Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Need For Socialism

                                                                                              written 9 February 2020
                                                                                        published 16 February 2020

            Since Bernie Sanders made a good showing in Iowa (and probably New Hampshire by now), we will see more assaults on socialism, a word capitalists have demonized for decades.  But knee-jerk dogma must be transcended if we are to adequately deal with the issues of our time.
            Italian dictator Mussolini defined fascism as "state power used for corporate profits".  While it is true that totalitarian fascists are a form of capitalism, it is NOT true that all capitalists are fascists.  Similarly, while it is true that totalitarian communism is a form of socialism, it is NOT true that all socialists are communists, despite current Republican propaganda.  
            At a recent Mendocino county supervisorial candidate forum, Jon Kennedy (district 1), made the remark that business focuses on profits, but government must focus on services.  He spoke from a position of having been both a businessman and a former supervisor.  This distinction speaks to the heart of why it is a bad idea to run a government like a business: the goals are fundamentally different.  
            Until recently, business dogma taught that the sole purpose of a corporation was maximum fiscal return to shareholders: nobody else.  We are experiencing the financial failures of this narrow, exclusive gain, economic model, such that even the capitalist Business Roundtable recently expanded the beneficiaries of corporate policy.  
            Ralph Nader once said "capitalism works because socialism is always there to back it up".  The FDIC is socialist government insurance, protecting depositors against bad capitalist bank management.  The financial crash of 2007 resulted from high profit, high risk loan activity, which made billions for a few capitalists, but almost crashed the entire global economy when the risks turned bad.  Like a spendthrift kid running home to daddy, the banks demanded the government bail them out, which was done in order to save the economy of the country.  Being a capitalist economy, only the bankers were rescued, abandoning millions of homeowners, which contributed, in part, to the homeless crisis we experience today.
            By contrast, good government must be inclusive, serving the needs of the whole community in order to function.  Public sanitation is a perfect example.  Untreated sewage is a health risk to the entire population, so sewage treatment must service everyone in the community, no matter their relative financial prosperity.  As a result, there is little or no profit in dealing with this "waste", so business is the wrong model.  
            The first fire departments were operated on a capitalist insurance model.  Your fire would be extinguished only if you paid in advance.  This model failed because fires spread easily.  If a fire isn't stopped early, even in an uninsured building, it can become impossible to stop by the time it gets to an insured building.  Today, fire departments work for the entire community, as a critical, publically funded, socialist service.
            California was once on the cutting edge of providing mental health facilities, but it began privatizing mental health decades ago, a long term capitalist goal, and closed state owned facilities to reduce taxes. Since the mentally ill are often poor, this created inadequate and substandard service, which also contributes to today's homeless problem. 
            Socialist economics hold true for water treatment and delivery, police protection, and roads.  The quality of life in a community is better when these essential social services are addressed, as they form the infrastructure foundation for a healthy capitalist business economy.
            Here in Ukiah, we have a socialist, publically owned electric system, which provides reliable power for less money per kilowatt hour than the bankrupt investor owned utility that serves the rest of the county.  During the power outage in October, the socialist, publically owned sewer and water systems, continued to operate because of planning foresight.  Throughout the country, the entire capitalist economic system depends on socialist, federal, state, and locally owned road systems.  Our society would strangle if every road, street and bridge demanded a toll each time it was used.
            Capitalism and socialism are like yin and yang, two essential aspect of life.  One focuses on individual advantage and the other focuses on collective advantage. They each have their strength and limitation, and when applied in considered balance, as in democratic socialism, they can create a thriving community.  Either extreme devolves toward tyranny.