Byrd: A new American socialism

BY MATTHEW BYRD | MAY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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One of the most popular memes in American political culture is that the United States is in a state of institutional paralysis, in which partisan polarization and dysfunctional political mechanisms (the filibuster, gerrymandering, etc.) have essentially rendered politics a broken enterprise incapable of taking action on any of the nation’s major policy issues.

As tempting as it may be to buy into this worldview, the reality is actually much more grim. The U.S. government isn’t so much an institution defined by an overall inaction as it is a contradictorily both passively and actively destructive force on the American body politic.

The U.S. government has no problem acting in carrying on a costly and injurious War on Drugs, which not only acts as a mechanism to jail blacks and Latinos at a startling rate but also destabilizes neighboring Latin American countries through incentivizing violent drug cartels. The U.S. government has no problem erecting a massive, unaccountable security apparatus in the NSA, which, among other offenses, collects the private information of U.S. citizens en masse (data mining), violating any semblance of the notion of privacy rights.

The U.S. government has no problem carrying out extrajudicial killings of American citizens on foreign soil in the form of the CIA’s drone program (which also results in the deaths of innocent civilians in such countries as Yemen and Pakistan). The U.S. government has no problem in maintaining a fundamentally immoral death penalty.

Our government’s passive tendencies are even more pernicious. The Justice Department revels in refusing to prosecute major financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase and HSBC for instances of inarguable criminality (such as money laundering for drug cartels, municipal-bond-market manipulations, etc.) in favor of paltry fines. The U.S. government refuses to asphyxiate the fossil-fuel industry, whose pumping of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere will eventually choke the life out of civilization. The United States stills lack rigorous gun-control measures and an adequate health-care delivery system, among other failings.

What’s clear from all of this is that what ails American society is not a political class plagued by a glacial mindset but rather one that exerts its titanic assets towards enriching the livelihoods of the wealthy at the expense of most of its populace, who are left with the consequences of unfettered capitalism and misplaced government priorities.

There is, however, answer to this wreck, an answer that, rhetorically, has been anathema to American political discourse for centuries.


Not Soviet-style, totalitarian, state socialism (which could more accurately be described as “state capitalism” if we’re being honest) but rather democratic socialism in the mold of a place such as Sweden or Norway.

At its core, this New American Socialism, as I’d like to call it, would arrange the massive resources the United States at its disposal to create an egalitarian society. This would be accomplished by expanding the government that works (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc., which are all basically socialist programs to begin with) and excoriating the government that doesn’t (the

American surveillance state, the Drug War, our lax financial-regulatory system, etc.).

There are tons of specific policy aspects to this philosophy (which I’ve been talking about in columns all year and exist in multitude across the policy discussion landscape), but what’s more important to understand is that the core ideology of this socialism. The maintenance of a basic standard of living, protecting citizens from the worst abuses of the labor market, allowing for a more collective, accountable form of governance are not only noble ideas to strive for but can actually be an effective means of governing (just look at how happy the Swedes seem to be).

It’s time for socialism in America. Just look at how we’re doing without it.

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