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Socialism – Your Place or Mine?

December 7, 2011

For the apparent convenience of the rich and corporate types, we have lapsed into a singular definition of socialism. Whatever it is, it is bad. Period! I don’t agree. I think it may be, but not necessarily. It depends upon the economic history of the particular state involved in ordering its economy. I learned this personally and from afar. Read on.

In the summer of 1975, my wife, mother in law and I flew to Stockholm to seek out relatives. My mother in law (who to my amazement, spoke Swedish with her relatives) was a Swede. Her mother came from Sweden to Chicago in the 19th century. My wife’s father was Irish, born in Lafayette, Indiana. We found 21 relatives in Sweden and in the course of the trip, visited Norway, Denmark and Germany. My late wife, then a university professor, was especially interested in visiting the thatched roof cottage of Hans Christian Andersen in Odense, Denmark, the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen harbor and other tourist spots. It was a great trip.

But away from the travelogue and to the point – One of those relatives we visited was a lawyer in Stockholm, the lead counsel for a seven-member firm. He was a multi-millionaire with a condo in Majorca, a Swiss chalet in the Alps, and did not own a car! He said he went to work on his bicycle but took cabs in the wintertime. He lived in downtown Stockholm at 1 Kungsgarten not far from the courthouse in a spacious and beautifully appointed condo. He reeked of intelligence and success. His English and that of his wife, Ingrid, were excellent. While Ingrid was showing my wife and mother in law around  the premises, I engaged my fellow lawyer with a barrage of questions. I pretended to be an American right winger as I asked him how the Swedes could abide paying a 50% income tax rate. I specifically said; “That’s a little high, isn’t it?” (leading question). I will never forget his response:”Well, Jerry, that depends on what you get for your money.” Pressing on, I asked: “You have two socialist parties here, so why do you bother to go vote?” He responded: “Well, Jerry, one is more socialist than the other,” and then shot me down with another statement I will always remember: “You have two capitalist parties in the States. Why do you bother to go vote?” I quickly replied that there was plenty to choose from between our two capitalist parties, but he had made his point. I was guilty of doing what the rich and corporate types are doing today, 36 years later. I was heaping all socialists into one box. Do we place all capitalists in one box? Of course not!

It may surprise some readers to know that as a liberal Democrat and member of the Occupy movement I consider myself to be a capitalist. Indeed most of the members of the movement that I know are reasonable capitalists trying to get the radical capitalists of Wall Street to have a vision of America beyond the next quarterly report dissected by the Wharton and Harvard whiz kids over at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan et al. There is a world beyond spreadsheets, a world where real people live and die and have their being. We are all in this together whether the rich and corporate types like it or not, and we are not going away.

Finally, and I can’t prove this, but (in keeping with my long ago conversation with Swedish counsel) I would like to throw this idea out for comment: Postulate – that we pay higher taxes on average than are paid in Sweden. Ridiculous? Not if you give any credence to my long ago conversation with Swedish counsel in which he suggested, “Well, that depends upon what you get for your money, Jerry.” The Swedes pay no tuition for schools, have cradle to the grave health care (including long term care) for nothing, day care for moms at no cost, statutory leave for both parents upon the birth of a child without any reduction in pay, and many other such helpers in their social safety net. The economy works for all the people, not just the rich and corporate types. So, are our taxes lower than theirs? As measured by what is left over after American students pay their student loans, health care premiums, day care etc., I’m not so sure that we are paying a lower rate than Sweden, and with considerably more anxiety about our future than the Swedes have about theirs. (The Swedes were recently surveyed to be one of the first five happiest people in the world.) So, time for socialism here? Not yet. The economic history of Sweden is not ours. Capitalism, I believe, can work, but it is not now working with our financial sector running amok. Wall Street ignores the people in the streets at its peril, and the gathering storm could go further to the left than I, for one, want to go. Playing with our lives and our money has its limits. Is anyone listening? Gerald E

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One Comment
  1. Wonderful! I recall you fondly recalling a trip to Sweden, especially how the elderly were riding bicycles, and eating STEAK. How? With a full set of choppers, which a person is more likely able to Keep with a decent health plan, along with a system that still allows the cream to rise to the top (money makers) while affording the less fortunate a SHOT at it, or at the very least living and dying with dignity. I weep for my country.

    Let’s not forget that the Right Wing crowd, along with the newly minted Tea Party, or as I call them, “Republicans”, have indoctrinated with the use of Corporate media, these “buzzwords”:
    “Commie”, “Socialist”, etc. for quite a long time. Historically, during the Unionization of our country, decades ago, these terms were utilized to scare the bejesus out of the regular folk by the rich, powerful, and media in those days. Social engineering has been going on for quite a spell now, eh?

    What I enjoy most of all when debating with folks that utilize these buzzwords is to simply ask them to DEFINE a “Socialist” or “Commie”. Stumps them every time. Doesn’t shut them up, tho 🙂

    Great new work, sending links to all my pals online, thanks!

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