You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I'm not here to define socialism. I'm here to point out that no discussion makes sense when we haven't defined our terms. Or worse, when we all think we have defined them, and don't realize how different our definitions are. 


When you consider the merits and evils of socialism, it makes a great difference whether your image of a socialist country is Sweden or Venezuela. For example, I have recently seen these comments, and others like them, on Facebook:

I am too old to live under socialism. I am addicted to luxuries like toilet paper, electricity, food, clean water and shoes.

I don't understand why Bernie Sanders supporters are so upset about the Iowa caucus. You wanted more socialism. Last night, you got more socialism: Third world tech, missing vote counts, chaotic rules, rigged elections. The only thing missing: food shortages.

Clearly the people who have posted these are operating under the Venezuelan picture of socialism. Knowing someone who is from Venezuela and still has family there, I'm with them.

However, this is a completely ineffective way to reach anyone who is operating under the Swedish picture. Whatever the reality of life in the socialistic Scandinavian countries is, the image of that life in many American eyes is idyllic. 

Not, I hasten to add, for me. The high-taxes, high-services model can, perhaps, work pretty well when you have little government corruption, and—most important—a strong monoculture. When one is even a little different from the majority, it can be disastrous. Sweden is now having to acknowledge that their system cannot seamlessly absorb large quantities of people who are culturally far from Swedish, but even before the current influx of refugees, socialism was crushing Swedes whose beliefs did not fall in with the majority.

For example, many people praise Sweden's approach to day care, education, and parental leave—but it greatly favors conformity to the two-income family model, passing the costs on to those who are already sacrificing to live on one income so that their children can be reared directly by their families instead of through state services. The system will even take children away from parents who dare to challenge the government's educational services model. This is an unacceptable, basic human rights violation, but largely invisible to those who benefit from conforming to the system's expectations.

I personally fear Swedish socialism more than I fear the Venezuelan model, largely because I think it more likely to be implemented here. Certainly we are already well on that road. Even the socialist systems that work well enough—as long as one conforms to a certain culture—rely on a set of circumstances not easily duplicated. The Scandinavian socialist countries are wealthy, their governments are stable and relatively honest, and their culture has a strong history of Protestant-work-ethic values. There are many more countries and societies in which socialism has failed spectacularly than in which it has succeeded. For Sweden, or the United States, to descend into a Venezuela-like disaster is not impossible.

Be that as it may, when we try to argue with those who are pushing for more socialism in the United States, it's counter-productive to bring up Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, or the former Soviet Union. They will only see that as a straw man fallacy. That's not what they mean by socialism, only perhaps failed socialism. What they want is what they see as successful socialism, and the only meaningful arguments can be to show where socialism is failing in the countries Americans admire. Most Swedes have toilet paper, electricity, food, clean water and shoes. What they lack is freedom.

Similarly, if you wish to argue that socialistic policies are a great idea, you must take into account all the places where it has failed and explain how that can be avoided. Otherwise you will be written off as simply ignorant.

No matter how good an argument may be, if it doesn't address what the other side sees as the real issues, it won't be effective.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 at 8:46 am | Edit
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Well said.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 at 9:38 am
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