“Socialism” is under siege once again, with the oft-heard refrain that it’s downright un-American to associate with any plan or program or, it seems, any offhand statement of anything branded “socialistic.”
And, goes the extension, if one supports something tagged as “socialism,” then surely they must be a Socialist.
Which leads to the friendly chitchat the other day after a round of golf on a splendid autumn day. We were sitting in the Braemar pub, and the conversation in this political season easily turned to The Bailout, and the prospect that the U.S. government would take equity stake in several of America’s largest banks in exchange for billions of taxpayer dollars to undo the cascading financial meltdown.
“What it comes down to,” Gary said as he lamented the mess, “is that it’s socialism, and that’s not good.”
A surefire argument stopper
Gary isn’t alone in fearing that awful something, and lashing out against it. Whether it be The Bailout or the “distribution of wealth” or the other guy’s health-care plan, a surefire way to dismiss an argument is to charge that it’s “socialistic.”
So, Gary was asked, what exactly does “socialism” mean?
“Well,” he said, “It’s anytime the government gets involved, and I know that I don’t like it.”
Gary’s group plays golf most Fridays at a municipal golf course which — Gary still denies — is engaging in pure “socialism.” The course is owned and managed by the city, and by any fair meaning of the term it’s a socialistic place.
Look it up: by definition, “socialism” is when the “collective” (government) controls the means of production, in this case a service.
Public roads, public parking lot …
Golfers drive on public roads to get to the course and they park in a public parking lot; the roads and the lot are socialistic. People drive on highways and freeways and they cross bridges, and if they discover their house is on fire they call the fire department — whose trucks are sometimes escorted by the local police. The public owns all these services, and all of it is socialism. Park in a ramp near the Target Center and attend a concert, and you participate in socialism. It’s public ownership of the means of production, including service.
Take the light rail to the airport (both publicly owned and operated) and your plane is directed on a route by federal air-traffic controllers. It’s all socialized. You fly to Phoenix and take a sip of water and the water is courtesy of the Central Arizona Project that pipes Colorado River water all the way across the desert; it’s all built, owned and delivered by the federal government and that’s — you guessed it, socialism. In fact, water supplied to Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Las Vegas — to name a few — all comes from water projects run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and that’s socialism. Water delivered to the fields of California’s Central Valley that grow our fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat is socialism.
Water supplied in virtually every city is drawn by public facilities, made safe by public treatment plants and distributed in public underground pipes. And the sewage that drains from your residence goes into public sewer pipe to a public treatment plant. It’s all socialism.
What about hunting and skiing?
Go hunting in a wildlife management area run by state or federal government and the ground on which you trod is brought to you by socialism; heck, in many places, the government even provides a parking area for hunters.
Go skiing in Colorado and electricity that runs the lifts is from the Rural Electrification Association (REA), and that’s a socialistic program to deliver power to America’s rural areas. If you’re like me and grew up in a town that had its own municipal power plant, your home was lit by socialism. Go gambling in Las Vegas and all those lights are lit by power from the Hoover Dam and the dancing water displays come from the federally owned Lake Mead reservoir behind that federally built and owned dam. Socialism.
The Metrodome, the Xcel Energy Center, the new TCF Stadium at the University of Minnesota, the new Target baseball park surrounded by acres of public parking ramps; it’s all socialism. Your mail is delivered by the U.S. Postal Service (socialism) and your kids go to public schools (socialism). Your parents get a check from Social Security (socialism) and health care from Medicare or Medicaid (socialism).
Rooted in the institutions of Europe
America is most certainly not “experimenting” with socialism, as one candidate on the presidential ticket likes to emphasize. America is immersed in socialism, and our comfort with the concept is firmly rooted in the socialistic institutions that run most of Europe: its trains, its planes, its national power systems, and its health-care systems that consistently deliver better care at less cost than America’s insurance-run system.
None of this is to suggest that socialism is superior to capitalism that’s predominating in the United States. And none of this is to suggest that just because we play on socialistic public golf courses that we’re Socialists (capital “S” as in the party). And, of course, none of this is to suggest that “socialism” and “capitalism” are mutually exclusive — take the example of a local businessman playing golf at the Chaska Town Course and afterward talking business with an associate who operates a rural facility that gets its electricity from the Bureau of Reclamation in Bismarck.
But it is to remind that, as a Republican neighbor suggested at last summer’s neighborhood picnic, Americans actively accept that there are some things that democratically elected government can do better — not all things, mind you, but more things than most could imagine. Call it what you will, but more often than not it is socialism when the collective (government) controls the means of production.