U.S. Senator and popular 2020 Democratic Nominee for President Bernie Sanders reopened the previously sealed can of worms: Medicare for all. On Wednesday, Sanders disclosed his plans to present Congress with a new and improved version of a highly controversial bill.
Garrett Summers | United States
Socialists often point towards the Scandinavian countries for evidence that a socialist system is a way to prosperity for the US. (Never mind that the Prime Minister of Denmark pushed back on this sentiment during Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the White House) There are two chief differences between these countries and the US that socialists refuse to admit. The population size and the lack of defense spending in these countries.
Luke-David Boswell | United Kingdom
Only two decades ago, any mention of ‘socialism’ in American politics as a potential governing ideology would have been met with extreme backlash and cries that communism had come to destroy America. However, in modern times (at least among younger generations), the stigma surrounding socialism has largely evaporated with a University of Chicago survey finding that from a pool of 18-to-34-year-old Democrats, 61% “expressed favorable views towards Socialism.” One Gallup poll from a few months later also reported that more Democrats hold “positive views” of socialism than of capitalism, at 57% versus 47%. Compare this to the post-World War II era where, for example, only 15% of Americans wanted to see the country “go more in the direction of socialism”, according to a 1949 Gallup poll.
Why the Shift?
This new shift in favor of socialism in America could be boiled down to the essential need for a radical change in politics after the once inconceivable idea of a President Donald Trump became a reality. Many Americans are currently finding their voices in politicians like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Julia Salazar, who are seen to argue for the working class and those without the ability to speak up. All three are associated with Democratic Socialism, especially Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar, who belong to the Democratic Socialists of America.
Despite being written off as a joke in politics, the party membership had leapfrogged from only 6,000 to nearly 50,000 people in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. This was largely because of political figures like Sanders, whose ‘radical’ views promoted a new way of doing politics and a credible alternative choice for those tired of the controversies of both Republicans and Democrats.
With the reintroduction of socialism into America, there comes confusion and ignorance in relation to the objectives of democratic socialism and exactly what it means to be a democratic socialist. Upon hearing the dreaded s-word, people tend to link it to the totalitarian dictatorship of the USSR, a fake socialist country hiding behind the word to achieve the government’s own goal of a single party for a single state, with no other options. In reality, the USSR was a Communist state, an ideology which democratic socialism opposes entirely, hence the ‘democratic’.
However, due to the moral panic caused by the anti-Soviet propaganda of the Cold War, socialism couldn’t take off in America, thanks to being labeled with the red brush of Communism despite vehemently disagreeing with the USSR’s practices. From one perspective, the view of socialism relating to the USSR and the Cold War remains in the USA as a deterrent from understanding the benefits. People may even say that someone can’t believe in both democracy and socialism, but the two go hand in hand perfectly.
What Does It Mean to Be a Democratic Socialist?
Essentially, democratic socialism is socially responsible, ethical capitalism. It means affordable education, healthcare for all, and a suitable living wage, whilst still spending money on anything we choose. Those who follow democratic socialism believe in a moral, yet wealthy America; an America where no person is too poor to live. Yet, Republicans and Democrats constantly attack the ideology, trying to ‘rein’ in its speakers. Trying to silence anyone with a socialist viewpoint, like the “Communist Control Act” under President Eisenhower, is a direct breach of the 1st Amendment and, no matter how radical the belief, a person shouldn’t be silenced for their opinion.
One of the main missions for the democratic socialists in the USA is to achieve free education and healthcare. As someone from the UK, where both of these systems are open to every person in our society, it astounds me as to how some members of the right, particularly in Trump’s administration, can argue against universal healthcare when the introduction of the NHS system in the UK has led to equality. The idea that someone has to pay for a physical injury or mental help is incomprehensible to me.
Although the NHS has had troubles with funding recently, these issues are down to the conservative government, who want to see the return of privatization. During the years of the socialist Labour government (who introduced the NHS), the system ran efficiently and most importantly assured the poorest that they wouldn’t be in debt to the government for their own misfortune.
