[Note: Updated Nov. 11, 2013, in #2 “The military.”]
I was stuck behind a driver the other day who had a bumper sticker that proclaimed “Stop Socialism!” The words were in a big, red octagon, like a stop sign. I couldn’t read anything else on the sticker–my eyes aren’t what they used to be–but the message was very clear. Socialism, this guy feels, is something that has no place in America.
I chuckled to myself as I sat at the light. I thought that this guy, loudly declaring his disgust for socialism, has probably benefited more than he realizes from the few arguably socialist programs we have in this country.
According to The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World, socialism can be defined as “the insistence that full membership in a political community entails social citizenship: security and opportunity for all.” Looking at it this way, in the United States it doesn’t get more socialist than the following:
- Public education: Public schools are a mandatory program, supplied by the government, using tax dollars. According to the Department of Education, of the total number of children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, approximately 90 percent are educated in public schools. I went to public school, and you probably did too. If we were to “stop socialism,” the alternative would be private education, which has been called out by some for its lack of committment to the education of disadvantaged children. And just like anything else in a free market, the education would go to only those who could pay for it, and the best teachers would work at the schools that paid the most. It stands to reason that a significant proportion of the country would be unable to afford to go to a decent school, or any school at all.
- The military: Professional soldiers, sailors, and airmen are fed by the government, housed by the government, clothed by the government, given equipment by the government, educated and trained by the government, and given free health care for life by the government. “Service members have little autonomy or choice,” say two veterans in a recent Washington Post article. Sounds a bit like Cuba and China. But while our military does place some restrictions on the individual, it also provides opportunity. Being in the military allows people of modest means and little hope for a secure future to find a vocation, gain the camaraderie of peers, and earn the respect that comes from serving one’s country. All provided by the government. If we were to “stop socialism,” we would essentially revert back to a time when officers were exclusively of the landed gentry, and the enlisted were no better than indentured servants or prison labor.
- Medicare: Contrary to what the tea partiers would have us believe, Medicare enjoys widespread popularity throughout the country. In fact, according to The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as of 2011 (the latest data), 48.8 million people are enrolled in Medicare, with a healthy amount of participation in every single state in the union. That’s approximately 15 percent of the population of the United States. More importantly, nearly 100 percent of the population aged 65 and older have health care coverage supplied by the government. If we were to “stop socialism,” it is likely that the vast majority of the elderly and disabled would suffer from preventable and curable diseases due to an almost complete loss of access to health care.
If we gave all three–education, the military, and our health care–back to private owners and the marketplace, this country would become a feudal society with liberty and justice for only those who can afford it. It would be unrecognizable. If that’s what the majority wants for our nation, fine, so be it. But let it be an informed decision.
My guess is that people like the dude with the bumper sticker have never paused to think about how much government support they actually receive, even as they demonize the government as being the problem. The term “socialism” has become a buzzword among certain circles that translates to “government violating my rights.” Like most buzzwords, it adds to the level of noise without signifying anything. Next time someone is ranting about socialism, I think I’ll stop listening.