America in Limbo: circa Spring 2015.
Below is an interesting, quite long essay I wrote during my sophomore year at Khabele High School in Austin, Tx. I thought I might throw it on Medium to add to a small yet hopefully growing collection of articles from yours truly. Enjoy!
America in Limbo
If you are listening to Fox News one day, you might hear a commentator yell passionately “Obama is a socialist!” or “Socialism is destroying america!” or something along the lines of socialism “creating a war against white christians in America”.
Unfortunately, many people don’t understand what socialism actually means or the current economic state of America. “Socialism is variously defined. Hyndman, an English socialist, calls it ‘an endeavor to substitute for the anarchical struggle or fight for existence, an organized competition for existence’” (Allen 1). Socialism is proven to be one of the most successful structures of government, with countries like Norway, Finland, and China thriving economically, socially, and culturally. The Obama administration has done a lot to turn the United States of America around, especially with the creation of Universal Health Care. Yet no matter how great the change, America’s economy and policy is in a limbo, influenced by large companies and rich individuals but governed by large, “independent” government. The structure of America’s economy and political dependence on the richest one percent creates a stagnant playing field, inhibiting substantial federal change to ever occur. When it comes down to it, America is becoming too divided and extreme to accept any change that isn’t complete domination of the other political party, especially when change is what we need more than anything. Even if a slight move towards progress could mean new industry, innovation, and social liberties, our political atmosphere willnever let that happen. America is stuck in a stage of limbo, our economy is just socialist enough to provide for the poorest but not socialist enough to pull them out of poverty; our economy is based on a freemarket approach, but there are credible arguments that condemn the government into a hypothetical corner, blaming big policy for the economic crash of 2007-2009.
In today’s age, “socialism affects one third of the land, population, and wealth on our planet” (Nuti 391). The economic style of governing is most prevalent in countries like: China, Canada, Norway, Finland, and other Northern Scandinavian countries. It is commonly “conceded that St. Simon, who died in 1825, and Fourier, who died in 1837, were the true founders of socialism” (Allen 2). Socialism is, by simple definition, the radical interpretation of sharing. In a socialistic society, taxes are high, welfare is great, public facility is well kept, and factories or means of production are mostly public and owned by the society as a whole. Socialism is somewhat like communism, but not as communal or totalitarian-like… it is different from capitalism though, encouraging public industry and communal property and discouraging privatization of manufacturing industry.
The trends show that socialism or liberal capitalism is probably the fairest form of government. In almost every modern case, socialism has encouraged strong economic growth and equity. Consider Vietnam, the fairly recently established socialist economy, as of 2006 Vietnam “[was] the second fastest growing economy in the world” (Alternet. “Socialism Is Alive and Well … in Vietnam”). Then look at the whole Scandinavian block of socialist nations, Finland ranks highest in education and Norway (which we will discuss more below) is ranked first in the Overall Prosperity Index of 2014.
Successful socialism is exemplified in today’s Norway. One of the most stable governments in the world. They became rich from heavily taxing oil and providing greatincentives for people to join the workforce. The basic answer to the question of their success is a growing and prosperous, mostly socialist society that encourages a rising middle class, a lowstress job search, and much confidence and faith in the government. Subsequently, Norway has a per capita GDP of $58,645, one of the highest in the world. Socialism is strong, alive, and obviously an effective option in terms of biggovernment governance.
The most capitalist society in the world is actually part of the most socialist, Hong Kong. Hong Kong boasts an impressive GDP of 38,123.52 USD, especially considering Hong Kong has no real natural resources. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Hong Kong government only collects about 9.1% of a person’s annual wages. The other aspect of this capitalist society tends to be gross human rights violations, mostly in the terms of extreme poverty, “about 1.3 million people, or 19.6%, of the population were deemed to be living below the poverty line in 2012, according to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2012 released on the weekend” (CNN. Fifth of Hong Kong Lives Below Poverty Line). For reference, the international poverty line is about $1.25 per day, but it fluctuates based on reporting from the World Bank. Capitalism too is a strong option in the case of governing mass populations, but it does bring certain human rights and environmental concerns into play.
