Guido Veloce

How did we get like this?

Who's Afraid of a Little Socialism?


It’s amazing to me that folks fear Socialism. After all, our lives consist of the social and the personal. Why shouldn’t good governance include some percentage of support for laws benefiting all of us?

All I want to do is to convince you not to fear the coming injection of socialism that even the most conservative lawmakers see as necessary means of rebooting the economy after the disaster wrought by COVID-19.

I want to start with the bell curve. It’s a way of illustrating things that goes beyond the binary, i.e. unfettered free market is good | Socialism is bad.

But first, let’s deviate from politics—our polarization making what goes on in the White House a daunting prospect for a starting point—and instead go back to the period preceding the 2006 winter Olympics, where there was talk of a certain downhill skier who had tried to increase his performance by ingesting beer.

We were aghast. How could such a thing be sane! After all, Bode Miller should have known that alcohol increases reaction time!

The fact is, the consumption of alcohol is not an unusual practice in sports, alcohol being a way to reduce the anxiety before a performance.

To chart this behavior for an Olympic athlete we’ll make a graph that shows the range of emotions on the horizontal axis and the quality of the performance on the vertical one.

olympics performance bell curve
Olympics performance bell curve

First of all you’ll notice that there are two nasty points of lowest performance. On the extreme left, our favorite athlete might be passed out in drunkenness, certainly something the judges would score a zero on. On the right you’ll find our athlete so hyped up he can’t find the starting gate. That’s not good either.

Then, if you’re reading ahead on the graph you’ll notice that you can ignore the enter left half of it. After all, what Olympic athlete is unmotivated? Ever listen to those interviews they do before the skiers zip down the hill? “If I relax and perform like I trained, I’ll medal in this event”. Ever hear someone say “I dunno, I think I can win but who cares”? I didn’t think so. Nope, athletes see themselves on the right side of the curve, sometimes anxious that they’ll screw up.

And what’s the cure to push them up on the curve toward the gold? I bit of depressant will do nicely. Alcohol is a great one. It might keep you from reacting too quickly when you’re nervous over your performance. So you take a bit and try it out. So if you’re the black spot on our graph, you just need a tiny bit to get you going in the right direction.

So all’s well, right? Um, well, no. Being that a high percentage of people see the world in two point binary good/bad or in a slightly more sophisticated way as a linear function. So you take two ounces of beer and get your best time ever. Then you say to yourself, “self, If this made so much difference, I’mma gonna have the whole beer.” After all, if two ounces made you that much better, what can 12 do? Yahooooo!

But here’s the thing. This amount of beer takes you back down the other side of the curve. “Yep, there’s that big ol’ slalom acomin’ up and I’ll just slide gently into….OH SHIT!”

So that’s a bell curve and that’s the human foible that keeps alcohol from working its magic in sports.

Let’s Graph Us Some Socialism

Like I said previously, the patriotic linear thinkers see this:

political system linear curve
Our fantasy linear curve "proving" that unfettered capitalism is the very best

But that’s not really the way it is. You don’t see folks from Copenhagen huddled in masses without food. In fact they live quite well and pretty much have a positive take the lives they live.

We can see this much better on the bell curve, where balance matters:

political system bell curve
Political System Bell Curve

Imagine a world in which economics had no rules at all. You throw away the stock market rules that keep folks from tricking other traders into buying or selling stock at the wrong times. You solve the dilemma of the worker who wants a living wage by simply paying him a dollar an hour, take it or leave it. That’s the dismal side of trying to live without rules, without social etiquette, without a safety net so that nobody can afford to take risks to find a better solution.

On the other hand you have some bad examples of socialism, too. When the government owns the means of production and everyone works in dreary sameness and there isn’t a time to push things forward…you’ll find the same dark hole.

I heard recently that some Scandinavians were calling for a little more free market to seep into their socialism, which led many folks to exclaim, “see! socialism is wrong and they’ve finally admitted it!”

But no, look at the graph. We’re all trying to be best, or wealthiest, or happiest. Scandinavia was just trying to push up the graph—and by all appearances they have. Scandinavians now have a very high percentage of happy people compared to those of other countries. At the same time unrest increases as the USA pushes toward letting the rich rule the country, a proposition that has the founding fathers undoubtedly rolling in their graves—and pushing us to the left as well, but this isn’t the way we should be going. We’re lost.

There are three factions the founding fathers feared. Rule by military, religion, or corporations. And now we need a little injection that reverses the trend and propels us up the curve before it’s too late.

We can start with health care, which is a social good when applied to all and can never be a free market commodity. After all, who wants tens of thousands of infected homeless walking in a neighborhood when they can’t afford care? So, like many successful systems, you start a single payer system that’s largely non profit and a bit basic. It saves citizens money. It decreases paperwork. With the saved money, people can afford more goods—and the economy benefits greatly. Afraid you will hate this socialist health care system? Don’t worry, the luxury you can get back with, wait for it, yes, it’s private health insurance, a feature in many counties. You see, luxury, private rooms, free internet and the like are indeed free market commodities that can be accessed through private insurance. It’s not too expensive because you’ll get treated free for the little things with your national plan, and the private insurance will only come into play when you’re really, really, sick.

Ok so think on it. Carry on with your “shelter in place” stuff. Is that the world’s ugliest, militaristic phrase or what?

Categories The Economy, Hope for the future