Darrell Berkheimer: Confusing social programs with socialism
I was quite surprised at the large number of readers who chose to respond to my commentary last month on the subject of socialism. All but a few were quite laudatory.
One negative response, however, has prompted the need for a correction and clarification.
Although Robert Stepp and I probably will disagree on many issues, he observed that I was confusing social programs with socialism. And he is correct.
The dictionary definition of socialism states that it is “a political, social and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprises.
With that definition in mind, I must report that I don’t know of anyone who really wants socialism. In addition, I must admit that I, too, think true socialism is a bad system – particularly because it involves society or government ownership of production. Production is best provided by capitalism.
But we definitely do need government-operated social programs to provide various needed social services.
For instance, friend Jerry Martin asked:
“Would you rather have only private military? Would you rather have only privately owned roads? Would you rather have only privately controlled police? Court systems? No more social security? No more Medicare or Medicaid?”
But on the need for both capitalism and social programs, Lynn Ely wrote:
“Excellent summation on how both socialism and capitalism benefit us in different ways. It’s not an either/or. It’s an ‘and.’ As a healthcare professional, I have wanted to see the US embrace a universal health care system like every other industrial nation in the world has. I am dumbfounded as to why the American people think that the ‘for profit’ model serves us better.”
Richard Stormsgaard, in a polite response, also called attention to the problem caused by referring to socialism rather than social programs. He wrote:
“No wonder there is so much confusion about socialism, and it benefits the far right and the far left, and is a threat to the rest of us.”
But it was particularly satisfying to me to have Dr. Jeff Kane comment – because of how much I have been enjoy reading his columns. He wrote:
“Your points are especially applicable to healthcare financing. Today a quarter to a third of our healthcare dollars go to insurance intermediaries. These corporations have nothing whatsoever to do with healthcare. They only handle the money that flows between us and providers, taking a large cut in the process.
“We’re paying much more than necessary largely because opponents of the single-payer plan call it ‘socialist’ to scare the electorate. But it’s not, since care is entirely private and the government handles the money with no profit motive.”
Dr. Kane added that the administrative costs of Medicare average only 4 to 5% compared to 25 to 33% for other healthcare systems.
Another respondent, who used a pseudonym rather than his or her name, wrote:
“The term ‘Socialism’ is a dogwhistle used to phreak out Republicans and scare them. This applies especially to older voters who lived through the ‘Red Scare’ during the Cold War years. In their minds the ‘S’ word is equivalent to the ‘C’ word, Communism and the chants of ‘Better dead than Red.’ It is … the epitome of negative campaigning.”
Then I received Patricia Sharp’s message, thanking me for explaining “how capitalism functions best in tandem with socialism.
Then she added the historic remarks by President Harry Truman in Syracuse, N.Y., on Oct. 10, 1952. He said:
“Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.
Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security.
Socialism is what they called farm price supports.
Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance.
Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.
Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
When the Republican candidate inscribes the slogan “Down With Socialism” on the banner of his “great crusade,” that is really not what he means at all.
What he really means is “Down with Progress – down with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal,” and “down with Harry Truman’s fair Deal.” That’s all he means.”
So isn’t it time for us to stop quibbling over the two labels and realize that we definitely need various social services in an otherwise generally capitalistic society?
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has seven books available through Amazon. His sixth, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at email@example.com.
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