The Failure of the Opponents of Democratic Socialism
Opponents of democratic socialism in the USA seem to counter points with the state of the nation in Venezuela. In arguments that I’ve had with individuals who have different ideologies, this has been a response word for them whenever I mention socialism. Opponents citing any governments run by a dictator, where the seizure of private property occurs only shows how misunderstood democratic socialism is. The cry of Venezuela is immediately supposed to invalidate socialism, as a corrupt system that looks good on paper but in practice, fails on its promises. I point to a quote from The Guardian which sums up the argument: ‘Republicans go completely Caracas at mere mention of the s-word’.
The comparison between the potential for democratic socialism in one of the richest countries in the world and a ‘socialist’ third world country, that has always struggled economically is incredibly stupid. Any comparison with a leading country like the USA is unwarranted, as a socialist system being implemented in a third world country without infrastructure, is a key to disaster, but a socialist system in a first world country is proven to succeed. Notably, in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland. These countries are models for democratic socialism in the world and are among the places with the highest quality of life.
Another view of democratic socialists is that the rich must be taxed exceedingly higher than they are currently. The taxing of the rich, in order to achieve a just and equal society, is a must. Any mention of further taxing seems to make the people on the right believe that if in power, socialists would forcibly take all wealth from the rich. This is simply not true, only higher taxing, which the rich can afford (whilst still living in mansions, sipping wine) would be implemented. Chiefly, a 70% top marginal income tax rate would be put into law, which would not only benefit society as a whole but also not decrease the quality of life for the rich. Meghan McCain screeching on The View at any mention of democratic socialism really shows how terrified Republicans are of the notion that they’ll rightly get forced to pay extra taxes if they’re substantially richer than the average population. This system results in the rich still being wealthy but the wealth gap closing, with the poor being given a better chance at success.
Looking at the beginning of democratic socialism in the USA, it can be traced back to those who wanted to incorporate the interests of the women’s movement, civil rights movement, gay rights movements and other social movements born in the 60s into a single cause. In fact, the founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington became one of Martin Luther King’s informal advisors after they met on a picket line protesting the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and he advised the civil rights leader on writing the manifesto for the Poor People’s Campaign.
The combination of these movements and economic fairness is central to a democratic socialist, with a summary of items on their agenda being:
- labor reform
- pro-union policies
- tuition-free public universities and trade schools
- universal healthcare
- federal jobs programs
- fair taxation that closes loopholes that the wealthiest citizens have discovered
- taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for social welfare programs
- reducing classism within society
- eliminating the threat of price fixing
- equality in society
- reducing the threat of economic cycles
- efficient economy, with the input of the people
- increased room for value judgments, not based on finances
One of the keys to understanding democratic socialism is, instead of focusing on private profit or an attitude that rewards those who are able to survive, the focus should be on a humane vision where everyone has the chance to share their view and contribute.
In the UK, openly socialist Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn visits colleges where queues of people await him and is the most followed political leader in the UK, despite not being in power. This, I predict, will soon change on the next election and the world will have one more socialist country. Perhaps, in another two or three elections, a Democratic Socialist may be the leader of the USA. At the rate in which the popularity of Sanders, Salazar, and Ocasio-Cortez is increasing, it isn’t an impossibility. Nothing seems impossible after Donald Trump.
