When I was a kid I played in a pasture and what a playground that was. There were weird bugs and colorful plants to play with, birds to look at and even box turtles to pick up and admire. Then there was also a lot dull looking but benign tall grass that made finding the interesting stuff more challenging and fun. In short, a diverse stimulating environment.
But it also had hazards, like piles of horseshit, which were definitely to be avoided. In that way, it reminds me of textbooks I’ve seen over the years, both as a student and as a teacher. Some fairly dull stuff, some very informative stuff and piles of intellectual excrement that you don’t want to step in.
Which brings me to the following textbook-style dictionary definition of socialism:
“Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.”
If you read something like that in an Econ 101 textbook, clean it off your shoe now because it is pure horseshit. Socialism is actually a diverse ever evolving socio-economic movement. A few socialists still believe in an authoritarian government owned economy, but that foolishness gathers a lot of dust and cobwebs today. It’s a sad delusion given the history of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies.
Today, socialists talk about how a socialist marketplace can work: a mix of public and privately owned enterprises along with worker-owned businesses, non-profits, co-ops, self-employed service providers and informal economic networks. The proportions of the mix and how to manage it are a source of spirited discussion.
Dull witted textbook writers, long winded Ayn Rand acolytes, besotted Tea Party members and long dead Soviet propagandists have been defining socialism for far too long. It’s time the USA gets reacquainted with the socialist movement as it is today.
Socialists are supposed to work toward a more egalitarian society, narrowing the economic gap between top and bottom. How they do that is all over the map. Literally.
Just look at the different nations where socialists have political influence. Compare China, Sweden, France and Cuba. They all get slapped with the label “socialist” but they might as well be on different planets. Maybe their "more egalitarian society" has a long ways to go, but they debate it with a seriousness that is seriously lacking here in the good ole USA.
But why should the USA become a more egalitarian society? Isn’t the whole point of being an American to get rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice? To win by dying with the most toys. To spread gross inequality across the planet so we may exploit cheap labor and cheap resources while threatening sanctions and even war on those who disagree? To rule the world and fly the Stars and Stripes over every nation where we have the military force to plant it?
Sure it is if you enjoy making millions of people miserable. Silly me, I thought the Declaration of Independence said “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” not “Life, liberty and the pursuit of obscene wealth.”
Our current race for gross inequality is not making us any happier, quite the contrary, it is making us more anxious and mean. And it sure doesn’t do much for the citzens of Bangladesh whose sweatshops fill our Walmarts or in oil producing countries like Iraq or Libya where we make war to get more of that sticky goo.
Research from people like Richard Wilkinson and Shigehiro Oishi shows that the USA with its gross inequalities between rich and poor inflicts serious damage on itself. We have created the conditions for more mental illness, more personal and domestic violence, more teen pregnancy, more serious drug abuse and a multitude of other social problems. It also ruins our personal and public health. And yes, it can even trigger riots and other violent disorders.
Gross inequality creates the conditions for more crimes, from the the massive destruction of our economy by the corporate criminals to the neighborhood robberies by the working class criminals. Our sociopathic levels of inequality breed a greater sense of distrust among people. It destroys community and stifles cooperation. Try having an intelligent political debate in this country and watch the screaming match begin. What a way to run a democracy.
Now combine all of that with the violence and expense of war. Open your eyes to the wounded in body and spirit, to the families who have lost loved ones and to all of those in faraway lands who have also suffered these losses. Think of how all of those billions we’ve wasted on weapons and military bases. Being the rent-cops-of-the-world is a burden we can no longer afford. We can’t even rule ourselves very well. What
makes us think we can rule the world?
I suppose sado-masochists might enjoy this sort of thing, but what about the rest of us?
If we want to get back on track and actually pursue happiness, we’ll have to ditch our military empire and put that money and those people to better use. Instead of trying to rule the world and shower our CEO’s with more moola than they could ever spend in seven reincarnations, how about creating enough jobs for all Americans?
Yeah, let think big. Let’s go for full employment. Our rightwing citizens complain about how poor people, especially poor people of color, are lazy and don’t want to work. A genuine full employment economy should shut their mouths about that nonsense.
Since much of private sector is too busy playing roulette on Wall Street, we are going to have to use public money for job creation. That means taxing the wealthy and getting government into the job creation business. But not just any jobs. We need useful jobs that benefit society. Who needs mountaintop removers, officer workers whose sole job is to deny people health benefits or lawyers who help corporations rip of untold amounts of the USA’s precious wealth. Some jobs simply should not exist.
I can hear that cries of anguish now,” But that's….so…so….so..socialism!” Well, if you think that’s socialism, you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.
In a full employment economy, workers aren’t as afraid of telling off their bosses about unsafe conditions, environmental damage, disrespectful treatment and poverty wages. Why, because they can always find another job. Heck, just think what it could do for union organizing. Working class people would be able to fight back in the class war and regain some of the wealth that has been vacuumed up to the top. We might even be able to reduce class war to class disagreement and negotiate a lot of this stuff peacefully without as many strikes, protests and boycotts.
With more worker empowerment confronting management over the bargaining table, maybe we could reduce the size of government agencies charged with labor law compliance. How about public assistance, food stamps, unemployment compensation, workers compensation and other social programs? Full employment could reduce the need for those too. We might even end up shrinking the size of government despite the investment in jobs, who knows?
Full employment would put a serious dent in our toxic income inequality. That could mean less crime, less mental illness, less domestic violence and less of a whole lot of other nasty social ills. Think of the $$$$ we could save. Like the old cliche goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
With the amount of social anxiety and mean-spiritedness reduced, maybe we could tackle our long entrenched racial and gender caste system and reduce discrimination with more success. We’d be able to educate our children better to generate better ideas and better creative achievements. The list goes on.
If all of this sounds very socialistic, all I can say is, damn right it does. If you like the concept but want to call it something else, I don’t care. A rose is a rose by any other name. But the enemies of human progress will call you a socialist anyway, so maybe you’d consider joining the club. We sure could use you because in addition to the shortage of jobs, we have an acute shortage of socialists.
Would full employment be a utopia? Hell no. It would have all kinds of problems including a whole bunch that no one can anticipate. You want a utopia? Check out the science fiction and fantasy section of your local library, assuming it hasn’t been closed down for lack of funding.
It will take a revolution to create a full employment society and get our democracy back. What form would such a revolution take? I haven’t a clue. I hope it will be as non-violent as humanly possible, but that’s up to what people do in an uncertain future. I only know that the road we are on now is the Road to Perdition. Time to take a left turn.