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In today’s fast-paced political news environment dominated by social media and 24-hour news coverage, the soundbite often rules. The “wall” might very well be the foremost example of a political campaign promise in the form of a sound bite that has taken on a life of its own without the benefit of any real substance behind it.
President Donald Trump has utilized his infantile ability to apply nicknames to political opponents to take full advantage of the electorate’s short attention span or interest in substance while feeding its apparent appetite for catchy sound bites. “Low energy Jeb,” “crooked Hillary,” “lyin’ Ted” and “Pocahontas” are just a few of the nicknames that he apparently spent a great deal of his “executive time” crafting.
This use of soundbites in lieu of substance also plays into the Republican ability to control the narrative and putting Democrats on defense.
Whether it be John Kerry’s false “swiftboat” scandal or Hillary Clinton’s contrived scandals regarding emails or Benghazi (a tragedy, not a scandal for those keeping score), the effect was to distract from the real issues and the Republican candidates’ unfitness for office, and that goes for both Trump and Bush 2.
This brings me to the 2020 presidential election and the quite obvious strategy to mark whichever Democrat candidate rises to the top of the primary process as a, hold on to your hat, SOCIALIST!
Going back to early 2016 before anyone, including Trump, could seriously have thought of a Trump presidency, I wrote extensively about how capitalism and socialism go hand in hand in today’s economy.
In preparation for the misuse of the term in the upcoming presidential election and the expectation of the Democrat candidates going on the defensive instead of the offensive, I think it would be quite timely to resurface many of the points I previously made on the subject.
To begin with, whether you call it socialist capitalism or capitalist socialism, either way, that is the system under which we live. Anyone who uses the term socialism as a dirty word is either unaware of this reality, or they are merely attempting to haphazardly throw out a misunderstood buzz word for purely political purposes or both.
For those interested in the literal meaning of the word socialism, it refers to the situation in which the government controls both production and distribution, in other words, ownership is with the government rather than the private sector. That, of course, is not how it is understood by most in today’s America.
The word socialism in today’s society is often understood to mean any government controls or actions that impact the free market.
With that in mind, the fact of the matter is that every time a safeguard has been put into place for the safety and benefit of our citizens, it has added a socialist element to our capitalist society.
The capitalism envisioned by Adam Smith saw the potential of small businesses growing into large, successful ones and the benefit of laissez-faire on the part of the government to allow these businesses to flourish. It did not, quite clearly, envision the socialist bailouts of too big to fail corporate giants by the government with taxpayer money. It also, quite apparently, didn’t foresee the need for protections for citizens from the greed of big business.
Without the socialist New Deal legislation championed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s, we would not have the safety net for our senior population that is Social Security.
The Social Security Act of 1935 also established unemployment insurance so that individuals who lose their jobs would not even lose their homes. Without the New Deal legislation, we would not have the Fair Labor Standards Act which provided for an eight hour day and forty hour work week, established a national minimum wage and the ability to earn overtime pay, and placed restraints on child labor. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 set rules for collective bargaining.
These so-called socialist controls were necessary, both then and now, to allow capitalism to work without negatively impacting the individuals whose work is so critical to the businesses that comprise our capitalist society.
Of course, the socialism found in today’s society is not limited to the 1930s and the aftermath of the Great Depression.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed to make it illegal to pay workers lower wages on the basis of gender. The Age Discrimination Act of 1967 prohibited employment discrimination against persons forty years of age or older. These socialist controls were enacted because of an apparent need within our society.
You don’t, ordinarily, need to protect against a non-existent threat…unless, of course, we are talking about “voter fraud,” but I won’t go there in this column and save that issue for another day.
It doesn’t stop there with these programs and controls. Medicare is a socialist program that provides health care for our senior population. Is there any senior below a certain income level who declines Medicare coverage? Probably not too many.
Farm subsidies are part of a socialist program in which the government pays farmers to help stabilize the food supply by providing a financial safety net for farmers.
This helps to ensure that consumers have a stable food supply and that farmers have funds to finance crops. Are there any farmers who give back their subsidies? Extremely doubtful.
Is there any farmer who will return any of the $7.7 billion bailouts by the Department of Agriculture to mitigate the harm caused to farmers by the Trump tariffs/trade war with China? I think not.
The point of all of this is that we live in a capitalist society with the need for socialist protections. These protections enable businesses to function while reducing any negative impact on the other members of society, especially those that comprise the workforce that is the lifeblood of the business community.
The problem occurs when the regulations designed to provide those protections are dismantled, thereby leaving that workforce and the other members of society more vulnerable.
That is precisely what has been happening over the last 35 years: the step by step dismantling of safeguards. These safeguards are, regrettably, needed to protect members of our society from the destructiveness that the greed of other members of society bring to bear.
Contrary to the Michael Douglas character in Wall Street, greed is not good. Income inequality has not been this great since just prior to the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression.
Today, the top 400 wealthiest Americans account for as much wealth as the bottom 155 million Americans. There is no “trickle” in “trickle-down economics.”
Until safeguards such as those in Dodd-Frank, legislation passed in the aftermath of the recession of 2008, and Glass-Steagle, passed after the 1929 crash and repealed in 1999, are re-instituted and strengthened, we will run the risk of the malfunctioning of capitalism and the need for more socialist bailouts with taxpayer money.
Both of these pieces of legislation were designed to protect against the irresponsible actions by the investment community that caused the economic disasters that preceded their passage.
We need socialism and capitalism to work hand in hand to ensure that one does not overtake the other.
So, when Democratic candidates bring to the 2020 campaign a vision that includes universal healthcare, or addresses income inequality, or provides for affordable college tuition for all to name just a few, don’t easily dismiss that vision with the Republican attack line: SOCIALISM!
Neither socialism nor capitalism is in and of themselves “bad” words. It is only when the concepts are misused by those who put their own self-interests ahead of the best interests of society as a whole that they become so.