When some of my right-wing acquaintances find out that I come from a Danish social democracy and that I think it generally is a great system, the reactions vary. A few of them get downright hostile:
- “Go to Russia if you are so fond of socialism.”
But most comments circle around some variation of the following:
- “It is un-American. That is just not how we do it here.”
- “Why should the government take money from those who did well, and then hand it out to those who refuse to contribute to society?”
The fear is right under the surface.
They fear of some all-powerful federal government will come along and take all incentive to succeed from hard-working individuals. They see socialism as a road that leads to life-less, listless, worker-drones stripped of any forward motion.
They see a world where the government just takes all, and hands it out to lazy frauds who take advantage of the system. And I agree with them: That is certainly not what we are aiming for.
But their fears are based on… well… chiefly their fears.
Unfortunately, many cannot bring the two ideologies together in their mind. They see socialism and capitalism as two separate, and mutually exclusive, modes of thought.
This stubborn mindset comes from the fact that they have heard it repeated so much that they regard it as gospel.
The word “government” or “socialism” is consistently used in American right-wing debate along with words such as: “unnecessary,” “ineffective,” “forced,” or even “evil.”
On the other hand, we are used to hearing the words “business” or “private enterprise” in connection with: “important,” “effective,” “self-regulating,” and “good.” It follows that they automatically associate these words with positive connotations.
Having heard this for decades, it is natural that people see it that way without questioning why.
It creates a living verbal myth that is assumed to be reality.
A myth that just makes people nod their heads: “Yes, that is of course the way it is. Businesses are always better at fixing problems than any government programs.”
If we look at debate in this country, we see that these ways of framing the conversation have been used again and again. They have created a mindset, where people are entrenched in this over-simplified and automatic interpretation.
But as is the case with many stock answers, they don’t hold up under scrutiny: Government programs are important. They provide services for the general welfare that are not profitable: Building roads, maintaining bridges, providing the protection of the coast guard, and the military are all funded by the government. So are social security, public schools, head-start programs, veteran’s services, providing emergency relief, etc.
These and many other programs are not profitable and therefore they have to be provided by the government: They are for the common good. They cannot be privatized. Can you imagine a military for-hire? A mercenary army? Can you imagine a road system, where only the ones who were able to afford paying toll on every single road could drive?
In short: We already have many of elements of a social democracy in the United States. And we don’t even think twice about it.
Bernie Sanders advocates The Nordic model
This is a mixed economy, where social programs provide services for all in a society driven by private enterprise. He wants some of the huge amounts of hoarded and accumulated wealth (that has been siphoned off to the wealthiest top one tenth of one percent in America) to be used to fund functional and well-monitored government programs that benefit the common good.
This merger of capitalism and social programs doesn’t gel with a black and white mindset
It doesn’t work for people who consider business saintly, and government sinful.
What we are really up against here is a mindset that is produced mainly from habitual thinking of either/or scenarios. Therefore,when we offer suggestions for other ways of doing things than our highly dysfunctional current system, we often encounter hostility.
For many, un-checked capitalism is a holy cow. It is sacrosanct. Met with suggestions to look outside of the box and add more social programs to the mix, we run into stock answers:
- “it just doesn’t work,”
- “it sounds great, but we can’t pay for it.”
In the meantime, new wealth, as if it were cream, keeps floating almost exclusively to the top one percent.
The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer in today’s America.
So how do we move forward?
We need to redefine the debate to avoid closing down dialogue.
Instead of playing into the current hostility by digging our heels in, we can find common ground. We can start working towards solutions that –definitions be damned— actually work for the widest group of people possible.
There are plenty of issues where we can join forces with those who wish to shrink the government.
We silently, by our lack of attention to it, accept that Walmart indirectly receives about a million dollars annually in tax dollars PER STORE. The Walmart dynasty doesn’t need these kinds of tax handouts. It is owned by a family that owns as much wealth as 42% of the poorest Americans.
We allow our elected officials to donate our tax dollars to companies like Exxon Mobil that makes $89 million dollars PER DAY in profit. Do you think it might be related to the fact that the oil lobby spends about $300,000 PER DAY lobbying congress?
Why do we allow our tax dollars to subsidize sugar and corn production in ways that don’t benefit the small-scale farmers who work hard to survive in an increasingly corporately owned food production cycle? This subsidy helps the manufacture of bogus products that only make our populace sicker and harm the environment.
We can start a productive dialogue about these topics with our friends across the aisle.
This kind of government spending does not benefit the short-term or long-term interests of the American people in any way.
We can join forces with those who want to shrink the government in the shared understanding that we simply refuse to let our tax-payer money continue to go to corporations, who frankly make enough as it is.
We can start a debate about the prospect that all our news and media corporations are owned by a few private mega-wealthy corporate entities, and if this isn’t deadly for diversity and freedom of speech?
We can join forces and ask questions about why private donors, who benefit from tax breaks on their donations, are somehow less threatening to the integrity of college programs than federally funded ones?
We can join forces and investigate why corporate lobbying is allowed in our political process in the first place? We can ask questions about why it is OK to have a few oligarchs influence public policy in Washington DC.
These are just a few areas where we can start a dialogue around topics that have some common-sense traction. Topics that should have appeal to both sides of our politically divided nation.
The bottom line is this:
We have to wake up and find common ground across the political divide. Studies show that wealth inequality is an early predictor of future civil war. They point to the fact that income inequality is on the rise in both the United States and in Eastern Europe, while the countries of northern and western Europe that have embraced social democratic thought are maintaining a more equal status between its citizenry.
By finding common ground, instead of just slamming each other with the usual polarizing notions, we will mutually benefit. It is important to see, and avoid crashing into, the holy cows along the road as we embark on our journey down the poorly maintained roads of dialogue.
Be sure to to read the first article in this series – Social Democracies are for Socialists, Right?