Barn-Raising: A cherished image from our rural past, when an entire community helped a neighbor put up his barn in exchange for his communal help. Maybe not capital “S” Socialism, since the government was not involved and no one was taxed, but think of the fate of one who refused to help, arguing that it really was a tax on his capital — his time and labor — and he wouldn’t pay. If not Socialism, call it sociability — with a small “s” — for its blend of altruism, self-interest, and peer pressure.
The Posse: An equally cherished image, from our frontier past. Regular citizens, deputized by the sheriff to track down rustlers. True, the posse were volunteers, but the pressure to join was as powerful in Tombstone as in East Overshoe. Imagine facing the grocer or the parson, who knew you had begged out with, “My wife says I’ve got to do the dishes.” And the donation of time and labor was as weighty as to the barn-raiser.
And, in fuller flower:
The Railroads: Like rural or frontier life, the building of America’s railroads is an icon of America’s can-do spirit that, in reality, would have been impossible but for enormous government subsidies. Those anti-Socialists who feel that the railroads were, and are, essential to America’s economic well-being might consider that this system was (and, to a large degree, still is) made possible by the redistribution of private money, made public through taxes, and then reprivatized. Railroads’ association with a simpler past may soften the reality, but the reality still is … Socialism!
Farm Subsidies: Under Kansas’s fertile plains lies some of the many millions the U.S. Government provides in farm subsidies. Is it good? Is it bad? Whatever, but it is government redistribution from the many (mostly urban) to the few (mostly rural, some industrial). You could protest, but then “No Bread for You!!” So, get used to it — the big “S,” growing in the soil of our heartland!
Retail and Hospital Costs: The private sector does it too. Stores build the cost of shoplifting into the prices they charge non-shoplifting customers. For-profit hospitals transfer the cost of the indigent uninsured to insurers, who transfer it to the insured, just as non-profits look to the government (and, therefore, to taxpayers) for similar help. These “transfers” aren’t necessarily wrong. Stores have to make a profit and hospitals can’t leave the poor to die in a ditch. But there is a redistributive burden that others bear — that’s why we call ourselves a “S”ociety.
Health Insurance: What is insurance — of any kind — if it isn’t Socialism? I pay into a fund that may give me back less than I put in while it gives you more than you put in or, if I’m lucky, vice versa. My insurance isn’t altruism; it’s enlightened self-interest; it’s also Socialism. Whether health insurance is public or private is irrelevant as long as it gives you some of my money for a new liver when you need it and still pays for my tranquilizers when I get those psychotic — Why couldn’t I have a new liver too and, just once in my life, get more out of the system than I put in!? — episodes.
Socialism and its ancestor, sociability, are in so much that we do, sometimes willingly, sometimes for want of a better alternative. It’s there, that little yellow flower, in your yard and mine. I may admire it. You may detest it. But at least it won’t kill us, and it won’t kill us to acknowledge that it won’t kill us.