What, exactly, is “socialism”? Socialism is exactly this: a political system where the state owns all property, and nothing belongs to individuals. Everyone is supposed to have the same amount of wealth.
Socialism was designed specifically to overcome the inherent flaws of capitalism. It didn’t work as advertised, and even Karl Marx rejected the results. Basically, socialism’s problem is that it squashes the individual.
There are still a number of socialist countries, but the most successful of them, China, long ago abandoned pure socialism to include elements of capitalism. Cuba remains the most pure socialist/communist state, but it too has been forced to acknowledge reality.
Socialism’s focus on total control and government ownership of everything violates the primary beliefs of both conservatives and liberals. Conservatives believe that the range of wealth found at any moment reflects natural abilities and leadership, more or less determined by God. Liberals believe that equality of opportunity is more important than wealth, that talent and achievement is smothered when people are held back by inequality. Both object to government ownership of what should be privately owned. No argument there.
Socialism’s focus on total control
and government ownership
violates the beliefs of
both conservatives and liberals.
What we don’t agree on is not that. What we don’t agree on is what criteria should determine when a program would be better managed by the government?
This question is not being properly debated because conservatives label everything they don’t want to talk about “socialism”, things that have nothing to do with state ownership and control, thereby removing a topic from proper discussion before it can begin.
Conservatives began warning of our immediate march straight into socialism in 1856, and have never let up, although even after all those years we show not the slightest sign of “marching straight into socialism”, not to mention that socialism is busy marching straight into ancient history.
Essentially, fundamentalist conservatives believe that only by discontinuing virtually all government agencies can we be truly “free”. To this end, House Republicans recently voted to annually reduce funding for the IRS to the point where increasing percentages of taxes would not be collected. Even a one percent reduction of revenue would lose nearly three times the entire IRS annual budget. It is unclear how this would improve anything.
But perhaps that is the goal, to reduce not the budget, but taxes collected, although it’s an odd way to go about it. Take this line of thought to its logical conclusion: all government budgets would be reduced to the point of complete ineffectiveness, the bureaus simply closed.
Conservatives have hijacked all debate
on any government spending for the benefit
of all citizens by labeling everything “socialist”.
Far right Republicans imagine that this would be desirable, that it would lead to more perfect “freedom” and greater prosperity because of less tax. Perhaps it would lead to greater freedom, but it would be the sort of freedom found in primeval wilderness, where there would be help from no quarter and virtually everything depended on the individual, including defense against anyone who had plans to take things from you. Everything would be very costly, and most people would be poor. There would be no such thing as government streets and highways; they would all be privately owned, and traveling on them would be prohibitively expensive. We would have no idea even how many people lived here, since there would be no Census.
Disease would from time to time kill millions, because there would be no government medical establishment of any kind to even tell us about it. In fact, you might be forced to seek treatment from a “doctor” who hung out a shingle with no training whatsoever, since there would be no government requirements. Travel of any sort would become risky because there would be no government rules or control over things like licensing of pilots and rules for flying. And so on.
Clearly, the far right vision would lead quickly to disastrous dystopia. Just as clearly, they falsely label many things as “socialism” in order to besmirch all government programs and advance their dystopian ideas.
The terms we use should reflect that
proposed programs are the most effective way
to achieve worthy goals for all citizens.
But they continue in this ridiculous quest, because they have redefined “socialism” to mean any plan that has found government to be more useful and efficient than private enterprise. Any plan. So, for example, some of them object to national safety standards, claiming it is the first step in a march straight into socialism, and it’s not the proper province of government to force you to live more safely. They assume that any benefit that might save your life is not worth the loss of “freedom”. I suppose that’s why so many people died in “freedom” as they belligerently sat on their seat belts for 25 years.
The classic Marx-inspired plan, of course, is national health care, and they complain relentlessly about the horrors of the health care socialism found in all other First World nations except ours. The only problem with their interpretation is that, without exception, these plans offer health care that is superior to ours at half the cost, and are well liked. But such highly effective programs have been spuriously labeled “socialism”, and no such proposal will ever be considered on its merits in the US.
Basically, they have hijacked all debate on any government spending for the benefit of all citizens by labeling everything “socialist”. Liberals have failed to effectively counter this thrust with better rhetoric, as George Lakoff so often has advised. We even use the term “socialism” ourselves, like this article, which is rather like the picture we have of Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon. Liberal becomes linked to “socialism”, and Nixon to “crook”.
We need new terms. We need to use them consistently.
The terms we use should reflect the reality that some federal programs are the most effective way to achieve worthy goals for all citizens, with efficiency better than possible with private enterprise. Any plan that satisfies these requirements should be a government program.
The rhetoric should be linked to terms like “freedom”, “individual”, “efficient”, “excellence”, “choice”, “modern”, “current”, “optimized”, “personal”, “flexible”, and “democratic”. Individualized flexible health care act. Optimized citizens housing investment act. Cost-controlled efficiency improvements. Private home ownership protection act. It becomes harder to oppose proposals couched in positive terms. Rather like opposing Mom and apple pie.
When Democrats begin consistently using such terminology they will pour water on the constant Republican attempts to discredit every proposal by falsely linking it to socialism. Who knows, perhaps Republicans will be forced to debate things on their merits.