“SOCIALISM” – the very word spreads fear into the hearts of many Americans. Sarah Palin recently accused Barack Obama of practicing socialism with his tax reform plans. The crowd booed and hissed in alarm.
Quite obviously, neither Palin nor her supporters have the faintest idea what the word means. To them, it’s linked to communism; though, of course, they have no idea what that means, either.
Years of determined indoctrination, by one US administration after another, have fused the two elements together into a vaguely disquieting threat accepted by most Americans as something they must fight, to prevent tainting their lives. Tell them that many European countries run on a, basically, socialist system these days, and they look at you in alarm.
That’s very sad, because it’s a fair bet America’s founding fathers knew all about socialism. After all, they were disentangling themselves from a monarchical system that had pervaded Europe for centuries.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” cried Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.
That phrase has become known as the definition of democracy, but it’s also a darned good definition of socialism. After all, the word derives from ‘social’, meaning:
of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society”
Over time, socialism has come to mean a political system whereby wealth is funneled down from the top echelons of society and distributed more evenly among society as a whole, usually in the form of quality educational, healthcare, and social welfare systems.
In contrast, market capitalism siphons wealth up from the bottom of society to a relative few at the top, in the form of consumerism. The human compulsion for greed causes the wealthy to cling to their fortunes. Consequently, over time, those at the bottom become worse off, until a form of temporary socialism has to be imposed to kick-start the consumerism, stalled due to lack of funding at the consumer end of society.
This is exactly the situation in the world today. Imagine society viewed as a pyramid, with the wealthiest at the top and the poorest at the bottom. Market capitalism will cause the pyramid to stretch and lengthen, forming a more pronounced peak of wealth at the top. Socialism causes it to contract, and the peak become less pronounced.
A major disadvantage of market capitalism is the requirement for the wealthy to provide services for the less well off. Without effective government control, they are less likely to shoulder these responsibilities without demanding a profit in return, and so vital services like those mentioned above suffer. When government is totally controlled by the rich and powerful, added burdens are placed on those further down the pyramid, who are expected to pay for vital services themselves – by increased taxes – while the wealthy pay little or no tax.
In countries like the United States, where market capitalism has been allowed to run rampant, the concept of contributing to vital services for the populace as a whole, has become abhorrent. ‘Taxation’ is a dirty word.
While market capitalism may create more wealthy members of society, it can only sustain a small number in relation to the populace as a whole, or the concept of consumerism collapses. Creating more wealthy individuals increases the power of the wealthy, causing a further rift between those at the top, and those lower down the pyramid; not a healthy situation for any society.
The idea of a society run on the principle of equally shared ownership has proved itself impractical on many occasions. Marxism doesn’t work. Even in so-called ‘communist’ states like Cuba or China, a hierarchy of wealth emerges eventually, and when those who gain control are less than benevolent, the results can be catastrophic, as with Stalin’s Russia.
A compromise system appears to be evolving in certain European countries, where a combination of market capitalism, combined with sensible taxation rates dependent on income at all levels of society (i.e. tax deducted as a percentage of earnings throughout the income band, with higher percentages for the higher earners) allows for a healthy flow of capital back down the pyramid, in the form of quality social services from which all can benefit. It’s no coincidence that France, for example, has one of the best (and free) healthcare systems in the world.
The drawback to integrating market capitalism and socialism lies in the continuing war of greed that causes the wealthy to constantly demand more from the consumer, either in the form of longer working hours, lower wages, or financially starved social systems. It is here that quality government is vital, to balance the needs of its people against maintaining a sound economy.
Perhaps the greatest threat to any stable social system lies with government. The purpose of any government is to fairly represent its people. To do so demands a fair proportion of representation for all aspects of society. Too often, government becomes the domain of the wealthy and powerful, to the detriment of the middle and working classes.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
It is obvious from studying this famous saying, that responsibility for ensuring fair and balanced government comes not from government itself, but from the populace. If the people opt to take sides in favor of their latest political idol, without recourse to deliberation on the idol’s ability to represent their interests, then responsibility for failure of government, and its consequences, rests not with the idol, but with the people.
Politicians are not fall guys to be adulated one day and condemned the next. It behooves the people to shoulder their responsibility and ensure they elect a representative worthy of their vote.
If they don’t, they have only themselves to blame, because whether the social system is entirely market capitalism based, socialist, or a combination of both, it will be guaranteed to fail.
“Palin Invokes Socialism Charge Against Obama”, ABC News, October 20th 2008
Filed under: Politics ‘R Us