I was talking recently with a new friend who I’m 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 of the 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 people’s 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 you’re 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 ”lift 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.