Article 43

 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Democratic Socialism

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Why Americans Struggle to Understand Social Democracy
What Social Democracy and Socialism Are  And Aren’t

By Umair
Eudaimonia
August 15, 2018

I chuckle every time I hear it - which is every day, lately. “Denmark isn’t socialism! France isn’t socialist!! There’s no socialism in Europe!” So say American elites, pundits, columnists, usually men with earnest glasses. Have they been smoking too much capitalism?

They’re reacting to the dire prospect of socialism like priests who just met the devil - only the devil was busy saving souls from hell. They don’t quite know what to do with that. How to process it. They don’t even understand, funnily enough, just like those priests, whether or not to even call it “the devil” anymore. Hence: “Nothing’s socialism!! Nope!! how else to square the prospect of socialism rising amongst young Americans, except by denying it exists?” “That’s not the devil!! - thats just another cowboy!!”

The devil, my friends, is the devil. Only maybe he was never the monster you thought. Lets dispel a few myths.

Social democracy isn’t the cartoonish Cold War caricature of socialism (hence, Americans don’t understand it well.) America’s weary, Red Scare caricature of socialism - a bunch of bearded Marxist-Leninist intellectuals, all of whom look like Che Guevara in berets, sipping coffee on the Left Bank, plotting the violent global overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, debating abstruse theories of the “means of production” and the “fraternity of labor,” which will lead inevitably to global communist revolution, under a single world government. If that’s what you mean by socialism - in other words, ideas from the 1850s, spoken by men in the 1950s - its true to say that social democracy isn’t that. But is that what socialism really is at all, in any senseʢ
 this cartoon villain?

Without socialism, life as you know it wouldn’t exist. You already know socialism. Socialism is your favourite park, school library. Its the time you spend there. It’s the people who work there. You like socialism. Socialism is your friend.

Think about in the opposite sense. Imagine we were back in 18th century London, Amsterdam, or Paris. If we’d obeyed modern-day American economics, where would these cities have ended up? Without sewers, pipes, parks, avenues, squares, or even gutters, probably. And yet Flint doesn’t have potable drinking water. Do you see my point? American thought lives in a fantasyland - socialism is the devil!! And yet, modern life as we know would cease to exist overnight without it. You’d be taking out a honeybucket every morning - not flushing a toilet (gross, right?) In that sense, you already know socialism, intimately - and you’ve known it all your life. It isn’t the bizarre Stalinesque, Leninist caricature of the Cold War. Its just everyday life.

(It’s deeply inaccurate, as American thinkers are trying to do these days, to say that all the things above are just redistribution.Ӕ Your public library is eminently not just stuff that was redistributed from the rich, to you. It’s a genuine form of public investment. The labour, the work, the design, the bricks, the pipes, the shelves, the books - these things are what people invested in together. There wasn’t some rich dude they took it from. They reap the benefits together, too. There are rules to make sure no one walks off with all the books, sure - but no one has a right to stop anyone else from using the library. Your public library, parks, and schools, are indeed socialism. And you probably cherish and value them, too.)

Social democracy began as socialism. Just in part, not in whole. Today, its evolved far beyond the Cold War caricature of Marxist-Leninist “socialism.” Social democracy in the simplest sense just means a system that’s partially, not fully, socialist. Now, American thinkers will go on denying this until the cows come home - remember those priests? But the fact is that “social democracy” was born of Marxism. In the late 1800s, after the age of revolutions in 1848, Marxism split up into a few camps. The hardcore still foresaw a need for (violent, sudden) revolution, which would bring about worldwide socialism. But the other camp called for a gradual transition to socialism - one country, one institution within a country, one system, like a healthcare or school system - one step at a time. This was what came to be called social democracy. But for precisely that reason, not to call social democracy socialism - as if they were somehow distinct entities, events, or ideas - is deeply historically, politically, and economically inaccurate, the kind of doublespeak for which Americas now famous, and which leaves Americans foolish. It’s not Leninism (global revolution!), its not Stalinism (the communist party!), it’s not Trotskyism (revolution, comrades, now!) but it is a kind of socialism. A gentler kind. That’s OK. So are the pipes in your house.

Social democracy is so far ahead of American capitalism now its like alien technology to a Stone Age tribe - which is why Americans struggle to understand it. Nobody today, though, really, in a social democracy - except maybe the few hardcore Marxists still left - is sitting around discussing the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie, in a sudden, violent global revolution, after which everyone sings the Internationale, at the inauguration of Global Communism. Can we get real?