America is different though. Our economy is skewed…growing, but the middle class does not trust the system, the richest 1% do not invest into the economy like the 99% hypothesize, our policies are self-destroying, mostly politicized, and rather old fashioned. It is unfortunate but frankly true, the American dream is kinda has been deemed by many to be an nothing more than a reference to the nostalgic past, not a prosperous future. Still don’t believe America has a problem? “The U.S. joins Lesotho, Swaziland, and New Guinea as the only countries in the world not to mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns… We’re also the only‘advanced economy’ that doesn’t require companies to give workers paid vacation… [and] We incarcerate more of our population than any other country” (Huff Post. “15 Ways The United States Is The Best At Being The Worst”). Along with rather ignorant policies that encourage, what some call, freedom, America finds itself with one incredibly troubling predictor. The top 3% of Americans own “54.4 percent in 2013. The top 3 percent now hold over double the wealth of America’s poorest 90 percent of families” (Inequality. “Wealth Inequality”). Wealth gaps are proven to destroy nations and political systems… consider the war on poverty. Most of the politicians fighting for the poor have never been poor themselves, they are unaware and unready to accurately represent the American base. The media is the same way, name one Fox News commentator that isn’t making over half-a-million dollars annually. America’s economy is confused and lost within itself, there is so much going on, more than money, that has real impact on the daily lives of our citizens.
Why do I argue that America needs change? No matter how great our society may seem, many people ignore the fact of our wealth gap, earlier stated. To restate the statistics, “54.4 percent in 2013. The top 3 percent now hold over double the wealth of America’s poorest 90 percent of families” (Inequality. “Wealth Inequality”). This wealth gap is detrimental to the organism that is the economy of the United States of America.
In America, “the gaps in wages, income, and wealth are wider than they are in any other democratic and developed economy” (Growing Apart. “A Political History of American Inequality”). We can touch on why our political system can’t make any changes, but first… We need to address the history of wealth inequality. As countries like Vietnam or China (including Hong Kong) soared in the last 40 years, the US has been doing relatively nothing. We haveentrepreneurs, who create amazing products and get rich fairly quickly, but that does not represent the whole of America. We have homeless people, lots of them, who are commonly plagued with addiction or mental illness. We have been at a standstill for the last 40 years, mostly when it comes to the average American. Today, “middle income workers make no more now than they did in the late 1970s; those in the lower wage cohort have lost ground over that span” (Growing Apart. “A Political History of American Inequality”). So obviously, the policy of America has not been working. Our economy has been at a rather standstill, while bigger industry makes more money, outsources more jobs, grows other economies, hurts American interest, and overall dampens the growth of the American economy. The conundrum is that we don’t do anything about it. We are so caught up in the money makers, our wars, the “Reagan Era”, and the hatred for seemingly obvious policy that nothing actually gets done.
Now the time has come that America must do something about it, about the policy that made America great 70 years ago but hasn’t done anything in the last 40. The first step to revamping economically was The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama in March 2010” (AFFORDABLE HEALTH CALIFORNIA. “Affordable Care Act history”). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was the first step in over a decade to help the average American. The Affordable Care Act is honestly, rather socialist, and it has proven to be immensely effective, “providing many as 9.9 million people to get new health insurance, and more than 4 percent of all Americans have gotten health insurance for the first time, according to a new Gallup poll” (NBC News. “Obamacare Helped up to 10 Million People Get Insurance”). The first step in over a decade that is actually predicted to make a lasting impact on thelivelihood of Americans. Yet, because of our flawed system of governance, Obamacare has become one of the most controversial bill in the last decade. Unfortunately, Obamacare only does more to confuse the political system. It adds to the confusing capitalist-free market-socialist-patriot loving economy that is America. I agree, it has done great things for our nation. But the stagnation that it has created is rather detrimental. This stagnation is partially due to a paid for lack of morals though, a major hitch in the limboing economy of America.
These paid for lack of morals that are destroying our country can be summed up in one word: lobbying. Lobbying “means the deliberate attempt to influence political decisions through various forms of advocacy directed at policy makers on behalf of another person, organization or group” (Georgetown’s Woodstock Center. “Principles for the Ethical Conduct of Lobbying”). Lobbying is the reason socialism will have a challenging time grasping America, even with its fingertips. Lobbyists will fight whatever war they are paid to win; they are America’s domestic, contract mercenaries. In the past few years, ever since Obama has begun to make a mark on America, Lobbyists have been going crazy. It would be naive to say that not every politician in Washington, maybe even Obama himself, has been lobbied to as well. Most notably, lobbyists started the Iraq War. Less notably, lobbyists are the reason no republican will identify with climate change. Lobbying is, frankly, not the only reason America cannot figure which way is up and which way is down.
