privatization today is equivalent to that prior to FDR.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at November 9, 2007 1:38 AM
Comment #237911
The move toward privatization is often touted as a reversal of the socialized programs instituted by FDR, and there’s no denying that is largely the case. Never mind that those who decry FDR’s New Deal ignore how extraordinarily popular it made him with the public at large, or how successful some of those programs were in improving the lives of millions of Americans.

Well, if it makes you popular, do it! I mean, that nasty ol’ constitution is just a goddam piece of paper anyway, isn’t it? Remember, Roosevelt’s popularity wasn’t THAT great, he got into a lot of trouble trying to get his programs around the supreme court by attempting to pack it. That threat alone turned out to be enough, though, for them to abdicate their responsibilities.

BUT, you still haven’t named a single New Deal program that has been reversed. You mention schools but fail to accept that until recently most schools were private or local. Federal involvement is a very recent change (an unsuccessful one at that) and the use of mercenaries in wars has been a part of US culture for much longer than the past few decades.

In fact, you still have not shown me that we are LESS socialist today than at any time in our history, save 1977-1981. And those weren’t very stellar years for this country I might add. So, please if you could provide me with some examples that fit in with your view of American history.

Of course it’s a mixed bag. I am NOT claiming that the New Deal has already been totally reversed, or even that the total amount of privatization today is equivalent to that prior to FDR.

BTW, you seem to have this utopian dream of ‘the new deal’ which, by and large, did some short term good and long term harm to our country, and in fact did NOT institute many socialist programs, especially anywhere near the level they are in use today.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 9, 2007 8:39 AM
Comment #237938

Walker
Again,the race is not just between HC and Obama. Edwards plan,the first presentd by any Dem,Is politicaly doable and would likely lead to a single payer outcome. It gives Americans a choice between a single payer government plan and private carriers that must offer the same coverage and acceptance policies. Lets see who wins.Some other proposals have copied his somewhat.
Another point that should be made is that single-payer is not socialist. Most healthcare workers,facilites etc. would remain private. The only aspect “socialized” would be the financing. Single payer IS the compromise position.

Edwards is surgeing. Do not write him off.Todays NARAL poll shows him ahead of Obama and behind HC by 8 points only.

Posted by: BillS at November 9, 2007 12:40 PM
Comment #237947

BillS, does his plan take money from everybody to finance it and THEN give them a choice of whether to use govt or private?
If it does, there is no choice and it is socialist.

Or does it say each of us can elect to give govt money to take care of us OR give private insurance our money OR have no insurance if we choose?
If it does, it may be Constitutional and might be worth a look.

Posted by: kctim at November 9, 2007 1:53 PM
Comment #237956

KCTM
You should read his plan and judge for yourself. Its easy to find on his site.
You do realize of course that we have a kind of perverse,dark socialism under the current system. People without coverage also get sick. When they do and cannot pay the rest of us wind up paying for them. That is why it cost $12 for a cotton ball etc.Not only do we get ripped off but they are ill served also.Its a down hill spiral. Our cost go up in large part to cover the uninsured,causing more and more to become uninsured.

Interesting piece in todays LA TIMES about some info comming out of a lawsuit against Health Net,a S.CA. HMO. Seems they have a whole dept. dedicated to kicking out sick people. Quotas and bonuses are given based on how many ill clients can be denied coverage.Guess they forgot that just because it is your job does not mean you won’t go to Hell for it. The free market is clearly not up to the task of healthcare. The rest of the industrial world realized this long ago.

Posted by: bills at November 9, 2007 3:03 PM
Comment #237964

BillS
Ok, so there is no choice and it is socialist. Was just hoping that maybe I misread or it had changed and you had different info about it.

Yes, I do realize we have thrown away our Constitution and have become a socialist country. Perverse and dark was a great way to describe it.

I totally agree that our costs go up in order to pay for those without too. Socialism at its best there. Make everybody suffer and pay for the beliefs of those who will not do it themselves.

The Times story is a bad one, pretty sad. I wonder how many socialists who believe everybody is entitled “free” healthcare, are helping those people getting ripped off? I wonder how many of those sick people wouldn’t be getting the shaft like that IF the prices werent so high because medical services are forced to provide service to people who refuse to be responsible?

