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Finnish Municipal Socialism

“Finland is the only EU country where homelessness is falling. Its secret? Giving people homes as soon as they need them – unconditionally.”

Finland, simply put, is socialist.

In the good ol’ days here in the United States of America, this is what used to be called sewer socialism or municipal socialism, what some would now prefer to more safely brand as social democracy but it’s the same difference. It was famous in Milwaukee, having lasted for almost three quarters of a century, from the Populism of the 1890s to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. This pragmatic socialist city was known all across the country as one of the most effectively governed at the time, praised during the early Cold War even by those who weren’t socialists.

Did you ever wonder why the citizens of Milwaukee were so happy in the tv sitcom Happy Days? It’s because they were living under this local form of democratic socialism, one of the few governments in U.S. history that literally was “of the people, by the people, for the people”. It truly was a good time to be a citizen of Milwaukee. The People had faith in their government and their government honored that faith by serving the public good. To put it far more simply, one might just call it democracy. What a crazy idea! Democracy, we should try it again sometime here in this country.

The sewer socialists were called such because they were the earliest American government to fund major public health projects. It was meant to be derogatory in the hope of dismissing their achievements as a mere obsession with sewers, but the socialists took it as a point of pride in it being a major advancement in dealing with the pollution of industrialization and the diseases of mass urbanization. Instead of only building sewers for the rich, they ensured all members of the community had hygienic living conditions and clean water, something that was novel during that period. Everyone was guaranteed to have basic needs met, including a public-owned-and-operated bakery. On top of this, they cleaned up organized crime and political cronyism. They were social and moral reformers.

Their success became the precedent that all other US cities followed and has since become standard all across the developed world. We now take this sewer socialism for granted since it has become central to every major country, either at the national or local level. Government municipalities are seen as a basic function of any well-functioning political system, but that wasn’t always the case. That was a profound change in the public perception of government’s role. Any country that lacks such basic amenities are presently judged as backwards or even as “third world”, as it is considered a sign of some combination of poverty, failure, and corruption.

Most important, sewer socialism is proven to work, proven again and again and again. It turns out improving the living conditions of the poor improves the living conditions of all of society. For those who have heard of Jesus Christ, you might remember him saying in no uncertain terms that, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Now consider this — as of 2010 in Finland, “church attendance is just 1.5 percent in the capital city region” (Nina Mustonen, Church Attendance Falls; Religion Seen as Private). So, why did it take the capital city in one of the most secular countries in the world to follow a central Christian dictum?

American Christians might want to contemplate that. All of us, Christian and otherwise, should rethink socialism, maybe rethink our entire society.

* * *

‘It’s a miracle’: Helsinki’s radical solution to homelessness
by Jon Henley, The Guardian

Housing First costs money, of course: Finland has spent €250m creating new homes and hiring 300 extra support workers. But a recent study showed the savings in emergency healthcare, social services and the justice system totalled as much as €15,000 a year for every homeless person in properly supported housing.

Interest in the policy beyond the country’s borders has been exceptional, from France to Australia, says Vesikansa. The British government is funding pilot schemes in Merseyside, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, whose Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, is due in Helsinki in July to see the policy in action.

But if Housing First is working in Helsinki, where half the country’s homeless people live, it is also because it is part of a much broader housing policy. More pilot schemes serve little real purpose, says Kaakinen: “We know what works. You can have all sorts of projects, but if you don’t have the actual homes … A sufficient supply of social housing is just crucial.”

And there, the Finnish capital is fortunate. Helsinki owns 60,000 social housing units; one in seven residents live in city-owned housing. It also owns 70% of the land within the city limits, runs its own construction company, and has a current target of building 7,000 more new homes – of all categories – a year.

In each new district, the city maintains a strict housing mix to limit social segregation: 25% social housing, 30% subsidised purchase, and 45% private sector. Helsinki also insists on no visible external differences between private and public housing stock, and sets no maximum income ceiling on its social housing tenants.

It has invested heavily, too, in homelessness prevention, setting up special teams to advise and help tenants in danger of losing their homes and halving the number of evictions from city-owned and social housing from 2008 to 2016.

“We own much of the land, we have a zoning monopoly, we run our own construction company,” says Riikka Karjalainen, senior planning officer. “That helped a lot with Housing First because simply, there is no way you will eradicate homelessness without a serious, big-picture housing policy.”

Non-White Elites and Ordinary Americans

Blacks and other minorities don’t like Bernie Sanders, an old white guy, because he is some combination of racist and out of touch. That is what some non-white elites keep repeating. I guess they’re hoping that if they repeat it enough voters will be persuaded to support the DNC establishment, which is to say the Clinton cronies. The implication seems to be that blacks should prioritize abstract identity politics over bread-and-butter progressivism. But most blacks aren’t persuaded. Maybe that is the reason for the ever more desperate obsession with this DNC talking point. What the elite fail to understand or else try to obfuscate is that economic populism cuts across the racial divide. Non-whites in the comfortable class are as much of problem as the rest.

This came up again in a clickbait article at The Roots, Bernie Sanders Is Not a Real Progressive by Terrell Jermaine Starr. I shouldn’t be surprised by still seeing this. But it is such  cynical ploy. Starr writes that, “All of this is fine with Trump’s supporters, as study after study after study (pdf) reveals that racism is what drives their support of him, not economic fears.Sanders seems unwilling to accept this. After robust criticism for lacking a racial analysis to complement his economic equality-heavy framework, he still insists on ignoring the fact that racial inequality is a leading concern of black voters in the United States and that racial anxiety was a motivating factor behind Trump’s base.” That is unreasonably simplistic. Much of the racism is xenophobia about immigrants stealing American jobs, which rather overtly makes it an economic concern. No one is arguing that it isn’t easy to rile up people with fear-mongering during economic hard times. Anyone who knows American history would be familiar with the reality that issues of race and economics have always been intertwined and often conflated. In fact, racism has been so powerful for the very reason it is typically how Americans talk about class, as the prevailing rhetoric has always been that the US isn’t a class-based society and hence that no class war exists. This is obvious bullshit. Even those pushing identity politics know it is bullshit. But just like the racist demagogues, the identitarian demagogues don’t want to talk about the problems of class and economics.

Continuing, he brings up this accusation: “So black and Latinx people aren’t concerned with bread-and-butter issues? We aren’t ordinary Americans? Why put such a break between race and economics? Sanders clearly means white Americans when he says “ordinary Americans.”” Sanders’ entire platform was based on the assumption that most Americans of all races and ethnicities are ordinary Americans who are concerned with bread-and-butter issues. It was his opponents who assumed otherwise, which is why like this author they keep trying to cynically use identity politics to divide these ordinary Americans. “Minorities disaffected with the political process should be Sanders’ true target,” is the suggestion he offers, apparently based on the view that many ordinary Americans are disaffected. I would agree and so would Sanders. So what is the point? The very demographics that Sanders won majority support from were those that were most disaffected in terms of low voter turnout, such as the poor and young minorities. But Sanders didn’t need to ‘target’ them to win their support. He just needed to treat them like normal humans, like ordinary Americans, and not as demographic categories in a campaign scheme to manipulate voters. Starr obviously doesn’t believe blacks are ordinary Americans and so should be treated differently. That is what Hillary Clinton did in her targeted speeches that shifted rhetoric according to demographics of each crowd. And that is why she lost the election.

The relentless accusations go on: “His most avid backers consistently point to his notable showing with young black voters in some states, while dismissing the votes of their parents and grandparents.” It’s progress that people this clueless are being forced to admit that many minorities did support Sanders after all. But even here he feels the need to lie about it. Sanders’ support of young minorities wasn’t limited to certain states, considering he won the majority of young minorities across the country. Look at the demographics. Starr comes across as an angry older black voter in his portraying young minorities as being told to, “Fuck your parents’ vote. And your parents’ parents’ vote, too.” If he really is concerned, maybe he should drop his paternalistic condescension toward young minorities. I’m sure young minorities know the reason they preferred Sanders. Just ask them. It’s not up to Sanders or any other white person to explain to cynical irate black journalists of the liberal class about why less economically secure younger minorities disagree about economic issues with more economically secure older minorities. Anyway, in speaking for older blacks, this black journalist’s words can be reversed: Fuck your kids’ vote. And your kids’ kids’ vote, too. But shouldn’t the younger generations be prioritized considering they represent the hope for the future and survival of our society? When older generations put their own interests before the well being of their children and grandchildren, that is a society that is on a suicidal decline. Besides, there is no need to make this into a generational fight, as presently Sanders’ popularity has grown beyond young minorities to now include most minorities over all. So, it appears there is no significant argument in the black population to sacrifice the future of the youth in order to appease old black voters with empty rhetoric. I suspect even older blacks, many of them having been loyal partisans, have begun to see through the con game that has been played on them by the Democratic establishment.

Racists like to complain that blacks all think alike and all vote alike. It’s amusing to see a black guy complaining that all blacks don’t behave in lockstep, daring to value their personal experience and economic position over identity politics. Why is it surprising that secular young minorities who are liberal progressives support different politicians than older black church ladies who are social conservatives? Related to this is the accusation that Sanders is not a Democrat. Sure. Then again, 70% of eligible voters aren’t Democrats either and that includes plenty of minorities. That is ignoring the further issue that a ton of eligible voters, across all races, don’t vote in most elections. This is what gets lost in identity politics. The average minority voter in the Democratic Party isn’t the same as the average minority in the general population. One argument used is that one in ten Sanders primary voters ended up voting for Trump. But the same pattern of one in ten was seen with Obama primary voters switching parties in the general election. I don’t know why it is surprising that there is a significant portion of non-partisans whose support of individual politicians doesn’t indicate any partisan loyalty. Besides, if that is evidence that Sanders isn’t a Democrat, then neither is Obama and Clinton. One in four of Clinton’s primary voters went to McCain in the general election, many of them having stated that racism was deciding factor. By the Clintonista’s own arguments, that proves that Clinton is a racist. And that point is emphasized by how much worse Clinton did among minorities compared to previous presidential candidates.

Obviously, Hillary Clinton was the favorite among conservative Democrats, including conservative blacks. The complaint seems to be that Sanders was ineffective in reaching out to conservatives, which is what establishment-supporting partisans call ‘moderate’. Well, why would someone on the political left appeal to those on the political right? And why would someone on the political left support those who are pushing the entire political spectrum toward the right? Asking why Sanders didn’t appeal to black conservatives is akin to asking why he didn’t appeal to black libertarians, black fascists, and black plutocrats. Sanders is a progressive liberal and so appealed to people who share his values and views. Should Sanders have cynically sacrificed all principles like Clinton in order to manipulate people to vote for him? Why should he do that when, while fighting a corrupt political system, he was already getting the largest crowds of any presidential candidate in US history? The point is that most blacks, like most other Americans, are far to the left of Clinton and her supporters. Why should most minority voters be dismissed for the sake of a small but influential group of older black church ladies and their liberal class handlers? Still, let’s keep in mind that not all older blacks are church ladies. Sanders still won a sizable portion of older blacks with Clinton only doing marginally better. It’s not as if Clinton won a landslide among minorities. She actually did quite badly.

