What’s in a name? Socialism v. Capitalism.

All my life I wrote off Socialism as something dark and scary and unethical. I was thinking of the human rights violations of Socialist and Communist countries like the USSR and China. But, recently I heard some very positive things about Socialism, and some very negative things about Capitalism, that have my head spinning.

Capitalism would be great and socialism would be great if humans were perfect, but we’re not so neither system is going to give everyone everything they need. As far as which system is the best…I’m not convinced either way yet. Both have been too abused. I don’t think Capitalism necessarily creates unchecked power and I don’t think Socialism necessarily creates fairness and equal opportunity.

I recently read an article on Capitalism v. Christian morality that said: “Capitalism thrives on selfish impulses that Christian moral teaching condemns, and neo-classical economic theory mythologizes a supposedly “natural” free market that never existed anywhere.” However, if you have evil people running a socialist country, some people will want to take advantage of the system (i.e. mis-distribute the nation’s taxes/income; collect assistance under false pretenses). If you have evil people running capitalistic endeavors, you still have the SAME thing — owners not paying workers enough and people going on Welfare even if they don’t really need to. Now, if you have moral people running these things, the nations’ resources (in Socialism) and the owner’s profits (in Capitalism), will be distributed fairly, and people won’t take an unfair advantage of other’s generosity.

So, that’s my ‘can’t we all just get along’ take one the question of whether Socialism or Capitalism is better. But, in the real world, how do I answer this question? I am still not sure!

When I was asked recently how I can support social services, such as fire fighters and police, and not support government run healthcare, I had to stop and consider the Capitalism v. Socialism question. I’ve always understood that the government provides certain things, but should stay out of other areas. How was I justifying my view that the government should run the police department, but not make sure people have health insurance? I’m sure I do not have an argument proof answer to that, which maybe is ok for now, as I search, but I do have some life experiences that are definitely swaying my perceptions.

I read a blog this week that said a vote against Obamacare is a vote against your fellow man, ‘As religious socialists, we must hold politicians accountable by reminding them that when they cast a vote that either provides or denies basic necessities, they are doing more than casting a vote. They are looking into another person’s eyes and deciding whether to recognize not just their utility, but their humanity as well.’ (Marx and the Mandates of Religion). While this pricks my heart, I’m not entirely sure my head agrees with it. I am definitely not in the camp that says, ‘if you don’t work hard enough, you don’t get insurance’, I’m also not for a totally government run healthcare system. My hesitation on totally agreeing with the above quote, I believe is because of some of my experiences. So, not based on a large study of a diverse group and I know they can’t be applied to every situation, I just know they inform my thinking on this issue.

First Perception-Swayer: My sister’s experiences as a social worker in our local hospital. She sees many low-income and homeless people in the hospital and part of her job is to find a safe place for them to go when they leave the hospital. This could be a nursing home, a shelter, family, or sometimes back to a park (if they don’t want to go anywhere else and are fit to be discharged). As she tries to help people find places to stay and pay for their medical needs, she has seen that patients with Obamacare were worse off than those that did not have insurance. Reason being, if a person had Obamacare, they were paying ridiculous deductibles and monthly fees that they couldn’t really afford, but if a patient didn’t have insurance, there was more government assistance open to them (programs to help pay for meds and that type of thing). Again, I’m sure this is not the case for every situation, but my sister and her co-workers definitely saw a lot of issues with Obamacare and the populations their hospital serves.

Second Perception-Swayer: Family past. Before Obamacare, my dad had Hepatitis C (which there was no cure for until a few years ago) and he dealt with it from the time I was very young until he passed away in 2010. During those years, he was mostly unable to work because he would get sick or fatigued, or sometimes people didn’t want to hire him for fear of getting the disease (even though it wasn’t that easy to ‘give’ to someone.) So, dad was on Medicade and the family was on low-income, pay as you go insurance (Gateway). Dad was able to receive excellent care and he was put on the liver transplant list and eventually received a transplant at the University of Pennsylvania. Most of dad’s care was paid for by the government because we were so poor. It did mean, sometimes due to our low-income insurance, we had to go to clinics instead of ‘normal’ doctors’ offices, but we still received all the care we needed. I also know that when we did have to pay out of pocket, hospitals were always good about putting us on a payment plan and letting us pay even a small amount a month. And, for the times that we didn’t have any insurance, we didn’t have to pay a fine because of it.

