Government programs designed for the common good can be socialistic without being true socialism.
The drawback of true socialism is that everyone benefits, but not everyone must contribute. Slackers are rewarded for doing nothing. Welfare as a temporary helping hand is not socialism. Absent limits on how long payments can be made, recipients may find welfare a disincentive to work. One cannot contribute to society without working.
Socialistic programs, such as Social Security, require work to earn benefits. No family gets benefits if a wage earner did not contribute to the trust funds. Current beneficiaries had a wage earner pay taxes in the past to get benefits now.
Social Security has served the public well for over 75 years, but could be improved if Congress made the effort. Good government requires constant oversight and effort to eliminate program flaws and inequities. Historically, Social Security has been improved many times — until recent years, when Congress went into gridlock.
All taxes we pay are intended for socialistic programs that benefit all: defense, roads, police, fire, street sweeping, and other services citizens are willing to pay government to provide.
Taxes must be compulsory because citizens with no social conscience won’t pay their fair share even though they benefit.
Taxes are good when the public receives benefit and bad when government becomes corrupt. Right now, the public’s general perception of government is of mass corruption. The perception is based on a cynical false narrative, propagated by propagandist talk radio and television, asserting that all government is corrupt and has no value. A few bad apples are used to convince citizens that the entire barrel is rotten.
In Sweden, taxes are high compared to the United States. However, citizens receive many more government services and benefits in that socialistic country. (Sweden doesn’t have true socialism; the people work hard to make their country prosperous.)
One may legitimately maintain that the quality of life of a citizen in Sweden is better than that in the United States using measurements of homelessness, hunger, poverty, personal safety, treatment of the mentally ill, elder care and health care. The system Sweden uses will work well as long as the government remains free of corruption.
Using the false label of socialism to discredit proposals that would benefit the entire nation does a disservice to intelligent public discourse and hinders attainment of a better society. The quality of life in the United States was better when taxes on the wealthy were higher and before corporate welfare corrupted the free market.
Rather than employ phony labels to build straw man arguments, those who think we need to Make America Great Again should advocate for what actually has made living in America great. Examples:
- Free public schools educate children so that they can grow up to become productive citizens. The benefit has greatly exceeded the cost in taxes.
- Some advocate for free college tuition so that the United States can be more competitive in the world economy. California became a powerhouse economy because of previously free tuition at the University of California, Cal State, and community colleges.
- Health Care is important for containment of infectious diseases and essential for a good quality of life. Measles was wiped out — until access to health care declined. Everyone benefits when all citizens have access to health care.
We cannot have beneficial socialistic programs — not socialism — without honest and intelligent conversations. Before passing judgment on the merits of a proposal, one should not repeat, without thinking, the diatribes of know-nothing TV and radio talking heads.
Bruce Frohman is a retired technical expert with the Social Security Administration, and served on the Modesto City Council from 1999 to 2003. He wrote this commentary for The Modesto Bee.