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The View From Outside

Updated on May 11, 2013

What Democracy Looks Like?

Since I headed off to college, I have found myself a magnet for unique individuals. Social media sites like Facebook and Flickr have provided me opportunities to meet folks I would not have met otherwise. One example would be Seattle-based artist Shannon Kringen, She's also a fierce critic of America, especially the corporations that seem to control so much of it. She is where I picked up the term "USA Inc." to describe the vision of an America of, by, and for the "%1" that the Koch Brothers and ALEC want to create, with help from the Tea Party.

She has also traveled the world, most recently she was in Scotland. These travels inspired her to write a piece on what she saw as differences between the "Socialist Democracies" of Europe, etc and the "Capitalist Democracy" of the United States.

I think a better term for many of the "Socialist Democracies" she admires would be "Social Democracy". The style of society that one sees in places like Norway, Denmark, etc. I think this may be the style of society that many on the American Left aspire to.

But there are obstacles along this path. Some are structural; our two-party system, our winner take all system for presidential elections, and the necessity for huge amounts of money to mount an effective campaign.

But there are also some roadblocks that may be more cultural. Americans seem to have a different relation to government than Europeans. Many Americans see government as an adversary, the mantra of "Big Government" coming from big business and it's mouthpieces on AM-Radio and it's cable news affiliate. Neither of these phenomena is new; Americans have always had a distrust for government, and the wealthy have always had a desire to possess political power beyond their numbers. Over the last 30 years though, we have seen both grow. The roots of this might though go back to the 1960's when Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil RIghts Act and began a "War On Poverty". Hard-working, White, Americans' money were going to "those people", who now had the rights to vote and were protected from discrimination.

Thus, a second cultural obstacle. European countries, as a whole, are more racially homogeneous. The American "melting pot" has been more often brought to a boil as reactionaries have created outgroups to scapegoat and divide folks who should be allies. As I have said before, this is a common trait of right-wing movements. Right-wing parties in Europe have seized on this, as countries like Norway deal with immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.

Will America ever catch up to it's neighbors in the 1st world in areas of social and economic justice? That may take more Americans realizing how far we lag in areas of social and economic justice. The "Occupiers", to their credit, may have caught on.


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    • profile image

      Michael Furdek 5 years ago from California


      Yeah, there are reasons why businesses are in business in the first place, for money. Though, the only way to get that money, is to improve their schools. The parents choose the winners and losers among the schools so if a school becomes corrupt, all you have to do is move your child to a new school. Granted, there may be a lack of schools, but once again, somebody will probably come along and build a new one to compensate for the lack thereof.

      I agree, all parents will want to send their students to the best school available, it's the natural choice and the choice I'd want for my kids in the future. Also, I'd agree the parents would have to find alternative choices when it comes to other schools if their kids can't pass the tests to get in that school, what's wrong with that? The school if it has filled it's quota should be able to turn away students just a like a business has a right to refuse business. What the school would most likely do in the long run would grow to accommodate more students.

      I understand that there are rual kids needing to go a long distance to school. My parents refused to send me to the local public school because of how terrible the system was, which was about 10 miles away. I had to travel instead a much longer distance to a private school which took about 45 minutes one way to attend. For that particular scenario, I guess the parents don't have a choice and would be forced to send them to the local school, even to their disliking.

      Your entire thing about the "1%" is complete baloney, I apologize. The "1%" pay about 38% of the taxes in the United States. That is a ridiculous amount since they are carrying on their backs a large amount of people across the United States who don't pay a cent in Federal taxes. But lets say that they should pay more in taxes, and more money is thrown into the DOE, all that department is is a large black where money falls into. Have you noticed the more money that's thrown into the DOE, the worse the education has gotten? Bush through in billions of dollars and I have yet to see an improvement in the education in the public school system.

      Thanks for the response Christopher, I really do want to see somebody else's perspective on this idea.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "Many Americans see government as an adversary" - I think this is perhaps one of the biggest problems with the perception many Americans have of their government. They cannot see that the idea is to have a government by the people and for the people. In my mind (that of a European/Canadian), the government is made by people who act as representatives of the people and thus, the government is there for the people.

      I know things are not as I have described above but just because something is not working properly does not mean it cannot be fixed. Cutting-down on social spending and government programs is not going to help the American public at large. Holding corrupt and failing politicians accountable would be much better, in my opinion.

      Good article, thank You for writing it.

      All the best!