Starr next brings the situation into the present: “For the moment, Sanders’ supporters are celebrating Donna Brazile’s allegations that Clinton hijacked the primary process. It will further bolster his base and the “Bernie would have won” crowd, but it will do nothing to unify the Democratic Party.” Considering that most Americans (including most minorities) are independents and not partisans, why should they be concerned about sucking the cock of the party establishment? Most Americans support Sanders even stronger now than they did a year ago. They don’t want the Democratic status quo. They want actual progressivism. No doubt they are pissed about having the election stolen from them. Most Americans are tired of the corruption and want functioning democracy. Even after admitting that Clinton was ‘seedy’, he sticks to his talking points: “None of this will help Sanders win over critical black and brown votes in the 2020 primaries, if he does decide to run.” That isn’t a problem. Sanders already is the most popular politician in the country. Why is that so hard to understand?

This is what stands out to me. This black journalist is the senior reporter for this respectable publication. He has had a successful career and, at this point, he is a professional firmly lodged within the liberal class. Yet he wants to pretend to speak for all black people. Most of the black people he interacts with on a regular basis would also be part of the liberal class. The media professionals working at The Root aren’t typical blacks, much less ordinary Americans. He is so disconnected from most blacks and most Americans that he can’t comprehend or even acknowledge why, among both whites and blacks, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician. It appears that Sanders is speaking to blacks and they are listening, no matter what elite blacks may want to believe.

Let me bring this point home. One commenter summarized it well: “Still, nothing you say can change the fact that Sanders is, in reality, more popular among Latinx and black voters than he is among whites, and more popular among women than he is among men. This is shown to be true in poll after poll. […] Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America, and has been for some time, and continues to gain strength. He is viewed favourably by 92% of Democrats, and its more popular among Hillary voters than even Hillary is.” The most basic fact is that the policy positions of Bernie Sanders are rather moderate and smack in the center of public opinion. That is to say most Americans, across multiple demographics, agree with him. That is the actual center, the moral majority. If Sanders is a socialist, then so are the silenced majority. Why do some in positions of power and influence want to continue silencing this majority and those who speak to them and for them? I was about to say that Bernie Sanders represents the future. But the reality is that he represents the present, for most Americans. This is at a time when the American public is shifting left. If majority opinion matters whatsoever, including among the majority of minorities who soon will be the minority majority in the entire country, then the future will be far to the left of Bernie Sanders.

* * *

Skip to my Bayless
11/06/17 3:46pm
Everyone Bernie endorses loses.
This is completely false. So much so, that I’m not even going to take the time to correct you. Here’s the thing, what you libs don’t seem to get is that to us on the left, Bernie is the compromise. His policies are barely progressive enough. You all act like he’s a lunatic with these crazy assed ideas, when I see him as the only option. It’s crazy.
If you want to start stacking up losses, I’m down. 1,000 State Legislature Seats since 2009. 34 of 50 governorships. The House. The Senate. The Presidency. I guess Bernie started endorsing candidates to lose going back to 2009, now? Give me a fucking break.

Skip to my Bayless
11/06/17 4:00pm
Riiiiiight. The losses and the fact that the democratic party completely went to shit under Obama and Wasserman Schultz doesn’t count because Bernie is shallow. You people are legitimately insane. Seriously. I’ve never seen a group who has deluded themselves more. But you’re right. All I ever heard Obama and Clinton talk about was gerrymandering and the VRA and Citizens United (it was always thus). They wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it.
Even now, when Donna Brazile has basically said that the dems are a complete and total mess you just won’t come to terms with the fact that being “not the republicans” is not a platform that people will vote for. And then come the backhanded racism accusations. I’m shocked you didn’t slip something about russia in there. I think we’re done.

NoSale
11/06/17 10:39am
“Sanders isn’t the absolute, 100%, perfect candidate ever
…… so he’s trash, and I will never vote for him.”
This is how you get Donald Trump.

NoSale
11/06/17 11:25am
I’m not seeing that ‘act’ here. Economic insecurity affects minorities just as much if not more so than whites. Same with lack of universal healthcare, over-criminalization, and a poor minimum wage.
His whole message has been to not let anyone divide us up, and I feel like this over-analysis of this one statement (this article references another root article that basically says the same thing) is doing exactly that.

NoSale
11/06/17 11:30am
I really can’t answer that. It’s hard to be pragmatic and progressive. But you have a guy that wants to bring power to citizens and not corporations and obscenely rich people, all of which are verily skewed white. That has to count for a lot, and seems to be a rare thing.

NoSale
11/06/17 4:30pm
I feel like he’s done more than just tersely say it, though:
https://berniesanders.com/issues/racial-justice/
I also feel like Democrats have miserably failed to identify just how bad racism and sexism is here, and while there may be a few that have comprehensive plans to address the issue, I feel like they’ve been all talk, little to no results.
Bernie doesn’t have magical solutions for everything, but he’s getting PoCs and women involved in his orgs. I feel like he’s doing his best. Without corporate dollars or party backing. I’m willing to give him that benefit of the doubt.

skeffles
11/06/17 10:13am
There is another article up today asking why the left is failing. This article is why. Like him or loathe him, Sanders did more to energize the voting left than anyone else has done recently.

Skip to my Bayless
11/06/17 11:01am
Oh, let me make it more explicit for you: There are “crossover voters” in every election. The difference is that no Sanders surrogate went out and explicitly endorsed Trump. Brining this up as if it tipped the election is asinine. Your “claim” (if you can call it that) that Bernie did more harm than good (what metric are using and how are you defining those terms) because 10% of Sanders voters turned around and voted for Trump is dumb. Does that work for you?

Spencer Walker
11/06/17 6:47pm
More bernie supporters voted for Hillary than Hillary supporters voted for Obama what happened buttercup facts disagree with you

BazBake
11/06/17 11:52pm
Heh…
http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/329404-poll-bernie-sanders-countrys-most-popular-active-politician
Democrats: “This Bernie Sanders guy is awesome.”
Progressives: “This Bernie Sanders guy is amazing.”
Black folks: “This Bernie Sanders guy is great.”
Women of color: “This Bernie Sanders guy knows what he’s talking about.”
Latinos: “This Bernie Sanders guy is pretty good.”
Asians: “This Bernie Sanders guy seems solid.”
The Root: “Fuck this dude.”
Also, here’s the actual video everyone keeps linking Daily Beast quotes about. He’s not comparing economics to bigotry, he’s comparing economics to Russian crap.

dudebra
11/06/17 10:39am
The fact that nice, church going older black ladies lock stepped for “super predator” labeling Hillary is almost as weird to me as union members who vote for republicans. Hillary would have been much better than Trump but that is the lowest bar in American political history.
Hillary 2016 may have limited her racist dog whistles but she has never been progressive. There is no corporation, including all-time serial worker abusers Tyson and WalMart, that she wouldn’t sell out consumers or employees for.
Blacks, Hispanics, women and LGBTQ people, along with other oppressed groups, have to work for a living. Single payer health care and enforced, fair labor regulations would help 99% of all American citizens. That is the foundation of Progressive political thought and any hope of a just society is not possible without it. Bernie is not perfect but he is a thousandfold more Progressive than Hillary or the majority of the Democratic leadership.

11/06/17 11:01am
He did energize PoC. He energized PoC under 30.

Or do only “Older church-going black ladies” count as PoC?

RebZelmele
11/06/17 11:49am
From the sound of things, conservative old people who would normally move to the Republican party stick with the dems when they’re black despite still having a lot of Republican views on homosexuality, religion, and economics, and that gave Clinton an advantage with the black vote.

Juli
11/06/17 11:59am
Actually all of the church going black ladies I know voted for Sanders because they knew about Sanders. That’s the power of the media blackout. Church going black ladies who didn’t know they had options because they get their information from TV

Juli
11/06/17 12:05pm
This is not true. He energized POC when they knew about him. This is what happens when one candidate controls the party. This is so obvious. All of the manipulation of the debate schedule was so POC would not get this information. All of the media black outs. Showing Trump being offensive instead of streaming Sanders speeches was all so that POC would not get the information they needed to make an informed decision so the defaulted for the familiar instead of voting Trump (because duh) and she still lost. I am a black woman not a bro. But I don’t watch TV and Bernie Sanders is a progressive. Who paid for this nonsense.

Edgar
11/08/17 6:12am
Yes Congress votes on the bill my point was ,Do you honestly believe things would have been less progressive under his presidency . Like would things like abortion becoming illegal be a thing if Bernie were president? I don’t believe any of that was an actual worry for anyone . Theres nothing wrong with compromise , I don’t believe even you have a problem with a little compromise , I’m sure if you voted you most likely voted for Hillary which is proof that you don’t have an issue with compromise
Reply

Edgar
11/08/17 6:18am
This from the article you linked “If we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day we’re going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation,” he said. “And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.” how is he wrong ? I find it easier to compromise by electing a Democrat that might be behind on a few issues but can be shown the light ,than compromising by electing a republican that would never consider progressive thought what do you think

Ole Olson
11/06/17 5:10pm
You’re correct, he’s NOT a Democrat. You know who else isn’t? 70% of eligible voters. If 2016 should have demonstrated one thing with absolute clarity it’s that we can’t win elections with Democrats alone, we need independents to win.
And who is the most popular person in any party with independents? Bernie Sanders. He’s actually the most popular member of Congress in the entire nation too with the best net favorability ratings to boot.
So the real question is: do you want to start winning elections for a change, or are you happy that our party has lost over 1,000 seats nationally, and ultra-right wing Republicans now dominate EVERY branch of the federal government and have a trifecta of power in two thirds of states?

austroberta
11/06/17 10:59am
It is really quite a telling assumption, as nowhere in quote do you hear anything to suggest that POC are not ordinary assumptions. The folks that hate Bernie have ceased to argue a point without grasping at straws.
When Sanders is referring to ordinary Americans, he is referring to the working class, which includes White AND Black AND Latinos AND LGBTQ citizens, who struggle against a very small sliver of American society that is wealthy, powerful and can create laws which benefit them and only them.
Many times this country has made significant strides in social justice and economic progress, when POC AND Whites join together to fight the forces that oppress. Not all whites are demons and not all of them are exclusionary.

