In last week’s DePauw (Feb 25th, 2016), an opinion piece was published by a DePauw student titled, “Socialism: The Creed of Ignorance.” This article completely misses the point of what the democratic-socialist movement is trying to accomplish. The writer’s argument relies on points from the opposition’s viewpoint without accurately considering the arguments and the moral perspective of those who are for the cause. I know that the author is entitled to his own opinion, and he has a right to disagree with the messages and the goals inspired by Bernie Sanders and the democratic-socialist movement, but I think that a response is needed in order to show the other side of the story and a perspective that might not otherwise be considered by those who only listen to news that aims to confirm their own bias.
I first of all want to negate the author’s first paragraph, where he attacks the ideals of the movement for not living in “reality.” The goals of the movement, addressing income inequality, creating free public college, universal healthcare, and breaking up the powers of Wall Street and economic greed, come exactly from reality, a very harsh reality indeed. And the solutions given to address these harsh realities are sound, as fiscal policy was used after World War II to help the economy cope after the Great Depression. Just because you do not agree with the options given to address the issues does not mean that they are unrealistic or too idealistic.
We live in a time where productivity and wealth has vastly risen, yet compensation has not been adjusted to match it. The wealthy continue to get tax breaks under the ideas of “trickle down economics” and of the “invisible hand.” Trickle down economics do not and have not worked, and the invisible hand is a myth. Free markets left to pursue their own interests do not lead to the greatest public good, it leads to the system we have now with vast income inequality and greed, where the rich only grow richer and the poor only grow poorer. Most of the wealth generated by our country’s increased productivity goes straight to the top, while the poor suffer and the middle class continues to shrink. All of this happens under arguments like that of “Socialism: The Creed of Ignorance” that say that it is wrong to take away people’s liberty even if it is for the greater good. I understand not wanting government interference and wanting to keep what you worked for, but does the top 1% really need all that wealth they are accumulating? Is it fair to continue to propagate a system that only benefits the few at the expense of many? I do not think so.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEO pay is up nearly 1000% since 1978, meaning that all the new wealth in the last 25 years has only gone to the top, leaving the workers behind. Are you trying to tell me that CEOs and upper management in corporations deserve all that money because they worked for it? What about the millions of Americans who work exhausting hours, maybe even two – or three! – jobs just to scrape by? What about all the people who work hard in a system rigged against them, working on minimum wage and still not even covering their basic necessities, like affordable housing and food, not to mention factors like education, transportation, and clothing, things which are often considered luxuries for people at the bottom of our economic hierarchy. Do they not deserve to have a bit of that wealth that they helped to generate? Do they not deserve to have the comforts of a simple life? I didn’t realize that the well-being of millions of people needed to be sacrificed because the top 1% doesn’t want to sacrifice some of their conveniences and luxuries.
Sanders plan to make the top 1% pay for these social expenditures isn’t that crazy. Currently the highest earners in our economy pay less in taxes than the middle and poorest in comparison to the amounts they are earning, even though they have the most money to give – money that they do not need and often do not even use. Currently, the top earning Americans only have to pay 39.6% of their income to taxes, and this is for any American making more than about $400,000. What about the people who make much, much more than that? Shouldn’t they pay a rate that is higher than that to be proportional and fair? This also addresses the question of “what constitutes excessive” because it shows simply by income figures that those who make the most money should be paying a fair price in taxes. According to Business Insider, the average amount of income needed to live comfortably in some of America’s largest cities is about $145,000. I think its fair to say that people who live above the current highest bracket of $400,000 is conservatively excessive.
Yet in a democratic-socialist world, these people would still be the richest citizens! All this would mean is giving a bigger share of their wealth to taxes, which is not “robbing Paul to pay Peter” but expecting citizens, even wealthy citizens, to give their fair share in order to benefit the communities they live in and improve the lives of their fellow Americans. This allows people to still keep a large amount of the wealth they worked for (though whether most of them earned that money by honest means is another question entirely).
