I am very grateful to Bernie Sanders for helping to educate the public about socialism and income inequality. Is socialism the scary boogey man it has been painted as in the last few decades? In short, I argue no. Socialism has been given a bad rap, as has welfare. Just a little exploration can illuminate the reasons why. Socialism involves the redistribution of wealth which can help explain why the richest Americans would not like for the concept to gain popularity. Many who have lots of money do not want to give more of their wealth to lower income citizens. Today I explore what socialism, democratic socialism and welfare actually means and make my case for Bernie Sanders as the solution for our country. First I should explain why I believe I am qualified to call myself a Political Scientist.
As an activist, I have been involved in politics but I tend to focus on cannabis politics. Our sorry state of federal politics has made Americans, me included, feel powerless to change political discourse. I vote anyway and advocate that everyone vote regardless of whether you feel you have power. Today is a different political climate than it was almost 14 years ago in 2002 when I earned my Political Science degree with a minor in History. In 2008, I was inspired by President Obama that we could transform politics. I didn’t think he could take our country as far as we needed to go, but we had to start somewhere. Bernie Sanders has inspired me to believe that a peaceful revolution was possible.
Bernie is also inspiring me to dust off my Political Science degree. 14 years ago, when I would mention socialism, people would gasp. It was much the same reaction as when I told people I believed we should legalize cannabis/marijuana. I became a Political Science major at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO because I knew the world was in need of improvement and I wanted to learn what “politics” actually was. My ultimate goal was to change the world for the better. I resolved to learn about our economic system and alternatives since clearly our current system favored the rich. This led me to ask the question, what exactly is socialism?
In my professional opinion that I formed in college, I define socialism as an economic system that involves redistributing wealth so people who have resources can support people without resources. Online dictionaries disagree with my definition. Online, search optimized definitions do not paint socialism in good colors. Google offered this definition first, “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.” I don’t think Americans would agree that the public should own all of our property and wealth.
Bernie Sanders considers himself a democratic socialist. So let’s explore Bernie’s chosen political affiliation. The Democratic Socialists of America say, “Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.” They seem to argue that all people should own the property, means of production and businesses. I have a hard time believing Bernie would really advocate that all business ownership should be transferred to the people or to the government. He certainly does believe in taxing the wealthy and businesses that have more money. That is the socialism I can believe in.
Social Security and Medicare
Bernie champions Medicare and Social Security and I would argue these programs are the best examples of American socialism. Americans pay into our own Social Security and Medicare accounts, but the withholdings from a modest earner’s income are not enough to pay the skyrocketing costs of our medical needs and our cost of living. Wikipedia says, “On average, Medicare covers about half (48 percent) of the health care charges for those enrolled.” With regards to social security, Wikipedia states, “In American society, the term welfare arguably has negative connotations. The term Social Security, in the United States, refers to a specific social insurance program for the retired and the disabled.” Because the wages people made in their time is not going to be worth the same amount due to inflation, the government’s social security program which saves our money for us is not likely to be enough to support us when we get older, especially because life expectancy is higher than it once was.
American’s Ironic Relationship with Welfare
The idea that we would allow welfare or socialism to have a negative connotation is ironic considering Medicare and Social Security are so incredibly popular. In July 2015, a poll reported by cnbc stated that 83% of Americans support Social Security and 77% support Medicare. The best example of this irony was reported by President Obama. He read a letter from a woman on July 28th, 2009 as reported by the Weekly Standard. “I got a letter the other day from a woman; she said, I don’t want government-run health care, I don’t want socialized medicine, and don’t touch my Medicare. [Laughter.] And I wanted to say, well, I mean, that’s what Medicare is, is it’s a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with. But I think that we’ve been so accustomed to hearing those phrases that sometimes we can’t sort out the myth from the reality.” Here is the CNN video where Obama says this. The Weekly Standard went on to report that this sentiment was echoed the same day by a man at a town hall meeting on July 28th, 2009. As Obama explained, it is impossible to keep the government out of government run programs like Medicare and Social Security. I argue that these programs illustrate that the government can do something right.
Here is a previously considered “radical” idea that is catching on and shouldn’t be considered radical; I would rather Medicare and Social Security be further subsidized by the richer Americans and I believe some form of these services should be available to all lower and middle class Americans of any age based on their needs. We can’t have successful businesses without a combined effort from all workers in all industries. We can’t make money unless we use transportation and roads to get to work. If we work from home we most likely need the internet, postal employees or a telecommunications network which most likely people can’t provide on their own. Those who are able to live comfortably because they have enough money to pay their bills owe society for creating the circumstances that allowed them to make their money.
Welfare or How About Subsidism?
Merriam-Webster defines welfare as “a government program for poor or unemployed people that helps pay for their food, housing, medical costs, etc.” This definition should be more palatable to Americans than the definition of socialism and communism. If the idea of welfare, socialism and communism is too scary then perhaps we can think about curing income inequality by subsidizing those that are less fortunate. Perhaps we should establish an economic concept that our government facilitate taxation on the wealthy to go toward the Americans whose needs are not being met. Granted this is also pretty much exactly the definition of welfare, but sometimes we need to call the same concept something else in order to have the best chance for it to catch on. We can call it “subsidism.” It’s much like socialism, except without the idea that the government or the people own all business and wealth. It allows for capitalism but redistributes some of the wealth so businesses or wealthy individuals give back to the people that made their wealth possible.
I am not a religious person, but I have strong beliefs. I grew up Christian so I understand the teachings of Jesus. If socialism, or subsidism does not catch on, then perhaps we could try a new concept that I’ll call, “Jesusism.” If Jesus was living among us today, he is unlikely to say we shouldn’t help other people. Jesus would not let those with Leprosy suffer without care and without people around them to help. We Americans typically adore Jesus, but we seem to demonize the idea of socialism which is designed to take from the rich and give to the poor. Jesus helped the poor. Our country should try to be more like the Jesus I grew up learning about.
Hopefully this analysis of socialism, Social Security, Medicare, subsidism, Jesusism and welfare helps to clear the ironic fog that the wealthiest Americans want the poor and middle class to be blinded by. Please don’t let the socialist stigma hurt Bernie Sanders. Don’t be fooled by cynical Americans that don’t believe in American’s abilities to learn that democratic socialism can help and not hinder a candidate. Bernie is already teaching us that democratic socialism can help solve our problems caused by income inequality. Be a part of the revolution. Vote Bernie Sanders.
Featured Photo Credit: Dawn Teo