Today is May Day, and as an avowed Socialist, I figured I should take some time today to write on the subject of socialism and its value to society. Yes, even to our society.
America is, in many ways, a country that has embraced socialism. If you doubt me, ask your grandparents what they’d do if the government took away their Social Security. We also have socialism in the form of things like food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, roads, PBS, public schools, and really any number of different things to greater or lesser degrees. And I’d say that’s a very good, good thing.
But we are also a capitalist country. We have a capitalism economic system that rewards people for succeeding and punishes them for failure. Capitalism is, despite its faults, the best economic system out there. The clever and talented really can do quite well for themselves in a way that they can’t in other economic systems. The problem is those who don’t succeed. Those people are at best marginalized, and at worse are ground into the system by a machine that’s fueled by the sweat of the workers more than anything else.
This is where socialism is important. It’s a bad system to base an economy around, though not nearly as bad as communism, but it’s great when used as a social safety net. It’s best used as a way to balance the playing field. To make sure that the poor aren’t forgotten. It allows the clever and talented to become very rich indeed, but extracts a price from them and uses that price to help prop up those who aren’t necessarily as clever or as talented, but who still need a chance to thrive.
Social welfare programs are a good and noble thing. If a single parent of four kids works two full time jobs and still can’t afford to put food on his childrens’ plates, it is right and proper that society should give that parent food stamps. If someone has worked their entire adult life, scrimping and putting aside money for retirement as best as they can, and then their 401 (k) tanks or their pension is embezzled away, then it is a very good thing that they have Social Security there waiting to help. If a food server in her thirties breaks her leg and cannot work for two months, it’s only correct that she should be able to draw money from the government to fix her leg and help her for those two months until she can be back at her job.
It’s also good and noble that employers are forced by the government to pay a minimum wage, even if that wage, when adjusted for inflation, has less buying power now than it did in 1972. It’s good that employers are made to pay out overtime pay to workers, even if certain industries are oddly exempt. It’s good that children aren’t forced into work at the age of nine and are instead allowed to continue with their schooling, increasing the odds of them getting better jobs down the line.
It is, in short, very good that we have capitalism. But it’s also good that we have socialism. It’s good because it keeps the playing field at least somewhat level. It’s good because it provides regulations about what employers can and cannot do. It’s good because it can help those people who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
It’s good, but it can and should be better. We need more socialism in this country, not less. We need real universal health care. That’s just such a basic thing. We need employers, especially those in the food service industry, to be forced into providing sick days for employees. While we’re at it, they should also have to provide paid vacation time. We need cheaper higher education options, and government grants for school, not simply student loans. We need a real living wage, not a mere minimum wage. Economists have said that to have the same buying power as minimum wage did 40 years ago, it would have to be around $15. I’m fine with that if we phase it in by a dollar a year.
We also need, very much, to stop listening to the people who whine about crushing regulations driving up the cost of doing business. I have no doubt that increasing the minimum wage to $15 will result in McDonald’s having to change their Dollar Menu to a Two Dollar Menu. I’m fine with that. I don’t mind paying extra as long as I know that other people are earning more than they were. I’m especially fine with it because I know that I, too, would be earning more money, since I currently make way less than $15 an hour. I know that these changes would make doing business more expensive, but I know as well that businesses will simply pass the cost on to their customers, and that’s right and proper. That’s the essence of capitalism, in many ways.
I want capitalism. I love it dearly and I think it really is the best economic system. But for it to work as well as it can, it needs to have a strong socialist safety net. We have one now, but it’s weaker than it should be. Let’s find a way to make it stronger. Make it so that those who try and succeed are rewarded beyond all sanity, but also so that those who try and fail aren’t destroyed. That is the value of socialism.