CrunchyThoughts
11/06/17 11:51am
Posts like this spur thoughts that theRoot is simply another establishment beachhead in the battle for our minds. No, he’s (Sanders) not perfect, but black people and black media have backed the Clintons for decades, and they’ve done nothing substantively positive for black/brown people or race relations.
Black people are not in position for any mass of dramatic change or severing from the system. So why not work with this man if you’re going to, currently, support this paradigm? He’s offered solutions that would ease the economic burden for everyone, and lessen if not remove the economic stress that inhibits real dialog and listening on the topic of race (as it pertains to anything). Just like mama doesn’t care about whatever game her kid wants when she can’t keep food on the table, when folks are struggling with debt (the real enemy) and hope, they leave little mental and emotional space for doing anything but solving that subsistence problem.
Stop playing checkers and think about the next generations.

ArtistAtLarge
11/06/17 10:55am
This country has moved so far right that ANY halt or reversal, no matter how small, it very damn important!
Fuck this purity bullshit. This country is in deep, deep shit, Poster child police state, deep state.

FireroseNekowolf
11/06/17 10:36am
I been through this on another one earlier. I think you’re reading it wrong. I think you got his strategy wrong. I think, personally, some people don’t get it because they’re not of the same political mindset.
Edit: Which, well, I am. I am a social democrat. Or “socialist” if you want. Just don’t tell that to the Communists, oh boy they get so salty when you compare social democracy to socialism!
You’re right, he’s not a progressive. He’s a social democrat. He’s not a “liberal,” he’s a “socialist.”
I’m not saying he’s perfect, but I always hear about how he ignores race or however you’d prefer to put it, I’m not really sure myself, but I’ve never seen it really explained why. Just “he does.”
He’s not saying minorities are not concerned with economic issues. But yes, he is saying “equally or more important, economics.” Because he’s a social democrat!
Look. Who are the poorest demographics in the US? Black and Latino minorities, no? So who would benefit the most from economic changes? Those same minorities.
But “equally or more importantly,” look throughout modern history. Social politics is tied to the state of economics, and economics is more widespread than minority issues. This is not to invalidate those issues or to suggest they’re put on the back burner. Absolutely not. Both can be engaged at the same time, because we’re humans, not some fucking computer from the 70s that can only run one process at a time.
However, economics is a cornerstone to leading that social change, both for the benefit of minorities, who with a new economic landscape would be able to have health care, have college, which brings down future debts and improving quality of life while finally getting at least a foot in the door, at all, even if small, for some degree of upward economic mobility, and for the benefit of the social policies that affect them, because when people have greater economic protections, they are more likely to be convinced of changing social attitudes.
No, it won’t stop racism, or solve it, or whatever. What it would do, however, is help level the playing field by bringing minorities upward most significantly, thereby aiding, with concerted efforts among lawmakers and representative organizations, in tackling racism in a way that could be quite effective because you’ve weakened one of the greatest tools of those who seek superiority – economics.
After all, what’s one of the best ways to suppress a minority? Keeping them poor, because when they’re poor, they’re not as integrated into the wider social system. By bringing them up economically, it allows them to become more integrated, where they became closer to the familiarity of the superior, for a lack of a better way of phrasing it.
That’s how we social democrats look at this issue. It isn’t that racism doesn’t matter, it’s that you have to tackle the economic structure otherwise you won’t make fruitful gains in the arena of social policy as well as economics, and that’s not even going into the distinction of class politics, which encompasses whites, blacks, latinos, etc. So it’s kind of a “greater good” kind of thing, cause, you know, classism is kind of our biggest deal as a social democrat.

AarghAarghII
11/06/17 11:58am
Speak for yourself, I may not be black or Latinx, but I am still an immigrant and proud to be a Sanders supporter. Your repeated attempts to paint Sanders as a whites-only candidate while devoid of any substantial policy discussion is telling in itself – it’s not the policies that matter, it’s the cult of personality that matters to you. For me, Sanders’ position as the best candidate was cemented when he boldly stood up against the leverage of Israel in US politics during the primaries and advocated for Palestinians. That was one of the most exciting moments of the 2016 election for me, especially considering the debate took place in NYC.
I’ll tell you what matters to me: a candidate that is willing to swing back at the economic conservatives in the DNC and RNC who insist that all deficits are bad (see the MMT article from Splinter for more on this) and those that are willing to overlook the harmful effects of austerities in small towns all across the US, including Flint and now Oakland, MI, Kansas, Puerto Rico and Wisconsin. All disproportionately affecting poor people, certainly including people of color. I challenge you to point out the real, substantial differences in identity politics between Hillary and Sanders if you really believe that Sanders is a whites-only candidate. As far as I can tell, their differences in this area are miniscule at best, it is their economics that differ widely with one candidate deriding the other’s economic ambition as ‘ponies.’ I bet fiscal conservatives felt they were real clever when PROMESA was enacted, sounding fiscally prudent and all. Enjoy the big bill coming your way as I laugh at your pennywise, pound foolishness. We have seen this movie before from the Tequila crisis to Argentina to the IMF age to modern day Greece, and some of us will not go along with any candidate that endorses the perverse notion of socialism for the rich and monetarism for the poor.

Torslin
11/06/17 11:45am
Really whether Bernie would have won or not is predicated on one specific group. The Obama voters who voted for Trump.
If you believe they voted for Trump because he appealed directly to their racism and they voted for Obama because he offered policies he liked, while Romney offered neither, Trump would have won anyway.
If you believe they voted for Trump because either they were worried economically, or because the Clintons have been hated in the midwest since Bill backtracked on NAFTA. He would have won.
While most voters who voted for Trump went with the former, i think that small group went with the latter, just because i know how angry people get about Clinton in those areas and did well before sanders. In a way i think Sanders support was over inflated due to Clinton hate. There are plenty of middle of the road people i know who voted Sanders.
That said, an actual progressive who excites the base could make winning way easier, as republicans have shown crossover moderate plans don’t work anymore.

Nightfox360
11/06/17 11:35am
These articles talking about immagration from a non hispanic or non immigrant writers is like me a hispanic person writing an article about slavery or black issues. And as much as i hate hearing people say it as I fully understand what went down, Obama was known as the Deporter in Chief and as for Bernie he spoke of fundamental issues that will plauge Americans weither a Republican racist or a Social Liberal Democrat hold office. Talking about both race relations and other social issues is important but so are economic issues the two arent mutualy exclusive both play a part in both uniting and dividing people. Even I someone who Im sure lacks the education this writer was fortunate enough to attain knows fully well that racial equality and equality of opportunity are needed to create a strong and fully functioning society.

Parasitism vs Public Good

Here is a theory of mine. The US is an immigrant country founded on the populations and territories of multiple empires. The US doesn’t have it’s own stable traditional culture, although a few small sub-populations do.

Because of this, the US has developed a society and economy that is dependent on a constant influx of immigrants and hence a constant infusion of social capital that these immigrants bring. The American Dream is most strongly believed in by immigrants because that is what it is designed for, as advertising to sell a product.

There is a dysfunction at the heart of it all. The US depends on and devours the social capital that other stable societies produce, but doesn’t seem able to produce enough of its own. The US is in many ways a parasitic society.

If the US suddenly stopped immigration or immigrants stopped coming, there would be no more replacement social capital. Could the US survive that for long? Would Americans find a way to transform their society into something more stable and self-sustainable? Or would the whole thing collapse?

The US is a young country. It’s dynamic culture is its strength and weakness. It’s normal for a young country, like a young person, to be unstable and dependent on others. But for long-term survival, a young country has to eventually grow up and gain maturity, if only for the reason other countries will lose tolerance and patience with the immaturity.

Ready or not, the US has to enter adulthood. What kind of society will we grow up to be? Assuming we don’t kill ourselves first, as the young sometimes do.

* * *

As a comparison, what comes to mind are the other countries based on former colonies of the British Empire. Such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. All of them seem more mature and stable, compared to the US.

Maybe this relates to several factors. The main one is these other countries didn’t have as much good farmland to attract, employ, and feed such massive waves of immigrants. They also didn’t have such vast amounts of other natural resources that allowed the economic boom in the US.

Without such things, they were able avoid the misfortune of having their ruling elite tempted by imperialist aspirations. Instead, they were forced to develop more internal stability and national self-reliance.

Canada particularly stands out, as it is quite a bit younger than the US and yet shares the same continent along with much of the same history. When Canada was founded as a country, it had a population about the same as when the US was founded. A similar starting point that went in a different direction.

For whatever reason, Canada never had large waves of immigrants and I’m not sure they were ever interested in following the immigration example at their southern border. Canadians seem to have had more of an immigrant policy of quality, rather than quantity. As far as I know, they don’t have a gigantic statue with resounding words about inviting huddled masses to their shores.

Is a country like Canada somehow more stable and mature than the US? If so, what might be the reason for this? Is it just because of what I mentioned? Or is there more going on? What makes possible, within a country, the development, maintenance, and perpetuation of social capital and culture of trust?

* * *

Anu Partanen, in The Nordic Theory of Everything, has got me thinking about what countries both create within their own society and how they impact other societies.

One example is education. The US has low ratings for primary education, while the Nordic countries rate more highly. On the other hand, the US has a higher education system that ranks high on some measures, although this is quite misleading.

The major rankings of national higher education only look at the best schools from each country which creates an inherent bias against smaller countries with fewer college students and fewer schools. If including all students in all higher education within the US and Nordic countries, the latter actually ranks higher. So, per capita, the Nordic countries are better educating their populations at the primary and higher levels.

Still, it remains true that the US ivy league schools are among the best in the world. There is an important factor to be considered. A large part of ivy league professors, graduate teaching assistants, and students were born, raised, and received primary education in other countries. The US benefits from the brain drain of other countries, but the US doesn’t have to pay for creating this benefit. The most brilliant people in the world will usually want to work in the best schools in the world and this constantly stacks the deck in favor of particular countries.

As such, the US doesn’t have to improve its own primary education. It can simply rely upon other countries with awesome primary education to keep producing high quality students to attend the US ivy league schools. Even wealthy Americans who go to ivy leagues typically got their primary education from high quality schools in other countries or else private schools in the US that avoid the problems of the US education system, as they certainly weren’t going to be sent to crappy public schools in the US.

The US benefits in many other ways as well. Partanen offered some great examples in how well functioning social democracies help to create an atmosphere of public good that isn’t limited to a single country. A welfare state, what the author calls a well-being state, allows for experimentation and innovation without fear of the consequences of failure. It can be easier to try new things, when there is social capital and a culture of trust to support your endeavors.

Below is the relevant passage from The Nordic Theory of Everything (Kindle Locations 4278-4301):

“We’ve seen how successful Nordic businesses are, and to be sure, in the Nordic private sector, the desire to make money is a powerful motivator. But Nordic societies are also leading innovators in the public and nonprofit arena, which has contributed to their dynamic competitiveness and prosperity as well. The creativity and ambition of Nordic government and nonprofit sectors are living proof that people in a capitalist democracy can be motivated by much more than simple greed.

