Let me clearly define socialism and single-payer health care, since I see and hear these terms misused many times a day on radio, television, even in newspapers, mostly to mislead and frighten people.
First, here’s a paragraph-long definition of socialism from Wikipedia from its longer, 17-page article on the history of socialism:
“Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital, creates an unequal society, does not provide equal opportunities for everyone to maximize their potentialities in society and does not utilize technology and resources to their maximum potential in the public interest. Therefore socialists advocate the creation of a society in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly based on the amount of work expended in production, although there is considerable disagreement among socialists over how and to what extent this could be achieved.”
Okay? So from the get-go, socialism was trying to level the playing field for the working class and its trade unions. It was born at odds with wealthy capitalists, management, and unrestrained free trade in the late 19th century. Is this a bad thing? Not if you work for a living and not for all of us sitting far from the top of the capitalist totem pole.
In 1864, the International Workingmen’s Association was founded in London. The much maligned Karl Marx was a member of its organizing committee. Marx, along with Engels, founded the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany, which included trade unions. In fact, socialist ideas have had a positive influence as they sailed to the United States and helped labor learn to talk back to capitalists in terms of working conditions, grueling hours, and most of all, decent wages to feed their families and have a decent life.
It was in socialist thinking that American labor found its voice, which in turn led to the creation of decent wages, corporate retirement and health plans for employees. Those are now being torn to pieces by “all-American” corporations so they can pay billions in bonuses to management. These are the same folks who are offshoring millions of American jobs to fatten their bottom lines for Wall Street, while driving their former employees into the ground. Of course, these are the same people who will invoke “socialism” as a national death threat if you should chose to demand single-payer health care. Know that it’s another dirty trick, red baiting, a corpse of the Cold War wheeled out to frighten the naïve.
That’s something you should be scared of, not socialism. What is scary in socialism’s varied history is the face of the totalitarian prince of darkness, Joseph Stalin. Stalin subverted this noble idea into a tool for his own absolute, brutal rule over the Russian people. Yet there are socialist economies in Sweden, Britain, Belgium, and around the world that are totally benign and not totalitarian. Stalin was to socialism what Hitler was to Germany, and then some. In fact, socialism is not so much a political idea or system as it is an economic concept, with the prime purpose to level inequities between the rich, the middle class, and the poor. It’s that simple.
Moreover, Social Security, our longest lasting and only universal retirement plan for the working people of America is a socialist-type idea. And from that grew Medicare and Medicaid to aid the aged and the poor. So socialism is not the pariah, the unspeakable word, the Cold War bugaboo, pushed now particularly by the rich, the insurance companies, Big Pharma, Wall Street bankers, and all those who would see everyday people confused into a misplaced flag-waving, contrary to our own good.
To wit, socialist economics have been mixed and matched in capitalist societies, say, to nationalize commodities like oil, coal, water and natural gas. This is to protect the people from exactly the kind of price gouging and speculation you see today. Infrastructure, from trains to roads and bridges, can be nationalized, even in capitalist economies, to make sure they operate more economically, not for profit, and again, to protect the people’s assets from waste.
Socialized medicine has been used effectively to keep for-profit HMOs and their insurance companies out of health care. It works in England (a monarchy/free market state), in France (which is a capitalist state), in tiny Cuba (which is a communist state), as well as Sweden (a socialist state), and many other states of different political hue in the West and the East. The common purpose in these countries is to use socialism in sectors of their economy that should not be left to marketplace dangers, but to government to run efficiently, free of corporate greed. In the process of doing this, no one is turned into a state automaton, bullied about, or abused. In socialized medicine, doctors earn a good living and provide top of the line medical service and hospital care for the people they serve. Take a look at Michael Moore’s Sicko. It’s a documentary reporting on socialized medicine.
If you wish to read more about socialism, read the full Wiki article. It has a complete bibliography, suggesting other books and articles you can read, going back to its roots. It will help you demystify the word, the economic system, all that it is and isn’t. It will take away your fear, which is the most important thing. Also, read two of my articles: The politics of trashing the single-payer health care system and The enemies of America’s real health care reform.
The simple, unadorned truth is that for-profit insurance companies and Big Pharma are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to stop single-payer universal health care from becoming a reality. They will do or say anything they have to via their numerous lobbyists, advertising and public relations agencies. Remember, we already have three single-payer plans in this country: Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. Medicare is probably the best example since its recipients paid into Social Security and Medicare throughout their working lives. Upon retirement, recipients pay additional monthly fees, if they choose, for Medicare Part B for physician services and for Part D for prescription drugs.
Medigap programs can be added to pick up whatever charges Medicare does not. Unfortunately, they are conducted by for-profit insurance companies. I use one and find it overly costly for the services provided. Avoid at all costs the Medicare HMOs, which will dictate your doctors, services, and your life. They should be eliminated if we wanted to really cut Medicare costs.
Beyond that, avoid at all costs the new note of racism I hear creeping into the health care soap opera. As if Obama wanted to take all white people’s money away and give it to poor blacks. It’s ugly, insidious and idiotic. Remember that the white president you had had also started two illegal wars at a current cost of two trillion dollars and more than 4,000 American lives. The financial collapse evolved out of that same administration, what with Treasury Secretary Paulson showing up in Congress with a two-page ransom note for $700 billion dollars or a promised economic collapse.
Do not give in to fear, ignorance and a merciless exploitation of America’s health care. Demand a single-payer system. It won’t break the bank. It will save it from being broken by for-profit companies.