There’s been much written on political philosophy over the past few months, and I must admit that reading it is a bit of a slog. Call me a political simpleton if you will, but the more I read, the more I believe that when it comes to deciding which political system is best, the most important factor should be, must be, the results that particular system has shown in the past. All other factors and considerations concerning a particular political system must be secondary to the sustained results that political system has shown.
So, what do we hear about America’s particular political system, socialized democracy? “The New Deal was a failure!” Never mind that for more than sixty years our economy was the envy of the planet and in many ways still is. Sure, there were ups and downs along the way, some bigger than others, but from the implementation of the New Deal to the repeal of Glass-Steagal, the strength of our economy was never truly threatened.
“The Great Society was a colossal failure!” Never mind that the statistics clearly show that the poverty rate was cut in half in the decade following LBJ’s proudest achievement, and even now in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the poverty rate is still significantly lower than before the Great Society, as Politifact.com pointed out to Bill O’Reilly, and as is clearly shown in this chart.
In all America’s history, the data make it obvious that the two programs above benefited more Americans to a greater extent than anything our government has done since Lincoln freed the slaves. Yet a substantial portion of conservative politicians and pundits vociferously claim that these two programs were attacks on the American way of life and assaults on freedom/democracy/free enterprise. So how do we define whether a government is good for its people?
I say that the higher the standard of living of the greater percentage of its population, and the greater the degree of the sustainability of said standard, the more successful the government. After all, what is the purpose of government? Many would cynically claim that a government is nothing more than power-hungry people wanting to exert authority over other people, and there are many, many examples where such is indeed the truth. But this is not true in all cases; indeed, in most cases in democratic nations, governments are comprised of people (some of whom are power-hungry) who are trying to do what they really think is best. I suspect that those who would claim otherwise, who try to tell us that all politicians are corrupt and/or power-hungry, do not realize that such a definition would include every president we’ve had; even including Washington and Lincoln and every one of America’s Founding Fathers. To be sure, some (perhaps even most) were corrupt at least to some extent. But being ethically pure doesn’t mean that one governs well (Adolf Hitler), nor does being somewhat corrupt mean that one cannot govern well (Winston Churchill).
But back to the subject of how to determine the success of a government. By the definition I suggest above, the best governments are the ones that benefit the most to the greatest degree for the longest periods of time. How shall we measure such success? I would suggest looking at the poverty rate and at the United Nations’ measure, the Human Development Index. These clearly show that the most successful nations are in Europe, America, most of the present and former British Commonwealth nations, Japan, and South Korea. Those who are interested in history will also note that most of these nations have been the most politically stable nations, some even for centuries.
What do these nations have in common? They are all democracies (though of many different types), and they are all socialized to varying degrees. This doesn’t automatically mean that these nations are perfect (they’re not) or that few if any people are poor or hungry (many still are), or that they are where any one person would prefer or be best suited to live. All that such metrics mean is that these nations have done the best for their populations to the greatest degree for the longest period of time.
Now there are some readers who will immediately call me a statist for implying that governments are necessary and often good for the people. So be it; if it makes me a statist to agree with Spock when he said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”, then call me a statist. But one must note that the pluralist statism (read: socialist democracy) that I espouse is in no way related to totalitarianism and nazism, for such are much more closely related to right-wing autoritarianism particularly when it comes to cultural issues. Furthermore, I’ve pointed out countless times my Goldilocks philosophy: moderation in all things. Too much or too little of any one thing, whether it’s freedom or government or money or power or even ice cream, is good for no one. Those who use this or that example to make sweeping claims that there is too much government fall afoul of my other tenet of human sociology: the greater the population of a society and the greater its level of technology, the greater the degree of regulation and the size of the government that will be necessary to maintain order in that society.
These are big picture concepts. Some will say, “What about the individual? What’s good for the nation isn’t necessarily good for me!” Such is the danger of the tyranny of the minority, where one or a few are able to prevent the majority from getting done that which is necessary for the nation as a whole. To be sure, there are many times when the rights of the minority must trump the desires of the majority, the Civil Rights struggle and today’s continuing battle for equal rights for LGBT’s are perhaps the best examples of such. But in most cases it is not good for the nation, as we can see by the ongoing effects of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.
But that’s the key point! Without a strong central government, able to impose its will when necessary upon the states, there would have been little chance even to the present day that several states in the South would have passed civil rights legislation on their own.
In the debate between statists and individualists (for lack of better descriptions), perhaps that’s the most salient point: when the greatest good is done for the greatest number of people for the longest period of time, it cannot be said that individual rights suffered. Why? Because those who benefited are not a faceless majority, but a great group of individuals, people with dreams and desires and freedoms of their own.
More than any other form of government in human history, America and the other socialized democracies of the world have done quite well for the greatest percentage of the individuals in their borders, and have done so for the longest period of time. That tells me that as messy and as frustrating as socialized democracy can be, we’re doing something right. For every single deadbeat who’s taking unfair advantage of the taxpayer, there are dozens, scores, perhaps even hundreds, who use government assistance as it’s intended: as a hand up out of poverty. And as the references I gave above clearly show, all in all we’re doing pretty well. It is a grave error to do that which makes more difficult the success of the scores or hundreds just to prevent the one from taking unfair advantage of the system.
Those who decry socialized democracy, who call it tyranny and totalitarianism, who compare it to communism and claim it’s not free at all, perhaps need to decide what it is that they really want. Do they want to live where the greatest number of people have a real chance at living the middle-class dream? Or do they want to live in a more Darwinian setting where those who are most skilled (and ruthless) enjoy the greatest level of success and where those who aren’t so skilled (or who weren’t born rich) are not destined for such success and live in poverty for the rest of their lives with no real hope of a way out?
It would be wise to remember something that Winston Churchill said in 1947: ”Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” As an example, when Churchill said this, socialized medicine had already been the law of the land for all male workers in England for thirty-six years. One year later it was extended to all British citizens. As has been the experience of most of the First World democracies with socialized medicine, while the people as a whole are a little less free in that they have to pay a bit more in taxes to support the health system, many, many people are a lot freer than they would be otherwise. Why? Because they’re alive and breathing since they had access to health care that they could not have afforded on their own. The proof lay in the generally significantly-higher life expectancies of those populations that live in nations with socialized health care.
Mick Jagger said it best, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need,” meaning (in the context of this article) you can’t have all the freedom you want, but in most cases you already have all the freedom you really need. Or, to paraphrase an old Navy saying, “America ain’t Burger King, you can’t always have it your way!” And that’s a good thing.