The Citizens United case in 2008 started what many consider a slippery slope in politics. “The Citizens United is a nonprofit organization with a 12 million budget. Some of its funding comes from forprofit corporations. This organization created a 90 minute documentary named Hillary, which names Hillary Clinton and shows interview and political commentators all whourged voters to not vote for Hillary. The organization first released the movie in theaters and then on DVD. Afterwards the organization produced two 10second ads and one 30second ad promoting viewers to order the documentary on demand. A negative statement about Hillary is made and then information on how to find the website is given. This movie is basically a featurelength negative advertisement against Hillary” (Case Briefs. “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission”). We may not realize the true implications of such a court case yet. The Supreme Court finally decided that “congress may not ban political speech based on a speaker’s corporate identity” (Case Briefs. “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission”). Citizens United opened the doors for The Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity to take control of the country, providing the most definite case for both the need of socialism and the inability of the United States to become socialist.
Here is a secret that many people would probably not believe, The Koch Brothers own the legislative branch of The United States, they own two supreme court justices, and, if they had their way, they’d own the president as well. In 2010, the Koch brothers took advantage of Citizens United to headway a “45 million effort to buy control of Congress” (Campaign for America’s Future. “Koch Brothers Exposed: Why We Must Act — And How”). But successfully implementing the most conservative, steadfast group of white, male legislators was not nearly the end of the road for these brothers… The Koch Brothers also bought two justices on the supreme court; “Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who according to Koch Industries have been ‘featured’ guests at twice annual political fundraising and strategy sessions sponsored by the company” (Common Cause. “The Koch Brothers”). The Koch Brothers did not stop at only two branches of government though, “the Kochs and their network[were] expected to invest up to $400 million in the 2014 election, most of it through a network of nonprofit groups created to conceal the identities of the donors.” (Common Cause. “The Koch Brothers”). Does this seem like democracy? How does this reflect American beliefs and values? Plus, how could anybody ever make substantial change in the White House when the whole system is truly owned by warmongering megalomaniac? The answer is, this is not democracy, there is no true freedom of vote or representation, rigging an election directly contradicts American values, and no president, from now on, will ever be able to run an effective two term campaign without the support of a larger than koch super corporation.
To connect what seems to be a major flaw in American Jeffersonian democracy back to what type of economy America should or shouldn’t run, these days almost every bill that goes through congress or the senate is “earmarked”. An earmark “is a provision inserted in the text of a Congressional bill or report that allocates money or a tax benefit for a specific project, program, or organization, circumventing a merit based or competitive allocation process” (Ending Spending. “What’s an earmark?”). This means that the government funds programs and builds infrastructure through sneaky little “earmarks”! What?! A lot of these earmarks can also contribute to unfair subsidies and advantages for corporations who back a politician. A prime example of this unfair political bias, specifically due to lobbying, is the financial crisis of 2008. “Banking lobbyists were instrumental in the removal of banking and mortgage regulations during the last decade” (Wolf Pac. “The Effects of Corporate Lobbying, Pt. 2”), resulting in the economic crisis of 2008. I won’t delve too deeply, but the deregulation of the way mortgage
loans were given out and the way banks managed their money dug America’s economy its own grave. Even since 2008, Lobbying has kept most government regulation off of banks andbanking, risking America’s future. So, lobbying has a large role in why we find America’s economy in a position of limbo, unable to make any effective change or policy towards stability or progress.
From here there are two options to fix our economy and country, one is complete liberal capitalism aka conservative socialism. The other is complete free-market domination. I am going to argue my opinion for the purpose of both sanity… and because free-market capitalism will result in a greater wealth gap, which results in more violence, which results in more felonies, which results in a more conservative election, which results in even more freemarket capitalism. Ew.
Socialism could act as a cure-all. The implementation of socialism in our system of government will clean the political slate, providing answers for the problems stated and many more. Why? Because socialism provides economic opportunity and equality for all, and that results in people registering to vote. In 2012, Obama’s second-term election, only “54.87%” (The American Presidency Project. “Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828 2012”) of Americans came out to vote, and with just 36.4% voter turnout in the 2014 general election, the “general election voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was the lowest it’s been in any election cycle since World War II” (Washington Post. “Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since WWII”). Socialism would enable the lower class to find economic agency and discover the means of true citizenship, voting.
Voting means a voice, and with so many Americans coming out to the polls each year (maybe 70%?), the entire playing field that is politics will flip. In my prediction? When about 30% more people come out to choose an official, a majority of those people will be liberal. Thisinflux of young, diverse voters means that officials voted into office will also be young, diverse, and probably liberal. If voters want more insurance net/graduated taxes (which they will), then their representatives can bring those idea to congress, the senate, and maybe even the white house. While many conservatives are scared of change, a new, inspired group of voters is just what we need to make real political change. But it is the chicken or the egg, HOW does the government effectively invest in small neighborhoods while still maintaining anonymity and not appearing socialist. How do voters move for public industry and socialistic trends when the majority of people in favor of a more socialistic society don’t vote, because policy keeps them from voting in a sense.
