In the cover picture of this article, Uncle Sam sits sad and alone on the steps of the White House while a smug, wealthy figure with a hat labeled “Monopoly” strides inside. The picture is metaphorical, with Uncle Sam representing traditional American values such as freedom, a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and liberty and justice for all. The monopoly man represents how American values and the will of the people take a backseat when industrialists, lobbyists, and special interest groups bribe politicians to create laws and policies that go against the common good. In a republic, people are supposed to elect representatives that represent them in a legislative body that votes to create laws and programs for the benefit of various constituencies. In reality, the people with the money persuade our elected representatives to shape the system according to their designs, while ignoring what is good for everyone else. Virtually every American is angry about this, regardless of their political affiliation, and the thing that has them seeing red these days is the situation with their health care. I need not explain why our health care system is in its current state. If I do, then refer to the cover picture.
Obviously, when you have money, you have power. Under our current system, money is what enables people to run for high office and pay for the T.V. ads for their political campaigns. The more money you have, the more you can get your name out there and persuade people to vote for you. And if you are the wealthy CEO of a major corporation, such as Exxon-Mobil, you can fund the politicians that you know are most likely to cater to big business – and we all know what Exxon-Mobil does to us every weekend at the gas pump! Oh, and all of this goes beyond behind-the-scenes-funding. As one of his first acts as the president, Donald Trump appointed Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, to be our Secretary of State! How’s that for draining the swamp?
What is a democracy? More specifically, what is our republic supposed to stand for? What is this thing Americans believe in? A republic (or democracy) is supposed to be the rule by or power invested in an informed and educated majority – not just the rich and powerful. Everyone, regardless of their wealth or status, must have an equal voice. When you follow the money, however, it becomes clear that the real rulers of our republic are not the politicians or the people. The real rulers are private individuals with money. Most of our politicians are nothing more than middlemen whose job it is to cater to big business. The sole purpose of government should be to create checks and balances on the rich, and develop programs and projects that “market forces” do not provide incentives to create, such as saving the planet, funding research, or sending probes to the far reaches of the solar system. Obviously, our government is not serving this function very well.
History has shown that rich and powerful enterprises need checks and balances just as much as governments do. If you think that private companies and employers can’t raise their own armies or violate people’s rights and that only a government can do that, then think again! During the 1920s, in southern West Virginia, coal miners were literally enslaved by the coal companies that operated there. The coal miners had to live in filthy company-owned housing and were paid meager wages, not in dollars as they were supposed to be paid, but in company currency called “scrip,” which could only be used at company stores.
In addition, the safety of the workers in these mines was wholly disregarded, and the coal companies kept the workers from forming unions with the intimidation and violence of hired thugs. Long story short, this eventually led to the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, and it ended only when the U.S. Army arrived. Of course, most of the state’s politicians were in the pockets of the coal companies, and the unions didn’t gain any power until the days of FDR’s New Deal. Also, in the days of the Wild West, it wasn’t rare for companies to hire thugs to gun down striking miners. These stories have been cut from many history books, and there should have been enforceable laws against what these private companies did. The problem was there wasn’t.
Let’s fast-forward to today to the issue that is on the minds of most Americans – health care. My mother works for a private law firm that provides her health insurance through Humana. Humana decided to force everyone to prove to them that they were taking care of their health. The numbers from the doctor’s office weren’t good enough for them anymore. Humana has begun making people send them pictures of themselves exercising, making them record the number of hours they sleep, and tell them what they are eating every day. If they refuse to send in this information, Humana will jack up their rates, as if seven thousand dollars per year isn’t already bad enough. My Mom has to wear a step counter that vibrates when she hasn’t gotten up and exercised in a while, and if you don’t register enough steps into the online database you have to pay a five-hundred dollar penalty at the end of the year.
