Why is "Socialism" Such a Dirty Word?
This week the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national unemployment rate rose to 9.7% in August, 2009. To the 14.9 million Americans who now find themselves without work, unemployment is more than just a number. Many hard working Americans live from paycheck to paycheck just trying to make ends meet. Without the meager, short-term unemployment benefits the U.S. offers, many of the unemployed would find themselves immediately living on the street. In most states, benefits last for 26 weeks, and during the current economic crisis, the federal government has offered an extension of 13 weeks. A lucky few are able to find other employment before the benefits dry up, but for many, the few months of benefits simply postpone the inevitable descent into homelessness and destitution.
For the lucky among us who count ourselves as employed, the jobless figures are a mental abstraction. Empathetically connecting to the horrific reality of the future that almost 10 percent of us now face is simply not something we, as Americans tend to do. Ronald Reagan, idolized by the vast majority of Americans, summed up our national sentiments when he described “welfare queens” driving around Chicago’s (black) South Side in “welfare Cadillacs.” Since that time, providing financial assistance to the poor with our national tax dollars has been anathema.
“Those who mock the poor insult their Maker (Proverbs 17:5).”
As a culture, Americans are not compassionate towards the poor. We blame them for their own misfortune. While many would protest this sentiment, our actions speak volumes louder than our words. Politicians know the issue of increased taxes is a hot bed, and few are bold enough to admit they would like to increase them. We want decent education, paved roads and bridges that don’t fall down, but somehow we expect the federal government to be able to miraculously pay for the social infrastructure without any money. Few of us are willing to fork out some of our own tax dollars for the greater good. Instead, we chose to look out for number one. When times get tough, the tough get going. We do everything we can to protect our own interests because in this country, it is every man for himself.
Imagine we lived in a country where we felt safe and protected. If we got sick, our social infrastructure would take care of us. If we lost our job, we would be provided for. If our children did well in school, they would go to college regardless of our financial status. No matter what life handed us, our society would take care of us. If we knew our society provided us with a safety net, perhaps we wouldn’t feel so stingy about sharing our wealth with our community.
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21).”
For most of the industrialized world, the social infrastructure we can only imagine (above) is an accepted fact of life. In England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and the list goes on, people go about their daily business without the fear of losing everything they have worked for to life’s unpredictable mishaps. Instead of creating an entitled welfare class in the image of Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens, countries with substantial social infrastructures enjoy low unemployment rates. While the European Union is also suffering from the recent economic recession, Bloomberg.com(http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601068&sid=aeAzpKzrNEYQ) reports Europe’s current unemployment rate as 9.5%, 0.2% lower than that of the United States. Meanwhile, Canada enjoys more than a full percentage point lower unemployment at 8.6% (Statistics Canada at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/subjects-sujets/labour-travail/lfs-epa/lfs-epa-eng.htm).
In addition to higher employment rates, Europeans and Canadians enjoy a higher quality of life. In 2006, the United Nations developed the Human Development Index based on factors such as life expectancy, literacy and standards of living. Based on 2008 results, the United States ranks 15th in the world behind 12 European countries, Japan, Australia and Canada (for further information, please see http://hdr.undp.org/en/). The countries that outrank us are invariably “socialist” states that provide universal healthcare, government sponsored higher education for deserving students, living wage guarantees and ongoing welfare for underprivileged and unemployed people. The people in these countries do for the most part pay higher taxes, but they are getting what they pay for. Clearly hoarding our money for ourselves rather than making regular donations to the greater good in the form of taxes is not working for us.
What would we as a society be willing to pay for the peace of mind that comes with living in a community of people that look after one another? It is a sad testament to our culture that Americans have assessed the equation and have almost unanimously decided that hoarding their wealth for themselves and saving a few tax dollars is preferable to creating a better society for all.
What would it look like if we took all the money we now spend on killing people in foreign lands and providing tax breaks for corporations and the financial elite and invested it instead in our schools, our health and our society? It would look like socialism, and it would be a good thing.