Redistributing the wealth would also help our government reduce expenditures elsewhere. If income equality was addressed and a living wage established, government expenditures on programs like welfare would be reduced by at least $7.6 billion a year, and about 1.7 million Americans would no longer need to rely on public assistance programs, according to analysts at the Economic Policy Institute. Giving the poorest Americans money is the easiest way to increase demand, as they are the ones who are most likely to spend their disposable incomes. The rich have more money than they need and do not spend their windfall of wealth. We need trickle up economics rather than trickle down economics.
The top 1% would not be the only ones paying for these solutions by giving their fair share, but so would big corporations such as the Banks on Wall Street. People are tired of bailing out companies just so that the business and the executives can continue to make a profit. It is time that these big corporations paid it forward and paid us back for all the inequalities and suffering they helped create. If anything, asking the wealthy and the powerful to pay for these programs is not “socialists wanting to rob the wealthy” but demanding that the wealthy pay back the money they have been stealing from the people for years, or to keep the analogy, demanding Paul pay back the money he has been stealing from Peter.
Government spending and regulation is needed if we want to see serious improvement in our economy and avoid another deep recession. According to Tom Streithorst of The Los Angeles Review of Books in his article, “Why Conservatives Hate Fiscal Policy,” argues that it is not a desire to improve America or protect liberty that keeps “very serious people” or politicians and the rich/powerful away from fiscal spending like Sanders is planning, but self-interest and a desire to protect their own pocketbooks. Stimulative deficit spending would empower the working class at the expense of the very rich, and that is the real reason why Sander’s plans are being fought so hard against. The rich in America benefit from our current system of monetary policy. That is because their wealth comes from asset prices, and because cutting interest rates raises asset prices, the rich get richer but the wealth doesn’t trickle down to the rest of us. Also, because the rich control the media, it is their opinions that are being fed to us. They do not want to show us how increased spending would create jobs of stimulate growth. They would rather us believe these projects are simply too expensive to be enacted so that they can continue to reap the profits of deficit-cutting. This is a lie. Sander’s programs will benefit Americans and America at large without taking away freedom and liberty but expecting equality and balance.
By using Sander’s democratic socialist plans to increase government spending into schools, roads, and creating jobs, he is providing a chance for money to enter the pockets of the working class. “Their spending increases demand, stimulates sales, profits, investment, and employment…The economy grows, and the rich get richer, just not as fast as the poor and middle class. Fiscal policy stimulates the economy by creating jobs and putting money in the pockets of ordinary workers…Corporate profits would most likely rise. The only losers would be the rentier class and the very rich.”
In the end, I reject the piece “Socialism: A Creed for Ignorance” on both factual and moral grounds. His argument rests on a belief of libertarian ideals of property, ideals that are not morally sound in our day and age. The idea of personal liberty and the right to one’s property is based on John Lockean principles that if someone puts hard work into something, they deserve the products of their labor. However, this idea is dependent upon whether they leave enough resources to let the next person come and have an equal chance to better themselves. The way the rich are acting in our country, they take and take but do not leave enough for the rest of us. Not only do they prevent equal opportunity, but these ideas rest on a very selfish foundation that I do not believe stands for what it means to be a citizen.
The role of a citizen (and of a human being) is to recognize that he or she lives in a community where one must help others and not only look out for one’s own interests. Self-interest is not the only thing that matters in the marketplace (as competition and the rules of the game are also important), and government regulation is needed to protect basic values such as honesty, justice, equality, and integrity. I think it is naive to believe that people and businesses will follow these virtues on their own, as we can see from our current situation: people and business take advantage of this system to benefit themselves while hurting everyone else. Maybe my beliefs are too utilitarian in nature, but I believe in helping others and creating a greater common good rather than just looking out for high earnings for a few.
At the heart of the progressive movement is not envy and greed, but compassion, goodwill, equality, and justice. These are not idealistic goals, but attainable through fiscal policy. If that means more government regulation, I am okay with that because I know that it is improving the lives of many, and that without regulation greed grows in the heart of individuals and businesses who will continue to look out for their own interests at the expense of others. Trying to equate socialism with ignorance or greed shows just how little you know about the struggles of everyday people and the vision to create a more equitable society for all. But that’s just my opinion.