4 Ways Socialism Is a Cure for American Exceptionalism

The form of socialism embraced here is more accurately a social democracy, "a compromise between the market and the state." Our American exceptionalism derives in part from neoliberal and neoconservative demands that we be unconstrained by domestic or foreign governments. 

1. Environment: Drones Dropping Seeds Instead of Bombs 

China has planted 66 billion trees since 1978 in an effort to stem desertification. Its "shelterbelt" program, which has shown mixed results, has its origins in a project implemented here in the U.S., in the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, when the FDR administration planted a 1,000-mile line of trees to fight erosion on the Great Plains. The plan worked. In recent years, millions of federal dollars have been committed to restoring and managing longleaf pine forests

The planting of trees is a simple, effective, earth-saving, job-creating idea, especially if military resources could be diverted to the endeavor. A company called BioCarbon Engineering hopes to plant billions of trees by using drones to disburse seedlings. 

Capitalism equates to profit-making, and profit-making abounds in the fossil fuel industry. But cooperative energy solutions await us in solar and wind, which are expected to provide 100 percent of our energy needs within a few decades, if the will of the people prevails over market forces. 

2. Schools: Yes, We Can Actually Learn from Other Countries 

Finland's schools were considered mediocre 30 years ago, but the country has achieved a remarkable turnaround by essentially challenging the teachers before they're entrusted with the welfare of the children. Most Finnish teachers are unionized, and they undergo rigorous masters-level training to ensure proficiency in the teaching profession, which is held in the same high esteem as law and medicine. In keeping with this respect for learning, government funding is applied equally to all schools, classes in the arts are available to all students and tuition is free. 

As a result, Finnish students finish at or near the top of international comparisons for literacy and math. 

3. Banks: How Many Credit Default Swaps Does One Family Need? 

Capitalism begets a financial industry with a quadrillion dollars in high-risk derivatives. The public bank of North Dakota, on the other hand, focuses on small business loans, often those unlikely to be issued by larger banks, except at prohibitive rates of interest. 

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, community banks, which hold less than one-fifth of industry assets, provide over half of all small business loans. 

4. Workplace: Closing the Wage Gap 

The Evergreen Cooperative in Cleveland demonstrates the ability of a desperately poor community to succeed where a typical capitalist solution would appear to be unprofitable. Evergreen runs a solar-powered and LEED-certified laundry service for nearby hospitals and universities, and it is developing a hydroponic greenhouse for the cultivation of lettuce and other produce. 

Other "socialist-style" enterprises include the Tennessee Valley Authority, serving the electrical energy needs of nine million customers, and so popular that local Republican politicians opposed privatization; and the publicly owned Internet service provider in Chattanooga, which provides much faster connectivity than the private companies. Gar Alperovitz lists numerous other successful ventures around the country. 

With American jobs rapidly disappearing, we need a new paradigm for the workplace. In the U.S., the most well-known example of a Guaranteed Income is the Alaska Permanent Fund, which has thrived for 35 years, even with anti-socialist conservatives in power. Texas, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Oregon are other states that employ trust funds from natural resources to benefit the public. Programs in Canada, Uganda and Kenya have reduced poverty while improving health, and a recent study of 18 European countries found "increasing employment commitment as social spending gets more generous"—in other words, dividend payments encourage people to work harder, rather than the other way around. 

Funding for a Guaranteed Income would likely come from a financial speculation tax, which would give the financial industry the opportunity to partly reimburse the nation for the technology, infrastructure and security that has contributed to one of the highest profit margins in the corporate world. 

A Modern Form of Socialism 

A sense of exceptionalism drives our foreign policy, and distances the "takers" in the 1 percent from the more social-minded and once-thriving middle-class. The political revolution that Bernie Sanders envisions will likely restore that social-mindedness. 

As Alperovitz explains, "What most people think of as socialism is that, with socialism, ownership of wealth and power is traditionally concentrated within the state and its national government. The vision that’s emerging in these experiments around the country is anathema to that. It begins in neighborhoods and communities, in cities and states. It’s about decentralizing power, changing the flow of power to localities rather than to the center." 

Less centralized government. Even conservative Republicans should like that. 

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