Postwar prosperity, socialism, and empathy: what do they have to do with each other?

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Republicans have a new tactic they’re using to turn people away from Democratic candidates who would like to see New Deal style social programs implemented or enhanced:   they’re using the scare word “socialism.”

I don’t really understand how that word became such a trigger for so many Republicans (and some Democrats).   We’re not talking about Stalin-style socialism, which was really communism: a far left form of authoritarianism.   Hitler’s “national socialist” party (Nazi Party) wasn’t socialist at all; it was fascist.   But Republicans trot out these examples  when they try to explain why socialism is so bad.

Democratic socialism and happiness.

Democratic socialism (or social democracy) is the type of government in  western and central Europe and most of the advanced industrialized countries.   The Scandinavian countries, which are the most socialist in terms of benefits to the people (and high tax rates on the rich),  also happen to have the highest happiness indices.   Finland is #1 in terms of overall happiness; Denmark is #2, and so on.

But what about freedom?   Contrary to what many people think,  people in these countries are extremely free (much more so than Americans), but there is less freedom (meaning more restrictions and laws) on corporations, which is the way things should be in a moral society.

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All of these countries are prosperous, with little poverty, long lifespans, superior health, and high education levels.  Even the poorest working people are paid a wage they can live modestly on, and even support a family on.   People in these countries also have a lot more time to spend traveling, learning new skills, go to college or graduate school (which are free or low cost), or just enjoy life.   They have weeks’ more more vacation time than Americans do, and long maternity leaves.   Their life expectancy is higher than ours, and their infant mortality is lower.

Single payer healthcare vs. private health insurance. 

In these advanced democracies, people don’t have to worry about going bankrupt should they become sick, or dying from preventable illnesses for lack of healthcare.   And since healthcare isn’t connected to employment, losing one’s job doesn’t mean you lose your health insurance.   Private insurance companies’ motive isn’t for you to be healthy or get well; in fact, they have a vested interest in keeping you sick (Big Pharma makes more money) and denying your claims.   Your insurance company can deny a claim for a lifesaving but expensive procedure as “medically unnecessary” because a less effective procedure is cheaper for them.

Compare this to government funded (single payer) healthcare, whose motive isn’t to make a profit for some bigwig insurance company CEO, but to have a healthy and productive society.  People pay taxes and everyone benefits.  Republicans love to talk about the long wait times, but that is a myth.   They are no longer than wait times here in America, and no one is ever denied care.   Single payer aims to keep people healthy so the society is happy and productive, not rake in profits off of illness, a practice which is immoral.  Why do we have to have a middleman whose primary motive is to drive a wedge between people and their right (yes, I did say “right”) to good health?

“Oh, but I can keep my doctor!”
Really?  Maybe, but maybe not. If your doctor is “out of network,” you may be paying out of pocket to see that doctor, or your claim could be denied.  Single payer healthcare would ensure you’d be able to see any doctor you want as long as they were qualified to practice, and there would be no or very little cost to you.   So that argument is bullshit.

People should be able to live their lives without having to worry about dying or going bankrupt because they get sick.   In America, if you get sick, your life could be turned upside down or even ruined.  Too, even if you have good company health insurance, if you get a long term illness such as cancer, you could be let go from your job, and lose your insurance anyway, when you most need it.  And don’t forget about those lifetime caps (which the GOP wants to bring back, along with preexisting conditions).

So if single payer (government funded) healthcare is so much better and most countries opted for it a long time ago and aren’t exactly clamoring to have an insane, unworkable, wasteful, unaffordable, profit oriented, confusing clusterfuck of a healthcare system like ours,  why haven’t we adopted it?

Because “socialism.”

Why are we so afraid of socialism?

Many Americans (especially Republicans) are terrified of socialism.   I think they don’t understand what socialism actually is.  They think it’s communism, or Naziism, or fascism, or something to do with the old Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Democratic socialism (or social democracy) is a system of government in which there is a free market and capitalism, but unlike our system, there are regulations and laws that keep corporations from exploiting the people.    People in social democracies are actually more free to start businesses of their own, because they don’t have to worry about being without healthcare while their fledgling business is first getting established.  People also earn more (and get unemployment benefits, and sometimes even a guaranteed minimum income) so they are more likely to have the capital to start a business of their own.   In America, most people are slaves to their jobs, and can’t leave because they can’t afford to lose their healthcare or paycheck.   They also have no protections from employers who want to exploit them due to “right to work” laws that  benefit the employer, not the worker; and the busting up of unions, which used to protect workers from exploitive employers and guarantee a living wage.

Postwar prosperity and socialism.

Most people would agree that America’s most prosperous years were the two decades following the end of World War II.    That postwar prosperity and optimism petered out by the 1970s (Watergate added a pervasive distrust of government to the mix that has only grown worse ever since), but in the 1980s and 1990s, America experienced somewhat of a resurgence under the optimism of Reaganism and the centrist, almost conservative fiscal policies of Bill Clinton.  But unlike the postwar years, a family was unable to live on just one income unless they were wealthy.  By the 1980s,  women had entered the workforce in large numbers and the now politically active religious right had begun to bleat and screech about “diminishing family values.”