“Consider Denmark again, a country that is pursuing the world’s most ambitious engineering solution to address climate change. Copenhagen has set a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by as early as 2025, and has been installing an ultra-high-tech wireless network of smart streetlamps and traffic lights that themselves save energy and also help traffic move more efficiently, reducing fuel consumption. All this is good for the environment, the nonprofit public sector, and the private sector. By aiming to wean itself as a nation off fossil fuels before 2050, for example, Denmark has become a world leader in the wind-power industry.

“Sweden, meanwhile, has set itself the ambitious goal of completely eliminating deaths from traffic accidents, and in the process is reinventing city planning, road building, traffic rules, and the use of technology to make transport safer. The country established the goal in 1997, and since then has reduced road deaths by half. Today only three out of every one hundred thousand Swedes die on the roads each year, compared to almost eleven in the United States. Consequently transportation officials from around the world have started to seek Sweden’s advice on traffic safety, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has based his street safety plan on Sweden’s approach.

“Of course one could also argue that the biggest Nordic innovation of all is the whole concept and execution of the well-being state.

“Americans might be surprised, too, by the ways that some of the key building blocks of the global technology sector have been the result of nonprofit innovation. The core programming code of Linux, for example— the leading computer operating system running on the world’s servers, mainframe computers, and supercomputers— was developed in Finland by a student at Helsinki University, Linus Torvalds, who released it free of charge as an open-source application. When Torvalds later received some valuable stock options, they were a gift of gratitude from some software developers. In addition Finns have made other significant contributions to the global open-source software movement, a community of coders who volunteer their time and skills to create free software for anyone to use. One of the world’s most popular open-source databases, MySQL, was created by a Finn named Monty Widenius and his Swedish partners. Today just about all American corporate giants— including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Walmart— rely on MySQL. Widenius and his team have, in the years since, nevertheless made good money, but they did so by providing support and other services, while the software itself remains free to the world.”

 

A Dangerous Pragmatism

How often pragmatism leads to or belies shortsightedness and narrowmindedness. Or rather how often claims, justifications and rationalizations of realism undermine greater pragmatic results, capitalist realism allied with realpolitik cynicism often being the worst.

The question as always: Pragmatic toward what?

In education, what is sought to be achieved and created? Not just for the individual. Not just for the workforce and economy. But for all of society. What makes a morally and intellectually well-rounded human being? What makes a good citizen, both of a nation and of the world? What makes for the public good?

These questions are even more important in a democracy. When democracy is given short shrift, when democracy is devalued or made secondary, if not tertiary, that bodes not well for the long-term survival of a democratic society. Nor does it offer much hope for moral results of any kind. Freedom of the individual, freedom of markets, freedom of all of society is dependent on how each generation is raised and acculturated, trained and educated.

Every society seeks pragmatic results, as defined by their political structure and cultural traditions. The Nazis and Stalinists all sought to be pragmatic toward achieving their desired end. They were as caught up in their fascist realism and communist realism as we are caught up in our capitalist realism. How about some plain old civic-minded democracy instead?

Let us be pragmatic about something that truly matters, something that can inspire and benefit everyone. Let us be pragmatic about democracy in all of its forms.

Let us create and sustain a democratic system and citizenry. Let us create and sustain a democratic economy and democratic markets. Let us create and sustain a democratic education system.

Let us do all of this pragmatically, not just with rhetoric and propaganda, but with real world results. Let us finally for the first time in history take democracy seriously, both on the large-scale and for the long-term. Let us together build the practical infrastructure and the grassroots culture of democracy.

Let us begin with a new generation by preparing them for a new era of democracy. Let us fulfill the democratic promise of education for all.

Illiberal Arts
‘Is College Worth It?’ and ‘College (Un)bound’
By Andrew Delbanco
The New York Times
Published: June 21, 2013

The colleges that survive will be those, in Selingo’s words, that “prove their worth.” Fair enough. But there’s a problem with this formulation, which presumes a narrow definition of worth that can be captured in data like rates of early job attainment or levels of lifetime income.

In times of economic stress, it’s entirely reasonable for students and families to demand evidence that paying for college makes sense. Bennett construes college as a business proposition, but Selingo allows himself to reflect on what’s sacrificed in such a view: “I worry at times about what might be lost in an unbound, personalized experience for students. Will they discover subjects they never knew existed? If a computer is telling them where to sit for class discussions, will they make those random connections that lead to lifelong friends? Will they be able to develop friendships and mentors if they move from provider to provider?”

These are the right questions. In striving to “prove their worth,” America’s colleges risk losing their value as places young ­people enter as adventurous adolescents and from which they emerge as intellectually curious adults. Such a loss could never be compensated by any gain.

Conservative-Minded Conservatism

I was thinking about forms of socialism that are popularly supported among conservatives in particular social contexts and under certain conditions. The specific example that got me thinking was the public bank in North Dakota (see my previous post), a socialist institution in one of the most conservative states in the country.

In a comment to that previous post, I wrote:

The red states like the Upper Midwest are ‘conservative’ in the more normal dictionary-definition sense of the word. I’ve always thought that socialism, like communalism, with its emphasis on the group and on community is inherently ‘conservative’ in that it seeks to conserve the public good of group cohesion and community health.

They are also conservative in another sense in that they want socialist public good for those they identify with at the local level: their states, their cities, their communities. But they don’t want to participate in any socialism that might help anyone else they don’t identify with.

This interests me on a personal level in two ways. My parents are conservative and I’ve always sensed a certain kind of conservative tendency in myself.

Part of what appeals to me about American liberalism is its conservative-mindedness. That is the same thing that appeals to me about the Upper Midwestern conservatism as well. It is conservatism that means to conserve what is good and proven, useful and necessary. It is moderate in that it seeks to moderate against radical change, but doesn’t take a reactionary stance against reform. It emphasizes community and even communalism, emphasizes family and church, putting group interests first by promoting social responsibility and local autonomy.

North Dakota is one of the most conservative states in the country. It is precisely because they are so extremely conservative that they have a state owned and operated bank.

To mainstream thought in America, this appears incongruent to say the least. Anti-socialist conservatives and anti-conservative socialists would probably feel some cognitive dissonance when presented with what is either conservative-minded socialism or sociaist-minded conservatism, not that North Dakotans would use such labels to describe their public banking system.

Whatever you call it, mainstream thought tells us that such a thing shouldn’t be possible. Certainly, it shouldn’t be successful. But reality doesn’t always conform to our ideological expectations. It turns out such a thing is both possible and, at least in this instance, apparently quite successful.

The North Dakota public bank has been in operation for almost a century. The bank makes a profit and the profit is kept in the bank. They don’t get involved in risky banking schemes in the way other states do when they use private banks. North Dakota did well when the rest of the country experienced the recession caused by the banking scandals. The North Dakota bank required no bailout.

It turns out a socialist bank is a more fiscally responsible way of running a state, instead of investing public tax money in risky private banks. Being a fiscally responsible form of government, it is fiscally conservative. Allowing for state autonomy and self-responsibility, it is socially conservative as well. North Dakotans take care of their own financing and they take care of their own people. They are thus more independent of both big government and big banks.

What at first appears incongruent is in reality perfectly congruent. Some basic analysis of the facts at hand dispels the initial cognitive dissonance.

I’d like to see more of this kind of conservative-minded conservatism, with or without socialism.

Localized Democracy and Public Good

To give balance to recent blog posts, I’ll share my thoughts that arose with a discussion I had with my dad.

He is definitely a conservative in most ways, fiscally and socially. However, he is intelligent and well informed which has caused him to adjust his views over time. I often use him as a way of testing the direction of political winds, specifically which way mainstream conservatism is blowing.

I can lean strongly left at times and my father can lean strongly right. This often leads to disagreements, but maybe just as often leads to certain kinds of agreements. As conservatism and liberalism meets in the middle, the right-wing and left-wing meets in the political desert.

It’s my dad’s fiscal conservatism that saves him from the ideological blindness of partisan politics. He is an economically practical man who has worked in and taught business management. It has been his business to consider new information. My leftism has maybe served a similar role. It’s basically within the general realm of libertarianism that my father and I can find common ground, although neither of us is an ideologically committed libertarian.

The discussion we were having was fairly typical, not unlike any number of other discussions we’ve had. I guess it stood out to me because I sensed my dad was struggling with new info and so reassessing a bit. There is a newsletter he reads and the financial advisor who writes it doesn’t seem particularly conservative. He was reading this newsletter and the info was food for thought.

For example, my dad is slowly coming around to taking environmentalism more seriously. He was reading about how we as a society can’t continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere. This might seem obvious to those on the left, but this is the type of info my dad has spent a lifetime avoiding and the conservative media has helped him avoid it.

Environmentalism isn’t the main issue my dad brought up, rather economics as it relates to politics. Environmentalism only connected because my dad was considering the commentary that oil will no longer play the role as a cheap energy source. This is problematic as our entire society has been literally fueled by cheap energy and it could be a while before we develop a new cheap energy.

The economics and politics angle, I think, related to developing new energy sources. My dad was telling me about how this financial advisor was saying debt itself wasn’t the problem, but whether deficit spending was being used toward pragmatic investments or not. This goes against my dad’s fiscal conservatism.

Both my dad and I agree that bailing out banks was a bad idea. I was telling my dad about Iceland and he wasn’t familiar with that example.  I also mentioned Sweden that is doing well, even with a massive welfare state relative to GDP. I used this as a jumping off point for explaining my personal theory (or rather set of theories), and my dad agreed.

My dad is wary of what he calls ‘populism’, but I pointed out that the policies in Iceland and Sweden seem to have been popularly supported in those countries. My speculation is that these countries represent optimal conditions for societal and economic health.

I see several essential factors. First and foremost, democracy seems key which doesn’t imply any single form of democracy, moreso just the general principles of democracy in society overall (not just politics, but also in social institutions, community organizing and economic systems). I suspect that democracy only functions well under certain conditions.

There are obvious differences between the US and countries such as Iceland and Sweden. The US is massive in terms of both population and geographical territory. This might be the most important part as I have yet to see it proven that genuine democracy can function at all on the largescale. With this massiveness, there also comes massive diversity that disallows easy organizing and governing. In the US, every special interest group seems out for their own private good. There isn’t a single shared culture to create a sense of social solidarity and common good.

For these reasons, you can only find some well functioning democracy on the local level of American politics. And even on the local level, well functioning democracy in the US is more rare as local communities have been undermined and in many cases decimated. The federal government helped to end much oppression and corruption on the local level, yet often just shifted the problems to the federal level. The closest the US has ever come to something akin to the Northern European social democracies is, to use one of my favorite examples, the early 20th century municipal socialism of Milwaukee.

