email@example.com, 19 March 2016
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (2016) labels himself as a “democratic socialist”, thereby upsetting many who are firmly opposed to any form of socialism. But those same people fail to observe Abe Lincoln’s third requirement for an enduring government: it must be “for the people”; “of the people” and “by the people” are not enough.
I believe that a government that is actually for the people must include some socialistic programs.
Socialism today: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance and perhaps Obamacare.
Communism today: public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
“Private” (non-governmental) socialism today: all forms of insurance, especially car insurance, fire (homeowners) insurance, health care insurance, malpractice insurance, and any other form of liability insurance.
Social security is the best known type of socialism in the United States. All workers, self-employed or employed by an employer, pay the same percentage of their gross income (up to about $108,000) into what amounts to a modest retirement plan. However, they obtain much more money when they retire than they (and their employers) have contributed. Because this extra cash comes from taxpayers, the program is socialistic. Despite this label, the program has always been very popular. Nevertheless, many Republicans want to privatize this program, leaving its beneficiaries exposed to the unpredictable risks of the stock market.
Medicare is another well known type of socialism supported by the so-called payroll tax (or the self-employment tax). After age 65, beneficiaries pay a low fixed monthly premium plus 20 percent of their bills from doctors and hospitals. Beneficiaries may purchase a “Medicare supplement” from private insurers that pays all or part of the 20 percent. After buying such a supplement, the insured is tempted is to seek medical care for every little pain or discomfort.
A Medicare beneficiary with a “supplement” is participating in two types of socialism, the second being what I call “private socialism”.
Again, many Republicans want to privatize this program by handing out vouchers that will be turned over to for-profit insurance companies. Such a change without regulations of insurance premiums would eventually deprive seniors of the means to pay for needed health case (as will Obamacare in its present form).
Medicaid is even more socialistic: “poor” people pay almost nothing for this benefit that covers almost all of their expenses for health care. But the payments to providers are so low that many refuse to “accept” Medicaid.
Obamacare is a complex form of insurance, but most of it is paid for by taxpayers, and beneficiaries often receive little or no benefits because of high annual deductibles exceeding $5,000. That is, Obamacare is an expensive wasteful program whose benefits inure largely to greedy private insurance companies. It is not really socialism, since it provides little benefit to its beneficiaries. Adding a “public option”, originally suggested by Obama, could make it at least somewhat socialistic and likely to succeed. In its present form, it is destined for complete failure in a few years.
The practical and socialistic solution to these problems is to provide Medicare for people of all ages based on a substantial tax on income but without any (other) payments for health care insurance. People would enjoy the same quality of health care independent of income; worry about losing health care because of unemployment would cease.
The foregoing programs are safety nets. They are favored by most people because they provide benefits “for the people” including peace of mind, even though they are socialistic. But since “socialism” is a dirty word in American politics, these programs are provided with a great deal of reluctance, which makes them wasteful because they are surrounded with complex rules for eligibility. Basic unemployment insurance is not truly socialistic because it is limited and is fully paid for by employers, but so-called “federal extensions” are fully funded by taxpayers. Such insurance is not limited in The Netherlands, and Dutch citizens enjoy increased peace of mind as a result.
Any type of insurance is socialistic, since it involves pooling money to protect those who need protection. Everyone else just pays for peace of mind; the insurance money goes to careless drivers, sloppy doctors, homeowners who smoke in bed, and other negligent people. Health care insurance is very different, since people are seldom able to avoid sickness and injury.
In liability insurance based on negligence, the large number of careful people pay for the errors of the few careless ones. But why? In a truly capitalist system, each person would pay for his or her own errors; a very careful person would never pay anything, including “premiums” for insurance. With insurance, large numbers of worried people and those compelled to buy (say) car insurance pay substantial tributes year after year to a for-profit company. We pool our resources so that none of us will face bankruptcy from a large claim for damages. That is nothing but socialism, especially when the purchase of insurance is compelled by the government, usually by the state. Why should you pay part of the damage I cause when I crash into another car and injure it and its driver? But most of us would buy car insurance even if it was not compelled.
Finally, consider a type of American communism: public education from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Each person pays a tax – usually a property tax – but receives an education free of charge. The property tax is paid after a person receives the education, and often to a state or county that did not provide the education. In addition, the (state) government owns, maintains and pays for the “means of production”; i.e., the school buildings, equipment, other expenses and payment of salaries for teachers and administrators. (Charter schools are still supported by the government.) This is true communism, but it is a service that few people want to terminate.
A basic college education has saddled many graduates with unaffordable bills that they may never be able to pay fully. Bernie Sanders favors free tuition for state colleges and universities for academically qualified persons. Germany has provided successfully such a program for years. Yet another form of socialism that is truly “for the people”!
Another benefit of socialistic safety nets is a peaceful society with minimal violence from guns and other violent conduct. Peace of mind engenders peace by reducing stress. Did you ever wonder why gun violence is minimal in Western European countries and Canada but high in America? The answer is simple: they are all socialistic. I doubt that strict gun-control laws are the main reason; New York City has long had such laws, but it also has had major gun violence.
Two powerful causes of stress and violence in the United states are the great inequalities of income and wealth. With most wealth and income concentrated in the top one percent of Americans and the consequent loss of upward mobility for the rest of us, most Americans have suffered income stagnation for the past few decades without hope for a better future.
The foregoing problems will ruin America unless our government truly becomes “for the people”.