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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/24/16

Was Ike Twice the Socialist That Bernie Is?

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As I pointed out in the commentary I referred to above, the Scandinavian nations actually have lower tax rates on corporations than the US. Furthermore, they are capitalist countries with a high bottom floor for social services, not socialist countries.

In the commentary, I noted that "according to the pro-corporate think tank, the Tax Foundation,'Denmark's top marginal effective income tax rate is 60.4 percent. Sweden's is 56.4 percent. Norway's top marginal tax rate is 39 percent.'" These are far less than the tax rates under President Dwight Eisenhower.

My wife and I were just in Sweden over New Year's and it is an extremely prosperous capitalist nation. We went to an island near Stockholm that was basically a suburb, and it had huge homes that looked like wealthy suburbs in the US. Yes, there is less of a differential in the Scandinavian nations between CEOs and workers, and they do have great social services and family and quality-of-life work laws. In the end, Sanders, however, is correct when he calls himself now a "socialist-Democrat." He's really just advocating for government to leave no one behind, and in order to do that the wealthy and Wall Street need to be taxed more - and tax loopholes have to be closed - but he is not promoting a dramatic tax increase.

The visible wealth in Stockholm should disabuse anyone who believes increasing marginal tax rates means people cannot be rich. After all, the top tiered tax rate in Sweden is only 56 percent. It's a bustling commercial city, except there don't appear to be neighborhoods there that have been left to basically rot. The primary difference with the Scandinavian nations is that the voter consensus is that government adds value to society in services and quality of life. In the United States, the anti-government paranoia and hatred infects such a huge segment of the population that people don't realize how much public services and programs have done for the nation.

'Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?'
(Image by New Press, 2011)
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JB: Several years ago, I read fellow Chicagoan Thomas Geoghegan's Were you Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life [New Press, 2011]. I remember being amazed at how our oversized fears of socialism have blinded us to the massive benefits that citizens enjoy if they live in nations that cultivate healthy safety nets. It's unlikely that large enough numbers of Americans will travel to Scandinavia to see for themselves. So, how do we change the conversation so that people see the larger picture? That's the $64,000 question. The press certainly isn't helpful in that regard.

MK: First of all, socialism is one of those words that resonates with differing definitions or associations to different people. It becomes, as a word, an obstacle to discuss in a multi-faceted society because even most mainstream corporate journalists don't agree on what it means, based on how they use the word socialism.

Let's just, for a moment, not use the word socialism. If we mean the fostering of a nation where the government - through the use of using a very large percentage of its gross domestic product on social services for the common good and collecting revenue for such a purpose through a combination of heightened taxing policy on the rich and corporations and state-ownership of certain common resources and public commons property - provides a strong social safety net and creates programs and laws to enhance the quality of life of its citizens, then Geoghegan is talking about Scandinavia -- and, to a varying degree, some other nations in Europe.

In addition, we can include the cultivation and encouragement of cooperative enterprises that are worker-owned and -run, as well as alternative economic structures to capitalism.

This is more or less the concept that is that the basis of the Sanders concept of "Democratic-socialism." I personally hesitate to even call it socialism because it really is just government that provides for the common good of its citizens.

The problem in the US is that we have a longstanding strain of thought that government is the "enemy," or as Ronald Reagan infamously said, the best government is the government that governs least. Currently, on the right wing and among many independents, we have reached a frenzied antipathy toward government that has moved the nation to near implosion, due to failing to fund government needs such as maintaining public infrastructure.

I think the Sanders candidacy itself, whatever the outcome of his presidential campaign, has gone a long way toward putting these issues out in the public discourse. At first, the mainstream corporate media ignored him, but now they are forced to air his perspective (which is Scandinavian in outlook toward reducing income inequality and providing a state that serves the needs of all its citizens - but remember, this is within the framework of capitalism and the continuation of a very wealthy class, as is the case in Scandinavia). That is, in itself, exposing a multitude of Americans to the concept of a nation that is structured to benefit the common good, not just the needs of the "winners" in gladiator capitalism.

As for your question, if there are not more political candidates who raise such issues - and a presidential race is the most effective forum for using the media to educate the public, even if the media is resistant to the ideas that Sanders is articulating - then it will be hard to dispel the right-wing shibboleths and sense of post-Cold War fears about what in reality is not even socialism, but capitalism that exists within a certain set of laws that allow the state to accumulate and use dollars for improving lives of the entire population of a nation.

I must add that the cost of US militarization, surveillance and the maintenance of empire is another factor in sucking up treasury dollars that would otherwise go to meeting our most basic needs, like a water pipeline that does not poison children and adults with lead in Flint, Michigan.

JB: All good points, Mark. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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