Many Americans are deathly afraid that the US might magically turn into one of the failed Marxist-communist countries of the defunct USSR. Or Cuba. There are endless conspiracy theories making this claim, the most recent being the paranoia over the routine Jade Helm 15 military exercise, which concluded with Texas still free. Everyone should relax. Even the 2nd Amendment gun nuts should relax. There isn’t the slightest chance that commies or anyone else will “take over”. The few communists scattered round the US are about enough to form a debate club.
We already have a bit of socialism, and nobody but hardline libertarians objects. Libertarians basically want no government at all. In the recent Republican “debate” (a surreal event that didn’t remotely resemble a debate) everybody’s favorite loudmouth Donald Trump pointed out that we’ve had a graduated income tax for a long, long time, yet nobody is calling it socialism. Here are some other elements of socialism we’ve had for a long, long time: a deduction for mortgage interest; Social Security; public schools; national parks. Public anything, in fact.
Marxism means the state owns everything, not some things. But that’s not what democratic socialism means. The modern world is impossible without social cooperation, libertarians notwithstanding.
The conservative Republican belief is that unfettered private enterprise is always best. But that’s not at all true. Unfettered burning of coal in China and India causes more than two million deaths from lung diseases every year. The unfettered clothing industry led to dangerous factories, some of which burned or collapsed, causing thousands of injuries and deaths. How much is one life worth? Your life, for example. My bet is that you are unwilling to donate your life to boost someone’s “profit”.
Conservatives are right that the most efficient path is the best. It’s just that the path they want is not the most efficient, because it ignores air pollution and factory disasters in order to minimize costs and maximize profit for the bosses. Death for many is the price of that profit for a few.
The poster child for economic efficiency is national health care. Republicans accept the “socialism” we already have, but oppose national health care because it is “socialism”. But our awkward and grossly expensive health care system fails utterly to protect many millions, who are in danger of dying from common, easily cured conditions. So our government fails on that account. An untreated “cold” that is actually mild pneumonia can easily lead to death. So can an infected injury. More serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease cost more to treat, and few without insurance can afford treatment. Private health care is on schedule to cost $10,000 per person next year, impossible when family income is $35,000.
The case for national health care is simple: the greatest cost efficiency occurs when the entire population is insured; national health care reduces cost by half, and insures everybody. National health care is not “free”, because we all pay through taxes, but it’s a whole lot cheaper. Unfortunately, many Americans fail to understand that $5,000 in taxes for complete medical care is a bargain compared to $10,000 in private premiums or, say, $250,000 for cancer treatment paid out-of-pocket.
A healthy population saves billions of dollars. For example, when an uninsured parent dies, we all must shoulder the responsibility for the minor children. When a child misses a lot of school because of untreated disease, the public pays in the long run.
This is the essence of democratic socialism: things most efficiently paid for yourself that not everyone needs (a new car, for example) you should pay from your own pocket; things that everyone needs are often most efficiently paid for through a national program.
Now, there is legitimate debate about what things should be paid for through taxes. It’s not necessary or useful to nationalize the coal industry, for example. But Big Coal has received “socialist” government subsidies for a century, which we donate to the industry from our taxes. Yet they have gotten away with scandalously dangerous and unhealthy practices forever. Coal subsidies and all other antique energy subsidies should end forthwith. What these industries need is vigilant regulation, not subsidies.
I would argue that every qualified student should be able to receive an education beyond high school, all the way through advanced degrees, paid for by public moneys. Why? Because an educated populace is in the national interest, and the high and concentrated costs of advanced education put it outside the ability of many families to pay. Paying for college from taxes is far less expensive, as can be seen by looking at any democratic socialist country that provides it without cost to everyone. Ask any recent graduate with an education debt to repay what they think about it.
So. Democratic socialism? Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist, and we should not forget that virtually every successful Western or Western-inspired nation except ours is democratic socialist. Life in those places is better than our lives, difficult as that is for many Americans to believe.