Socialism: Yes or No?


Deutsche Demokratische Republik

During Nirvana’s first tour of Europe in November of 1989, we found ourselves at a historic moment. Germans were tearing down the Berlin Wall, piece by piece, the broken concrete a symbol of forty five years of Soviet domination crumbling away.

We drove through East Germany en route to Berlin. On the road leaving the east side, we counted a line of cars 45 kilometers long full of East Germans going through the Western border.

Almost without exception, East Germans drove the same kind of car, the Trabant. This vehicle was made of cardboard and featured the same kind of engine that power chain saws. Even though it was 1989, the East Germans were driving a car with a design that had changed little in the 1950s.

Since the East German State owned the means of production and distribution, there was little incentive to develop products. On the other hand, West Germans were leaders in developing autos that were efficient, safe and reliable. With the free enterprise system, innovation was bred in the atmosphere of competition.

Most people know of the failings of State Socialism. In the United States, the term socialism is loaded, usually surfacing in conservative political rhetoric pointed at Democrats and those with left-wing ideals. Often, when a discussion on health care mentions state involvement, the idea is derided as socialized medicine.

I’m a staunch supporter of the free enterprise system and live a good life as a result of capitalism. But I’m not so quick to dismiss socialism. Socialism is all around us in the United Sates, and especially Washington State.

In 1930, Washington Voters effectively nationalized electricity distribution with the Grange-sponsored Initiative No. 1. Instead of a private power utility, the people can create a non-profit, locally regulated, Public Utility District. The idea behind the PUD is to pass the profit of an essential like electricity to the people instead of a private monopoly. Whidbey Island will be voting on a measure to create a PUD this fall.

In Washington State, the people own 5.6 million acres of land. The sale of timber from public land funds schools and universities. It also is a major provider of revenue to county governments. The common wealth of our timber land helps pay for local services that would otherwise need to be funded wholly with tax dollars.

Billions in Federal tax dollars flow into Puget Sound’s public and private industry. The Naval Shipyard in Bremerton is a public entity that’s a major source of good paying jobs. Boeing employs thousands with billion dollar defense program contracts.

Now that the Governor of Alaska is on the Republican presidential ticket, I wonder what her thoughts are regarding that states Permanent Fund Dividend? This is a program where The State gives the people, a share of Trans-Alaska oil pipeline revenues - paid with an annual check. ($1,600USD per resident was last year’s dividend!)

Socialism is alive and well in the United States. Like most others, conservatives love a functional socialism: they just won’t admit it.

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