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Defending democratic socialism

Bravo to Carter Rowley, whose Sept. 18 letter on democratic socialism was spot on.

Once again, we need to explain what “social” and “socialism” mean in MODERN DEMOCRACIES to people who think Democrats and progressives will turn America into a new USSR. Reading and hearing this nonsense day in and day out is embarrassing.

We are not always right, and we are not always the super-duperest country in the history of the universe. Why are we so childishly averse to seeing what might be working well elsewhere?

“Well, if you don’t like it here, just get the #$%@ out!” What an un-American retort. Criticizing my government and noticing what other countries do better doesn’t make me an enemy of the state. This has nothing to do with disrespecting soldiers or flags, or diminishing anyone’s sacrifices. Patriotism isn’t a fundamentalist religion.

In democratic societies, people live together in communities (wait — community — commune — communist!) and elect governments to establish order, build infrastructure, educate people, build economies and keep people safe.

Ideally, people pay taxes that are put into a pot from which the money is redistributed for the common good. Granted, any “ism” run by humans (especially capitalism) is prone to corruption and abuse, which unfortunately can lead to great injustice and suffering. Utopia is unattainable.

That being said, here are just a few of the “socialist” programs Americans enjoy: roads, schools, libraries, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, water and sewer systems, environmental protection, fire and police protection, unemployment insurance and snow plowing. Are you a public school teacher? Government employee? Are the people’s taxes not being redistributed to pay your salary? Isn’t that “socialist?” Would buying your own fire squad and self-funding Social Security release you from socialistic tyranny?

The biggest social program of all, the U.S. military, pays billions of your dollars to private contractors to build the weapons we need to keep inventing reasons to wage perpetual, obscene, senseless wars (ourselves or by proxy). But that kind of socialism is OK, right?

Truth is, today’s social democracies work pretty well. There is no perfect society — but it’s well documented that their quality of life is quite superior to ours in many ways.

People in these countries are less stressed, less anxious, healthier and more rested, and experience less violence than Americans. Sure, they have family problems and political conflicts and bad things happen to them like the rest of us. But when you spend time in these societies, the difference is palpable. The daily angst of struggling to have basic needs met, overwhelming personal debt, fear of losing everything if you get seriously ill, lack of leisure time, not being able to save for retirement and emergencies — it’s just. Not. There. Why?

These citizens are not lazy or asking for handouts. They value honest work just like you. Their systems are forms of capitalism. The difference is, they believe in their collective responsibility to see that everyone lives in dignity, and to protect the most vulnerable: children, the sick and the elderly. Their “social security” is not just retirement benefits; it’s health care, elder care, child care, higher education and much more. They spend much less per capita on health care with much better outcomes. Most everything closes for two hours for lunch, and vacation time is sacrosanct. Yet somehow, they are still highly productive.

Imagine. No one has to have a spaghetti dinner to collect money for a child’s cancer treatment. You don’t have to be wealthy or face insurmountable debt to go to university. Rich or poor, you are admitted based on academic merit, not on wealth. There are many non-academic alternatives leading to professional careers in nursing, business, plumbing, you name it. The single mom running her own business has the exact same access to child care and health care as the mortgage banker living next door. Leisure time is taken for granted. They don’t preach about phony “family values”; they actually value families and support them.

“Yeah, but do you know what they pay in taxes!?” Yes, I do. On the surface it seems high. They also get an exponentially higher return and ultimately pay LESS. Author Steven Hill has been writing about this for years, as have others. In his 2013 article in the Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-myth-of-low-tax-america-why-americans-arent-getting-their-moneys-worth/274945/), “The Myth of Low-Tax America: Why Americans Aren’t Getting their Money’s Worth,” Hill expertly explains how tax-phobic Americans in fact pay much more out of pocket for a decent life than their “highly taxed” European counterparts. In part, he writes:

“In the United States, any discussion of taxes revives age-old arguments about individualism vs. collectivism. … The idea of ‘forced sharing’ is one of the bright dividing lines of politics.

“But in most of the rest of the developed world these dilemmas have been more or less settled, and with a different outcome. … For the most part, people don’t view taxes as collectivism steamrolling over the individual. Rather, taxes are viewed as a kind of membership dues that self-interested individuals pay to be in a club from which they all mutually benefit.

“Millions of hard-working Americans never have the opportunity to enjoy such a comprehensive level of support for themselves and their families, unless they can pay a ton of money out-of-pocket — which most can’t afford.

“Or unless they are a member of the United States Congress, who spare themselves nothing, and provide European-level support for themselves and their families, even as they pull up the drawbridge for the rest of us.”

The money is there. How we spend it is what matters.

To me, democratic socialism is much kinder than the American way — namely “If you can’t pull your own sick, poor self up by your own bootstraps, you must not be working hard enough! Figure it out!”

Americans are always squawking about freedom. What if you were free from the angst and fatigue of struggling to access health care, child care, elder care, leisure time and a decent, happy retirement? Free from the despair that results in violence? THAT is freedom.

Annette Scheuer lives in Saranac Lake.

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