While walking to class today, I saw man standing next to a table, handing out flyers and promoting his political ideas. I scanned the table for a moment and read the word "socialism." A good sign, or so I thought.
"I'm a socialist," I said proudly.
"A lot of people say they are socialists, but not everyone knows what that word means," came the reply.
He was using dictionary definitions to try to define the terms of the conversation and it hadn't actually started yet - not a good sign.
"I'm a socialist in the way Bernie Sanders is a socialist," I offered.
"Ah," he said with a smile that seemed to convey he was pleased I had given him the wrong answer. "Bernie Saunders isn't a socialist. Bernie Saunders supports the capitalist system."
I was handed a flyer illustrating that inequality in the US had steadily become worse since the 1960s. He explained to me that this was the "natural result of capitalism" and that no tinkering could possibly fix the underlying problem.
Of course the flyer itself was very clever, showing the increase in inequality over the past 50 years. If it had gone back 100 years, it would have shown inequality sharply decreasing during the New Deal, proof that capitalism doesn't automatically lead to continuously increasingly inequality.
Nevertheless, I wanted to hear out the argument. Too often, I feel like the radical left has lost its imagination. We constantly hear about the ideas of the radical right. But when was the last time any truly leftist idea made it into the public discourse - heck, even the Daily Kos discourse?
In fact we at Daily Kos often take pride in the fact that the mainstream left agenda is fairly popular with the general public. Sure, sometimes we do hear some great ideas, but compare that to the number of dairies that just make fun of Republicans. I'd like to see the occasional far-left idea being discussed widely, if only to help push the Overton Window to the left.
So as much as I knew I'd disagree with this man, I heard him out. He called himself a Marxist. He parroted the old line that if only Stalin hadn't strangled the revolution, the USSR could have been a socialist paradise. He said only radical change would save the world.
What radical change did he offer?
He used the phrase "equality of opportunity" to describe the society he wanted to create. He held up a poster that said "Everyone has a right to a job." He told me that money would still exist in the New World Order, and so would private ownership of possessions and personal property.
"Equality of opportunity" may sound nice, but as it has been employed over the past few decades, it is a buzzword for centrist/conservative Democrats and some Republicans used to place themselves to the right of any solution that offers, you know, actual equality. Equality of opportunity implies that everyone should get a fair shot, and after that, if there's still inequality, well that's on you. You deserve to be poor because obviously, you didn't try hard enough.
His comrade in arms as it were took issue with Obama, saying that he'd been our worst President. When I told him I worked on the Obama campaign, he asked me if I felt disappointed in the President.
"I am in some ways, yet he's also the best President in my lifetime," I replied.
"Obama is the first President assert that the US can just assassinate people," he explained.
"The CIA has been doing that for decades," I replied.
"Yeah, but Obama is the first one to actually come out and say its okay, publicly," he said. Wait, I though - the problem with Obama isn't that he kills people, it's that he does so and talks about it in public? How is that worse than killing people in secret? And what's so much worse about this policy than invading Iraq? Didn't that kill people?
I came away from this whole encounter shaking my head. It reminded me of reading a Lyndon LaRouche publication recently. I looked up the organization after reading that one of their acolytes could potentially win a Texas nomination for Senate. Of course, LaRouche is in favor of impeaching Obama. And then doing what? Re-regulating Wall Street and infrastructure investment. As in, get rid of Obama and then implement Obama's agenda. Sheesh.
The left has no imagination anymore. Even the radical left seems content to propose what is effectively the mainstream Democratic agenda and call it radical because of bogus critiques on Democratic politicians.
Since the radical left has abdicated its role in advocating truly radically left wing ideas, I will take up the mantle myself. Here is my vision for a profoundly left wing nation:
1. No more "equality of opportunity" for the rat-race of working. Everyone ought to have a basic standard of living, guaranteed by the government, regardless of how hard they tried or what kind of output they provide to society as measured by corporate greed. Being able to eat food, drink water, and sleep off the streets should not be contingent on finding a corporation willing to provide you will wage slavery.
