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~ T.S. Eliot
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Socialism in America

I am so tired of hearing people rant and rave about socialism, people who can't even spell it and obviously don't know what it is. These people usually accuse our president of having a socialist agenda. Well, he's in good company, like Ben Franklin. We'll get to him. But first, here's a dictionary definition of socialism:

socialism   'sō shə lizəm
a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

"The community as a whole." How awful.

Do you want to excavate, grade, and pave that highway all by yourself? Do you want to regulate traffic on those roads all by yourself? You can't go in with your neighbors, now, because that would be a community working together as a whole. You must do all this alone. Do you want to hire a private contractor and pay for that all by yourself?

The truth is that America has always had a mixed economy, some capitalism, some socialism, some private, some public, ever since and even before the founders added "to promote the General Welfare" to the preamble of our sacred Constitution, even before the word socialism was bandied about, before the word was ever in use. It was considered a good thing. How can we promote the General Welfare if we don't band together, work together, cooperate with one another, and each of us pay our fair share?

But if you don't want any socialism, you're welcome to go the route of the rugged individualist. Just do it honestly and consistently. First, give up your Social Security, your Medicare, take your kids out of public schools and universities. There goes ACC basketball. It will hurt, but you must turn your back on the Armed Forces, who have joined together to protect us all and are paid for out of the public kitty. If you're a veteran, you get no benefits when you get out. No GI Bill for education. No VA hospitals. No nothing. 

I don't care how you travel as long as you don't drive on our public roads; stay off the Interstates, especially. And don't use city water and sewer, handle your own intake and output as best you can. Can't you dig a well and have an outhouse? Use candles and lanterns, stay away from socialist city power. All the street lights go out on your street, and garbage pick-up stops. Don't call the police force no matter how badly you need them, don't call the fire department, stay out of the library and buy all your books, magazines and newspapers. Get yourself a pony to deliver your mail because you can't use the Post Office anymore. Never park your car at a public space and put money into a socialist parking meter. Never pay another toll on the road again. And stay out of city, state and national parks. They aren't for you.

None of this is new; it's always been there. When the founders added "to promote the General Welfare" to the preamble to the Constitution, they enshrined communal projects, but this was already the American way of life. The first Public School was established by Puritan settlers in 1635. Benjamin Franklin, who had been the British postmaster for the colonies, appointed our first Postmaster General in 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence. He established the first fire department, a volunteer one. Franklin also started the first library, a subscription library; he and his peers pooled their money to buy books, which they could then take out and read. Sounds a bit socialist, hmm? This library has grown into a great scholarly and research library today, and Franklin hired the first American librarian.

What would the city of Boston be without its famous T? They are proud to have the nation's first subway system, which goes back to the 1800s. It took a bit of socialism to pull that off, not to mention today's Big Dig.  And when you tithe at your church and that money goes to pay the salary of the preacher, and church expenses, you're banding together with others in your church community in a little socialist activity.

All of these things are for the public good, and they are too big for the individual to do on his or her own. So we come together, put money in a pot in the form of taxes, and we take on these tasks as communities, as towns, counties, states, as a nation as a whole. And yes that means there is some socialism in our economy, but it wasn't even called that. And that means we redistribute the wealth to where it is most needed for the General Welfare. No, not that kind of welfare. The General Welfare, The Public Good. We all pay for what is good for all of us. We learn in economics class that we have a mixed economy, and these socialist aspects don't make the United States a socialist country any more than voting made Afghanistan a true democracy.

When the country was small we didn't even need an income tax. Until 1817, the federal government got its money from internal taxes, taxes on spirits, carriages, sugar, tobacco, and slaves, but that year it switched to tariffs. The income tax was begun in 1862, was stopped in 1872 and was restarted in 1894. The 16th Amendment was added in 1913 and made the federal income tax a fixture of American life. The income tax has always been progressive, a vital feature we have been losing since 1980. The tax of 1894 applied only to individuals making over $4000 per year, less than 10% of the population. And imagine if the stewards of our money, that is Congress, did not abuse their tax collection powers and truly spent our tax dollars on the general welfare, the more perfect union, domestic tranquility and common defense: taxes would be lower, and so would blood pressure and tempers. So that's one problem.

But I think the main problem is that what these low information voters really mean is that they don't want Marxism, and they think all socialism is Marxism and communism. They think public projects are socialist, therefore, Marxist, and are intended to lead to the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a classless society under communism with central planning and gulags and the whole schmeer. Every thing would be public. By force. I abhor that prospect in every way. And our president is not a Marxist. But what of the opposite? Privatizing? I think that privatizing everything is just as dangerous and as suicidal as communism, but that's a subject for another day.

Communalism is not communism. Communalism is good. Community is not communist. Community is good. The public and the private sectors co-exist beautifully in our culture and have since Ferdinand and Isabella financed Christopher Columbus's plan to find a better route to the West Indies, politically correct or not. Think about that the next time you drive on a public road or mail a letter on your way to the mall.


  1. You tell them, girl!

  2. This was your best ever. very informative. I still can't believe you weren't a government professor! Thanks for sharing very , very informative.

  3. bravo....I love it when the truth is told.

  4. wonderfully done - I have shared it, and thank you for your work

  5. Your fine post came to me via a friend of mine who works at The Smithsonian in DC and now it has been shared out to my own community via Facebook; well done! I couldn't have said it better myself and I HAVE tried!

  6. This should be etched at the foot of Mount Rushmore. A wonderful piece! Thank you so much for pointing me to it.

    All the best,

    Tom Degan

  7. I enjoyed the article & shared it with my Political Science professor.

  8. There's one very important word which you've not used here, Gretta, and one which is used to describe certain US states, but not all, but one which describes and readily applies to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada: 'commonwealth' - indeed, the former British Empire is now called 'The Commonwealth'.

    In contrast, by-and-large, the US is all about personal wealth and beggar-thy-neighbour.

  9. Cosmic Navel Lint, there are 4 US states which are technically "commonwealths". Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, I believe.

  10. Some thoughts on socialism and the US:

    1) Socialism doesn't scale very well. It works much better in small, homogeneous countries. It works very well at the family level.

    2) Our country was/is horribly disfigured by the Confederates. The South was based on low wage labor, and the Confederates have always been out to lower our wages.

    3) Socialism is good for some things (i.e., health care), not so good for other things (i.e., consumer goods, agriculture). If only things in this country weren't so binary.

    4) One thing Europe got right that we didn't was that they don't means test benefits. There are no better allies rich, right wing allies.

  11. If socialism mean protecting the health of all citizens rather than the profits of Big Med then every other civilized country in the world is socialist, so the term loses all meaning.