Monday, November 21, 2016

Accept It: Socialism Is Simply a Word That Describes How to Provide a Public Good.

Capitalism is very much the opposite. It describes a process for skimming money off the top of providing goods or services. Like it was a good thing! (Sometimes yes, as an incentive! But often corrupting...)

Single-payer healthcare doesn't mean Trotsky is coming for our children.

I taught Economics on the high-school level, so many of my economic principles are pretty lean. But one thing that's struck me as true, not just from studying economics but from observing human nature and history: We're better when we use a mix of systems. For example, a command economy, which is dictated from the top, falls prey to fascism and authoritarianism. A laissez-faire, capitalist economy is open to corruption in unregulated "free" markets, where capital gets hoarded and inequality is rampant. Econ texts generally point students to mixed economies that seem to function well in democracies.

Fine. So what's a mixed economy supposed to look like? Ideally, we'd have a mix of public and private commerce, in which public goods -- like roads, bridges, water systems, transit, ports, etc. -- are built to remain part of the public sector because it's meant to benefit all of the people on some level. Sure, importers and exporters gain more from the ports and transportation systems then, say, teachers do, but in general citizens gain from the availability of goods not produced in their neighborhood, like food, for instance.

So the state creates and maintains the public systems so that private enterprise prospers. A robust private sector can do many of the things government isn't good at, like manufacturing the myriad of goods and providing the many services that a top-heavy government would only get bogged down in trying to handle.

So far, so good. Where we get in trouble is not knowing where to draw the line. It should be pretty clear, but it's not. Here, I think, are some clear examples: police and fire services should be public because a profit motive would distort that. What if you had to subscribe to get police protection? What if your house burnt down because you let your subscription to the fire department lapse?

We actually do subscribe to get police and fire services. It's called paying taxes. Simple enough? Yep. Governments collect taxes to provide for the public good. That goes for roads, bridges, water systems, as well. Taxes and fees take care of it.

Back to drawing the line. The U.S. and western Europe, in fact much of the world, have benefited by codifying how all this works. It's called the rule of law. There's also an element of culture or general practice. We don't have a law that says the police should be provided by cities and counties and states, but it's just become common practice.

The point of all of this is to simply point out that citizens counting on their government, trusting their government, agreeing that their government provide for the common good is called socialism. Sure, some people have a problem with that word because alarmists and fantasists conflated the word with communism during the Great Red Scare in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. By now we should just be grown ups and work together for the common good.

Sorry, but a lot of damage has been done in our ability to trust the government to do these things. And that wasn't an accident. Those who wish capitalism and unregulated free markets to operate freely -- in order to build wealth, in some cases to frightening proportions -- have sown the seeds of mistrust of government in order to frighten people into voting against their own self-interests. In fact, these same forces have brought people to doubt the media as somehow distorting information against the citizens' own interests. Funny, though, how this distrust of media tends to reinforce the wonder of free markets versus government-provided public goods.

So as a way to judge what's what, I suggest you look at places that the capitalistic-oriented search for profit expands the availability and affordability of a needed good or service, and places where the search for profit inhibits or reduces availability and affordability. This is especially a good test for goods and services that are vital for living a good, safe, and healthy life.

The U.S. has gotten stuck with health care on the wrong side of this mix. Insert profit motive into health care, and people die if they don't have the money. It's pure and simple. It's not complicated. So, yes, we should socialize medicine. Don't let charged words obscure what's best for a society.

Socialism. A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Capitalism. An economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

Either political and economic system would run afoul of citizens' interests alone because of a tendency toward corruption and/or stagnation. A mix works. Celebrate that, and work hard to know what works best with what and where.

This isn't rocket science, but it easily falls prey to bamboozlement.

Bamboozlement. a state of deception or mystification.

Don't fall for it.

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