The Imagined Horror of Socialism
Socialism is that monster hiding under the bed. If it ever comes to our country, we all will be plunged into poverty, violent crime will spring up and our civil rights stripped away as Socialism will make it possible for a dictator to take over our government. Just look how Socialism has destroyed every country that adopted it. Or at least that is what politicians want you to believe.
Before I go on, let's take a brief journey into the future. We are in the age imagined by science fiction writers, with flying cars and rocket ships that go to any planet. And robots everywhere, doing all the labor man once needed to do. Poverty is gone and everyone is happy. This is the future we all hope for. However there is one catch. It can't work. If the robots do all our labor, then there are no more jobs. Why hire any human when it's cheaper to buy a robot to do the same job. And do that job faster and better than a human could. And have the ability to work 24/7 without a single break.
So in the future we all lose our jobs to robots. But if no one is getting paid, then how can we buy anything? Our economy works by consumers purchasing goods and services. For example, Microsoft makes its billions by selling Windows. If no one is getting paid anymore, then no one can buy Windows, and Microsoft, once the most profitable company in America, goes out of business. The same thing goes for Amazon, obviously. If people no longer have money to buy off of Amazon, then Jeff Bezos goes from being a trillionaire to flat broke. The same goes for our counties smallest businesses, family farms. If the population no longer has money for food, then farmers can no longer sell their crops. For the future to happen, some sort of system needs to be devised where money is distributed to the population other than via jobs, otherwise our economy is dead.
Of course we could just forget about inventing Robots. Problem solved, right? Well, not so fast. Robots and AI's already exist. With each year they grow more advanced, allowing for more jobs to be eliminated. This pandemic was a wakeup call to manufacturers who put off automating their factories. Robots don't get sick. The reason why their factories were forced to shut down was due to their human employees spreading the disease. Automated factories didn't need to shut down. Replacing humans with robots makes far more sense to them now more than ever.
Today self driving trucks are being tested on our highways and could soon replace human truck drivers. Safety wise they are less likely to make the mistakes humans do that lead to accidents, follow the laws and regulations, like speed limits, that humans tend to break, and are incapable of falling asleep at the wheel, the leading cause of accidents with trucks. Except for the part of humans losing jobs, we are far better off with self driving vehicles. So they are inevitable.
I recently listened to a friend complaining about how computers are eliminating jobs. That devices like Siri and Alexa were the final steppingstone before receptionists, secretaries and assistants were replaced with virtual workers. The irony is the word "computer" refers to the job computers were created to replace. There was a time when if you needed to do a lot of math, as in accounting, you would hire men called computers. Their profession was to add, subtract, multiply and divide lots of numbers on paper, then do it all over again a second and third time to make absolutely sure they didn't make any mistakes. Tedious work that took hours to do, which was why even mathematicians didn't want to do it. Vacuum tubes made electronic computers possible, which could calculate faster than human computers. All you needed was a fifty foot long room to store the computer in. once they were reduced to a reasonable size, human computers were no longer needed.
Not only did Computers get smaller, they can now process far more data much faster, and can do a lot more than basic math. Such as control robotics. Machines have been around for centuries. But every machine, from the wheel on up, had the same flaw. It was only capable of doing the same simple task over and over. It was incapable of thinking, so therefore needed a human operator if it was to do complex tasks. So while machinery did replace man for some jobs, most jobs, like truck driving, were impossible for them to do. Combining computers with machines created thinking machines capable of learning and problem solving, and therefore capable of the complex tasks they were unable to do in the past. Like driving trucks.
So like it or not, computers and machines are going to replace almost every job in the next decade. Certainly all the unskilled labor jobs will be lost. And there is no way to stop any of it. And once those jobs are lost, so are the consumers they created.
Okay, let's leave the future and return to today. Let's look at what appears to be a very stupid Socialist program proposed by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. He wanted to give every American citizen $1,000 a month. That would be a $1,000 paycheck, from the government, for doing absolutely nothing. Actually, Yang is not the first to suggest a universal basic income. This idea of redistributing wealth goes back centuries. And it is not such a stupid idea once you look at it.
By giving everyone $1,000 a month, everyone has enough for food, rent, and a little side money for spending. The $1,000 is spent and put back into our economy, strengthening it. There is also the side benefit of keeping the poor from being hungry or homeless, but the goal of universal basic income has always been to create consumers, therefore strengthening the economy.
