The last column I wrote and was published two weeks ago garnered a high level of response from readers. Titled “Socialism in America,” it prompted a number of individuals to write letters to the editor and about an equal number to post comments online at the Daily Journal’s website. The preponderance of feedback I received personally was via email. All but one of those emails were short, sweet and appreciative. One was like the majority of responses to the paper: critical and written to offer alternative views on socialism.
Perhaps a good place to start with this second piece on the topic is to offer a written definition of what the ideology is. In my previous column, I avoided a written definition and instead provided an example from American history: the pilgrims under the leadership of William Bradford. The system he initially set up for growing, harvesting and distributing crops illustrates precisely the definition of socialism. It is, according to an online dictionary, “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
One respondent challenged the example of the pilgrim’s socialism, claiming the failure of an adequate harvest was due to diseased crops. To be certain, the pilgrims’ did suffer deadly diseases the first two years at their Plymouth settlement, however, the diseases they suffered were to their persons, not to their crops. A reliable source on the pilgrims’ story is a book written by Nathaniel Philbrick, titled, “The Mayflower.” In Chapter 10, he recounts the change they made from a socialistic approach to agriculture and, instead, the families tending to their own crops. “The pilgrims had stumbled on the power of capitalism. Although the fortunes of the colony still teetered precariously in the years ahead, the inhabitants never again starved.”
Some who wrote to the Daily Journal bemoaned my understanding of socialism because it is not in line with the newer, friendlier version of its ideals and ideas. In fact, we are to believe that two new forms, “democratic socialism” and “socialized capitalism,” are soft and fuzzy and will do no harm. They will only do good. They are practices that do not lead to revolution, death and destruction, like has happened in Venezuela. Instead, we are told only to focus on the happy, productive and inventive nations from the northern regions of the world: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
I happen to know someone who lived in a Scandinavian country and now lives here in the Bay Area. It may be empirical evidence only but this individual told me of how, in his country, socialism led to people being lethargic and unenthused. The most ambitious would like to follow his example and move to the United States. He also pointed out that these countries, if anything, are moving away from socialism, not toward it. As recently headlined in the news, the Finnish government collapsed under the cost of socialism, specifically, of providing medical care to its citizens. Perhaps the words of Britain’s former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, now ring in their ears: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
Does labeling socialism as “democratic” change the fact that, at its core, it is still socialism and, therefore, the ultimate effects remain the same? Simply offering people the opportunity to vote on one socialist program over another, or varying degrees of it, does not mean the best choice is offered from which to choose. I am made to think of a socialistic program operating in the United States: Social Security. It is said to be going bankrupt and the only two choices we are given to keep it going is to either increase the tax on our incomes or increase the retirement age. We are not given the choice of opting out and investing the 15% taken from our wages each year. Or, for that matter, simply buying an annuity or insurance policy.
What about coupling socialism with capitalism? On the surface, it may sound like a viable solution to the dilemma put forward by Margaret Thatcher. If there is always a capitalist around from whom to draw funds, the problem is solved. Or is it? The question becomes, to what degree can the capitalist bear the burden of the socialist? Does yoking an ox that labors to one that does not pan out in the long run? What is more, a socialistic system is, by necessity, run by the government. Therefore, indirectly or directly, companies end up being run by the government. What results is only one thing: socialism. Do people need to be reminded of where socialism ultimately leads?
A former member of the San Carlos City Council and mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political policy on the Peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.