How Do You Know Social Democracy Cannot Work?
If you live in a society which has never experimented with social democracy, how can you be certain it doesn’t work?
Too often I get into a discussion with conservatives who will claim that the political left has no proven solutions. That is why I wrote my previous story: The Success of Social Democracy.
Liberalism is Not Democratic Socialism
It is important to highly as conservatives in particular in America seem to consistently mix up radically different ideologies: socialism and liberalism. Social democracy is part of a broader set of socialist inspired ideologies. Social democracy is not an invention of liberals.
This is a discussion frequently had so I could really quote anyone, but today I thought I would give some more thought out replies to Tim Knowles which was kind to give me some feedback on my rant: The Toxicity of the Vocal Left.
Tim Knowles writes:
This small rich elite you talk about, they are not all Republicans.
The context here is that I wrote in my original piece that:
We can let the interest of common people guide the economy rather than what is frequently the selfish needs of a small rich elite.
Knowles here makes what I perceive to be a common problem for us leftists in how we are viewed by American conservatives. It is also why I often try to stress that I am a social democrat and not a liberal. The assumption here is that being leftist means I am siding with liberals and democrats. No, to the degree I do that, it would be because they are the lesser of two evils.
As far as I am concerned, American liberals and democrats represent a right wing political ideology. Not so much in the social space but most definitely in terms of economic policy.
That liberals want to give more aid to the poor, doesn’t change the fact that they are very much part of the neoliberal drive towards economic liberalism and more capitalism. They still rub shoulders with Wall Street in almost equal measure as Republicans. Their redeeming trait is that they don’t disparage the poor as lazy bums looking for handouts the way Republicans all too frequently do.
Ironically me and Tim seem to have similar concerns:
Do you know “what is this swamp they are talking about?” The swamp is special interests using money and power to get the rules written to their advantage.
Regulatory capture is a big problem in the US.
Can Laws Help Create a More Equal Society?
The key difference is in how we interpret the cause of that difference and how we see leftist politics:
What makes you a leftist is you think that the federal government can pass some more laws to that will make for a more equal society, with equality between men and women.
I not only think so, I know so. History all across the the West have demonstrated this in abundance. To question this seems to be to completely ignore over 100 years of women’s fight for equality. Laws had to be passed to get Norwegian women to the right to vote in 1907. But it actually took until 1919 before also poor people could vote.
Old laws making it impossible for women to own bank accounts in their own name has been overturned. A multitude of such laws hostile to women have existed have been remove, paving the way for more equality for the sexes. Not to mention a multitude of professions and academic positions which women where straight out banned from entering.
Contemporary Laws Pushing Equality
Sure these are change of more historical nature. But a multitude of laws bringing more gender equality has been past in recent history. E.g. laws making it illegal for employers to ask whether they are pregnant or their plans for children has gotten made.
Men can easily run away from the responsibility of getting children, women cannot. Hence giving women some equal chance of making it in society, has also meant making mother and child friendly laws. Such as making easier to combine motherhood with a career. This has included both maternity leave, national government subsidized child care, and economic support for single mothers.
Making the Workplace Friendly to Men and Women
Women have long been at a disadvantage in the workplace because men have been the one expected to work long hours and women have been the ones expected to be home taking care of dinner, cleaning and child care. In Norway laws that made couples loose part of the paternity leave after the birth of a child unless 3 months was allocated to the father, encouraged a rapid shift in attitudes. After these laws got past, father increasingly began staying home with small children and workplaces started reorienting themselves increasingly to the new reality where men are expected to take equal part in raising a child as a mother.
Expecting a family man to work overtime is no longer more natural than expecting a mother to do so. These are things which all come about in large part due to legal changes. Stronger restrictions on overtime work, which encourage more mothers to join the workforce as being an employee become more easy to combine with motherhood. Laws like that of course always go hand in hand with attitude change. But one must realize the symbiosis. Laws, school curriculum changes and public discourse is all driving towards the same kinds of changes.
Mother and Child Friendly Policies of Social Democracies
Social democracies have a rich history of implementing such laws friendly towards women and children. Already back in 1909 did Norway give women 6 weeks paid maternity leave. In 1915 this go expanded to 8 weeks and to married women. In the US the minimum requirement is still 0. Thus comments like this from Tim Knowles about American legislature, rings hollow to a Norwegian social democrat:
Where you should not be judged by the color of your skin. What you want is already the law of the land but you still look to the government to do something more.
