Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are two prominent U.S. politicians who think America should adopt socialism, and they are not alone in their belief. This site says that four in ten Americans believe socialism would be good for our nation, and this site says that more than half of American teenagers and young adults think socialism is good.
Columnist Christian Sagers says that how one defines socialism depends on one’s age. Bernie Sanders and his followers seem to think that socialism would be a Utopia, or Shangri-La in Sagers’ words. Nazi Germany is the image that comes to the minds of conservatives. Sagers says that the true definition of socialism is somewhere in the middle and adds that spewing a bunch of fake facts about socialism will not fix what is broken in our country.
Sagers promotes a documentary titled “The Pursuit” now available on Netflix produced by Arthur Brooks, a social scientist and former president of the American Enterprise Institute. He says that Brooks sought to know why citizens of the United States are willing to discard capitalism when it is the very system that has “lifted 2 billion of the world’s inhabitants out of starvation-level poverty since 1970.” These very people think that economic system known as capitalism is broken and socialism is the solution.
So what does that mean? “Everything and nothing,” says Brooks. In a 2018 poll, the Public Religion Research Institute distinguished between two versions of socialism: 1) “a system of government that provides citizens with health insurance, retirement support, and access to free higher education,” and 2) “a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation and communications industries.”
It’s the latter definition that rightly scares anyone who remembers Soviet-era oppression. In the poll, people 65 and older were more likely to define socialism with the second option. Predictably, younger respondents chose the first.
Those who promote socialism look to Norway, Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries for their model. Yet, these nations embrace the market system. The citizens in those nations own homes, farms, and businesses. However, they pay huge amounts of taxes for their “free” health care, education, etc.
My husband and I traveled in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden last summer. We saw happy, industrious, and healthy people. It seems that they walk or ride bicycles whenever possible. It was apparent to us that they are hard-working people because we saw well-kept homes and farms and clean cities with little litter or graffiti every place we traveled. One tour guide spoke about the huge amount of taxes that he pays for all the “free” stuff that comes from the government. He laughed about how his nation provides free health care, education, etc. in exchange for his taxes. However, there are reasons why their system works for them and would not work for us.
The biggest reason that their system works for them is that the Scandinavian nations are much smaller and much more homogenous than the United States. There is no way that we can compare the 10 million people living in Sweden and the 320 million people living in the United States. Our geographically large nation and our great diversity create a condition where the Scandinavian system would not work for us.
Capitalism does have its weaknesses, but it is much better than socialism. All those people who promote socialism never use the USSR, China, or Venezuela as examples. They say that those countries just have not done socialism correctly. However, even China uses some principles from capitalism to raise the standard of living in that nation.
Sagers says – and Brooks agrees – that the American system is broken because it fails the people “on the margins. Growing inequality hurts the promise of equal opportunity. Cronyism keeps people in power ad squashes competition.” He says that American politicians should look for some American solutions to America’s problems. “We need to do better, but better doesn’t need to be socialism – whatever the connotation.” He says that the place to start is “with changing our character.”
Greed and exploitation aren’t traits unique to capitalism; they’re character values that live in our hearts. Shifting our national moral character toward the lens of hope, dignity and self-worth is requisite for seeing those who need our help and giving them the right opportunities to pursue their happiness.
With true compassion in mind, then we can talk about increasing competition among tech giants and addressing stagnant wages. We can shore up the safety net and make sure those who need it don’t fall through its holes. We can promote honest work as a badge of dignity rather than take it away or make it a punishment.
That takes a lot of work – far more than creating a new payroll tax and benefit program – but it’s what’s necessary before we can truly make the system work for everyone.
Jesus said that we will always have the poor among us for as long as we live the laws of man. Heavenly Father has a system that would work for everyone. It is called the law of consecration. It runs on love, work, honesty, unselfishness, generosity, and other Christlike qualities. In order to live under this perfect system of government, we do need to change our character.