The downside? Everyone against any program like this will tell you, it will just encourage people to stay at home and never find work. I disagree. For far too long our incentive for finding work has been to avoid starvation and homelessness. It is because we have no other choice for survival that we agree to work for whatever wages we can get. It wasn't always that way. Our ancestors hunted and gathered for survival. Or staked out a suitable plot of land and farmed it. This was how America was before the Europeans showed up, and for a while the Europeans who colonized the continent hunted wherever they wanted and farmed wherever they wanted. But then the land was gradually mapped out and divided into plots, all of which was eventually owned. Those who didn't own land were given no option but to work for wages. You could no longer be self sufficient, you had to work for someone and accept the wages he was offering.
Because most Americans were forced to work, and therefore all competed for the available jobs, wages were low. You don't need to pay that ditch digger a decent salary because he is replaceable. Fire him and 100 other men desperate for work would line up to replace him, all desperate enough to accept low wages.
Not so in a world where there is universal basic income. You want ditch diggers then you need to offer a salary that will actually make someone want to dig a ditch. I always thought it was unfair that the most grueling and often dirtiest jobs were the lowest paying jobs, while the bosses who never needed to lift a finger got paid up to 100 times more. As a society we were raised to believe this is acceptable. Unskilled labor deserves to be paid the least money, even though they are the employees most businesses could not exist without. That is, until the digging robots are invented, then they can do without them. But think about it. The jobs we would least like to do pay the least. All because pay no longer needs to be incentive to do a job when everyone is desperate for work.
This is one of the reasons the elite are against any kind of Socialism. "People need incentive to work." they say. "Give everyone enough money to sit at home and they won't want to work." Donald Trump himself has said as much. But if that is the case, then why did Trump have a job? Mind you, as an executive at his own company, but still required him to get up and leave his house every morning. He was born rich. His kids were all born rich. And they all do some sort of work.
Now you may be saying the Trumps are bad examples as what they do for the Trump organization can barely be called a job. So instead, let's look at paperboys in middle class neighborhoods. You recall as a kid how hard it was to be wakened up at 7:00 am for school? Paperboys have to get up before 5:00 am in order to receive their bundle of newspapers, then spend the next two hours delivering them all over the neighborhood, no matter how bad the weather is, and even if there is a storm. Failure to make the deliveries before 7:00 results in immediate termination. It may only be two hours worth of work, but it is seven days a week including Saturday and Sunday where the papers are far thicker with their Sunday sections. Saturday afternoon is spent waiting for the color section to be delivered. The actual news and sports section delivered at the usual 5:00 am and needs to be combined with the color section before delivery, making Sunday twice as hectic.
Wednesday is bill collection day. That's right, each paperboy is responsible for collecting the weeks subscription fee from each subscriber on his route, not the company they work for. Instead the company sends the paperboy a bill for the papers, which he pays for out of the money he collected from the subscribers. The paperboy's salary comes entirely from the difference between the paper companies bill and the money collected from subscribers. Often a subscriber is a deadbeat who pretends not to be home, or flat out refuses to pay the bill claiming the papers were consistently late, or he never got them. In those cases the paperboy has to pay the deadbeats bill out of his own pocket. He can't discontinue delivering to a known deadbeat because deliberate non delivery to any subscriber is a firing offense. They can lodge a complaint, and if the deadbeat hasn't paid his bill in over a month then the paper company may cancel his subscription. But the paperboy still has to cover the deadbeats bill, and if he wants the money bad enough, take the deadbeat to small claims court.
Amazingly the profession of paperboy does not violate any of the child labor laws as he is classified as an independent contractor. Politicians will never ban children from delivering newspapers because it is too ingrained in American culture. When you think of a paperboy, the image that pops into your mind is of Opie on his bicycle, riding down a country road, with a basket full of papers he tosses one by one onto the welcome mat of his subscribers. Which they don't do, because tossing a paper at a doorstep instead of walking up the front walk and placing it on the mat is a firing offense.
But the most amazing thing about the profession of paperboy, is that there is no shortage of kids willing to do the work, and most do not quit once they realize what a crap job it is. Even though take home pay is typically only twice as much as he/she received as allowance. These are 12 year old kids who are not yet use to working, have their food, lodging and clothing provided by their parents, get annual birthday and holiday gifts for those expensive toys they wanted, and are paid a weekly allowance. Basically, a version of Socialism provided by their parents. So.... if paying Americans to stay at home will give them no incentive to work, then why are children working as paperboys? With few exceptions, paperboys are not being forced to work that job, and can basically spend their weekends, holidays and summer vacations sitting on the couch watching television because their parents are providing for them.
And here is the answer. They work because they want to improve their life. They make at least twice as much money working as a newsboy than if they continued collecting allowance. Which is why most Americans would agree to go back to work under a universal basic income. Because they can earn more working than staying at home, and therefore can afford nicer things than they would on only $1,000 a month. They could save up for that house, that car, that home entertainment system, that trip to Disneyland. This is why people who do have jobs are constantly looking for promotions. This is why the Trump family, who allegedly have billions, continue to run the Trump Organization instead of taking it easy and spending the rest of their lives on a yacht on the Riviera eating caviar.
