It may not be as hard as we think
It seems to me that much of the debate surrounding the perils of socialism completely misses that mark by not taking into consideration that a huge segment of the US economy is already socialized: the US military. We just need to convince conservatives this is the case and that they can therefore support other worthy social projects that use the military as their model.
The military reflects socialism in many ways. First and foremost, it is a jobs program. According to the Watson Institute, approximately 6.7 trillion US dollars is necessary to support the budgetary requirements for wars since 9/11. Where does this money go? It goes to a variety of places; for one, toward military hardware purchased by the government from US corporations who in turn hire millions of individuals to design, engineer and manufacture this military hardware and software.
In turn, the many billions of dollars spent by these corporations on wages help fuel the United State’s consumer juggernaut and thereby bolster America’s middle class. In fact, you probably know someone who benefits from military related employment.
Further, the military itself employs hundreds of thousands of other people — the military men and women in uniform. Once they are no longer in service, they are provided numerous benefits –including health care and tuition assistance — and after military service these people (ideally) move into the productive workforce. Thus the military also becomes a de facto jobs training program.
For this reason, the goal of many reasonably upstanding and intelligent young men and women in the United States is to join the military, “do their time”, and then attend university in a way that will ensure that they either do not have to take out onerous student loans or do so at a substantially lower rate than individuals who do not choose to join the military.
A key reason people rail against socialism in conservative corners of the American scene is that they fear that progressive programs will weaken the military stance of the country and shift the spending priorities away from military dominance to other areas such as health care and education — a shift that might involve people who do not participate in the round-robin closed system of service->education->employment within the military industrial complex. In other words, such a shift would help the poor and disadvantaged who for whatever reasons cannot or do not join the military.
But that fear is misplaced.
According to The Nation:
The social welfare/democratic socialist–style policies being championed by the likes of Bernie Sanders aren’t particularly radical even by American standards. In fact, they’re reminiscent of social welfare benefits that were supported by General Eisenhower’s administration and a more moderate Republican Party of yore. Today, it’s progressives who are advocating for all Americans to benefit from policies my military family enjoys in spades: universal health care, a living wage that keeps pace with inflation, free or heavily subsidized higher education, access to quality and affordable child care, retirement safety nets, and affordable housing.
In other words, progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are, for the most part, very rationally suggesting that the same type of spending arrangement currently used for the Military be put into social programs and other initiatives. One example is the Green New Deal — a program that would also nurture US engineering prowess, but nonetheless steer priorities away from the military and toward an environmentally sustainable energy infrastructure.
As with the military, the Green New Deal would build assets and pay wages as it goes, but those wages and assets would not be geared toward defense and war, but toward a sustainable future. Since this goal strikes many in the conservative camp as much too altruistic, they tend to shun it and congressional funding is unlikely unless Democrats control all three branches of government for an extended period.
Outside of this scenario, is there another vehicle for the mass funding required by progressive programs that could be sustained over the long haul and more detached from bi-partisan entanglements?
In reality, since the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing (QE — AKA using the Fed’s open market operations to purchase government securities or other securities) has been more or less normalized, we might consider the Federal Reserve itself as such a funding vehicle.
In other words, the Fed could use QE to do different things other than just bail out large banks. While traditionalists may scream bloody murder, the Federal Reserve could in theory help fund programs such as the Green New Deal or even a Minimum Basic Income Guarantee by using its current open market operations in creative ways to buy bonds set up for these programs. And since the government itself is already essentially printing money via our current never-to-be-paid-back debt (but just not being honest about it) why not Quantitative Ease outright for social programs via the Federal Reserve and be transparent about the process?
In fact, according to Yes Magazine, the current Green New Deal does not propose new taxation per se, but a funding mechanism similar to what has been described above:
Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks.”
I personally proposed a coupling of Green Energy Infrastructure and Basic Income in an opinion piece I wrote up in the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) in 2012 — you can read that article here. In this article, rather than funding these programs through the Federal Reserve I propose setting up a Cooperative Central Bank — the ‘new public bank ’ option as mentioned above.
Moreover, expanding the use of monetary policy and institutions for use in a more social way is a cornerstone of what has become known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) — a new economic paradigm that is becoming quite popular among progressive politicians.
To be sure, the precise funding mechanism for all new social programs will need to be worked out by the legislative process. That said, the bailout efforts deployed by the Fed during the 2008 financial crisis (29 plus trillion USD by some estimates) was far and away enough to feed and clothe every disadvantaged individual on the planet for decades, get the Green New Deal off the ground, and foot the bill for US Basic Income for a substantial time.
Let’s hope we can get past the passionate opinions of the conservatives and progressives alike and get on with the betterment of humanity by rethinking how we fund progressive proposals and by convincing conservatives that they already latch onto socialist-style programs left and right and we need more of them in these troubled times, not less. We cannot afford to do otherwise.
D.R. Thompson is a film producer and essayist. His essays have appeared in The Potomac Journal, SolPix Webzine, Life as a Human, Utne Online, Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and other blogs. Films produced and/or supported by Thompson have garnered international acclaim at festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, and Berlin. His book of essays A World Without War is available on Amazon here.
The Watson Institute — The Costs of War
The Nation — The US Military is a Socialist Organization
Yes Magazine — Universal Basic Income is Easier than it Looks
BIEN Network — Turn the Fed on Its Head
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