“The rest of the industrial world realized this long ago”

Believe me, if it wasn’t for our Constitution, we would be just like them.
Our Constitution wasn’t set up to be a stepping stone towards socialism. It was set up to protect our individual rights and to keep us from things like socialism.
Sadly, our laziness has allowed that to happen. We are at the last few stones and it doesn’t look like we are smart enough to turn around while we still can.
Shame too, I’m going to miss America.

Posted by: kctim at November 9, 2007 3:55 PM
Comment #237968

kctim said: “Yes, I do realize we have thrown away our Constitution and have become a socialist country.”

NO! We are not a Socialist country. We are a mixed economic system, part capitalism, part socialism; and increasingly a broken political system. Which makes our system much like most others in the world, though some of them are positioned as we were in the 1940’s, with vast untapped human productivity and economic growth ahead of them.

Ours is a mature economy, maxed out on many parameters, which means we are increasingly less able to sustain shocks and mismanagement without our economy being thrown seriously out of balance. The sub-prime mortgage debacle as a result of no regulation is a prime example.

Posted by: David R. Remer at November 9, 2007 4:43 PM
Comment #237970

David, are we forcibly overtaxed in order to support socialist programs we do not agree with?
Why, YES! We are.

How about my property? Do I pay the govt a yearly rent to keep it?
Is my wealth taken from me and given to others?

People can add a sprinkle of capitalism to it and call it democratic socialism all they want, but that does not take away the fact that it is socialism and, that, is not what this country was founded on.

Posted by: kctim at November 9, 2007 5:26 PM
Comment #237974

kctm
The founders created socialist institutions in the Constitution. They created the socialist Postal System,national army etc.
My family lives in a very conservative area in Eastern Washington. They have a municiple(socialist) power system.So far they have resisted attempts to sell it off to private concerns because it provides reliable cheap electricity.This system is getting near a hundred years old now and apparently has not led to the total downfall of the US at least so far.

Posted by: Bills at November 9, 2007 5:43 PM
Comment #237984

kctim Im curious
“People can add a sprinkle of capitalism to it and call it democratic socialism all they want, but that does not take away the fact that it is socialism and, that, is not what this country was founded on.”
“Our Constitution wasn’t set up to be a stepping stone towards socialism.” Where in the Constitution does it mention the type of economic system we are to have? Ive always understood capitalism to be an economic system not a system of government.

Posted by: j2t2 at November 9, 2007 8:36 PM
Comment #238033


The Russians tried capitalism with their gas and oil reserves. They didn’t like the results so, the government on behalf of the people reclaimed ownership of those resources. As a result, the Russians have paid off their entire Foreign debt and are running a surplus. The Russian people are in an excellent position to benefit greatly from world trade.

Posted by: jlw at November 10, 2007 8:52 PM
Comment #238049

If you think the government is corrupt fine, but don’t forget people voted for the way it is today. Just because one person does not agree with something doesn’t make it unconsituational. I agree with the author’s message that everything needs a balance,to far on either side is bad for the people in general.
Complete capitalism is anarchy, while complete socialism is slavery to the government.

Posted by: kujospam at November 11, 2007 5:03 AM
Comment #238134

BillS
“They created the socialist Postal System,national army etc”

I can see your point here and to be honest, it gave me something to think about over the weekend. I would guess they added those two things because they are needed by govt in order for it to function.
I do not believe they were added lightly, but after much thought, since they do, kind of, intrude on ones individual rights in a way.
It was a good point Bill, thanks.

J2
“Where in the Constitution does it mention the type of economic system we are to have?”

IMO, the closest it comes to mentioning that, is where it outlines what govt is limited to taxing and the importance they placed on individual rights and freedoms.
Govt can tax in order for govt to run govt, but not to run lives.

kujo
“Just because one person does not agree with something doesn’t make it unconsituational”

I agree 100%. If the people want to vote for govt to run their lives, then they can. “Freebies” are are hard to resist and the people have chosen to vote themselves these things and are willing to give up their rights in the process. Some of us are not willing to do so.

Our form of govt was set up for us to have the freedom to run our own lives and for govt to run govt. Using govt to force beliefs onto the people is wrong, no matter how righteous the meaning.

Posted by: kctim at November 12, 2007 9:57 AM
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