2. Instead of everyone having "a right to a job," many jobs should be obsolete. With a guaranteed standard of living, nobody will be forced to work in soul-crushing, low paid jobs that they don't enjoy. Nobody should have to spend most of their life/energy working jobs they hate just to survive and provide for their family. If this creates problems (ie, nobody wants to be a janitor or a maid anymore) we should re-think our priorities in terms of how we clean and pick up after ourselves. Isn't it wrong to force other people to perform a lifetime of menial labor just to survive, just so we don't have to do any cleaning? These jobs should be well paid or not exist.
3. Instead of working, people should be free to pursue leisure activities and embrace their creativity. America's strength is our innovation. Let's get back to that. We'll never compete for low paid manufacturing jobs with China and Mexico, no matter how many unions we allow the Republicans to break. Why not just embrace American society as a society of innovators, inventors, storytellers, and artists?
4. Ending the culture of materialism: Americans are often driven buy bigger houses and more toys to compete with each other. Earning more money and having more income to waste on frivolities has become an end in and of itself in parts of our culture. In Star Trek, the future economics are described by saying that "the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We strive to better ourselves, and the rest of humanity." Make this our mantra.
5. Don't "make college more affordable." Don't make college free. Pay us to go to college! Pay our living expenses, our tuition, and give us a stipend. Reward schools who churn out the most creative students, not the ones who get the best test scores.
How to pay for all this? Glad you asked.
1. Public ownership of intellectual property developed with public resources: higher and higher taxes are a strong progressive idea but and even stronger one is promoting a public stake in ideas the public helped fund. If the public invested in a college research department that was later used to develop a drug that's worth billions, the public should get a stake of the profits of that drug since it was developed with public support. The same goes for other ideas developed with public money. Make America a utopia for creativity and research - but if you strike it big, America deserves a share of the profit so that we can fund the next generation of creative people.
2. End the drug war. Decriminalize all drugs. Legalize and regulate all drugs that are as safe or safer than alcohol. Release all non violent drug offenders from prison.
3. End the military industrial complex. Completely. Announce to the world that the US will maintain a self defense force and 1 nuclear weapon, that's it. End the NSA and the department of homeland security. Close all foreign bases.
4. Pass immigration reform, a huge boon to the economy and the budget. Allow unlimited immigration to American for anyone from anywhere that has a college degree. Release all those in prison for immigration offenses. For good measure, release all those in prison for being in debt -that's needlessly expensive and un-American.
5. Levy a tax against undeveloped land to encourage those who own such land to either sell it off or develop it, creating more jobs and raising more revenue.
6. Abolish all laws prohibiting or limiting tall residential building complexes in urban areas for zoning reasons. Allow "the free market" to build as many housing units as it likes to reduce rent (this will help the government since the government will be buying these for citizens).
7. Make corporations pay a carbon tax.
8. Make individuals pay a carbon tax, if they are above a certain income threshold.
9. End homelessness by putting them in apartments (moral and cost saving!)
10. Gradually phase out Obamacare and replace it with Medicare for All, which is more efficient for patients and taxpayers.
You don't have to find these ideas feasible or even agree with them all in principle. I just wanted to share with you what real left wing ideas look like, since I'm guessing you haven't seen them a while.
I'm not committed to these proposals as a platform or as a doctrine. I'm happy to discuss them with you all and potentially change my thinking (here, yet again, is a hallmark of left-wing thought, open-mindedness.)
Please let me know what you think.
UPDATE: Replies based on discussion
For the land tax, I'm a fan of wide open spaces, too. And I don't think developments just have to be buildings, parks are fine. What I'm opposed to is big, empty dirt lots in major urban areas, which are owned just to speculate on the future development of the land. Often they are sold to other developers who also would prefer to wait before building on them.
For the phrase "equality of outcome," what I meant is that everyone ought to have a level out outcome which is equal, provided by the state, just for being a citizen. On top of that, people can also get jobs if they want, but nobody ought to be saddled with a job they don't want. It's not completely equal, I recognize that, because citizens could earn more if they wished.. But the point is that nobody should be expected to "play the game" if they'd prefer to spend their lives doing other things. I've changed the text to reflect this.
One good question is how can creativity be measured quantitatively. I don't know. It would have to be using a flawed, subjective criterion. However, I do know that the focus would at least be better. Right now the focus is getting kids to "test well" (or cheat well) and that is also flawed and subjective. But imagine an education system where teachers put as much energy into art projects, music, drama, and engineering projects as we currently put into tests and sports.