List of Notable Figures Who Support Democratic Socialism
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York)
Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
Carolyn Maloney (New York)
Julia Salazar (New York)
James Thompson (Kansas)
Sarah Smith (Washington)
Summer Lee (Pennsylvania)
Sara Innamorato (Pennsylvania)
Elizabeth Fiedler (Pennsylvania)
Kristin Seale (Pennsylvania)
46 Democratic Socialists won their primaries in 2018.
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Indri Schaelicke | United States
Perhaps the tightest race of the 2018 midterms, Ted Cruz vs Beto O’Rourke has caught the attention of pundits and ordinary pundits across the US alike. Recent polls show conflicting conclusions, with some putting Cruz ahead by wide margins, and others portraying the race as close. At this point, it is impossible to accurately predict the outcome of this election. Considering how uncertain the result of Texas’s Senate election is at this point, it is important that libertarians rally their support behind the incumbent, Republican Junior Senator Cruz to ensure that up-and-coming Democrat Beto does not achieve election to US Senate. If he is elected, liberty will be much more at risk than it is now.
Craig Axford | United States
Another day, another article by an opponent of universal health care publishing lies about Canada’s single-payer health system. That’s right, lies. There’s no point anymore in giving the people that publish these articles the benefit of the doubt given both the evidence and people’s experiences with the health care systems they are attacking are so radically different from what they describe.
There’s a list of talking points critics of programs like single-payer work from. I’m sure at some point they were written down somewhere, but by now everyone on both sides of the universal health care debate can recite them from memory: single-payer is expensive, there are long wait times, patients are denied their choice of doctor, and of course people suffer and die needlessly as a result of one or more of the above problems.
In an article appearing in The Hill on July 28, Dr. Dean Waldman follows the talking points to the letter. He offers us a list of assertions, but no data to back any of them up. He makes a number of claims about the Canadian and British health care systems without once telling us how they compare either in terms of cost or outcomes to the US system, all the while implying the US system is far superior to both. My family’s experience is limited to the US and Canadian systems so I won’t spend much time on the UK’s National Health Service other than to cite some data.
No health care system is perfect. By its very nature health care delivery involves difficult choices. These choices are often forced upon health care providers and insurers (whether the insurer is the state or a for-profit company) under very difficult circumstances. If you’re looking for situations where the outcome was less than ideal, or even tragic, you can find examples in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms around the world.
But if you’re going to use these examples to tear down a country’s entire health care system and to hold your own up as superior at the same time, intellectual honesty demands that you show the examples you are using occur with less frequency in your own system than in the system you’re attacking. So, for example, you don’t allege one problem with the Canadian health care system is a lack of patient choice without also showing that there is a greater degree of choice under the American model. If it turns out there is less choice in the US than in Canada, you have to admit that the Canadians have at least done a better job of providing choice to patients than the US.
The same is true when it comes to cost. Telling people over and over again that single-payer is too expensive without providing any comparisons to the cost borne by consumers and society as a whole under the American model is being dishonest.
Dr. Waldman, like so many before him, makes a number of assertions without providing his readers with any comparative data. He claims, “The British and the Canadians pay a very high cost for their systems, and not only in monetary terms. Single-payer health care systems take away individual choice, they discourage life-saving research and innovations, and they exchange quality of care for a balanced budget.”
It’s worth noting here that the first sentence and the second appear to contradict each other. On the one hand “The British and the Canadians pay a very high cost of their systems” in, among other things, dollars, but on the other “they exchange quality of care for a balanced budget.” Either the government in these countries is spending a lot on healthcare or they are skimping on it to avoid deficit spending. Which is it?
Regardless, both in Canada and in the UK the amount of money spent per capita on health care is far below what Americans spend on it. In Canada’s case that was $4,752 in 2016. In the UK the amount was $4,192 for the same year. Dr. Waldman rightly points out that in the United States that amount is over $10,000 annually, but his failure to provide any context is troubling given he wrongly implies healthcare is incredibly costly in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Indeed, Dr. Waldman goes so far as to claim the single-payer system being advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders would cost a whopping $18 trillion, or roughly 90% of the total current US economy. Given Canada currently spends more than 50% less than the US per capita, that’s an obvious falsehood.
Dr. Waldman and other critics of universal health care programs would likely respond that it is precisely this lack of spending that is the problem. Setting aside the fact that such an argument directly contradicts their claim that universal health care programs are too expensive, this objection raises the important question of what the citizens of countries like Canada and the UK are getting for their roughly $4 — $5,000 in per capita health care spending when compared to the average American’s more than $10,000 investment in the same product.
