Though I have been living in France again for these few weeks during the summer, I feel that I have experienced and seen enough to make some comments that may be more insightful than pedestrian when it comes to a comparison of our two countries and the systems that support us)
First of all, during my stay, I have paid little by way of taxes here and have no financial investment in this system. In all candor, this must be how the 1% must feel in the US living there paying less than the middle classes do, yet enjoying the same privileges and advantages afforded to them in our republic.
That being said, the food is great and bountiful here. I did not have to think about GMOs or preservatives here. There is good cheese and great quality very, very cheap regional wines for sale and the beef grass fed. The bread is fresh and fortifying and places to buy it fresh plentiful. I pay no taxes to use my car, or support the schools or museums. I am a parasite who takes full advantage of the roads, educated citizenry, even of the workers who plant the roadside flowers that make this place so beautiful. I financially support none of it through taxes. I use a high speed rail system and local trains and trams paying less to ride them than the cost to run them. It is all someone else’s taxes who go to pay for the quality and benefit of my existence. If I were to live here for more than a few weeks a year, I would feel bad about taking advantage of all this without giving something back, for, though I may be a parasite, and generally loathe taxes and bureaucracies, I am one with a conscience here and back at home.
So why is it that the upper 1% in the states seem to have no such conscience? What is it about their self-absorbed lives that doesn’t allow their sense of altruism to tick, even in the least collective degree? I believe that it is one of Entitlement. The “E” word. Yes, it takes one to point out one. How else could the wealthy in the US laser focus on a word and turn it into an epithet aimed at everyone else who is on the cusp of surviving and who might be a recipient of what is left of state noblesse-oblige, now defamed as a “welfare state”. Sure, there are abuses. Any system has them. But with proper pruning, policing and punishment, the “three Ps” the abuses are guaranteed to be small and few and far between. But again, it takes hubris for one who has no real investment or financial connection with a society to enjoy all of its benefits to ask for the crucifixion of those who are less fortunate for doing the same just to stay alive. Is it not hypocrisy for any of the 1% to shop at Walmart, for example, where cheap prices are afforded greatly by hiring part time workers and having those same employees there apply for food stamps as part of their hiring? Are we not again socializing our most efficient means of production in this way? If the system continues to grow and makes Sam Walton’s family and shareholders richer, it must be good right? Isn’t this pure capitalism?
No, this is National Socialism. Just as the rich won’t have it philosophically, they still need it to maintain the the illusion of a purely capitalist corporate model. It is not. We as a society are keeping Sam’s workers’ and dependent families fed. This is the socialized cost of lower prices at the register. It is also how private insurers of state workers compensation systems have increased their profits by offsetting disability payments to injured workers by deducting from the indemnity paid to injured workers the amounts they receive from the Social Security Disability system, thereby privatizing gains and socializing losses. It is the basis of “tort Reform”. It is a reallocation of wealth by the protection of laws to the benefit of the wealthy. Most recently we saw most blatantly it with TARP and the bank bailouts.
So, now what is the problem with keeping the Walton’s family workers healthy other than socializing gains and losses? Absolutely nothing other than the fact that one has to call it a form of socialism. Privatizing gain and socializing losses is a form of “National Socialism” a/k/a “Corporatism” or for the less squeamish fascism. If one is a fascist, if corporations fail, and failure can be avoided by socializing losses by putting it on the backs of taxpayers, then that is not a bad thing because the oligarchs win out. Anything when the corporations win is good for the oligarchs and plutocrats in a fascist state. If losses are “socialized”, even if it is cost effective and pays for itself, to them it is bad. Anything else, other than the institution of communism (admittedly an abject failure) would be better. So we call our successful social programs in our democracy, something else. The term “Social Security” is watered down medically into a name like ” “Medicare”.
In this country we even socialize the human cost of our wars, by providing our injured veterans with a lifetime of federally funded workers compensation benefits known variously as “Veterans’ Benefits” and “Veterans’ Medical Benefits”. For those destitute veterans, we as Americans also provide for the destitute vet, “Veterans Retirement”. We do all this including the payment of vested retirement benefits to Service personnel, the Congress and our federal employees. We need to begin seeing our system, it’s successes and it’s excesses for what they are and calling them by their proper names whether it be “fascist”, “socialist” or “socially democratic” or “progressive” terms or memes that would function to limit the excesses and maximize the combined benefits of both capital and labor while maintaining the natural tension between the two through the use of good reason and common sense.
So why are we so opposed to socializing our democracy? Besides actually using the word “social”, a term anathema to most of America’s trained ears, the fear of the unknown or the new are perhaps the other reasons. Additionally, as a nation of international xenophobes, rarely do travel globally to places where we can see first hand how social democracies work elsewhere and how they by necessity, relate to one another in the world at large. Perhaps if we did observe more and blindly condemn less would we see that there are other ways of doing things as both a local and national community. But perhaps this is too much because it would require a community of historically rugged individualists to realize that the frontiers are now closed and the recognition of what it means to be an American community. This is going to take cooperation and a recognition of commonly beneficial goals and values that will sustain us and help us grow as a society and as a civilization as we meet the demands that will try our communality over time.
My observation of the French both up close now and from a distance is that this is a book that the French have been writing for themselves as a society of common sanguination for over a thousand years now. The vision here is clear and the population generally well cared for, hard working and happy. We on the other side of the Atlantic have yet to complete the preface to our own tome or even to agree on the words that best describe who we are and what we want to become.