"The times, they are a-changin'"…
Everyone knows the iconic phrase from Bob Dylan's song on the 1964 album of the same name — but the times are always a-changin'. Again, we all know this.
But not everyone sees which way the winds of change are blowing. Not everyone sees the tide irresistibly approaching. If one examines history, one will see that when it comes to politics, socialism has been expanding to every nation on the planet – sometimes in spurts and false starts, sometimes temporarily retreating, but socialism has been slowly increasing around the world since the nineteenth century as country after country has been finding that a social democracy is a better path to prosperity.
The proof can be found in the fact that America no longer has the longest life expectancy in the world as we did in 1945; we're now 30th on the list. We no longer have the highest standard of living; we're now 12th on the list of countries listed on the Human Development Index.
America is quickly being left behind technologically, as is evinced by the high-speed trains that are found in many countries (even in 'third-world' China), but only one – the not-so-speedy Acela – here in America. The world's premier scientific facility is not in America, but in CERN on the Swiss/French frontier. Our educational system is woefully underfunded – and kept that way by those who insist that it's merely a matter of 'spending the money wisely'. We are no longer the world's greatest creditor, but the world's greatest debtor. The only – repeat, ONLY – arena in which we truly lead the world is in military power.
Right-wing ideologues would have us believe that the fiscal prosperity America needs can only be found in a deregulated free market – but even Alan Greenspan now admits the notion that a deregulated free market is self-correcting is faulty. Economic activity, like nearly all other forms of human interaction need some measure of regulation.
America's health-care train wreck is a prime example of the failure of deregulation. HMO's, Big Pharma, and their primary political beneficiary, the Republican party, would have us believe we have the best health care in the world…and for those Americans who can afford it, they are right. However, for the vast majority of Americans who cannot afford it, we're left to legal haggling for our very lives with HMO's…or medical tourism, which I've personally found to be every bit as good as the medical care to which I have access stateside, but FAR cheaper. But the majority of Americans cannot afford the best health care, and cannot afford to travel overseas. This is how we have fallen to 30th place on the life expectancy list…behind Bosnia, Jordan, and the top twenty-seven, ALL of which have Universal Health Care.
America's health care woes are not the major concern, but merely a symptom of the overall problem. Frankly, the problem is that we have too much individual freedom.
Yes, I said we have too much individual freedom.
As I make that statement I can just hear the cla-clack of millions of shotguns aiming in my direction…and rightfully so, if I were advocating an actual loss of our freedom. But I'm not, not at all! America is my home and let no one doubt my patriotism!
Too much freedom is every bit as bad as too little. Aristotle advocated "Moderation in all things". If we have too little freedom, we of course have tyranny and great injustice. If we have too much freedom, we have anarchy and injustice. What America – indeed, all of mankind – needs, is 'Goldilocks freedom': not too much nor too little, but just enough to have the best balance between individual opportunity and social responsibility. Just for the sake of argument, let's refer to this as a kind of 'bell curve of freedom', with the far left leading to anarchy, and the far right leading to tyranny.
And what could socialism have to do with 'Goldilocks freedom'?
It's time to decriminalize the word. During the Cold War, America understandably equated 'socialism' with 'communism' because of the actual name of our enemy, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But the USSR has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Let us now dispassionately look once more at socialism, its history, and how it already applies to most of the free world.
First of all, socialism is NOT communism. The two are not even closely related. Marx and Engels supported socialism, but only as a halfway point between capitalism and communism. Unfortunately for much of the world, their ideas evinced a lack of understanding of the human animal. Communism – true communism, as they envisioned it, is completely incompatible with the human psyche. It simply won't work.
Conversely, anarchy – total freedom – is every bit as unacceptable to humanity. A group of people in an anarchic setting will organize. Some will take command, some will follow. Thus it has always been throughout human history.
Now we enter the concept of social democracy…similar to that which is practiced by every industrialized democracy on the planet except for America. According to the Brittanica Online Encyclopedia:
After World War II, social-democratic parties came to power in several nations of western Europe—e.g., West Germany, Sweden, and Great Britain (in the Labour Party)—and laid the foundations for modern European social-welfare programs. With its ascendancy, social democracy changed gradually, most notably in West Germany. These changes generally reflected a moderation of the 19th-century socialist doctrine of wholesale nationalization of business and industry. Although the principles of the various social-democratic parties began to diverge somewhat, certain common fundamental principles emerged. In addition to abandoning violence and revolution as tools of social change, social democracy took a stand in opposition to totalitarianism. The Marxist view of democracy as a “bourgeois” facade for class rule was abandoned, and democracy was proclaimed essential for socialist ideals. Increasingly, social democracy adopted the goal of state regulation, but not state ownership, of business and industry as sufficient to further economic growth and equitable income. (emphasis added)
And this is precisely what the other industrialized democracies have found to be true: state regulation, but NOT state ownership, of business and industry are sufficient to economic growth and equitable income. Japan has Universal Health Care, but 85% of their hospitals are privately-owned.
Health care is not the only symptom – look at how fuel prices have plummeted! The laws of supply and demand cannot account for the gas prices having fallen so far, so quickly. The deregulation of Big Oil – driven by the conservatives (remember the 'Enron loophole'?) and approved by Bill Clinton (a liberal in all but economic theory) – allowed oil speculation to run rampant.
Most obvious is the result of the deregulation of the lending industry, which snowballed into the global economic crisis we're all enduring right now.
This is not to say that government regulation is needed in all things. The single most crucial fact is that the Freedom of the Press must be free from all government interference. Most liberals do NOT like the 'Fairness Doctrine' – never mind that right-wing pundits are proclaiming that we're trying to bring it back. The 'Fairness Doctrine' – like communism – is simply not workable, not compatible with the human psyche. There is ONE government regulation that should apply to the press: the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Right now, only a few men control ninety percent of all radio stations…and this is a greater threat to freedom than any armed force outside our borders. Freedom of speech must above all be our most precious right, and when the news is controlled by few, tyranny cannot be far behind. The freedom of speech is the surest guarantor of freedom. It must not be compromised.
In conclusion, the idea of social democracy is not a matter of limiting freedom, but of pragmatism, of finding the proper balance between individual freedoms and social responsibility. The proof is incontrovertible that we need Universal Health Care and greater regulation of our financial sector…and more freedom of our press.
It is time to decriminalize the word socialism. Like all other concepts, socialism has its advantages and disadvantages. We should take advantage of the qualities of socialism that would benefit America and the American people, and discard that which would not. Moderation in all things…even with individual freedoms.
"The times, they are a-changin'" – and all the other industrialized democracies except for America adapted to the times by realizing that they best served their respective populations by proper governance and regulation, not by too little governance.