I had a chance to see Bernie Sanders speak this past Tuesday night in advance of the April fifth Wisconsin Presidential primary election. I didn’t have specific expectations of what I’d hear at the campaign event but found myself pleasantly surprised at how the candidate’s message resonated with the crowd, and with my own world view. I posted the comment “Went and saw Bernie Sanders tonight. I didn’t have high expectations. I have to say, I felt the Bern” to social media upon returning home. My post prompted the following response from one of my contacts “Dan. I know you are Liberal but I didn’t think you were a Socialist.” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders identifies himself as a Democratic Socialist. I identify myself as a political independent. As I thought about the comment on my post, I found myself wondering about some of the ideas that lie beneath our conclusions regarding such labels as Republican/Democrat, liberal/conservative, socialist/capitalist, etc. Here are a few that rattle around in my mind:
- As we are driving a busy road in rush hour traffic, my wife looks in her rear view mirror and exclaims: two cars just hit and one of them is up on its side. When I call 911 the operator confirms the event and location and tells me they will take care of it. I hear the sound of emergency responders a short time later. Socialist, socialism, socialized?
- A person shows up at a hospital in need of medical care but has no way to pay for the services. The hospital provides the services, all of the staff and suppliers get paid their normal wages/fees, and the hospital absorbs the costs by adjusting the fees it charges other (paying) customers. Socialist, socialism, socialized?
- In 2008 the banking system acknowledge that many of the instruments driving the housing bubble were unsound and unstable. These unsound instruments allowed the banking industry to transfer enormous amounts of money to individuals as salaries, bonuses, and profit distributions. The instruments were always unstable and the salaries, bonuses and profit distributions were unfounded. As a result of these transfers trillions of taxpayer dollars were seen as necessary to support the banking industry. Socialist, socialism, socialized?
- When individuals and corporations declare bankruptcy the gap between available assets and liabilities is absorbed by the creditors/general public. Corporations routinely segregate pension obligations and environmental risk into independent entities that protect the owners from direct liability. When the associated obligations cannot be met, due to inadequate funding of the obligations, the entity declares bankruptcy and the costs are absorbed by the general public. Socialist, socialism, socialized?
I responded to the post on social media by noting that I was impressed by Sander’s focus on individuals and the challenges they face. I noted that government policies that primarily benefit large corporations and wealthy individuals, with the expectation that those policies will result in wealth trickling down into jobs, are not as effective as they once were. If that makes me a Socialist, I’ll gladly accept the label.
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