Social democracy has gone way, way beyond all that. These days, its something like the world’s most advanced operating system for human progress - full of strange, awesome, profound new ideas, about how to govern, manage, own, and run societies, which are so far ahead, that America simply can’t understand them with obsolete American ideas, like “shareholder value” and “individual responsibility” and 401Ks, all of which are simply now decades behind - and especially not with Cold War caricatures. It’s the most sophisticated and successful set of economic and social ideas and institutions human beings have ever created, which have led to the best - longest lived, happiest, safest, wealthiest - lives ever, full, stop, period, in all of history. What are some of those ideas?

Social democracy goes (way) beyond old-world notions of socialism. It means public goods are held in trust for the very people they are used by - not “state ownership” of the means of production. Socialism’s often said to mean state ownership of the “means of production.” What does that even mean? Have you ever thought about it? This isn’t 1868, my friends. The economy isn’t made of factories and clanking machines anymore. What are the “means of production,” these days, anyways? Server farms?

For just that reason, social democracy does indeed involve public ownership - but not of the “means of production,” really. Of basic public goods. Healthcare, education, transportation, energy, media, and so on. These aren’t really “means of production,” in the old Marxist sense - factories oppressing the proletariat. The modern variant of social democracy is about providing exactly those things which everyone needs, but capitalism cannot provide at low enough cost, or high enough quality.

So it’s not the “means of productionm” really, which are socialized - but public goods. And it’s not the “state” which owns them, either. Have you ever wondered what “state ownership” even is? What does it mean? The problem is that it never really meant anything at all - and so it could mean anything. Hence, dictators quickly rose to the top of purely socialist societies, like Stalin. But in modern social democracy, rather than the “means of production” owned by the state, public goods are owned by the people that use them - more accurately . They are held in trust, usually, by cities, towns, regions, and so forth. That means that they genuinely belong to everyone - not just some “council” or party committee, which was often the problem in Soviet style socialism - and yet no single person or actor can skim off their benefits for themselves.

The “means of production,” where they still exist, in the traditional sense, factories and so on, like in Germany, aren’t “socialized” so much in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of management - their workers sit on boards. It’s a vivid example of how the idea that “socialism” can mean something apart from “oh no, they’re taking our property rights!!” and go far beyond what Americans can understand given old, obsolete ideas.

Social democracy has grown because capitalism is becoming obsolete. It lets people realize themselves to a vastly higher degree than capitalism alone. Now, the part that Marx left out of the means of production are owned by the “state” was about purpose. When the means of production were owned by the state, what would the point be? Who’d define it? He didn’t say. Apparently, the proletariat would figure that part out when they got there. And that brings me to my final point.

Public goods each have a different social purpose, which can be maximized under social democracy - but capitalism is only ever one-dimensional. The purpose of a healthcare system is health. Duh, you might say. But the purpose of a healthcare system in capitalism is profit. Hence, American life expectancy falling. The purpose of an education system is knowledge. But the purpose of an education system in capitalism is debt and degree farming. Hence, Americans are getting dumber. Do you see the problem? Capitalist institutions simply are not flexible, functional, or usable enough to build genuinely prosperous societies with anymore. Let me put that another way.

Capitalism is obsolete because it is too blunt a tool with which to build a working society. You can’t build a house with only a chainsaw - at least not a very nice one. You need different tools, for all your many tasks. The same is true of a society. If capitalism’s the only tool you have - you’ll never be able to build a working healthcare, education, financial system, to name just a few, because those things cannot be run just in the old binary of “for profit” or “not for profit.” They must each be run for a different set of human outcomes, far beyond that tired dichotomy - health, life expectancy, knowledge, intelligence, savings, security, investment, and so forth.

Now, so far, in human history, only, really, under social democracy have we learned to construct such institutions best. We can build organizations, whose ownership is held in trust by communities, with explicit, specific goals, such as human health. That’s the modern day NHS. But we can never accomplish any of this under capitalism - we can only use the old model of shareholders owning an organization which is run either for or not for profit. That either serves shareholders with profit - or no one, really, at all. That doesn’t help us one bit when it comes to genuinely building systems which realize human potential.

So you should see the rise of social democracy in America - or at least the slender possibility of it - as an eminently good thing. Just as Russia was the last nation to accept capitalism, so America is the last one to accept socialism. Today, its capitalism that’s becoming obsolete, for obvious reasons. Meaningless, stagnation, misery, rage, despair, greed, ruin. Social democracy is alien technology to Stone Age men.

Or, if you like… if the devil’s saving souls, maybe he’s not the prince of hell. Maybe it was the other guy, all along.

SOURCE

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Explaining Socialism To A Republican

By Nurse Pam
Addicting Info
June 23, 2012

I was talking recently with a new friend who Im just getting to know. She tends to be somewhat conservative, while I lean more toward the progressive side.