To my mind, democracy and local governance go hand in hand. However, that local governance has to be supported by a shared local culture. The problem of  many post-colonial countries is that their boundaries were created according to political demands and compromises. This has meant that a single country might contain multiple tribal cultures while any single tribal culture might be divided between multiple countries. Unsurprisingly, these are conflict-ridden societies.

The US seems to be in an impossible situation. I see no likely way of getting democracy to function in the US, definitely not on the federal level and probably not even on the state level. There are just two many special interests and too many lobby groups, not to mention that most of the founding elites never wanted democracy.

My sense of democracy is somewhat open-ended. Democracy maybe isn’t a single ideological system in the way capitalism is. Democracy applies to all aspects of society and can allow for many possible ideological systems. My ideal well functioning democracy could manifest quite diversely depending on the local culture. It could be more capitalist or more socialist or even more religious.

This does seem to be a more libertarian interpretation of democracy. This could be minarchist democracy, but I don’t know that it wouldn’t also allow larger political alliances that might resemble the government of a larger country or union.

The problem with actual functioning capitalism is that it is completely opposed to my vision of democracy. If capitalism is supposed to be a free market, I don’t know what kind of freedom this is or whose freedom it is. It certainly isn’t a democratic economy.

My dad could agree with much of what I said, but he struggles with the notion of a democratic economy for his fear of ‘populism’. Nonetheless, the fact that a mainstream conservative like my dad could agree with my general argument is impressive. There is already a lot of agreement in American society, but the anti-democratic system gets in the way.

I wonder when global society and local communities will get shook up enough to begin implementing something entirely new, beyond a few exceptions found in isolation.

Wickedness of Civilization & the Role of Government

I’ve become aware of an inner conflict in the American psyche that goes back to even before the country was founded. This inner conflict includes those on both the left and the right, but it often seems the clearest on the right since the right has taken a more radical stance these past decades.

This inner conflict was expressed by Thomas Paine.

On one side, Paine advised that the only role of government was in punishing wickedness. So, he saw the role of government more in preventing the negative than in promoting the positive. He stated this in no uncertain terms.

On the other side, Paine perceived that all of civilization was built on certain core issues of wickedness which meant such wickedness was immense and pervasive. So, he saw the necessity of a government strong enough and centralized enough to counteract the strong, centralized private power that had come to form in the colonies from the lack of a strong, centralized government (for, in the early centuries of the British colonies, the British government had a hands-off approach).

Paine fought against American elites as strongly as he did British elites. The problem was elitism along with the corruption and cronyism that followed from it, no matter it’s source.

It was Paine who first spoke of America in terms of being a united people. And it was Paine who most strongly spoke of economic and political inequality which led him to be the first American to describe in detail an early version of social security. Paine was a radical democrat, not an anarchist or a libertarian (his having placed fairness as being the necessary foundation for liberty). Paine believed in putting the power in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of an elite. He believed a democratic government was the only way to accomplish this.

Today, someone like Paine might be called a liberal or progressive. Conservatives, if they met him now, would likely call him a Marxist or something. And it is true Paine’s words even all these centuries later still has a left-wing resonance about them. After all, by the time he came to America, he no longer was seeking reform from within the system as a centrist, moderate liberal would do and for damn sure he wasn’t interested in conserving all things British simply because he was born an Englishman, as was conservative Burke’s main concern.

Whatever Paine was or how we now perceive him, he was a profound thinker who was capable of complex understanding and not afraid of hard questions. But what makes him most interesting is how ordinary he was, only coming to revolutionary thinking in what is now called middle age (in a society where most people never lived that long). The kind of ideas he gave voice to had been in the air at that point for generations or even centuries, slowly percolating. He was both a man of his times and yet, in seeing more clearly than those around him, he was far ahead of his times.

It was this that allowed him to simultaneously see the problems of British rule of the colonies and the necessity of a new kind of self-rule, which is to say government was both the problem and the solution. That said, it’s true that he differentiated society from government and saw society as the more fundamental. He wrote that,

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.”

His point seems to have been that a necessary evil is still necessary. Also, what he meant is that government should serve society (i.e., the people), not the other way around. He came to this nuanced thinking because he realized there was no way to undo modern civilization without causing mass suffering. He agreed that the Native Americans had more basic liberty in their everyday lives, but the problem was that the colonial population was too large and growing to have that kind of lifestyle.

These two sides of Paine represent the two sides of the inner conflict that have haunted Americans ever since. Conservatives, in particular, find themselves in a tough spot in advocating one side of Paine while dismissing the other. Liberals, however, tend to agree more with Paine in emphasizing both sides. Still, both conservatives and liberals have failed in coming to terms with this inner conflict. The problem is that conservatives won’t even acknowledge the inner conflict. They’ll praise the side of Paine they like while ignoring the other side as if it didn’t exist.

Without Paine who inspired the masses to fight for democracy, the American Revolution wouldn’t have won. And if the American Revolution hadn’t been won, there would be no America in which the elite Founding Fathers could squash democracy by once again disenfranchising the majority. All that happened in early America is that we switched from one ruling elite to another. The problem of elites ruling politics was never dealt with.

Conservatives like to think that if we just had wise elites like in the past then all problems would be solved. They don’t mind having elites to rule over us like oligarchs, just as long as those oligarchs conform to conservative oligarchy. As for liberals, they’ve offered little in the way of a vision to counteract this belief in a conservative oligarchy, instead adding liberal reform to smooth out the sharp edges and cover up the uglier aspects. Liberal moderation and compromise has too often just meant weakness and complicity.

Radical liberals like Paine no longer have the influence as was seen in early America.

‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Finland

Finland vs America is simply socialism vs capitalism. The Finnish are running their public education system according to the model of democratic socialism (in case you didn’t know, democratic socialism is what Marx was advocating).

In Finland, their social democracy doesn’t encourage or prioritize capitalist competition but instead encourages and prioritizes democracy in its best sense. In America, on the other hand, capitalism has had a long history of undermining democracy and hence public good.

It’s not even that Finland is an absolute perfect example of socialism any more than America is an absolute perfect example of capitalism. Rather, the point is that America strives toward a more capitalist worldview and Finland strives toward a more socialist worldview. Two different strivings leading to two very different results.

By the way, if you want to see where children get the best public education in America, just look at the states with high percentages of Scandinavian ethnicities. For example, check out the education data on the Upper Midwest; and while your at it look at the history of culture and politics. In America, the stronghold of democratic-socialism/social-democracy along with progressivism has always been the Upper Midwest.

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

“In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

 * * *

“Pasi Sahlberg goes out of his way to emphasize that his book Finnish Lessons is not meant as a how-to guide for fixing the education systems of other countries. All countries are different, and as many Americans point out, Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States.

“Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

“Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation’s education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

“Indeed, Finland’s population of 5.4 million can be compared to many an American state — after all, most American education is managed at the state level. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, there were 18 states in the U.S. in 2010 with an identical or significantly smaller percentage of foreign-born residents than Finland.

“What’s more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country’s education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn’t rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.

“With America’s manufacturing industries now in decline, the goal of educational policy in the U.S. — as articulated by most everyone from President Obama on down — is to preserve American competitiveness by doing the same thing. Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

“Is that an impossible goal? Sahlberg says that while his book isn’t meant to be a how-to manual, it is meant to be a “pamphlet of hope.”

“”When President Kennedy was making his appeal for advancing American science and technology by putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s, many said it couldn’t be done,” Sahlberg said during his visit to New York. “But he had a dream. Just like Martin Luther King a few years later had a dream. Those dreams came true. Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

“Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.”

Socialism: Conservative’s ‘Colloquial’ Definition

This is a continuation of my thoughts in a previous post, Against Capitalism: Democracy & Socialism. That post was partly written in response to my conservative dad’s view of socialism. I wanted to clarify what actual socialists supported vs what conservatives think they support. After making my correction, my dad didn’t disagree with it. But he did argue that his use of socialism was colloquial and so still somehow true or relevant for basic discussion.

Here is what my dad considers to be the colloquial definition of socialism: big government especially in terms of spending other people’s money, centralized power especially when abused, etc. I pointed out, however, that both parties have promoted policies that would fit under his definition of socialism despite the two parties being dominated by some combination of neoconservatives and neoliberals, political views that are very different from anything socialists advocate. In fact, socialists in the US are some of the most vocal critics of our present two-party system and those who control it.

From my perspective, this is sadly ironic to hear a conservative like my dad make this argument. By his own logic, the McCarthyist anti-communists were socialists which simply makes no sense whatsoever. Joseph McCarthy (along with others such as J. Edgar Hoover) was defending big government and centralized power against the socialists/communists who were challenging the oppression and injustice.

I once brought up the issue of the Bonus Army. I explained to my dad how this was an abuse of power. Despite the protest camp having signs up forbidding communists, despite the protesters being completely pacifist, the US government sent in troops to violently break up the protesters and killed some of them in the process. The US government’s rationalization, as I recall, was that they were harboring communists or that it might turn into a communist revolt or something like that. Once again, going by my dad’s logic, we are forced to conclude that the US government had been acting like socialists in attacking others as socialists.

So, you would think my dad would be against this abuse of power, although you would be wrong. My dad thought the threat of communists was real and so the abuse of power necessary. This means that it is acceptable to act like a ‘socialist’ when fighting perceived socialists (or one’s projections of fears about ‘socialism’); but when socialists don’t act according to the colloquial defintion of socialism it is acceptable to criticise theoretical ‘socialism’ and to pretend it has anything to do with socialism in the real world.

What my dad misses is that his colloquial definition of ‘socialism’ is only colloquial among anti-communists. How is it fair to use an anti-communist rhetorical frame as a way of discussing socialism in a fair and rational way? It isn’t.

Here is the source of much of this conflict of worldviews. My dad is of an older generation. He is on the young end of the Silent generation. He grew up with the anti-communist propaganda that began earlier in the century and manifested as full-blown paranoia during the Cold War. So, his ‘colloquial’ definition is grounded in propaganda. My dad was raised on that propaganda and so to him it is his reality… or, as I would call it, his reality tunnel since he is almost incapable of seeing outside of it. Even when I point out that real world socialists don’t fit his theoretical ‘colloquial’ definition, his anti-communist rhetorical frame, he still insists on his beliefs about socialism over the reality of socialism. He just can’t wrap his brain around the reality of socialism.

The generational issue seems key to me. The world was very different earlier last century. I don’t dismiss the dangers the Cold War posed. My point is that it has little to do with today. When I told my dad of a right-winger who became a left-winger, a socialist even, his entire sense of reality was blown because that just didn’t seem possible. My dad didn’t understand that socialism and libertarianism originated from the same opposition to abusive power, didn’t understand that many people are simultaneously socialist and libertarian.

