I’ve mostly taken this week off, resting up to face the last of this horrid winter. But I break silence briefly just to pass along a New York Times version of a point I’ve made a couple of times before — namely that the rest of the world, and I especially refer to the rich democratic nations of the world, do not have a fainting spell every time the word socialism gets mentioned (even though the Republican fearmongers are counting on such a fainting spell to re-elect their current darling in 2020).
In his Thursday column, Times columnist Roger Cohen takes us to the suffering of France. Two of France’s recent presidents (Valery Giscard d’Estaing and François Hollande) were Socialists. I spell that with a capital S because that wasn’t their closet ideology — that was the name of their party (Giscard won two terms).
France, as you know, is a hellhole, but mostly because the pastry is too rich, not because the people are too poor or deprived of basic liberties. Here’s Cohen’s excellent overview of the hellscape:
France has one of the world’s most elaborate social protection systems. The ratio of tax revenue to gross domestic product, at 46.2 percent, is the highest of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. In the United States, that ratio is 27.1 percent. Look no further to grasp Franco-American differences.
This French tax revenue is spent on programs — universal health care, lengthy paid maternity leave, unemployment benefits — designed to render society more cohesive and capitalism less cutthroat. … Socialist presidents have governed France for half of the past 38 years.
The country has paid a price for its social solidarity, particularly in high unemployment. But France has prospered. It has a vibrant private sector. It is a capitalist economy, among the world’s seven largest. Its socialism is no European exception. The Continent decided after World War II that cushioning capitalism was a price worth paying to avoid the social fragmentation that had fed violence.
The parties that produced Europe’s welfare states had different names, but they all embraced the balances — of the free market and the public sector, of enterprise and equity, of profit and protection — that socialism or its cousin social democracy (as opposed to communism) stood for. Socialism, a word reborn, has none of the Red Scare potency in Europe that it carries in the United States. It’s part of life. It’s not Venezuelan misery.
And yet, because some Democrats now actually use the S-word to describe themselves (although the party has never nominated anyone that does), Republicans are hoping to turn the election into a referendum on socialism vs. freedom, truth, justice and the “American Way,” as the opening of the 1950s “Superman” show used to term it.
But if you can stand to get past the scare words, you’ll find that the “democratic socialists” are not talking about borrowing any examples from Venezuela or Stalinist Russia. They’re talking about hellholes like Sweden, Canada and France, where everyone can see a doctor when they need one.
I’ll try not to write about this baloney for at least a month.