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Sun, Sept. 22

Cantlon: Socialism? Whhaaat?

There’s a lot of talk about socialism and questioning of capitalism, and it’s almost all wrong. No one wants real socialism; you love the pieces of what is sometimes mislabeled as socialism that you already have, and no one wants to end capitalism.

Socialism is not just social programs. It is the government owning and running companies, like cases of some South American country taking over oil companies and industry generally. (Merriam-Webster. Look it up. As opposed to communism, which is no private property at all.) No one is talking about the government taking over a bunch of companies.

(Okay, when I say “no one” I mean generally. You can always find a few for any cause, for real socialism, or who wish the country was run by their church leaders, or for a nation of their color only, or whatever. Setting them aside.)

Even people who tell poll-takers they prefer socialism, even Bernie Sanders who’s described himself as a socialist, they may use the word, but look at what they really want and it’s just more social programs

Debates about our social programs, which ones we want and of what size, are important, but don’t fall for knee-jerk opposition. You love some of them: Medicare and Social Security (which are social programs because you’ll probably draw more than you put in), K-12 education, CHIP health care for kids, low-income home-energy assistance, Pell grants for college students, FHA assisted mortgages for lower down-payments and interest rates, farm subsidies and buying up the extra and all of those agricultural programs that help both the farmers and we customers, renewable energy programs that help us transition quicker to better and cheaper energy, veterans’ care and benefits, and on and on.

There’s also a lot of supposed questioning of capitalism. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, and others worry that some are questioning capitalism. Yeah? Where? Again, it’s a misuse of terms. Even people who think they’re questioning capitalism, aren’t. If your friend is starting a tiny side business and you chip in a couple hundred, you’re a capitalist. If you want to do more with your retirement funds than keep them under the mattress, you’ll be participating in capitalism. No one is against that.

What citizens on both sides of the aisle are against is the way money rules everything, all too often corrupts everything, pushes the profit motive above all else, above the well-being of the people who do the work and live the lives which the economy is supposed to be for.

People who bandy these terms about lately are almost automatically revealing they don’t know what they mean. But there are two important questions that are driving these mislabeled debates.

One, how much of the damage done by the influence of money do we tolerate, and how much should be restrained? Like money in politics, like absurd prices for pharmaceuticals, like companies and regulators allowing products they know pollute us with dangerous chemicals but they keep selling them anyway, like money twisting the entire system in favor of powerful interests while thwarting people just trying to live and work?

Two, would some expansion of social programs be a good idea? College loan forgiveness? Green jobs support? Medicare for all?

These are legitimate, important debates, and they are not outside of the normal American experience or way of doing things. Nothing that questions the basics of how we operate.

If you hear people stirring up fear about socialism, consider whether it’s someone who likes stirring up fear, or benefits from it.

Socialism? Questioning capitalism? Pffft! Dig into what anyone is saying and you’ll find that’s not what they’re talking about. And all of this fear and mislabeling is an intentional effort, by people with political and profit motives, to sidetrack us from good debates we really need to be having.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at

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