American government does precious little. It still has not reached the level of Norway in 1909! It is premature to claim that everything that can be done has been done. Employee protections are still weak in the US, and employees will not take their chance of going home early to pick up children at child care unless they work some gold plated tech job.
Which reminds me of another problem discussing this with conservative Americans. You often hear arguments to “But I don’t have this problem,” as if that is a valid remark on the state of a whole country. American tech workers live in a plush alternative reality that America’s fast food workers, order pickers and others don’t share.
Extremists on both the Left and the Right want the government to implement their extremists ideas.
The problem in America is that a lot of people who deem them some kind of moderates are in many ways extremists by international standards. What they characterize as the extreme left is really just mainstream politics elsewhere. It is all to easy to confuse toxic leftist twitter personalities, with the actual policy platform of genuine leftists such as social democrats or democratic socialists.
The kind of people who see the world through a simplistic one-dimensional lens where white males and capitalism is the source of all evil are people I am as opposed to as Tim Knowles.
What Are the Limits of Government?
There are and should be limits on what governments can and should do.
That is an assertion so devoid of specifics as to be meaningless. If I objected to this assertion, you could claim I would support the atrocities of Stalin and Hitler. Yes, obviously there are limits to what government should do. But the devil is in the details.
It is too common for American conservatives to assume that the size and power of government can somehow be expressed along a one dimensional line.
Let me compare Norway and China? Who has the more oppressive government? A disingenuous could argue Norway because the Norwegian government impose far more laws protecting consumer, and employers. China in contrast could be heralded as a wonderful free capitalist society because employers can threat workers about as shitty as they like.
But obviously such a claim is nonsense. China is an oppressive dictatorship. There is no political freedom. There is no freedom for labour to freely unionize. Thus every law and regulation cannot simply be counted towards government oppression.
A lot of the laws e.g. Norway has is to protect the freedoms of regular people. To secure their independence from their employer, give them the ability to more easily organize so they can look after their own interests. It is also to protect consumers who cannot possibly understand the details of every product sold, whether it is safe to use of buy. We need government to verify that drugs and food is save to consume.
Anyone under the delusion that we don’t need government to regular drug and food safety and that somehow the wonders of the market will solve it, need to get off their Milton Friedman blinders and read about Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and his poison squad: We have food safety laws thanks to 19th century “poison squad”.
Building Systems for Social Change
The success of social democracy is in large part down to building comprehensive systems changing society. But Tim Knowles, as other conservatives seem to view the act of passing legislation in a very narrow sense:
Passing laws does not make a population virtuous and enforcing those laws can be worse than the crimes.
You cannot pass a law that says all citizens must be healthy. Just because a laws says I must be health doesn’t make me healthy. However we can pass legislation which creates a universal health care systems that helps improve the health of the citizens.
Tim Knowles seem to think us on the left advocate for something akin to the former when in fact we advocate for the latter. We advocate for comprehensive systems.
Things such a racism, discrimination and poverty are strongly interwoven. When blacks fall behind white peers, the solution is not to pass a law that says a black child must do equally well in addition and subtraction as a white school boy. But this seems to be the conservative idea of the left.
The solution if of course to tackle the deep inequality that exists between black and white neighborhoods which affects quality of school and the local community. Legislation can do a lot to change that.
American school system e.g. is among the most segregated and unequal in the West. A large reason for this is that funding is based on local property taxes. More affluent school districts thus have much better funded schools. I don’t know how this works in other countries but in a typical social democracy like Norway one seldom use specific tax incomes for paying for specific things. That is an archaic system belonging to the 1800s. Instead money is channeled from different sources into common budgets. Schools are financed by the municipality. Hence there is no difference between poor or rich neighborhoods. Quite the contrary, poorer areas usually get more funding to counter the extra challenges they face.
The second problem is American zoning laws. This is an American suburb. They are extremely homogenous. Houses are very similar in terms of size and quality. That means large areas of segregation is created based on income.
This may seem like the natural state of things, but lots of countries don’t zone neighborhoods to be that homogenous. Below is an example from one of the richer areas of Oslo, Norway, where I live. It is called Vindern, but quite a variety of people live there. As one can see in the picture there are single houses of different sizes as well as larger apartment complexes. In other words there are people living there with a wide variety of incomes.
Societies don’t just randomly become what they are. They are the product of the laws and regulations of that society as well as culture, history and many other things. But to discount the long term effects of legislation would be extremely naive.
The long term effects of redlining in American cities is still being felt today.