When I read news articles, letters to the editor and online comments, I am struck by how often socialism is thrown around. It has become a catch-all phrase that is not clearly defined or understood.
A socialist system exists when the government engages in central planning of the economy. Business and industry are owned by the government, and everyone works for the state. Government sets wages, prices, production, distribution, supply and demand.
Based on that definition, the United States is not a socialist system, not even close. The only true socialist systems exist in countries like Cuba and North Korea, and to compare the American system to those backward regimes is silly.
The cries of socialism on these pages are probably referring to social welfare programs and government regulation the economy. People have legitimate reasons to criticize food stamps or OSHA, but this does not rise to the level of Karl Marx and the inevitable collapse of free market capitalism.
Nevertheless, if you still insist that social welfare and government regulations are leading us toward socialism, I have some bad news.
We are all socialists.
Social Security and Medicare collect $1.2 trillion each year from workers and redistribute the money to retired Americans. Redistribution of wealth from one group to another is one of the main tenets of socialism.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, people screamed bloody murder over a government takeover of the health care system. Yes, the ACA did expand Medicaid coverage in some states, but it also created a subsidy where middle income folks received a tax break to purchase health insurance on the private market.
Congress already gives middle class homeowners tax breaks on mortgage interest and property taxes. Why shouldn’t Congress give those same people a tax break to buy private health insurance? Is that socialism?
Medicare is much closer to socialized medicine than the ACA. Under Medicare, the government collects taxes from workers and uses it to pay the medical expenses of the elderly. Just another form of wealth redistribution, I suppose.
Hurricane season is upon us, and many of you have purchased protection from Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency, a government operated insurance agency set up by the state of Texas. The same goes for your FEMA flood policy, except this policy is provided by the federal government.
In my birth state of Nebraska, farmers regularly rail on the evils of government and social welfare, but they are more than happy to accept federal price supports in down markets and federal crop insurance after natural disasters.
My employer is a public agency funded by state and local taxes. Student tuition and fees only cover a fraction of the cost to run this college, and the Goose Creek CISD budgets dwarfs the Lee College budget. Shall we abolish public education in the interest of eradicating the evils of socialism?
Everyone pays gasoline taxes and fees on toll roads, and the money is used to build and maintain our transportation network, a collective public good. Collective action is another key principle of dreaded socialism.
American culture is steeped in individualist rhetoric, but in practice, all depend on government in one form or another.
It is time to own up to the disconnect between our ideals and our actions. We all have our hands in the cookie jar.
Steve Showalter is a government professor at Lee College in Baytown.