When my dad was growing up, the frame of politics was Godless communism vs God-fearing capitalism and the conservatives of the time tried to conflate this with partisan politics, thus making the entire left into communist conspirators. Conservatives were largely successful in their reframing politics and so the entire political spectrum including both parties shifted to the right and have been shifting to the right ever since, even as the majority of Americans have been shifting left.

My dad doesn’t comprehend how much the world has changed. Most GenXers don’t see the world according to such frames. Rather, the frame of GenXers tends to be alternative vs mainstream, centralized power vs decentralized power, etc. Partisan politics and party loyalty mean a lot less to GenXers and maybe a lot less to Millennials as well at this point. Both parties are for big government that spends other people’s money and for abuse of centralized power. If a person wants to be against big government and centralized power, then they are morally compelled to be against both parties.

My dad, however, can’t quite bring himself to such a morally principled position. It goes against every fibre of his body. He is a partisan. It is the worldview he was raised in and so it is how he makes sense of the world. He recently spoke of the common partisan view that it is better to vote for the lesser of two evils. As such, my dad just wants to vote for the candidate who has the greatest potential of defeating Obama. What my dad and other partisans are oblivious to is both sides are playing this game. When both sides are voting for the lesser of two evils, evil always wins. I suggested to my dad that people vote their conscience instead, but he was utterly baffled by this concept and couldn’t imagine how that could work. In his mind, Americans have always voted for the lesser of two evils… and so how could it be otherwise?

My comments here also fit into another post of mine, Conservative’s Two Faces of Fear. The basic thought I had in that post is expressed in this comment about conservatives:

“They criticize both centralized government and grassroots activism. Both criticisms are based in their fear of democracy. They fear a government that would fairly and equally represent all people, including the poor, unemployed and homeless, including immigrants and minorities. But they also fear the people governing themselves through direct democracy for they fear mobocracy (and the same reason they fear grassroots organizations such as workers forming unions). These aren’t two fears but rather a single fear manifesting in two ways.”

I just now realized that this is the same dynamic playing out in the anti-communist frame. To conservatives such as my dad, their fears of socialism are tied up with their fears of democracy. In this, at least they are being consistent since social democracy and democratic socialism are two sides of the same coin. What this kind of conservative fears isn’t big government, but rather big government that represents all equally and fairly (democracy) and that serves all equally and fairly (socialism). What this kind of conservative fears isn’t grassroots activism, but rather grassroots activism that gives voice to all equally and fairly (democracy) and that demands economic and social justice for all equally and fairly (socialism).

Even when confronted with the reality of democratic socialism, my dad feels compelled to hold onto the anti-communist frame that distorts this reality. Why? Because his entire worldview would fall apart without it. The reality of democratic socialism (especially in context of it being inseparable from the reality of social democracy) undermines all of his beliefs and values. To fully confront this reality would portend an existential crisis. Outer revolution (or even the potential of it) must be suppressed because the outer turmoil mirrors an inner turmoil every ideologue struggles with. If the simplistic political frame fails to give adequate meaning and to maintain a semblance of order, one’s personal reality will crumble.

The question that arises is this: Can a conservative still be a conservative without attacking caricatures of communism based on their own projected fears? How could the conservative movement define itself without such scapegoats? If conservatives accepted the fact that some of the most socialist countries in Europe are also the most successful, how could they continue with their righteousness about laissez-faire capitalism and why would they want to?

* * * *

Additional thought:

I’ve identified as a liberal for all of my adult life. Recently, I’ve decided to identify as a socialist. I figured I might as well embrace the label of ‘socialist’ since any liberalism worthy of the name will automatically get labeled as ‘socialism’ by those on the right and probably even by many mainstream Democrats.

Still, whatever label I go by, my general attitude will always be liberal. To me, being a left-liberal is the same thing as being a liberal left-winger. When looking at the non-liberal left-wing, it is often hard to tell it apart from much of the right-wing. The ideal of liberalism, not necessarily the label, is what is important to me.

The core ideal (or one might say archetype) of liberalism is generosity of spirit and mind. In practical politics, this means: reaching out with compromise instead of unbending willfulness, seeking sympathetic understanding instead of righteous judgment, aspiring to common good instead of mere self-interest, advocating peace instead of conflict, etc. Or to put in Christian terms, this is the difference between Jesus’ message of humility, love and forgiveness and Yahweh’s message of divine authoritarianism, awe-inpsiring fear and righteous judgment.

The anti-communist frame is the complete opposite of the essence of liberalism. It isn’t just opposite in terms of ideology but also in terms of methodology. To exaggerate like this is to portray one’s opponent as a caricature and thus turn him into a scapegoat. The liberal would rather turn one’s opponent into a friend or at least into a partner. The liberal wants to work together. The liberal’s tendency toward socialism is based in their faith in human nature, both on the individual and the collective level. Liberals want to believe people are not only good but capable and desirous of doing good. Conservatives, generally speaking, don’t have such faith and tend to criticize those who do.

This is why conservatives tend to ignore the North European countries with their social democracies leaning toward socialism. Such examples prove that that the ideals of liberalism and socialism are possible.

The opposite dynamic, however, doesn’t exist or isn’t as commonly found. A liberal or socialist may criticize capitalism as being ultimately good, but they won’t deny and dismiss certain successes of capitalist countries. For the those on the right, if socialism is economically sucessful, their entire argument falls apart. For those on the left, their argument isn’t based on mere success in terms of some people accruing great profits and so such capitalist success doesn’t undermine the practical and moral factors of their argument. The complaint socialists have is that capitalism often is very successful in oppressing and eliminating, often brutally, those who oppose the capitalist system and/or the plutocratic elite. Those on the left acknowledge that might doesn’t make right, that material success doesn’t equate to moral justification.

In order to make the argument for my position, I don’t need to use an anti-capitalist frame to caricature and scapegoat all laissez-faire capitalists. To me, it is counterproductive to conflate all capitalism with all fascism or, on the other hand, to conflate all capitalism with all free markets. There is definite connections and crossover. Capitalism tends toward monopoly which in turn makes fascism (or corporatism, i.e., soft fascism and inverted totalitarianism) possible and more probable. But socialists don’t need to dismiss free markets in the way those on the right feel compelled to dismiss the freedom of democratic socialism. In fact, socialists have a history of redefining free markets as an antidote to capitalism.

So, as a liberal-minded socialist, I wonder why many conservatives are unwilling or unable to treat me as fairly in this same manner.

Those on the right tend to think in terms of either/or. Those on the left, or at least the liberal-minded left, tend to think in terms of both/and. Examples of this are seen everywhere.

Let me use the abortion issue as a representative example.

For social conservatives, abortion is a conflict between civil liberties and moral responsibility. Conservatives say they want to eliminate abortions, but ultimately it comes down to moral principle rather than practical results.

Liberals point out that countries with abortion bans don’t have fewer abortions, some even have more than average. More importantly, abortion bans lead to more dangerous illegal abortion practices which leads to damaged fetuses and hence babies being born with deformities and brain damage, plus abortion bans lead to the mothers themselves often being harmed or dying (and if the baby survives it will grow up without a mother). The only policies that have ever proven to decrease abortions are libeal policies (promotion of women’s health centers, comprehensive sex education, easy availability of contraception and birth control, etc). So, to a liberal, they don’t see a conflict between civil liberties and moral responsibility, and in fact they see moral responsibility as not possible without protection of civil liberties.

The liberal doesn’t want to take away the conservative’s right to choose not to have an abortion and neither does the liberal want the conservative to take away everyone else’s right to choose. The liberal ultimately wants to decrease the number of abortions more than the average social conservative because the liberal sees the life of the fetus as being part of the civil liberties discussion. The liberal sees nuance and complexity, but the conservative sees only their own unbending principles. Doing the right thing for the conservative is more important than any practical result. Despite liberals wanting to work with conservatives in developing a compromise, conservatives see compromise as defeat for the reason that even they recognize that compromise is a liberal value.

It’s because of the liberal mindset that I can desire BOTH a socialist society AND a free market economy. The liberal’s broad thinking reaches toward inclusiveness and so seeks out great visions that are up to the task. It seems that at present the conservative movement as a whole is incapable of this type of thinking and so treating their opponents fairly is outside of their ability as a movement. That said, individual conservatives may have more liberal predispositions in this sense and so coalitions may be formed with certain segments of the conservative movement. However, such coalitions aren’t as likely with more typically mainstream conservatives such as my dad, although that may be changing as the old conservative frames are being challenged.

Against Capitalism: Democracy & Socialism

Introduction

This post is inspired by some articles I’ve been reading and by a discussion I was having with my pro-capitalist conservative father. The subject that I write about below involves the analysis of capitalism, socialism, social democracy, and democracy. My intentions weren’t to create a singular coherent argument backed by numerous cited examples. I just wanted to clarify some basic distinctions that aren’t well understood by the average person, especially the average conservative and right-winger (probably not even understood by the average liberal).

I will divide this post up into two parts. The first part was my response to a specific article. The second part is various thoughts of mine that I gathered together.

Part 1

Socialists everywhere – The Daily Iowan

In ancient Rome, the emperors provided the capital’s inhabitants with “bread and circuses.”  Ever since, that combination has been shorthand for rulers buying off the ruled with the necessities of life and spectacle.

“In Rome, that spectacle involved gladiatorial and other elaborate games of death that took place in the Colosseum.  In this age, our rulers, the 1% whose money has flooded the electoral cycle, are turning the election itself into our extended circus.  This year, a series of Republican televised “debates” have glued increasing numbers of eyeballs to screens — and not just Republican eyeballs, either.  Everyone waits for the latest version of a reality show to produce the next cat fight, fabulous gaffe, late-night laugh line, confession, denial, scandal, or plot twist, the next thumbs up or, far better, thumbs down on some candidate’s increasingly brief political life in the arena.

“Think of it as their bread and our circus.  Who can doubt that, like the crowds of Rome once upon a time, we await the inevitable thumbs-down vote and the YouTube videos that precede and follow it with a kind of continuing bloodlust?  The only problem: however strange all this may be, it’s not, at least in the old-fashioned sense, an election nor does it seem to have much to do with democracy.  The fact is that we have no word for what’s going on.  Semi-democracy?  Unrepresentative democracy?  1% democracy?  Demospectacracy?

“Of course, we still speak of this as a presidential election campaign, and it’s true that 11 months from now more than 60% of the voting age population will step into polling booths across the country and cast ballots.  But let’s face it, if this is an election at all, it’s certainly one stricken with elephantiasis.  Once, as now, a presidential race had primaries, conventions, campaigning, mudslinging, and sometimes even a few debates, but all of this had limits.  In recent years, the limits — almost any limits — have been disappearing.  Along the way, the process has expanded from an eight-month-long affair that most voters only began to attend to sometime in the fall of election year to a perpetual campaign, perpetually discussed, reported on, and displayed.