When our conversation drifted to politics, somehow the dreaded word socialism came up. My friend seemed totally shocked when I said All socialism isn’t bad.  She became very serious and replied “So you want to take money away from the rich and give to the poor?” I smiled and said “No, not at all.  Why do you think socialism means taking money from the rich and giving to the poor?”

“Well it is, isn’t it?” was her reply.

I explained to her that I rather liked something called Democratic Socialism, just as Senator Bernie Sanders, talk show host Thom Hartman, and many other people do. Democratic Socialism consists of a democratic form of government with a mix of socialism and capitalism. I proceeded to explain to her the actual meaning terms democracy and socialism.

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens take part. It is government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Socialism is where we all put our resources together and work for the common good of us all and not just for our own benefit. In this sense, we are sharing the wealth within society.

Of course when people hear that term, “Share the wealth” they start screaming, “OMG you want to rob from the rich and give it all to the poor!” But that is NOT what Democratic Socialism means.

To a Democratic Socialist, sharing the wealth means pooling tax money together to design social programs that benefit ALL citizens of that country, city, state, etc.

The fire and police departments are both excellent examples of Democratic Socialism in America.  Rather than leaving each individual responsible for protecting their own home from fire, everyone pools their money together, through taxes, to maintain a fire and police department. It’s operated under a non-profit status, and yes, your tax dollars pay for putting out other peoples fires. It would almost seem absurd to think of some corporation profiting from putting out fires.  But it’s more efficient and far less expensive to have government run fire departments funded by tax dollars.

Similarly, public education is another social program in the USA. It benefits all of us to have a taxpayer supported, publicly run education system. Unfortunately, in America, the public education system ends with high school.  Most of Europe now provides low cost or free college education for their citizens. This is because their citizens understand that an educated society is a safer, more productive and more prosperous society. Living in such a society, everyone benefits from public education.

When an American graduates from college, they usually hold burdensome debt in the form of student loans that may take 10 to even 30 years to pay off. Instead of being able to start a business or invest in their career, the college graduate has to send off monthly payments for years on end.

On the other hand, a new college graduate from a European country begins without the burdensome debt that an American is forced to take on. The young man or woman is freer to start up businesses, take an economic risk on a new venture, or invest more money in the economy, instead of spending their money paying off student loans to for-profit financial institutions.  Of course this does not benefit wealthy corporations, but it does greatly benefit everyone in that society.

EXAMPLE American style capitalistic program for college: If you pay (average) $20,000 annually for four years of college, that will total $80,000 + interest for student loans. The interest you would owe could easily total or exceed the $80,000 you originally borrowed, which means your degree could cost in excess of $100,000.

EXAMPLE European style social program for college: Your college classes are paid for through government taxes.  When you graduate from that college and begin your career, you also start paying an extra tax for fellow citizens to attend college.

Question - You might be thinking how is that fair? If youre no longer attending college, why would you want to help everyone else pay for their college degree?

Answer - Every working citizen pays a tax that is equivalent to say, $20 monthly.  If you work for 40 years and then retire, you will have paid $9,600 into the Social college program.  So you could say that your degree ends up costing only $9,600. When everyone pools their money together and the program is non-profit, the price goes down tremendously. This allows you to keep more of your hard earned cash!

Health care is another example: If your employer does not provide health insurance, you must purchase a policy independently.  The cost will be thousands of dollars annually, in addition to deductible and co-pays.

In Holland, an individual will pay around $35 monthly, period.  Everyone pays into the system and this helps reduce the price for everyone, so they get to keep more of their hard earned cash.

In the United States we are told and frequently reminded that anything run by the government is bad and that everything should be operated by for-profit companies. Of course, with for-profit entities the cost to the consumer is much higher because they have corporate executives who expect compensation packages of tens of millions of dollars and shareholders who expect to be paid dividends, and so on.

This (and more) pushes up the price of everything, with much more money going to the already rich and powerful, which in turn, leaves the middle class with less spending money and creates greater class separation.

This economic framework makes it much more difficult for average Joes to Ҕlift themselves up by their bootstraps and raise themselves to a higher economic standing.

So next time you hear the word “socialism” and “spreading the wealth” in the same breath, understand that this is a serious misconception.

Social programs require tax money and your taxes may be higher. But as you can see everyone benefits because other costs go down and, in the long run, you get to keep more of your hard earned cash!

Democratic Socialism does NOT mean taking from the rich and giving to the poor.  It works to benefit everyone so the rich can no longer take advantage of the poor and middle class.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 08/16/18 •
Section American Solidarity
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