Given Dr. Waldman’s unsupported assertion that “There is death-by-queueing in single-payer systems, where sick persons die from treatable conditions because they could not get care in time and succumb ‘waiting in line’ for care,” we would expect to find that Americans spend less of their lives suffering from disability and disease than Canadians, the British, or others living under the heavy hand of government-run healthcare systems. But instead, the US leads the developed world by a wide margin when it comes to the number of years lost to disability or premature death.
Dr. Waldman works for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. By itself, this is an unremarkable fact, but one has to wonder if being from Texas is the reason he’s not so keen on drawing attention to the shortcomings of America’s healthcare when compared to other nations. Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. According to an NBC News story on the crisis in Texas, “Texas’ maternal mortality rates are 35.8 per 100,000 live births as of 2014, according to a study in Obstetrics and Gynecology. By comparison, the maternal mortality in Japan was 5 per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF’s 2015 data. In Poland, it was just 3.”
What about life expectancy? Given Americans are spending so much on healthcare relative to everybody else, surely they get a few extra years for it. Nope. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as of 2017 life expectancy in Canada was 81.9 years, in the UK it was 81.2, and in the United States it was 78.6. In fact, Chile and Costa Rica had higher life expectancies than the United States.
Finally, a note about choice. My wife and I have lived in Canada for seven of the last eight years and will be returning within days of this article. During our time in Canada, we’ve had several direct encounters with the health care system and have gotten to know a number of Canadians that have been dealing with it their entire lives.
Because my wife has type 1 diabetes, finding and keeping affordable healthcare in the United States was always a struggle. Group insurance through an employer was the best option, but this meant that every year as her employer signed on to a new plan she often had to find a new doctor because her old one was not part of the new insurer’s network.
As the name implies, single-payer means there’s one insurer for everyone. No doctor is outside a Canadian province’s network. If a Canadian travels to a new province, agreements between provincial governments guarantee coverage will be maintained. The only reason a doctor might turn someone away is because he/she is no longer accepting new patients.
My wife has been able to find a specialist she likes in Canada. There’s absolutely no danger that at the first of the year British Columbia is going to decide to drop her doctor from their network because every doctor is paid through the same network. In other words, Canadians have by far greater choice than Americans. Americans insured through their employer have no say in who the insurance carrier will be from year-to-year and the pool of doctors inside any given insurer’s network will always be smaller than the total number of doctors available. It is simply false to speak of American healthcare as an example of choice in this context.
Healthcare delivery always involves tough choices. Triage requires individual doctors and entire healthcare systems to prioritize the treatment patients will receive according to the staff and other resources available and the demands being placed upon the system on any given day. That’s true in every country in the world.
But Dr. Waldman and other critics of universal coverage are simply wrong when they say that countries like Canada and the UK are doing a poorer job of handling these choices than the United States. The statistics don’t support their claims and haven’t for quite a while. The fact that Dr. Waldman failed to provide data for Canada or the UK in his article should make clear he knew the data didn’t support his argument.
Speaking from personal experience I can say without hesitation that the cost to us of the Canadian system has consistently been very small relative to what we spent on healthcare in the US. Test results have been available to us within 24 hours every time and our treatment at doctor’s offices and hospitals have been excellent. In the US, getting test results required a return visit to the doctor’s office which usually meant another bill. The amount taken out of our pay-checks in the United States to cover our personal portion of the monthly insurance costs would have paid for roughly 6 months of premiums in British Columbia.
It’s time Americans stop listening to the critics of universal healthcare and start looking at the data. By every measure the American health care system is failing to deliver the kind of care so much spending should guarantee every single citizen. When it comes to health care the United States lives in one very big glass house. It should stop throwing stones at other countries and start taking a good hard look in the mirror.
Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com
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