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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Socialism 2009

I would guess that most Americans view socialism as a bleak and oppressive form of government something along the lines of 1984. That view may have held some credence in 1984, back when the Soviet Union was still terrifying the right wing in America. Even back then the right wingers had it mostly wrong. They could not see the communist block for what it was: a decaying and impoverished idea that had long since failed and was on its way out. This 1984 mindset among conservatives of that era is what blinded American policy. Among other American foreign policy failures was our inability to see the collapse of the U.S.S.R. as it was happening, let alone predict it in any meaningful way. Our belligerent attitude towards Cuba has propped-up the Castro regime for over 40 years. This entrenched way of looking at socialism has continued to pollute the minds of many Americans when it comes to issues like socialized medicine. Forget about the fact that all of the world’s successful health care systems have heavy socialized tendencies; just the word “socialism” is enough to send about half of the country into a fit of apoplexy.

What people don’t really understand is that socialism in democracies is just a way for communities to act as a collective entity in order to carry out societal objectives. In every American class on basic economics we are taught that the free market system will provide for every need of the citizen without having to rely on the government—just for a minute forget about the fact that in a democracy the government and the people are one in the same. We have seen only too recently that what’s good for General Motors isn’t necessarily what is good for America. Americans also need to understand that if they don’t like the workings of a particular company they have little say in the matter—unless they happen to be major share holders.

Drive around just about any American city and the first thing that you notice is that most new growth is simply driven by the needs of individual retail outlets. Suburban sprawl is the norm in most U.S. communities with little or no sort of central planning. Growth simply means adding more and more strip malls, fast food chains, and big box stores. Residential areas just tacked on to these growth spurts like some sort of vague afterthought. The people of these communities have next to no say in the matter of how their cities take shape. If anyone says that this is the way urban planning should work I seriously doubt that they have seen any other way of regulating growth. In this model the government (read: the people) have about the weakest voice in the process. The government is at the complete mercy of the proclaimed exigencies of the business community. Merchants claim that this strip mall version of America is the best way to do business and that any sort of regulation will hurt sales. Who are the people to argue with the leaders of Home Depot, Target, Walgreens, et al? Of course, none of the people from these firms that are making these decisions actually live in these communities but so what? They know what is good for all of us.

We just had the European Grand Prix here in Valencia this past weekend and it gave me a good excuse to explore a newer area of town that I don’t see too often. In the two and a half year that I have lived here I have seen explosive growth in Valencia which was initially spurred by the America’s Cup sailboat races and then the Formula 1 Grand Prix which was unveiled last summer. There is a large expanse of land ripe for development in this area of town and private builders have been seizing land as fast as possible. The local government has been several steps ahead during this race to develop the port area. The infrastructure that is already in place is quite impressive and shows the work of very far-sighted planning and not just a view towards the next quarter’s profits.

You can call it socialism; at least that’s what the ruling government party is called (although the PSOE is not in power n Valencia). What it shows to me is a government that is out to provide what is best for the citizenry and then cater to the needs of business—not vice versa. Long before the private sector enter this area, city planner had already mapped out mass transit networks, pedestrian routes, bike paths, parks, and sensible growth patterns. When you look at this area it seems like it will be a very nice place to live and do business. You would be amazed at what a little socialism can do.

I defy anyone to show how this form of intelligent central planning is somehow anathema to human freedom or individual expression. This is what American conservatives say about European socialism after all. Socialism is a system in which the individual is crushed under the boot heel of the collective…I don’t know what…the collective monstrosity of government, I suppose. Socialism in their dim view is National Socialism, Nazis, and the horrors of the former Soviet bloc. In their way of thinking anything that in any way obstructs the path of unbridled private enterprise is a form of tyranny; it’s as if they equate free markets with freedom and that any attempt by a democratically-elected government to impose the will of the people on industry is contrary to the American way of life. American conservatives believe that any government-imposed restrictions or limitations on business are a blow to personal freedom.

So what have the European social democracies sacrificed as they have embraced more socialist policies than we here in the USA? Perhaps Spaniards pay a lot more in taxes than Americans but they have a much better health care system and much less income inequality. AS far as individual rights are concerned, it would be easy to argue that the Spanish enjoy a lot more in the way of personal freedoms that Americans. None of these countries in Europe are truly socialist which ultimately means that the workers own and administer the means of productions, they have simply sought to collectivize the effort in certain areas of society, such as mass transportation, health care, education, police, fire protection, road building, and defense. You’ll notice that the USA also has socialized education, police, defense, and fire protection. Just don’t say that around a conservative unless you want them to drop dead of heart failure (let’s hope they have good insurance).

I just don’t see how a community can look out for the best interests of the citizenry unless it is through a collective effort planned by the government. How else can you do it? Look around at the suburban sprawl that chokes the life out of countless American cities and tell me that there isn’t a better way to build cities than simply relying on the self-interests of the business community with no regard to what the people want and need. If you are looking for an example on how to manage growth, you could do a lot worse than Valencia.

So the sinister socialism that the stupid hicks are protesting against in the American town hall meetings turns out to be European countries that provide bike paths and mass transportation for their citizens. Surely Americans won’t allow that evil to take root on our soil. What will come after bike paths, good bus systems, and free health care? You just know that they will come after our guns. Could you imagine a country without assault weapons? Ugh, I shudder at the mere thought of it. So keep screaming at the top of your lungs like the moronic primates that you are, people. And by no means travel to Europe to actually see for yourself the horrors of Holland and France or any of the other hellhole dystopias the Right has been warning us about for decades. Why should we change when we already live in paradise? Instead of Candide we have Rush telling us,"Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes" (all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds).