Let’s not shut everything down with, “that’s socialism”

Talks about social inequality has gained more airtime in the recent past. As wealth becomes more unevenly distributed to the top, its dire consequences are now coming to fruition. In search of answers, people are voting in ‘strongman’ leaders to lead them towards economic prosperity. Often, voters fail to see that the leaders they have elected in may have been part of a group that caused the problem in the first place. Consequently, discriminatory, authoritative governments are put in power, often addressing the wrong issues, leading to more oppression, and more inequality.

Seeing this, proponents egalitarian societies have begun speaking up, demanding for more equitable solutions, to see less people falling between the cracks. Many people, especially among the young, find appeal in socialist-leaning, redistributive measures.

As quickly as socialism became popular, naysayers have also began to appear.

Surprisingly, arguments against welfare measures not only come from the usual right-wing apologists, but also from people who are expected to be a little more progressive.

This is not to imply that anti-redistribution is a conservative trait, but I would expect that self-claimed progressives would be more understanding of the root for social inequality and the dangers of an unfettered laisez faire approach to everything.

To quickly shut down the merit of re-distributive policies, opponents often fall back to – what I recently learnt as, argumentum ad Venezuelum – which just means that, when people present left-leaning ideas, the usual retort is, “socialists policies are bad, we’ll end up like Venezuela”.

From older people, arguments against social policies comes in the narrative of walking down memory lane, “these kids who cry for socialism haven’t experienced the breadlines of communist Russia,” accompanied with a black and white photo of people queuing up for food. Some times, if you do a quick reverse image search, you’ll discover that these are photos of breadlines in capitalist America during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But before we dive into reducing “capitalism” as the cause of America’s Great Depression, let’s quickly acknowledge that many other factors (which I won’t go into here) led to the great crash. And here is where I would appeal to everyone that if we can give capitalism a free pass to problems it may have caused, we can also pause and give socialism the benefit of the doubt.

It’s true, that there have been cases where communist and socialist experiments have failed (Venezula, Soviet Russia, to name a couple), but a closer look at these examples often reveal other factors involved, like how they both devolved into despotic, autocratic regimes with no respect for public or private institutions. But we mustn’t overlook cases where social welfare programs have worked.

What I’m essentially trying to say is that when it comes to political and economic discourse, there seems to be a case of intellectual…laziness. When outlining the merits of socialistic policies, it’s easier to just drop the Venezuelan trainwreck bomb and walk off smugly, as one does when winning a cerebral discourse.

This type of intellectual dishonesty serves no benefit other than to stroke one’s own ego. Within circlejer…private forums, the consequences are little to none. However, when in the arena of policy-making, brushing aside honest discussions about welfare and re-distributive policies can have real outcomes. Outcomes that affect people, particularly disenfranchised people who depend on their elected representatives to voice out their plight on the national stage.

I think that it’s important for policymakers to not immediately shelf policy recommendations that seeks to expand the welfare state by simply branding it as a socialist idea.

Sweeping things aside in trying to avoid looking like a “lefty” could mean ignoring ideas that can help many people. And as we have come to see, when people feel detached and disregarded, despots come in to fill that despair with hope.

And in the end, nobody is better off.

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