Last week, at a concert in Detroit, MI, Garth Brooks wore a Barry Sanders jersey. Sanders, of course, was the Detroit Lions’ running back from 1989-1998. Brooks shared a photo of him wearing the Sanders jersey, and some, however, did not make the connection, thinking that the picture showed Brooks supporting Bernie Sanders. One person responded, “Nothing like supporting a communist to loss [sic] a few fans! How about going to a successful socialist country and doing some research? Oh yes, you can’t because there aren’t ANY successful socialist countries!”
Facebook forgot who Barry Sanders is and is freaking out at Garth Brooks for wearing a jersey and I’m dying. pic.twitter.com/wVfAKU7Cn1— Jason Vincent (@jasoncvincent) February 27, 2020
There are two items within the user’s comment that I want to look at today, and each focuses on the word “socialist.” That word has come to be equated with communism, which is dangerous. As well, Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, and this is important. What does democratic socialism even look like? Are there countries that practice democratic socialism and succeed? Yes, there are. Scandinavian countries come to mind, specifically Norway where we lived for a year. Norway is a “democratic socialist welfare state.” For Americans, “socialist” and “Welfare” are dirty words, for a myriad of reasons, and we need to get away from those connotations if we ever want to achieve an equitable society.
This is what a democratic socialist welfare state looks like. When any of us got sick, we had a general practitioner that we visited. We would go, and we paid a $35 co-pay for the kids one time and the other times they were free. Children’s medical care is free as part of the system. For adults, after $250 deductible, healthcare is free. After the visit, we would then go directly to pick up our prescription, usually only about $20. We did not have to buy into an insurance system or pay premiums each month. Instead, the taxes that every citizen paid into the system went towards universal health care. Every citizen gets equal access to health care unlike the United States, a nation that still has 27.5 million uninsured citizens and countless others who are under insured.
Recently, someone I know told me about a relative of his who works at Walmart. In order to keep from having to provide health insurance coverage for her, Walmart limits her hours. This practice only benefits Walmart’s bottom line causing the employee to become dispensable. If we argue that equity is a goal we should strive for, then isn’t this type of practice hypocritical? Doesn’t it cause more harm when individuals have to pay large amounts of money to even see a physician or nurse practitioner? That does not even include medication. With diseases like the coronavirus, having individuals who are afraid to seek medical care due to cost is dangerous, especially considering how the disease spreads.
Along with their medical visits, my kids also had dental visits as part of the Norwegian medical system. As well, they had unique experiences in the classroom. Throughout the year, we did not pay any PTO fees, field trip fees, and didn’t have to buy school supplies. Rather, taxes, again, went to these systems. Every year, the seventh class (grade) takes a week-long trip into the environment. My daughter had the opportunity to go to the fjords for this trip, and she did not pay anything for it.
Add to all of this the fact that parents, when they have children, receive close to a year of parental leave at full pay, that early childhood education is free to everyone (barnehagens), and that college is free for everyone, you begin to see the benefits of such a system. Every one of my college students did not have to pay tuition for their university work; they only had to pay minimal student fees and for their textbooks. Meanwhile, here in the United States, countless individuals become hindered by student loan debt to the total of $1.6 trillion.
Democratic socialism is not detrimental; rather, it provides equity and opportunities for all. There is still competition, but there is also a strive for equity amongst genders, ethnicities, religions, and more. This should be our goals; however, the ideas of individualism and the American Dream are so deeply ingrained into our psyches that we cannot imagine any other system. These ideas stem from our past.
When the Puritans arrived, they held to the idea predestination, essentially the Calvinist belief that God chose some for salvation and some for damnation. In order to show that one was “chosen,” the person had to stand in front of the congregation and relate their conversion to those gathered. This is where we conversion narratives. Yet, another aspect was what arose after “conversion.” If someone gained wealth, then it was seen a blessing from God (think the prosperity gospels of today) and an indication that God truly predestined that person for heaven. If one suffered, then the opposite thought entered into the mind of the community.
Conjoin with this the “up from your bootstraps” mentality that Benjamin Franklin and others presented in their works and we get the makings of a highly individualistic system conjoined with religious beliefs that place money and “work ethic” as the sign of blessing. This is harmful because this does not take into account systems that continue to replicate systems of power that keep individuals uninsured. That hinder access to education. That hinder individuals from being able to spend time with their children because they have to work two to three jobs. These are what we need to address.
Instead of focusing on whether or money shows God’s blessings, we should take a cue from the early church who broke bread together and shared what they had. Acts 2:42-47 describes the early church:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The early church provided for those in need. They worked to create equity, not horde it or give out here and there to those they deemed worthy. They provided “to anyone who was in need.” This is what the policies of a democratic socialist welfare state would do; they would provide for “anyone who had a need.”
A democratic socialist welfare state is not perfect. While competition exists, there is also a feeling of not wanting to be any better than someone else. These two ideas butting against one another create some issues, especially within systems such as healthcare or in the classroom. As well, racist and xenophobic ideas do not go away easily, and we see this in countries such as Norway and Denmark. Yet, there is a reason that Scandinavian countries dominate the lists of the happiest countries in the world and the United States is 19th. They work for equity, and this equity fosters happiness because citizens do not have to stress over whether or not their Go Fund Me page will generate enough money for medical expenses or whether or not they can buy a house after college.