Naturally, American Socialism (Liberal Capitalism) is much different than classic Socialism. But, to further prove my case for socialism, I will list out 5 successful, socialistic policies that greatly affect our day-today lives:
The military is inherently socialist. The US spends around 600 billion annually on national defense, more than the next 25 nations combined, 24 of which are allies. “We are all protected by our military whether we pay taxes or not. This is complete socialism.”(Daily Kos. “75 Ways Socialism Has Improved America”).
2: Farm SubsidiesProof that the government can be involved in means on production and farming, farm subsidies incentivize farmers to grow different kinds of crop… basically the governments way of controlling the type of agriculture that we produce. Subsidies boomed in the mid 70’s and 80s, creating megafarms in the US. Farm Subsidies destroyed small, stand alone farmers who didn’t own the land or means of production to take advantage of such large farms, “by 1997, 157,000 large farms accounted for 72% of farm sales, with only 2% of the U.S. population residing on farms.” (USDA). Farm subsidies have generally been smiled upon though, giving our nation’s government a way to incentivize and reward farmers with taxpayer money… sound a little socialist?
3: Social Security
Possibly the best example of American socialism, Social Security “beneficiaries [have] risen from 3.5 million in 1950 to 35.6 million in 1980 and 46 million in 2001.” (Diamond Orszag 15). Social Security works to provide retirement beneficiaries, survivor beneficiaries, and disabled beneficiaries with a monthly income or pension. How do we fund other peoples lives? You guessed it, taxes. 6.4% of taxpayers money goes straight into the Social Security fund, according to howstuffworks.com. Social Security has proven to be one of the most effective and long lasting social programs in America and it too is inherently socialist.
4: Public School
Another incredibly socialist aspect of America, the public school system. The public school system works through districting out households to one school district and requiring that households pay monthly to fund that school (whether or not your children attend the school). Right now, 32 is the number in Education. Why 32? “Well, that’s where the U.S. came out in thePISA international math test, given to 15yearolds around the world in 2009. Only 32 percent of American kids scored proficient, which put us at 32nd in the world, miles behind perennial powerhouses like Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea” (Politico. “Do American Public Schools Really Stink Maybe Not”). But socialism is great… why do our public schools perform so poorly? Because of an unwillingness in America to pay taxes that support the public school system, “at least 35 states are providing less funding per student for the 201314 school year than they did before the recession hit. Fourteen of these states have cut per student funding by more than 10 percent.” (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession”). With the case of public school, America’s goal is correct, the system is in place, but the execution of the socialist-like plan is failing. America needs stronger policies and higher taxes to support such an important sector of government.
Yes, I brought it up. The infamously famous welfare. Welfare works to provide individuals living under the poverty line with a little extra cash each month. The money provided comes straight out of your taxes. Actually, “about 11 percent of the federal budget in 2014, or $370 billion, supported programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship.” (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Policy Basics: Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go?”). Here is the interesting thing about welfare, the United States actually spends more than most countries, as you can see in the graph below, we rank very highly in money given towards welfare, keep in mind all countries before us are socialist.
The case of welfare brings up the final point in this essay. Free-market capitalism isn’t a monster, it doesn’t destroy a country. FM Capitalism is just too idealistic for a large, complex economy. As Michael Moore puts it, “ [Capitalism] is about protecting the wealthy and legalizing greed.” Yes, I am going to quote myself from earlier when I say, “free-market capitalism will result in a greater wealth gap, which results in more violence, which results in more felonies, which results in a more conservative election, which results in even more freemarket capitalism” (Erickson 8). America needs to choose and choose correctly. In my opinion, the only option for growing America is to become more economically liberal and revamp the way that it handles the corporate and private sector, while instating some public industry. To clarify, America ranks 12th on the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom Hong Kong ranks first, Singapore second. Our country needs hundreds of thousands of rules and regulationsto run, but we also need to specify our privatization and publication of different industries. To continue on an effective, prosperous path in the future, America needs to step out of limbo. The economy is fragile and blanket “big-government” or “small-government” policy does not apply. It is time for the United States to step out of domestic economic controversy and into a full fledged, decisive economy, whether that be truly free-market or socialist/liberal capitalism (hopefully the latter of the two).