Conservatives love to wax nostalgic about the Fifties — a time when families were strong and women stayed home and raised children while their husbands worked.   If women worked, they were usually teachers, nurses, librarians, or secretaries.  While there were always nonconformists and  outliers (such as the Beatniks), most Americans lived this cookie cutter suburban lifestyle.   Crime was generally low, and the gap between the richest and poorest was narrower than it had ever been before, or has been since.

While women didn’t have as many choices as they would later on, and people of color had few rights (that wouldn’t change until the civil rights movement), for most, life was prosperous and America became the envy of the free world and eventually the most powerful nation on earth.    Americans’ new prosperity and our national wealth would not have been possible without the new social programs the New Deal created: social security, Medicare, public schools, Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, and the GI bill, which helped young veterans and military workers purchase homes.  Although single payer healthcare never got off the ground (it was on the table from FDR through Nixon, but for various reasons never became law), healthcare wasn’t generally very expensive compared to what people earned.    Most people could easily afford to see a doctor and private health insurance was not expensive (and was provided by almost every employer, which it no longer is).

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Returning to the “Good Old Days.”

It always floors me when Republicans wax nostalgic over how great the 1950s were. They always forget one of the main reasons we were prosperous (and the reason why families were able to live on just one income, allowing women to stay home and take care of the house and kids) was because there was a lot more socialism.  In fact, capitalism works best when leavened with a little (or even more than a little) socialism.  Franklin D. Roosevelt knew this, and it was his socialist policies, including his support for unions that helped build a strong middle class, that brought us out of the Great Depression and into the prosperity of the postwar era.   Most Republicans in the 1950s and 1960s agreed these policies and programs were desirable.   The Republican Platform of 1956 (pictured above) is to the left of even the current Democratic platform.    As a nation, we have moved so far to the right we have become almost a fascist state.

Today,  Republicans refuse to acknowledge the role socialism played in the “good old days” they yearn for so much.  They seem to think that to go back to the simpler times of the 1950s, we must have laws that restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare including access to birth control.  Four states just passed the “heartbeat bill” which effectively bans abortion after six weeks (in Ohio, it just became law), when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant.   They think that forcing women to carry every pregnancy to term (even if her life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest), and enacting “religious freedom” laws (which are actually the opposite of freedom)  that allow discrimination against groups ultraconservative evangelicals don’t like (LGBTQ or Muslims, for example) will magically bring back an era they idealize.

Oppressing women, people of color, and other marginalized groups will not bring us back to the postwar years.   Instead, it will bring us back to the Gilded Age (a time of great inequality, robber barons, and grinding poverty and early death for most people), or even earlier than that.  The bottom line is that people who think this way care only about controlling women and keeping people of color “in their place.”   They don’t care about prosperity or a good life for most.

If we are ever to get back to the kind of prosperity we enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s, we have to get over our fear of socialism, and expand beneficial government programs such as Medicare, Social Security, the public school system, infrastructure, and other public works that benefit the common good.  We need to introduce single payer healthcare like other developed countries did decades ago.   We need to bring back unions which protect workers and their families.

Finally, we need to raise taxes on the rich.  In the 1950s, the rich were taxed at 90%!   That sounds excessive, but it really isn’t.  A wealthy person will still be rich even if most of their wealth is paid through taxes to benefit the community.  In an ethical and empathetic society, the wealthy don’t mind paying taxes for the common good.   Rich people in other countries don’t mind.   We never used to either.   When the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, they don’t create new jobs, as we are told they do.    Instead, they buy back their own stocks, and they can literally buy politicians and political parties whose agenda benefits them the most.  Inequality increases, and everyone else’s quality of life declines.  Fascism begins to creep in.

Our empathy deficit.

At its core, the problem with America is a severe empathy deficit.  Greed and selfishness got the upper hand due to Reagan’s policies and tax breaks for the wealthy in the 1980s. Those who benefited the most and became rich (or richer) liked their newfound wealth so much they wanted more.  And more, and more, and more.   Demonizing the poor (and later, even the middle class) became a way to rationalize their insatiable greed, and to do so, they had to sacrifice empathy.   The utter heartlessness and cruelty of Trump’s America is the end result.

I’ll take democratic socialism any day over the kleptocratic near-fascist state we are now living in.   But democratic socialism (and really, any kind of democracy) requires empathy and a desire to contribute to the greater good.  We need to get back to that.  The lack of empathy is anathema to life and could lead to the end of humanity, not just the end of America.

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Further reading:

The Benefits of Socialism

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The Year of Fascism: Ten Lessons We Should Learn from 2018

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I just finished an article that is both profoundly depressing and profoundly eye opening.    I won’t summarize it here.  Just read it.   I think the writer (Umar Haque) nailed what happened to us in a way no one else has.

Fascism came to America in 2018.  And most of us still won’t admit it.  We still think, “it can’t happen here.”  But it already has.   Until we admit we have become a fascist nation, things will continue to get even worse.

The cure for fascism is almost ridiculously simple: restore the middle class.  There’s a simple way to do this.  But will America ever admit it failed its middle class and humble itself enough to do what needs to be done to restore the middle class?  I wonder.

The Year of Fascism; 10 Lessons We Should Learn From 2018