When the elite say Socialism will discourage everyone from working, what they really mean is will end the sham of forcing the poor and lower middle class to work for unreasonably low wages at hard labor jobs.
Will there be lazy buggers who don't look for work and sit on the couch at the taxpayers expense? Sure. And as regrettable as it is that we are paying for these lazy buggers, we are better off for it. If they are not competing for jobs then wages will rise. And besides, why would you want to inflict such an employee on a company where he/she would slow down their productivity? Whenever you see long lines at a McDonald's, odds are it is due to lazy employees slowing down that location's productivity, resulting in you waiting an extra 20 minutes for your order. And you didn't think lazy employees effected you.
Okay, let's forget about the future. Robots haven't taken all our jobs yet. Self driving trucks and taxis are still in the testing stage. And there isn't universal basic income. We still have Capitalism, and it is a far better system than Socialism, right? Well that all depends. If you are unbelievably rich then Capitalism is perfect. If you are among the lucky to rise up from poverty and become a self made millionaire or better, then good for you. The rest is at the mercy of an economy that tends to hurt everyone but the rich whenever it glitches.
Still, where else but in a Capitalist system could the poor rise up to be rich? Actually, reality is that only a fraction of Americans could possibly rise up from poverty under Capitalism. For it to work, regrettably there needs to be the poor. Under Capitalism, for someone to get more, someone else needs to get less.
Think of it as dividing a pie between you and your friends. You could divide it equally, the same amount of slices as persons in the room, and the slices all the same size. But let's say one friend decides he wants a huge slice. The pie isn't going to get any bigger, so the rest of the friends will either get smaller slices, or perhaps get no slice at all. The bigger the slice the greedy friend takes, the less pie available to share with the other friends. The more friends demanding bigger slices, the more likely others in the room will not get any at all. Now substitute the pie for our national wealth, the slices for money, and your friends for, well, everyone in America. Every time someone gets rich, there is less money for the rest. Every time a rich person increase his wealth, there is less money for the rest. For there to be winners, there must also be losers. Wealth cannot exist without poverty to balance it out.
This was what Capitalism was like for thousands of years. And it worked because the rich were nobility, which the poor surfs bought into. But then during the industrial revolution something odd happened. The middle class. Not that the middle class didn't exist prior to the industrial revolution, but it was minuscule, limited to doctors, lawyers, merchants and such. However, thanks mostly to labor unions, laborers across Western civilization were being paid decent wages which gave them a decent lifestyle.
Unlike trying to strike it rich, middle class was obtainable for everyone. ( Well, everyone who was white and male. For everyone else, not as easy, but still possible. ) It wasn't being rich. You may not be able to afford a mansion or Park Avenue penthouse, but you could save up for a house with a backyard and white picket fence. Perhaps could not afford caviar, but could have a barbecue whenever you wanted. Middle class allowed enough of the good life that you could retire happy. Oh, and also retire!
Unfortunately for a middle class to exist, there must be enough pie to go around. And in the past few decades the super rich have eroded most of the avenues where wealth trickles down to the lower classes because they wanted more pie. There are less middle class jobs available, not just because many industries crashed, or because jobs went overseas, or because of robots. But mainly due to employees with existing jobs forced to double or triple their workload so that they are doing the jobs of other persons as well as their own jobs. Which resulted in jobs lost simply because they can fire two people and force the third person to do their work as well. And there are the salaries which have grown worse and worse over the decades. Rising to middle class is almost as impossible as striking it rich.
So the flaw with Capitalism is that if the rich get too greedy then the rest are poor, which means you either need a government brave enough to stand up to the rich and big corporations, or for the majority of the rich and big corporations to be generous. Otherwise, no middle class anymore. And there is another flaw. Most companies operate with meager profit margins. A strange concept considering how many companies make billions in profits, but even Amazon had humble beginnings where they just barely made enough selling items to cover their employees salaries.
This makes many companies vulnerable to any financial instability, such as the Great Depression of the 1930s. When those businesses go out of business, their employees loose their jobs, which means they can no longer be consumers, which means more consumer based companies go out of business, which means their employees loose their jobs, which removes them as consumers, which causes more companies to go out of business...and so on. Under Capitalism the economy is like a house of cards, so easily collapsible for any reason. Such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic. There will be a recession as a result. Already many businesses are either closing or filing for bankruptcy. Hopefully there will be an immediate rebound after the pandemic is over. But one thing is for certain, and that is Capitalism was once again knocked on its ass.