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

      @Michael Furdek-

      I do think differently, or so people have told me!

      As for the privatization of schools, I believe "for profit" entities will inevitably migrate towards making more profit above all else...they are by definition, in it for the money. Children from families who have can afford a more expensive highly rated school will receive preferential admission and attention, and the education divide between the haves and the have-nots will be acerbated.

      Saying that, with a voucher, parents could send their child to the school of their choice is naive...ALL parents would want to send their child to the best school available, but every school has a finite number of students it can accommodate, and most children will be forced to find an alternative.

      And in most of America, rural America, towns are miles apart from one another and schools are often one central school for 6 or 8 surrounding towns. Kids are already bussed 20 or 30 miles to attend school without seeking out different schools where their voucher would be welcome.

      I attended a private parochial school for 9 years, and I liked it fine, but its reason for being was never for profit.

      If America's wealthy 1% would pay their share of taxes, public education would be better funded and the children of the other 99% could receive an education more similar to what is available to the rich kids whose parents send them to private schools already.

    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA


      Except that private schools can pick and choose. And vouchers are far from the cure-all that religious leaders make them out to be.

      As I showed, and scooped the local Corporate paper in the process:

    • profile image

      Michael Furdek 5 years ago from California

      @ CHristopher Price. What's wrong with privatizing schools?? Statistically speaking, private schools are much better for the students than public schools. If each town gave the parents a voucher to go to the school they wish instead of being forced to go to the crappy local public school, then each of the schools will do what they can to get that money. For example, revamp their education at the school, get better facilities, get better teachers. Sure, it evolves more towards the money, but it's the students who win in this particular scenario because they would get the better education. If you think differently, please give your opinion.

    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

      I'll agree. The question is how do we get there, can we do so without having to resort to an insurgency? I have my doubts sometimes. . .

    • profile image

      Shannon Kringen 5 years ago

      i feel very cynical today. basically the whole usa,inc system is RIGGED. and whatever the bankers want they will get. that includes who is in the white house. they will rig it. voting does not even count. i will vote just in case it counts but i think it's NAIVE to think the USA,INC is a democracy at this point.

    • profile image

      LikaMarie 5 years ago


      Not a problem! :)


      One thing with the 1%, they feel it's their right, and don't think they're doing wrong. yet they are trying to make slaves out of everyone else.

    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

      I couldn't have said it better myself Chris(topher)

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA


      There seems to be in the USA a large segment of the population that is so distrustful of government, so adverse to laws, rules, regulation or oversight that they would rather blindly follow the deceitful rantings of hate mongering media shills working for their 1% masters.

      It is as if the sheep have turned on the Shepard they elected to preserve and protect the flock, in order to side with the wolves who use them for fodder.

      While Romney and the Republicans stir the pot with tales of Socialist evils and a Muslim President, America is being bought and sold by the 1% who seek to "privatize" and profit from everything from education to health insurance to the prison system that cages more of it's citizens than any other country on earth.

      Uh, I too am sorry for the rant, but it is all just so frustrating.


    • TeaPartyCrasher profile image

      TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA


      I'm waiting for a few of those "head in the sand cons" to pop up here.


      Didn't mean to leave Japan out.

      I also forgot to mention another thing that a lot of "Social Democracies" have in common. They are highly secular!

    • profile image

      LikaMarie 5 years ago

      Japan is also a social democracy, and they have a very good health care system. No one needs to be dirty, as public bath houses are even around for those who are homeless to wash up and stay clean.

      Each year there is a school clinic, where a doctor and a nurse make their rounds to the various schools, and each child gets an annual check up. They even hold a make up day for those who may have missed school and those who may need a follow up.

      And, the unemployment rate is actually really low compared to the USA.

    • Josak profile image

      Josak 5 years ago from variable

      Obstacles? Millions of intractable head in the sand conservatives.

      You can tell them that social democracies like Norway, have better economies and they will just say that it's not the same with no evidence as to how the two countries are relevantly different.

      You can tell them that they have better education, health care, lifespans, unemployment rates, crime rates and poverty rates a minuscule fraction of ours and they will continue ignoring the facts.

      You can tell them they have a better quality of life that ours (in fact the best in the world) that their citizens are the happiest in the world that they have much better economic equality, that their suicide rate is lower, their economy is far more ecologically sustainable and that they have much better gender equality and they will just mutter something about socialism. Those people are the obstacles.

      Anyway sorry for the rant, great hub voted up and awesome/interesting.