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The New Socialism in America


The New Socialism in America         Gerry O'Shea

In his recent State of the Union message President Trump warned against those who were pushing socialism as the best approach to solving the problems the country faces. This message was highlighted by many others on the political Right who pointed to the mess in Venezuela as the contemporary example of the disasters accompanying the hated "S" word.

Yet in a 2017 study  44% of millennials, citizens in their 20's and  30's, favor a socialist approach to government with, rather surprisingly, just 42% opting for the present capitalist system in America. A more recent Gallup poll found that 57% of Democrats expressed a preference for the  socialist system while the percentage identifying with that party favoring capitalism registered in the low 40's.

Even a few years ago, at the turn of the century, the numbers declaring for such radical policies would barely break single figures. What has changed in such a short period of time that a growing number of people prefer an economic system that is driven by very different economic forces than prevail in America today? These mainly young people argue that the highest priority of government should be meeting the real needs of citizens  rather than following policies that enhance company profits and promote the further aggrandizement of millionaires.

Think about the following statistics, focusing not on any one statement but on the overall picture, and what they say about the current culture and standard of living of families in the United States.

·       The top 1% in America owns more than the bottom 70%, and the bottom 90% possess just 27% of the country's wealth.

·       The American economy is 12% larger today than when it emerged from the 2008 financial crisis, but the median income of full-time workers declined by 1.1% in 2017.

·       The top 10% own 80% of the shares traded on the NY Stock Exchange, and half of American households have no equity ownership in any company.

·       Only 14% of  American workers have access to paid family leave. One in four new mothers go back to work 10 days after giving birth.

·       In 2017, 28.5 million Americans - 8.8% - were somehow getting by without any health insurance.

·       In Texas 25% of the children live in deep poverty.

·       The average debt of new college graduates in 2017 was $39,400.

·       From 1989 to 2016 the working class share of total income in the United States sank to 27% from 45%.

·       9.5% of seniors over 65 live on income below the federal annual  poverty  level of $12,140.

·       In a study spanning forty countries, people with a liberal  perspective said that the appropriate remuneration for CEOs should be four times the average worker's salary; the respondents who identified themselves as conservatives opted for a multiple of five for the top salary. In America, the actual payment to CEOs of public companies is 350 times more than the earnings of the shop floor worker.

The American Dream encapsulates an unspoken promise to all Americans: work hard and play by the rules and doors will open to ensure the successful upward mobility of your family. In the past, this story proved true for most workers.

That scenario has now changed. Millions of families are stuck on low wages paying off mortgages and student loans. The nation's wealth as measured by  GDP - Gross Domestic Product - keeps increasing every year mainly because of important advances in technology, but very little, if any, of this wealth finds its way to the bank accounts of working families.

In his memorable poem, Harlem, Langston Hughes asks:

What Happens to a Dream Deferred

Does it Dry up like a Raisin in the Sun

Maybe it Sags Like a Heavy Load

Or Does it Explode?

The possible explosion that Hughes refers to is an apt metaphor for the extraordinary growth of discontented voters, many of whom describe themselves as socialists or, maybe more precisely, as people  who have seen through the mendacity and  gross unfairness of the current economic system.

 This dramatic change has nothing to do with any renewed interest in the writings of Karl Marx nor does it reveal some nascent respect for the so-called socialist revolutions in Russia or China.

Affinity with Western Europe is different and Americans - especially the young - have much more contact directly and through social media with their contemporaries in countries like Britain, Germany and France. This also applies to other non-European advanced countries like Canada and Australia.

 Social Democratic socialist parties have been in and out of government in these countries, and they have left their mark with important progressive legislation.

Many young Americans have visited the Nordic countries, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and found that the kind of destitute  poverty seen on the streets of many US cities is just not allowed in the Nordic area of Europe. Provision of good housing and universal healthcare, including dental and eye care, ensures a basic standard of support for all citizens.

New mothers throughout the EU are nearly all guaranteed generous time off work, mostly with pay, to take care of their new arrival. Teachers in the Nordic countries are well-remunerated and accorded similar status to doctors or dentists - a far cry from what prevails in some American states where educators have to work a second job to survive.

These countries have vibrant democracies with free speech guaranteed and no legal prejudice allowed based on religion, race or country of origin. The percentage of the population in jail is far lower than in the United States.

Trade unions are strong and mandatory company profit- sharing with employees in some countries is part of the legal framework. Taxes are high and, of course, people complain about their reduced weekly pay checks but most accept that this is the price of a liberal social contract.

By comparison, in the United States, a country with a burgeoning number of millionaires and billionaires, many citizens have no health insurance and the current government in Washington wants to exempt insurance companies from having to provide coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.

Just a different approach in Western Europe where the issue of universal health coverage has been settled in favor of the citizens many years ago - and, while there are inevitable problems, there is no major political party advocating a return to the old ways.

It is not that young Americans have fallen in love with the European way of life, nor are they blind to the negative policies followed in some of these countries. What they see clearly is that the systems of healthcare, taxation and employment laws that currently apply in the United States do not favor them. It is a rigged system, corrupt, geared to the enrichment of those who are already loaded with the goods of the world.

 President Trump, who insists on travelling in a plane with 24-karat gold-plated bathroom fixtures, said it clearly during the presidential campaign: "His people have the best apartments and the finest boats." That summarizes the selfish, acquisitive spirit that characterizes modern American capitalism and it is rejected out of hand by most millennials.

The people with a lot of money have virtually all the power and they know how to take good care of themselves. They don't heed the wisdom in Oliver Goldsmith's warning in the 18th century to the greedy of every age:  Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey where wealth accumulates and men decay.

 A growing and vocal section of  young people in America have reached a tipping point of dissatisfaction and they are looking towards radical socialist solutions.

 

Gerry O'Shea blogs at wemustbetalking.com

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