So if Capitalism always results in unavoidable poverty, can be ravaged by wealthgreed, and is extremely vulnerable, then why are we so eager to protect it? Well, because for the past 100 or so years it gave us the middle class and a fair opportunity of social advancement to the upper class. And because even though Socialism is a system that promises to benefit everyone, opponents can point to socialist countries and say the system has bankrupted them. Which is a bit of an unfair thing to do when you are pointing at countries that were already poverty stricken prior to adopting Socialism, or were run by corrupt government officials who siphoned most of the countries wealth into their own pockets, and don't mention countries where Socialism has worked, like Denmark.
So basically, we are afraid of Socialism. The rich because it forces them to yield their wealth. The middle class because they have been told they will loose their middle class lifestyle. That everyone will be reduced to third world poverty, just like the banana republic countries politicians like to use as examples of failed Socialism. However, the poor are not afraid of Socialism. How can they be afraid of loosing what they don't have? And it promises to make their lives better. Guaranteed housing, guaranteed paycheck with job or not, free health care, free higher education. Why wouldn't they want that? Even the citizens of poor socialist countries are doing better than they are.
Which brings us back to the future, where Socialism is unavoidable once the robots steal our jobs. You see there is something else in the future that will force Socialism to exist in America. And that is the next generation of voters. Because the rich and large corporations have pretty much replaced the middle class with the working poor, and have cut off most opportunities at social advancement, we have a generation which doesn't have the middleclass dream to bribe them into abandoning the poor. They are the poor. Even those who went to college, they see a bleak future without the jobs they were promised and student debt taking away whatever nest egg they attempt to build. The next generation has embraced Socialism. And why wouldn't they?
So if Socialism is unavoidable, then why waste time avoiding it. We have seen the ugliest side of Capitalism, and it is indefensible. Why not adopt a new system that at the least is moral? Instead of going on about how Socialism doesn't work, why not come up with a system of Socialism that does work? There was a time when they said democracy would not work, and our founding fathers came up with a constitution that has ( so far ) done what it was designed to do and allowed the people to pick their government. Okay, maybe sometimes a government full of morons, but never the less, one we collectively picked, and one we can vote out of office. We have gone 230 years without a king, emperor or dictator. If we can get democracy mostly right, we could do the same with Socialism if we just had our best and brightest come up with a workable system. One that would raise us all to the middleclass, and still leave some room for the industrious to strike it rich.
At this point critics of Socialism will say "But who will pay for it?" Which is another flaw with Capitalism. A lot of stuff we all agree the government should provide, like decent wages for school teachers, affordable housing or rebuilding the infrastructure, it can't afford. Because no one wants to pay for it, especially those who can afford to pay for it. So instead of a socialized medical system, we have medical insurance. We would rather pay premiums on insurance than pay taxes for socialized medicine, even though we pay more for premiums than we would on the taxes.
Insurance companies are businesses. They need to pay their employees, pay their executives, pay for the buildings they operate out of, pay for the advertising of their company, and on top of all of that, the stock holders in the company are entitled to a percentage of the profits. At least half of every dollar you pay in premiums ends up paying for the company itself. So for every billion Americans pay for health insurance, the insurance companies can only pay out half billion or less in claims. That is, if they pay out at all. The more claims they deny, the more money the executives and stockholders can keep for themselves as surplus funds at the end of the year is considered bonus profit.
As a whole, socialized medicine would cost Americans less, guarantee coverage for anything, cannot deny coverage to anyone, remove the need to go through paperwork before a doctor could examine you, allow you to see any doctor you wanted and provide coverage to everyone. Not to mention the money corporations would save no longer needing to provide a health plan for their employees, which could be used for higher salaries instead. Would Medicare For All cost trillions? Yes. But we already pay more for regular insurance and don't get much in return.
So is Socialism is the boogeyman conservatives make it out to be? Well, that all depends on how it is implemented. As Americans, we prefer the ability to advance, not stay stagnant in a middle class you can't advance from. So American Socialism would need to be flexible, keeping only the good bits of Capitalism while getting rid of the destructive bits. It should still allow for an individual to become rich, but discourage the insanity of wanting to amass more money than you and your family could spend in ten lifetimes.
Creating a Socialist society that works is obtainable. But not if politicians rally against it and frighten the people against it. While the rest of the world adopts variations of socialism, they are able to proceed to the future without crashing their economies. The danger for us is to outright reject socialism. Because if we don't make the effort to get it right, then we will either sink into a third world nation when the jobs are taken away by advance technology, or have it jammed into existence by young politicians who are well meaning, but probably don't have a viable plan to get it up and running, Or we can accept the inevitable, put our heads together, and come up with a society with a robust economy and no more poverty.