[ . . . ]

“What any of this has to do with democracy, as opposed to spectacle, influence, corruption, the power of the incredibly wealthy to pay for and craft messages, and the power of media owners to enhance their profits is certainly an open question. Think, at least, how literally the old phrase “money talks” is being updated every time you hear the candidates, or see their ads, or get a robocall from one of them, or receive a geo-targeted mobile adof theirs on your iPhone or Android.

“It’s clear enough — or should be by now — that the electoral process has been occupied by the 1%; which means that what you hear in this “campaign” is largely refracted versions of their praise, their condemnation, their slurs, their views, their needs, their fears, and their wishes.  They are making money off, and electing a president via, you.  Which means that you — that all of us — are occupied, too.

“So stop calling this an “election.”  Whatever it is, we need a new name for it.”

 * * * *

I was having a discussion with my dad about a related topic. We were discussing welfare. Surprisingly, his conservative and my liberal views on the matter converge on a certain agreement. Welfare, as it is presently structured, is like the Roman’s “bread and circus” (or, at least, the bread part which is balanced by the media circus, especially the political media circus).

This is the problem. Bread and circus isn’t merely dysfunction. Welfare works, but it just doesn’t effectively solve the problems some would like it to solve. What bread and circus did for the Romans was to prevent revolution and that is what welfare does for many countries in the modern world, the US being the focus of the discussion. If welfare were to end tomorrow, revolution would begin tomorrow. Welfare is the bandaid put on the gushing wound of capitalism.

Even my dad agreed, despite his being a libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative former businessman and former business management professor. My dad is a well off white conservative and so it would be easy for him to simply blame the poor, the minorities, the immigrants… as many like him (in this demographic niche) do on a regular basis.

 * * * *

My dad explained his reasons.

From my point of view: The manual labor jobs are simultaneously decreasing in number and in pay, partly because of outsourcing of industry and because machines and computers have made many jobs more efficient while making many other jobs obsolete.

From my dad’s point of view: What has increased are knowledge jobs that are worked by people who have high levels of education and tend to have above average levels of intelligence.

This presents two problems.

The first problem my dad pointed out. The portion of the population that is highly educated and above average in intelligence isn’t increasing, generally speaking. The proportion of society remains basically the same. Throughout history, manual labor was always the primary employment available… until now. So, what is to be done with all the excess and unnecessary people who are less educated and/or average-to-below-average in intelligence? We keep those people in place by giving them welfare so that they don’t starve, so that they don’t turn to crime and revolution.

The second problem I pointed out. It is in an extension of the first. As far as I can tell, there is no clear evidence against and much reason to assume that the increase in certain sectors of jobs (such as knowledge jobs) isn’t keeping up with the decrease in other sectors of jobs (such as manural labor). This is particularly true recently. A lot of jobs have been lost. Despite big businesses doing better than ever, despite companies gaining more efficient work and hence more profit from their employees, big businesses aren’t hiring more which comes after a period when they got rid of vast amounts of employees. According to our present capitalist model, there is no reason they should hire more people.

On top of this, also consider the loss of benefits and job security, consider the stagnating wages along with the inflation and rising costs that are making those wages worth less, consider rising economic inequality along with its attendant social and health problems… and I’m sure many other factors could be added.

 * * * *

I was particularly focused on the aspect of technology replacing humans. Even some high-paying knowledge jobs are becoming obsolete.

For example, I was reading about how many newpapers no longer hire proofreaders because editing software does a good enough job. On the other end, my job as a parking ramp cashier is being threatened because management wants to put in all self-pay stations. Similarly, at O’Hare airport I’ve heard that the toilets are self-cleaning. Within the next decades, many jobs will become obsolete because of technology. Any job that is manual, repetitive, systematic or somehow with clear rules and goals (which includes many knowledge jobs) will eventually be replaced by robots and computers (maybe as a member of the older generation, my dad has faith that robots and computers won’t replace humans, a misplaced faith in my opinion).

Most jobs people do now won’t exist in the future. Furthermore, if capitalism is left to its own devices, these jobs won’t necessarily be replaced by better jobs or might not be replaced at all. So, either we have a capitalist society where welfare and oppression (our growing prison system being an example) keeps the unemployed in line or we develop a new type of economic and social system. More of the same or something new. Those are the only two choices.

* * * *

My understanding always refers back to democracy by which I mean the entire range of social democracy. I suggested to my father that we need more civic participation and engagement (an anarchist hearing this would immediately start ranting about statism). What we have now is the opposite.

Republicans have been trying to disengage much of the population such as by making voting even more difficult which inevitably further disenfranchises the poor and minorities (not to imply the Democratic Party has been trying to engage the disenfranchised to any great extent; it’s simply that the Democrats don’t attack this demographic in the way Republicans often do). This is predictable as conservatives have an inherent mistrust of democracy, but conservatives also used to have an inherent mistrust of capitalism and some conservatives are starting to wonder why they lost this mistrust. It’s hard being a conservative for all they ultimately trust is something like organized religion. Capitalism is merely a protection against socialism and even against true grassroots democracy, but conservatives must assess how well capitalism (especially in its present corporatist form) is protecting those traditional values and individual rights they claim to love so much.

My democratic suggestions, however, do start to appeal to conservatives during troubled times. Conservatives forget about community during economic upswings and find the value in community once again when the pendulum swings back. What conservatives don’t understand is socialism is simply the purest or most absolute form of community. Socialism isn’t about any particular type of community, whether hierachical or anarchistic, whether statist or minarchist. Socialism is just about making community the center of a society. This is simply traditional culture at its roots. Most early people, especially tribal, lived to varying degrees of collectivity. Socialism doesn’t deny individual aspiration or betterment. It just puts it in the context of community rather than putting community in the context of the individual. Individual efforts shouldn’t be a detriment to the community which would also mean to the detriment to all the other individuals in that community. That is insanity, our present insanity in fact.

In the discussion with my father, my specific suggestion was something like a works project. We have so much decaying infrastructure. We have so many things that need to be done in our society that no one is doing. At the same time, we have so many unemployed people who aren’t doing much despite most of them wanting to do something worthy. Most people don’t want to sit around doing nothing. People want to have meaning and purpose, to feel like they are contributing to their familes and their communities, to know that they are using their talents and at least to some degree living up to their potential. We have cities filled with trash, parks closed down for lack of money to maintain them, we have public employees being fired because of budgetary concerns, and on and on. Much of this work can be done (at minimal costs, relative to the costs of welfare) by the unemployed which includes both the educated and the uneducated, although in some cases such as construction basic training might be required (the training itself would be a good thing as it would also make them more employable in the private market).

In the past, my dad was always suspicious of such ideas. They verge on the socialist. However, when speaking with him last night, I was able to communicate the potential wisdom and benefit of such a proposal. My dad still thinks socialism doesn’t work, although through various examples (the sewer socialists, the Harmonists, etc) I’ve brought doubt to his former certainties. What he still doesn’t quite grasp is that socialism and social democracy are just different degrees of the same phenomenon.

Part 2

Democracy and capitalism are at odds. Democracy moves toward diffusion of and sharing of power. Capitalism, unlike a free market (a free market being a hypothetical that has never existed on the large scale, large corporations become bureaucracies and use centralized planning just like any socialist state), moves toward monopoly of power (by way of monopolizing capital: he who rules the capital rules capitalism). Democracy can only function when there is a functioning social democracy. Social democracy is simply the first and most basic manifestation of socialism. Democracy, social democracy and socialism are antithetical to capitalism, but they aren’t antithetical to any genuine free market.

See the real world examples of socialism in the US. The Shakers and Harmonists, although failing because of their celibacy rules, were some of the most successful and innovative businesses in the US when they were operating, both societies having existed for about a century. The sewer socialist mayors of Milwaukee, social democracy at its finest, governed one of the most well run cities for decades which they did so by fighting corrupt big business and promoting local small businesses that contributed to the community (maybe closer to a genuine free market), a time during which the economy boomed in Milwaukee. The collectivist Eastwind Community (a living example of a commune) has operated a number of successful businesses for decades.

The sad irony is that to fight against communism is to fight against democracy. Neither socialism nor democracy can exist without the other. Communist countries that undermine democracy will fail, just like democratic societies that undermine socialism/social-democracy will fail. It’s not an all or nothing scenario. It’s a balancing act of simultaneously seeking the common good, public freedom, and individual rights.

 * * * *

As I talked to my dad last night, I pointed out the example of Milwaukee. He said that is more an example of social democracy. Yes, but that misses the point. Social democracy is just one facet of socialism.

Conservatives like my dad (along with many misinformed moderates and, sadly, liberals as well) don’t recognize the socialism in social democracy for a simple reason. They don’t actually know what socialism is. They have such a distorted vision of socialism as bogeyman that any real example of functioning socialism must be rationalized away or somehow seen as a very limited exception… and so not worthy of being taken seriously.

At the time in the US, what the Milwaukee sewer socialists had been doing was radical socialism. They were collectivizing many aspects of society that had formerly been left private. The socialists made these things part of the government because the private sector was failing at it or not even attempting to do it. The private sector didn’t care about pollution, about clean air and clearn water, especially not in terms of the poor. The owners and operators of big businesses that were causing most of the pollution didn’t care that poor people were dying. They didn’t care because they could afford to live far away from the polluted areas and they could afford to have clean water brought to them.

The Milwaukee sewer socialists were so successful that their brand of socialism has become the norm in the US. Also, it wasn’t that all of this was simply spending other people’s money to help the poor. As I’ve already pointed out, during their time of governing, their policies helped make the local economy boom. They did this by prosecuting corruption and regulating the crony capitalism that was rife among big businesses at the time.

Like many conservatives and right-wingers, my dad is always repeating the talking point that socialism is the spending of other people’s money.

First, this is a generalization that is based on many unstated assumptions (ownership isn’t as simple as those on the right assume; as Paine correctly noted all of the earth — all the land, air, water and other resources — is part of the commons, private individual ownership being a very recent concept).

Second, it could be turned around by pointing out that capitalists use other people’s resources to make their profits in the first place (they use the commons that the government sells them at below market prices and usually by the force and protection of the government, force that is paid for by other people’s money being spent to benefit corporations; just think of all the wars the US government keeps having in countries that just happen to have lots of resources such as oil or happen to be key locations near such countries).

I don’t mean to pick on my dad. He is a smart guy. The problem isn’t specifically about him. Most Americans, left and right, are misinformed about socialism. The problem is that he is representative of the average American and hence of the mainstream culture in America. My criticisms go beyond any single person. I grew up in this same culture and it has been a struggle for me as well. We all are born ignorant and we all are bottle-fed propaganda and misinformation. All that we can hope is that our knowledge and awareness increases as we age, a struggle that only ends when we die.

