I’ve just come back from a visit to Stockholm, Sweden. As I do whenever I land in a foreign city, I used the airport ATM to convert dollars into Kronas, thinking I would need the local currency throughout my stay.
Anybody want to convert my Swedish legal tender into American dollars?
From the high speed train to the city to coffee at a café to a ride in a taxi to a pack of gum, every transaction was with a credit card per the sign posted by most of the merchants, “Cash free establishment.” That’s how the country and the venders take care of effortlessly computing the tax that provides the wherewithal for the country’s widescale social services.
It was routine. An efficient and acceptable way of collecting sales tax without dispute or onerous bookkeeping. Yet it was interesting to note that whereas Sweden is considered to be a socialist country because of its high tax rate and large welfare system, most of the industry in the nation is in private hands. Which is capitalistic.
When you think about it, Sweden’s economy is a beefed up version of our own financial system, simply expanding and extending what we call Social Security and Medicare to enhanced retirement and health coverage plus free education.
It’s what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are proposing under the label, Democratic Socialism. But without the fear mongering mis-information that “evil socialism” discourages people from working and leads families into generational sloth, perpetually feeling entitled to government support.
Clearly, Sweden is not purely socialist - the nation’s industries are privately owned - and America is not purely capitalistic - the Social Security system and Medicare provide retirement benefits and medical support for millions of citizens.
So what accounts for the horror that we Americans have for the very mention of “Socialism,” and conversely, the misplaced reverence for the triumph of capitalism?
It’s the fantasy that “the American Dream” is an operative reality rather than an illusion. It’s the myth that the playing field is even. It’s the lack of understanding that America has evolved from Free-market capitalism into Corporate capitalism with large corporations dominating the economy and unduly influencing the government, often writing the legislation putting their self-serving profit interests first!
Why am I blathering about all this?
Because after Stockholm I visited St. Petersburg, Russia. It’s a city with more than 600 castles built by the families of the ruling tsars. You can’t turn a corner without seeing an opulent reminder of the days when nobility reined. The Hermitage Museum we browsed is five adjoining palaces built by Catherine the Great, the place a monument to excess, literally 3,000,000 art pieces displayed in hundreds of connected rooms, flooded in gold gilt. The point I’m making is, this profligate aristocrat was spending millions of rubles on her shameless fables while the people did not have bread on the table.
The gap between the riotous dissolute wealth of the Tsars and the cruel poverty of the serfs that served them, was beyond onerous. And inevitably, after centuries of this indifference to the plight of the people, the revolution of 1917 took place.
Is it far-fetched to draw a comparison to the wealth gap existent in America today?
Over the past decades, during our generation’s watch, greed and elitism have overwhelmed ethical practices. Mammoth corporations have evaded tax laws. A growing segment of the population no longer can compete as small business owners or salaried employees. Today, without significant social support systems such as Social Security, welfare and Medicare, millions of families would barely survive.
Forty million Americans have incomes below the poverty line. Three families own wealth equal to half the country’s population. According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO salary is 271 times the annual average pay of the typical American worker.
If this disparity continues, the Bolsheviks of the Russian revolution will be America’s disenfranchised and marginalized millions marching up Michigan Avenue with proverbial pitchforks. And it won’t be pretty.
So full cycle back to Sweden and Denmark and Norway and Finland where vigorous free-market economies are balanced by strong social support structures, the profit motivated, capitalistic segment abiding the governments’ involvement in assuring that competition is fair, unemployment is low, and social welfare is provided for those who need it.
What is scary about that?
There is room in America for corporations and individual businesses to compete, acquiring personal wealth at the same time the government administrates a system of distributing collective capital so that individual needs are met.
As for the outcry over higher taxes on the wealthy, Elizabeth Warren’s idea for a 2% tax on the 51st million would be as noticeable to the Walmart family as a peristaltic urge of a dung beetle.