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July 24, 2013


Finland is one of the richest countries on earth. Its Helsinki –Tallinn shipping route is one of the world’s busiest. Norway is a superrich country as well, though much of its wealth is attributable to its oil riches in the North Sea, a non-renewable resource, but no matter; Norway would be rich with or without oil. Sweden is also performing well. Its economy is active and productive and competitive in this current order of globalization. These three comprise the Scandinavian Peninsula. All are prosperous, extremely democratic – and (dare I say it?) “socialistic.”

I am no apologist for any system, capitalism, socialism or any other kind of “ism” other than one that works – via application of another ism -“pragmatism.” I also agree that what works in one country with its economic history will not necessarily work in another with a different economic history, but conversely, that doesn’t mean it (or parts of it) will not work in another country, either.

We seem in this country to dismiss anything labeled “socialistic” as verging on “communistic” when in truth socialist and communist political parties in Europe hate one another with a purple passion. We have been conditioned since the utopian Marx hit the scene to dismiss anything smacking of “collectivism” and other such “names” to be somehow “un-American” and “subversive,” as though socialists in Europe and elsewhere are not good citizens interested in their country’s successful future and that of their fellow citizens. France currently has a socialist government, for instance, and I hear of no Bastille storms or guillotine plots since their election.

In short, we have been brainwashed to fear, hate and even loathe political and economic systems that do not fit the definitions of our capitalist leaders, as though any other system than the one we have could be better, or that even parts of it could be imported to our economy that would be beneficial to all. We have been conditioned upon hearing such words as “collectivism” to react in knee-jerk rather than thoughtful fashion, a reaction that makes Pavlov’s dog look like a revolutionary by contrast.

As a pragmatist, I have a revolutionary idea and it is this: That we ignore “names” urged upon us by both capitalists and socialists and come up with whatever works. Both systems have flaws and both have historically made serious errors in the application of their “systems” to their economies. With such an open invitation to select the elements of economic theory that best suit prosperity for all in our own country (forget Marx and Adam Smith and other classical economists who could never have dreamed of the globalization of today), it is not possible if one is awake to ignore the current success of those governments of the Scandinavian Peninsula in today’s international economic environment. So they have a mixed capitalist and socialist society? So what? What’s in a name? Who cares? Are we into emotions generated by catchwords or are we into selecting whatever works to get our own economy on the move?

I say we look over the Peninsula’s programs to see if some of them could be profitably employed here. Whether such programs to be reviewed are capitalistic or socialistic is beside the point because that is not the issue – the issue is whether such programs would work here. If so, adopt them; if not, don’t adopt them. If we adopt them and they don’t work, try something else. That is precisely what FDR (the great pragmatist) did with his New Deal and other programs during the Great Depression.

We don’t have to be so captive to “words” that we must remain mired in a system which enriches the rich beyond belief while family median wages are stagnant or in decline for some twenty years and millions go to bed hungry, something that could not happen in democratic Scandinavia. We are not powerless to change such an economic system, one that serves the few and impoverishes the many.

So what’s in a name as defined by apologists who moralize for Wall Street and the superrich? The answer seems to be a continuation of a system that enforces inequality via a psychological conditioning process (socialism bad, capitalism good), when both such systems have had their successes and failures at different points along the timeline spectrum. We clearly need substantial change in a market system that is not working for all of us, and I propose that we look at the highly successful Scandinavian system that is working so well to see if we can find some help.

So what are the Scandinavians doing that I think we could profitably import? For starters, we could have an industrial policy that would assure our manufacturing competitiveness in a global economy, as all of the Scandinavian and other industrialized societies have done (Germany, for instance, which has prospered and has enormous trade surpluses while we – with no industrial policy – have enormous trade deficits – in addition to the unemployment and poverty that comes with such deficits). Second, we could have a vocational education investment program that would educate our people in some of the skilled trades on a massive scale. It is ridiculous that even with our chronic unemployment employers in this country are complaining of a shortage of skilled trades people and are even asking their politicians to start visa programs to bring aliens in to do our welding and other such skilled trades (especially when some welders are now demanding and being paid $50 an hour). We obviously need to invest in vocational education so that our people can go to work in these good-paying jobs, and do so now. It would be an excellent investment since these people would be off the dole and paying serious taxes, givers instead of takers, a win-win situation for everyone.

It appears that Wall Street and the current uncaring crop of capitalists care little of our manufacturing base default or unemployment rate, and why should they? The historic highs of current Dow and S&P readings are proof of the disconnection between those who profit from the present system and those who do not. The financial sector of the economy is growing by leaps and bounds while our manufacturing system (such as it is) is in the doldrums without much hope for robust recovery given our lack of a national industrial policy. New jobs added to the economy are in general low-paying service jobs, the types of jobs we formerly found in those countries who now manufacture goods for our import in a classic switch of economic roles – the Orient now does the manufacturing and we do the service. Chinese manufacturing labor is leading the world in hourly raises in wages during this last year while we hope for minimum wage jobs, jobs that assure such workers wages below the poverty level.

There may be other policy ideas we can import from Scandinavia or elsewhere which will move this country’s economy out of its present lethargic state. I have suggested only two (investment in vocational education and adoption of an industrial policy –and from only one geographic area). Perhaps we could learn something from China (pretended communists but actually state capitalists), Russia or elsewhere. I don’t care where good ideas come from; I care only if they will work to make my country and the people in it prosperous and hopeful, and, if so, adopt them as policy, wherever their genesis.  GERALD  E


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