From what I know and understand at this point in my life, this is how I see our dilemma: The choice we are facing at present really isn’t socialism vs capitalism. Rather, the choice is between democratic socialism vs corporatist socialism.

It’s the success of socialism that allows conservatives like my dad do dismiss it as if they weren’t surrounded by it. That is the problem of success on the left. Any progress that is made will eventually be embraced by the right and will become the new norm (for example, in the way most conservatives support Social Security), but the right will never give the left any credit for the new norm even when they benefit from it and take it for granted. People stop seeing the socialist infrastructure of society and only see the capitalist system that is made possible by it.

What they forget is that many things are possible beyond our present corporatist socialism. Capitalism isn’t inevitable. It’s a choice we have collectively made and so we can collectively choose once again. We can choose a socialism that benefits the many instead of just the few.

 * * * *

It’s very simple. Social democracy is the key element to the entire discussion. Here is what social demoocracy proves and demonstrates:

Social democracy is the meeting point of socialism and democracy, and hence it manifests qualities of both depending how fully that meeting is integrated into a functional system. But it goes further. It isn’t just a meeting point or even the manifestation.

Neither democracy nor socialism could exist outside of social democracy. When it is attempted to separate them, one gets democracy or socialism in theory (i.e., in rhetoric) but not in actual practice. The Cold War was a fight of rhetoric between a failing democratic state and a failing socialist state, both in reality fighting over the same imperial power and dominance which had nothing specifically to do with either democracy or socialism.

If you care about either democracy or socialism, you must care about social democracy. And if you care about social democracy, you must care about both socialism and democracy. It’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

 * * * *

I’ve heard that socialism doesn’t work so many times from conservatives and right-wingers that it boggles my mind. What does such an assertion even mean?

I pointed to several successful examples of socialism just in the US. I could add many more such examples, especially in the Northern Midwest: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, etc. Even consider North Dakota which most people don’t connect with socialism (‘The Middle West: Its Meaning in American Culture’ by James R. Shortridge, p. 112):

“North Dakota was the second state to become radical. Its Norwegian settlers, accustomed to a more socialistic system than they found in America, responded strongly to feelings of “absentee control and extortion” by the “grain lords” who controlled the transportation, storage, and grading of their wheat crops. Their political vehicle, the Non-Partisan League, assumed power in 1916, after a 10-year period of incubation, and estabilished a state-owned system of grain elevators, banks, and hail insurance, as well as other measures based on the Wisconsin model.”

Outside of the US, I could also point to some Northern European countries that have socialist governments or else strong socialist traditions within their politics. Also, there are the highly successful European Basque with their socialist-run companies.

The odd part isn’t that these conservatives/​right-wingers are merely claiming that socialism doesn’t work but that it has never worked, that it never will work, that it can’t work. When faced with examples to the contrary, they make excuses.

Anyway, what is the point? It’s like saying tribalism doesn’t work after centuries of genocide having wiped out most tribal societies. Yes, many capitalist societies have been militaristic empires or wannabe empires. And, yes, many socialist attempts have been violently wiped out or otherwise socially oppressed. Is the point merely that capitalists are best because they are the most aggressive in pushing their agenda no matter what the cost? If so, this may be capitalism but it ain’t a free market. Why would someone be proud of such ‘success’ and put it forth as something to strive for?

I could make a similar criticism about free markets. Crony capitalism and corporatism have been endlessly successful, at least in oppressing and destroying all alternatives, but free markets have never succeeded where ever they have been tried. The seeming success of free markets always ends up being their doom when they are taken over by monopolists, plutocrats and fascists.

Furthermore, what is this so-called ‘socialism’ that they think has never been successful in all of history? Talking to people making this argument, I often find that they separate social democracy from socialism. But what is left of socialism if you remove all traces of social democracy? To a socialist-leaning liberal like me, social democracy is the very heart of socialism. There is no hope of socialism without social democracy.

Socialism, in most places, includes: public roads, public libraries, firemen/women, police, ambulances, emergency rooms, basic public goods and services such as water plants, public schools, state colleges, city/county/state/federal parks and public lands, coastal waters, waterways such as rivers and streams, the FDA that ensures the safety of food and drugs, the EPA that keeps the air and water clean enough so that pollution won’t kill you, unemployment benefits, disabilty benefits, welfare, medicare, medicaid, on and on and on. We are surrounded by socialism in endless forms.

Another way to put it, socialism is about the commons, where community merges with sense-of-place (to understand the value of the commons, see this article and this video). Caring about the commons means caring about yourself for the reason that the commons are what defines us as a social species and defines each of us as part of a living community: a community of people and a community of environment. Shared land (resources), shared living (communities), and shared governance (democracy) all meet together in the commons (the manifestation of socialism and social democracy).

In terms of countries, one socialist idea (that more anarchistic socialists disagree with) is a centrally planned economy (which is a way of seeing the economy as part of the commons since it is, after all, a public affair that impacts every person, nothing private about it at all… in the way getting  punched in the nose isn’t private). China’s centrally planned economy has been massively successful (not that I agree with the purposes this serves in the same way I don’t agree with the purposes of the former Harmonists, but purely in terms of economic success it can’t be denied). David Harvey has mentioned that the most successful example of a centrally planned economy was the US during WWII.

In the US, one of the greatest (and one of the most disappointing) examples of socialism is the military with its public-minded purpose, collectivist culture and socialist health care. In terms of how much the government (local and federal) operates and manages, the US itself is an example of successful socialism in action (see: my argument defending the efficiency of government). It’s not that the US is entirely or even mostly socialist, but if you took away the socialism from American society it wouldn’t be recognizable as the country we now know. I realize many are trying to do this by privatizing everything. That would be sad considering that privatizing usually just leads to a dysfunctional socialism where the profits are privatized while the costs continue to be socialized (see: The Conservative Nanny State by Dean Baker).

Like most countries around the world, the US has a mixed economy. It isn’t entirely unregulated capitalism nor is it entirely socialist. It has elements of both. This balance is far from perfect, but we should at least be honest and well-informed enough to acknowledge it for what it is.

Conclusion

I thought I should add some concluding thoughts to clarify where I’m coming from.

I consider myself a liberal, but for the sake of precision it would probably be best to call me a left-liberal. I like the general label of ‘liberal’. The problem is that this label has become almost meaningless. To the right-winger, liberal means left-winger, specifically of the Commie variety. To a left-winger, liberals seem like at best moderates (i.e., centrists defending the status quo of power and wealth) and at worst watered down conservatives (the difference between neoconservatives and neoliberals merely being that of emphasis).

In terms of the above commentary, I promote socialism in a social democracy sense. So, you could call me a sewer socialist or municpial socialist or you could call me a Fabian. I’m not a radical, but I am a strident defender of democracy. My sense of democracy is social democracy. My relationship to socialism is the following. I think social democracy is a stepping stone to socialism in that even those who are afraid of socialism can often accept social democracy. Social democracy is the baby pool of socialism, less scary for those still developing socialist swimming skills. I understand socialism in terms of democracy for I don’t think socialism is possible without democracy. I’m not even sure anti-democratic statism as found in some so-called communist countries can fairly and reasonably be called socialism or no more socialist than any other form of statist government.

I’m not a radical. I believe in reform and I’m not entirely against revolution when all alternatives have become impossible. My lack of radicalism probably is more of a personality trait. I’m not an aggressive person. I like the idea of gradual change and I like the ideal of cooperation/compromise. I don’t want to live in a world of conflict and fighting. Even if a revolution was going on, it might still take a lot to cause me to become a revolutionary.

Even though I could be considered a left-liberal, I can’t quite bring myself to embrace left-wing politics in their entirety. It’s more the attitude of most left-wingers that I can’t embrace. Likewise, I’m sure most left-wingers don’t wish to embrace me. Most socialists probably wouldn’t consider me a fellow traveler. So, my analysis of socialism may not (with heavy emphasis on the ‘not’) be supported by more radical socialists who are the movers and shakers in the socialist movement. I’m more or less an ordinary guy who simply wants to live in a fair and equal society. Even so, I try to keep my knowledge of the world above average when possible. The fact that my moderate liberalism seems radical from a mainstream perspective is no fault of my own.

Addendum

I was editing this post in order to clean it up a bit and clarify a few things in my writing. As I did this, I was noting my frustration. I was wondering about its source.

In my analysis, I used my dad’s conservatism so as to have something off of which I could bounce my own liberalism. I’m more of a socialist than my dad, but that isn’t saying much. My knowledge of socialism is shaky in that I’ve never done a careful survey of the history of socialism, but I have done some research on it and I have thought about it quite a bit. So, my frustration, instead of being about my limited knowledge, is about how my limited knowledge makes me even more aware of how limited is the knowledge of the average American. It would be nice if everyone, myself included, had a better working knowledge of socialism.

I get into discussions about socialism and it isn’t always clear to me what the word ‘socialism’ means to other people. What often is clear to me is that the way right-wingers and conservatives define socialism isn’t the way socialists define socialism and yet those on the right are perfectly fine with projecting their preconceptions about socialism onto socialists, thus pretending socialists actually believe in the caricature of socialism that anti-socialists portray. If those on the right aren’t criticizing the socialism proposed by socialists, then whose socialism are they criticizing? The only answer I can come up is that those on the right are simply criticizing their own version of socialism. That is fine as far as it goes. I’m willing to bet pretty much all socialists would join in criticizing the right’s distorted and biased dystopian vision of socialism.

Still, I don’t know that this gets at the core of my frustration. I could name many words and ideas that are misunderstood by various people. Those on the right certaintly could do the same thing. Arguments over what something means are dime a dozen. Maybe my frustration is more basic in that the difficulty of communication can feel like a tiring if not impassible barrier. I would be unfair if I blamed this problem entirely on the right. Communication is a two-way street.

So, what is the problem with communicating here? In essence, socialism seems like a rather simple idea. It just means people working together using shared resources toward a shared goal. From my perspective, those on the right aren’t able or willing to see this simple idea and what to make it into something big and scary. Am I wrong about that? What critcisisms of socialism from the right are fair and useful? Everyone knows Stalinism is bad. Even most socialists these days loudly and openly criticize oppressive statism even when it uses the rhetoric of the left-wing.

The real disagreement is elsewhere, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. As far as I can tell: Anything the right doesn’t like about the government is socialism. And anything the right does like about government isn’t socialism. Am I being unfair in that assessment? Am I missing something here? Do I fundamentally not grasp what those on the right are trying to communicate in their criticisms?

I’m trying to understand, but apparently I’m failing.