As I was working on my thoughts for this part of the series, I came across an article that really spoke to me, and really put into words what I was trying to say for myself. I think it is a good reflection of where on stand, somewhere in the middle, on the issues of socialism and capitalism.
I have said quite a bit in this series on some of the problems with capitalism, especially as it takes form in America. I live here by the circumstances surrounding my birth, but some days I wish I could leave it all behind and move, because if there is one thing that has become very clear to me it is that;
The United States of America is becoming very backwards.
And the article I will be discussing today helps to highlight some of the reasons that is so. Ann Jones starts out with asking a very simple question;
“What is it, though, that makes the Scandinavians so different? Since the Democrats can’t tell you and the Republicans wouldn’t want you to know, let me offer you a quick introduction. What Scandinavians call the Nordic model is a smart and simple system that starts with a deep commitment to equality and democracy. That’s two concepts combined in a single goal because, as far as they’re concerned, you can’t have one without the other. ”
As a general statement, I am highly supportive of ideals such as democracy and equality, and these are two things that the Nordic countries do very well. Democracy to means rule by the people, for the people. Equality of course means that rights and privileges are enjoyed by all people. In my mind it is synonymous to the idea of egalitarianism, which includes trends such as feminism as well as the fair distribution of wealth. This is a marked difference from America, as Jones points out;
“Right there, they part company with capitalist America, now the most unequal of all the developed nations, and consequently a democracy no more. Political scientists say it has become an oligarchy, run at the expense of its citizenry by and for the superrich. Perhaps you’ve noticed that.”
Yes, I have noticed that in fact, and the political scientists she referenced were from Princeton University. It would seem many of our politicians are on regular rotation between Congress, the Senate, and many of the largest corporations in the country, if not in the world. So many of our policies are being shaped by former employess of companies like Monsanto or Shell Oil, it is not even funny. In addition, more of our countries wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a very few, and these very few are using that very same wealth to seek political office, and running the country. With decisions such as Citizens United, those with money have even more say and power in our political system.
Moving forward with Jones article;
”In the last century, Scandinavians, aiming for their egalitarian goal, refused to settle solely for any of the ideologies competing for power—not capitalism or fascism, not Marxist socialism or communism. Geographically stuck between powerful nations waging hot and cold wars for such doctrines, Scandinavians set out to find a middle path. That path was contested—by socialist-inspired workers on the one hand, and by capitalist owners and their elite cronies on the other—but in the end, it led to a mixed economy. Thanks largely to the solidarity and savvy of organized labor and the political parties it backed, the long struggle produced a system that makes capitalism more or less cooperative, and then redistributes equitably the wealth it helps to produce. Struggles like this took place around the world in the 20th century, but the Scandinavians alone managed to combine the best ideas of both camps while chucking out the worst.”
I found myself nodding along throughout this whole passage, because this exemplifies more than anything where I stand on the ideas of capitalism. I have very deep problems with capitalism, but neither am I sold on the ideas of the socialists or Marxists, and so that places me somewhere in the middle. I want to walk that middle path, though it is not always a comfortable place to be. You will get flak from one side for being a socialist, and flak from the other for not being socialist enough. I do not strive to please everyone, and I certainly don’t aim to.
I do want to be clear on one point. Even though people like Bernie Sanders may call himself democratic socialist, the Nordic model is not socialist. It is a social democracy, a kind of capitalist system. As such, I don’t consider myself a socialist, nor do I consider myself a capitalist. There is that middle ground thing again.
All the same, I think the idea of mixed economy is a great one. We can still have private businesses, while at the same time redistributing the wealth it creates for the benefit of everyone. Also, we can have a strong public sector to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and reinvest wealth into research and technological innovations that could make things like Peak Oil and non issue, and we would be in a better position to adapt to things such as climate change. Also, expansion of the public sector could be used to increase the funding and expanse of public land projects, and better conserve and protect our natural resources.
I return here to Jones;
“So here’s the big difference: In Norway, capitalism serves the people. The government, elected by the people, sees to that. All eight of the parties that won parliamentary seats in the last national election—including the conservative Høyre party now leading the government—are committed to maintaining the welfare state. In the United States, however, neoliberal politics puts the foxes in charge of the henhouse, and capitalists have used the wealth generated by their enterprises (as well as financial and political manipulations) to capture the state and pluck the chickens. “
I want to scream this from the rooftops. This points out better than many thing exactly where the some of the real problems lie with America. Not only are there serious flaws with our method of capitalism, but very serious problems with the ideas behind neoliberal policies. For example, Jones points out;
“They’ve done a masterful job of chewing up organized labor. Today, only 11 percent of American workers belong to a union. In Norway, that number is 52 percent; in Denmark, 67 percent; in Sweden, 70 percent. Thus, in the United States, oligarchs maximize their wealth and keep it, using the “democratically elected” government to shape policies and laws favorable to the interests of their foxy class. “
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. I commented in the last part of this post on how this mentality has crept into major research institutions, and even into our literature and television. The problems with the American system go well beyond these things, and in many ways we have nearly the inverse of the Nordic model. As Jones points out;
“In the Nordic countries, on the other hand, democratically elected governments give their populations freedom from the market by using capitalism as a tool to benefit everyone. That liberates their people from the tyranny of the mighty profit motive that warps so many American lives, leaving them freer to follow their own dreams—to become poets or philosophers, bartenders or business owners, as they please. “
Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Even I can sense some of the Jone’s glassy eyed optimism. Of course, let’s be realistic. No system of government is perfect, which she acknowledges at the end of her article;
“It’s not perfect, of course. It has always been a carefully considered work in progress. Governance by consensus takes time and effort. You might think of it as slow democracy. Even so, it’s light-years ahead of us. “
Denmark has done a pretty ugly thing with confiscating valuables from refugees, whereas Sweden has accepted more than any other country except Germany. Also, Norway has a portion of its wealth coming from an oil boom, that in the long run is not sustainable.
Still, I think that last part is the most important. Even when we compare the US with other developed countries that don’t use the Nordic Model, we still lag behind on many measures. I think America could learn a lot from the Nordic Model, and yes it is safe to say I will be voting for Sanders in the upcoming primary.
It must be said here at the end, that these are momentous changes for a place like America. In fact some (such as Hillary) have gone so far as to call them unrealistic given the political climate. It is that very same climate that is part of the problem. Also, I think the fact that we can point to the Nordic countries and say “it is working for them”, means these ideas are not unrealistic. They are working, and very well for that matter.
Nor am I saying that the Nordic model should be the end game, but simply a peak on the horizon. We have to climb that peak first before we can even contemplate where the next one might be.
And make no mistake, it is a hell of a climb. The changes it would take in America to make this kind of system work would be substantial and imply huge changes in our political, cultural and social ideals.
Those such as Bernie have said it would be nothing short of a revolution…
At very least, it would be a hell of a change.
This series has been a little more political than I originally wanted it to be. Also, it has been a lot more theory than practical application.
As such, in what I hope will be the last part of this series, I am hoping to come to some kind of synthesis of my animism beliefs and some of the things I have talked about in this series.