Column: What democratic socialism is — and isn’t |

Column: What democratic socialism is — and isn’t

Hal Sundin
Staff Photo |

First, let’s clarify what democratic socialism isn’t. It is not what Charles Krauthammer confused with communism in a recent column, citing Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela as examples. He should know better.

These countries are essentially dictatorships in which a dictator or dictatorial hierarchy controls both the political and economic systems. In contrast, under democratic socialism both society and the economy are run by the people for the benefit of everyone — not just to create huge profits for the wealthy. Past democratic socialist goals have been women’s suffrage, child labor and safe working condition laws, old-age pensions, consumer protection laws and a progressive income tax, most of which we now take for granted.

What are democratic socialism’s goals today? Universal health care, free tuition at state colleges and universities, equal pay for women, expanding Social Security, and reversing the redistribution of incomes and wealth that has benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and impoverished millions of Americans. Let’s investigate the benefits and costs of each of these goals.

Nearly every developed country in the Western World, with the notable exception of the United States, provides universal health care for all its citizens. Mismanagement of health care for our veterans warns us that health care should not be operated by the government. But the high rate of satisfaction with Medicare among those it serves, and its low administrative cost (4 percent versus nearly 30 percent for corporate-run health care) are strong arguments for a “Medicare for all” system.

Sure it would cost money, but if it were set up as a payroll tax like Social Security, it could cost the average family less than the $10,000/year cost of their present coverage. In addition, it would protect our citizens from the astronomical cost of a serious illness or accident which would bankrupt them, rendering them homeless and stealing the future of their children.

Nearly every “Western” country, again with the exception of the U.S., funds advanced education of its young people, recognizing that its future in a technologically advancing world depends on cultivating the brainpower of its youth.

In the past, the states have funded essentially free education for their students. Tuitions at state colleges and universities once were on the order of $200 per year or less. Today they are typically $6,000-10,000, and as high as $15,000 per year. For equal educational opportunity for all, and for the economic future of our country, the federal government should establish free tuition at all state colleges and universities, funded by a nominal tax on short-term trading on Wall Street.

Equal pay for women for equal work should be a no-brainer. Children being raised by single mothers are 16 times as liable to be living in poverty as those being raised by a single father. There is no excuse for this gross inequity.

The incomes of the middle and lower classes have not kept up with the steadily rising cost of living, making it virtually impossible for them to put away enough money to supplement their Social Security benefits to provide a retirement income they can live on. The logical solution to this shortcoming is to increase Social Security benefits for this segment of our retirees.

The added cost could be offset by means testing, reducing benefits on a sliding scale for those with large retirement incomes — for example from full benefit for those with incomes up to $150,000 per year to zero benefit for those with annual incomes of $250,000 or more. Why does anyone that well off need a check for another few thousand dollars a month?

The Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) are examples of democratic socialism. Politically they are democracies, but their economic system is capitalism. The people have chosen to provide socialistic benefits for everyone — universal health care (similar to our Medicare), free higher education for their children and a livable retirement income (more than our Social Security provides).

They pay for it with high taxes — 50 percent or more — but unlike us, they do not have to pay high health insurance premiums and have no worries about being bankrupted by a major illness or accident, nor do they have the financial burden of trying to save enough money to pay for their children’s education and for a comfortable retirement. Their lives are free from the financial stress that confronts the vast majority of American families. And what’s so bad about that?

Hal Sundin’s “As I See It” column appears on the first Thursday of the month.

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