My mother has nothing to prove, as she has been power-walking marathons for years, but it doesn’t matter. Despite her cooperation, her rates have already gone up because she has a sit-down job and only gets six hours of sleep every night. Humana, of course, is doing this to extort money from people, as they are making a killing from selling the step counters that they force people to wear. If Humana gets away with this and no one stands up to them, guess what this means for the rest of us!
Compare that to the experience of my cousin’s baby in Sicily. In Italy, they have a universal health care system that is paid for by taxes on the wealthy, and everyone, regardless of their income, gets the medical treatment they need free of charge. He had a brain tumor, he was operated on, and that was the end of it. There were no sky-high insurance rates, no Orwellian invasions of privacy, and no crippling medical debts. Also, I was told they are moving away from chemotherapy over there, which is an indication to me that their medical technology is becoming more advanced than ours.
Strangely, the first person to take issue with our health care system wasn’t Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders. It was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican. Today’s Democrats sound like yesterday’s Republicans, and today’s Republicans have gone over a cliff. If you go onto YouTube and watch old episodes of Crossfire from the 1980s, you will understand. It has been over fifty years since Eisenhower’s proposal, and the powers that be have made sure that we still do not have decent health care.
In a republic, when you let the rich and powerful get away with this behavior, the result is fascism. We are trained to think of fascism in terms of absolute military power or the worship of the state, but when you follow the money, you get a very different picture of fascism. The Nazis overthrew a republic that was molded after the United States, and before overthrowing that republic, the Nazis were just one of the many political parties that operated in that system. Where did the Nazis get all their money? They got their money from industrialists such as Fritz Thyssen, who was the man in control of the German steel industry, the German chemical company known as I.G. Farben, and even from outside sources such as Henry Ford. Why did they fund the Nazis? They did it because they wanted the Nazis to crush the labor movement – which they did. Hitler’s rhetoric against the Jews went in one ear and out the other with most of them. All they cared about was what they thought Hitler would do for their bottom line.
In other words, fascism happens when big business takes over the machinery of government and uses it to do its bidding at the expense of everyone else. In the case of Germany, they lost control of their thugs. Obviously, big business cannot buy politicians unless it is big. Therefore, big business needs checks and balances in the same way that the government needs checks and balances. Strong and enforceable anti-trust laws are the best way to keep big business in check.
About one-hundred years ago, the Supreme Court ordered that John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company be broken up into numerous smaller companies under the Sherman Antitrust Act. These smaller companies became the major oil companies we are familiar with today. And guess what? Many of them are merging back together again! For example, Exxon merged with Mobil to become Exxon-Mobil, and Chevron merged with Texaco to become Chevron-Texaco. These energy giants will need to be broken up again, along with several other companies that have grown too big, such as Amazon and Facebook.
We do not need to put these companies out of business. We only need to break them up into smaller units and force them to operate at a smaller level. If you can limit the size of big business, you can limit its power to control the government and shift the balance in the direction of the common man. I do not think that this will completely eliminate the problem, but I do believe it will help. I would expect politicians to act as they do now, but the common man would have more leverage.
This is where democratic socialism comes in. Examples of countries with some form of democratic socialism include Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France, and modern Germany. These places are not despotic sewers like the Soviet Union was. The basic way a democratic socialist government operates is it allows private enterprise to exist, but it keeps those enterprises from forming monopolies and taxes excess wealth, putting it into public programs such as healthcare and infrastructure. The whole point of socialism is to protect society from dominant groups. The people in these countries have a right to vote and a right to protest.
Other forms of socialism advocate the elimination of all private enterprise, but I don’t fall into that camp. I think there are advantages to free markets, but that system needs checks and balances just like everything else. One flaw of capitalism is that larger businesses will eat smaller businesses, and eventually, everything is dominated by monopolies that use their money to bend the state and the population to their will. To stop that, you need some form of socialism.
And how do we keep democratic socialism in check, so it doesn’t get hijacked by the rich again? We can do so with the protests and popular movements that the first amendment allows us to have. Thomas Jefferson believed a little revolution now and then was a good thing, and limiting big business might make those revolutions a little easier. No system is perfect or lasts forever, but there are times and places for certain systems, and now might be a time and place for democratic socialism.