So, I’m a product of a semi-government run healthcare system, and have seen the pro’s and con’s. Maybe all this is to say, I preferred how the government assisted before Obamacare. Obamacare certainly would have been more of a burden on my family than the type of insurance we had before. Either way, the government assistance system is definitely broken because we were not able to get out of our low-income situation without getting dad kicked off his medical assistance. I’m not sure if pure socialism would hurt that situation or help it. One major fear I have of government healthcare stems from the bureaucracy factor again — if the government runs healthcare, how is every individual supposed to get the specialized care they need? My fears and Another fear I do have with government assisted healthcare is that the government will run out of money. Everyone in my generation is preparing to not receive Social Security when we’re old because the Social Security system will not have enough people paying in by then to support it. Even in Denmark which couples Socialism with a Free Market, there are concerns that the input of money won’t be able to keep up with the aging population. (“Is Denmark Really A Socialist Utopia?”)

In addition to the healthcare aspect, I also thought about another proposed benefit of a Socialist Society — equal access to higher education. One of the critiques of Capitalism is the high cost of education in Capitalist countries. Again, this is just my personal experience and that of my friends, but college was more attainable for those of us who were poor, rather than if we were ‘middle class’. (I guess this argument depends on whether you think there are two classes, or three….) When I went to college it was dirt cheap because my parents were dirt poor, but when my brother and sister went a few years later, it was expensive and they’re still paying massive loans because my mom had inherited money and gone into the next tax bracket. I would assume this is the case in Socialist Countries as well. For example, “Denmark is Capitalist for those who can afford it and Socialist for those who can’t.” (“Is Denmark Really A Socialist Utopia?”)

Maybe this is really bad, but I don’t trust a governing body to have most of my money. I understand that Police and Fire Departments and Schools are run on my tax dollars, and I’m ok with that, because paying taxes is scriptural, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue….” (Rom. 13:6–7) However, my perception of Socialism has been that people lose their rights and their ‘say’. I feel that because of our government is run so much by bureaucracy, I don’t trust that giving the government my money will mean that it is put to good use the people who need it the most. I think I would be able to distribute my money to the people in my life that need it better than the government could.

The annoying thing about the debate over Socialism v. Capitalism in America is that the Socialistic services we do have are the ones people are complaining about all the time! They’re also complaining about stuff the government doesn’t pay for. If the US had a more transparent government such as Denmark, however, perhaps Democratic Socialism wouldn’t be scary and would be effective. (“Is Denmark Really A Socialist Utopia?”)

In conclusion, I just want to say that I don’t have an answer to what economic system is best for my country. I’ve reaped benefits from Capitalism and Socialism. I like the appeal of a Socialist Democracy, but I there are a lot of flaws that remain to be worked out (which I think will be seen as countries such as Denmark have more strain on their resources due to an aging population). I also know that Capitalism can provide an unequal advantage to some and keep others down and that is not right either. The main thing I’m learning as a wrestle with these questions is that I need to keep an open mind and not condemn — if a system works and is honoring to God and men, let’s do it, no matter what name it might be called.

“Healthcare, Marx, and the Mandates of Religion” http://www.religioussocialism.org/healthcare_marx_and_the_mandates_of_religion

Romans 13:6–7

“Is Denmark Really A Socialist Utopia?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmbNq26dH9Q

“Morality Should Not Be Priced in the Marketplace” https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/25/has-capitalism-become-incompatible-with-christianity/morality-should-not-be-priced-in-the-marketplace