Socialism: Old Perceptions stifling New Growth
Republicans love hurling the “socialist” label on anything Democrat because it scares people, especially older generations who are all too familiar with the word and its vile associations with communism, a la the Cold War. Certainly there were problems with the way the Soviet Union addressed its socialist programs, but fear of the idea and its workings actually stunts our nation’s growth and its ability to move forward. Whether we want to admit it or not, socialism is one of the elements that have made our country great. If we look at the way socialism works for the U.S., its benefits and its place in our economy, then we can eliminate the fear associated with old perceptions and allow ourselves to grow once more.
While there are subtle differences in the way socialism can be defined, the underlining idea is that a nation’s government provides or has some control over certain aspects of its economy as opposed to allowing the free market and capitalism to govern – simply put it is government intervention vs. unchecked capitalism and privatization. In the failed Soviet Union, where the government controlled production of goods, inefficiency reigned supreme and the world watched and cheered to see communism/socialism fail. Here in the U.S. however, socialism has thrived. One of the main differences has to do with exactly what aspects of the economy socialism are applied to. Here, as in Europe, socialism is characterized by the government providing or subsidizing services to its people, rather than intervening with the production goods as the Soviet Union did; an element which is best left to the private sector.
Some examples of the services our government provides are education, pension, medical care, infrastructure, and defense. We pay for these services with our taxes and we all benefit from them. A free, quality education (well, we used to have one), access to affordable health care and food, clean water to drink and working roads allow the majority of us to go about our business, be productive, and fuel consumerism which keeps the free market afloat and growing. Because these services are available to the majority of our nation, we’ve created a healthy middle class which has allowed us to thrive.
The United States is no longer thriving. When these services are cut then the middle class shrinks and we become imbalanced. If most of the people cannot spend money, the economy slows down and we all end up losing. We still feel painful reminders of that from the 2007 debacle (except of course the people that broke the law that caused the debacle).
Besides the benefits of allowing our government to use our dollars to provide social services, there is the quite negative downside of having them privatized. See, with the government providing these services there is some accountability as to how they are priced and administered. If the private sector has control, the only concern is profit since corporations blatantly pander more to their shareholders than their actual clients. There is no sense of accountability. This has happened in several countries in South America when ‘shock doctrine’ economic policies were initiated. Eventually the conditions there became so bad that their governments had to step in and start providing the services it once was…free education, free lunches for schoolchildren, and other social service programs. There is a place for socialism.
I do not want to indicate that capitalism/privatization is evil either and certainly capitalism has made this country great as well. There must be balance though. We’ve already experienced the dire repercussions of unfettered capitalism and remember it as the Great Depression. The private sector simply wasn’t able to meet some of the needs of the majority of the populace. We’ve learned since then that most healthy kind of economy is a mixed economy, with government providing some social services and subsidies, while allowing the free market the ability to produce goods according to demand and competition. Socialism within this context, as opposed to the old perceptions associated with communism, works well and is imperative to a healthy, growing nation. In fact, it is one element that has made us great. It is time to change our perceptions and embrace the fact that socialism is a vital part of this nation, we fail ourselves and our nation if we do not.