In America today, we have decaying infrastructure, an out of control private health insurance industry, forests and trees that are being ruined by a vast array of exotic pests, and the issue of human-made climate change. These problems, along with our faltering economy, are very, very good reasons to raise taxes on the rich, cut military spending, end subsidies for oil companies, and create a federal jobs program to tackle these problems. Universal health care is also a good idea, but we do not need to eliminate private insurance companies. All we would need to do is offer universal health care and let the chips fall where they may. After what people have been through with their private insurance, if this program were offered, they would drop their private insurance in a heartbeat.
We have tried giving tax breaks to the rich under the idea that they will use their extra money to expand their businesses and provide jobs. But what have they actually done? They have continued to outsource jobs, bribe politicians, evade taxes, and spend their money on stock buy-backs. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work because of the greed factor. There is no evidence corporate America cares about America anymore. If it did, it would never have outsourced anything, and it would have supported a universal health care system, so it didn’t have to deal with the expense of providing health insurance for its workers. The outsourcing and automation of labor has done tremendous damage to our society. It has left people working several low-wage jobs at a time, destroyed networks of extended families, diminished people’s work ethics, and has generated a fit of widespread and unfocused anger that is being exploited for political purposes.
Democratic socialism comes pretty darn close to what the majority of Americans want. It stands for the same principles that our country was founded on. It stands for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to vote and be represented in a legislature, and the idea that all are created equal. It just takes it one step further by acknowledging that unchecked capitalism can be a threat to these values and offers to correct the problem. We have already had a president that implemented socialist-style policies. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he is considered to be one of our greatest presidents. Under popular pressure, he created a federal jobs program to bring us out of the Great Depression. It was a relatively simple concept; he created federal jobs so people would have money to spend to bring the private sector back to life. We may need this again.
Picture Credit: “When McKinley is President.” Keppler & Schwarzinann, Vol. XXXIX. No. 999. 29 April, 1896.
Sources & Further Reading
- Cohan, William D. “The Investigation That Rex Tillerson Doesn’t Want You to Know About.” Vanity Fair 26 October, 2017.
- Pringle, Heather. “Coal Firms to Strip-Mine Historic Battlefield?” National Geographic 4 June, 2010.
SEE Also: Andrews, Evan. “The Battle of Blair Mountain.” History.com 1 September, 2018.
- Kabler, Phil. “Delegates Criticize WV PEIA Wellness Program as ‘Invasion of Privacy.’” Charleston Gazette-Mail 17 January, 2018.
- Ubel, Peter. “A Surprising Early Supporter of Obamacare: Eisenhower?” Forbes 21 January, 2014.
- The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Fritz Thyssen.” Encyclopedia Britannica 4 February, 2019.
- Webb, Chris. “I.G. Farben.” Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team 2010.
- “Ford’s Anti-Semitism.” PBS Think TV: The American Experience
- Dobbs, Michael. “Ford and GM Scrutinized for Alleged Nazi Collaboration.” The Washington Post 30 November, 1998.
- Desjardins, Jeff. “Chart: The Evolution of Standard Oil.” Visual Capitalist 24 November, 2017.
- Mooney, Chris. “This Disease Has Killed a Million Trees in California, and Scientists Say It’s Basically Unstoppable.” The Washington Post 2 May, 2016.
- “A Little Rebellion…(Quotation).” Monticello.org: Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
- Haltiwagner, John. “Here’s the Difference Between a ‘Socialist’ and a ‘Democratic Socialist.’” Business Insider 25 February, 2019.
- “Democratic Socialist Countries 2019.” World Population Review18 September, 2019.
- Foroohar, Rana. “The Artful Dodgers.” Time 11 September, 2014.
- Nader, Ralph. “How CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy.” Evonomics: The Next Evolution of Economics 6 October, 2017.