The blogger Exodus Mentality is running a survey with results, and the rationale for the exercise, to come later. The question: If you were given the choice between (a) having all the money you needed to do everything you and your family could ever dream of doing for yourselves, or (b) every person in the world having adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and educational opportunities, which would you choose? According to the replies found in the comments to the article I was the fourteenth person to answer. So far it looks like five people chose (a) while the remainder chose (b). I found the survey interesting and wait with much anticipation for the final results as well as the motivation for it.
A couple of response in particular got me to thinking. One replier answered (a) and commented, “B is the welfare state. That stuff has been holding us back for 40 years.” What would prompt someone to believe that a system that provided for everyone’s basic needs would keep us (I’m assuming the responder means black people) from progressing? In fact, I believe that just the opposite is true. A social system of governance that provides for everyone is a utopia to be embraced and not feared.
When people want to name examples of countries with social systems that are supposedly designed for the benefit of the entire population, North Korea, China, Russia, and Cuba usually come to mind. But there are some seriously extenuating circumstances for the condition of these countries.
When Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, the organization of socialist states was already in an economic state of decline. Mr. Gorbachev wanted to revitalize the government with a series of reforms designed to introduce a new emphasis of political openness (glasnost) and economic reconstruction (perestroika). These concepts were seriously radical to a system that ruled people with an iron fist. However, conservative members of the soviet’s elite worked to actively block the process of change. Countries that comprised the Eastern bloc began to voice their desire for independence from Moscow. The hardliners against his policies eventually tried an ill fated coup in August 1991. Although the coup was unsuccessful it resulted in a weakening of Mr. Gorbachev’s political clout and increased the political power of Gorbachev’s eventual successor Boris Yeltsin. Yet, Mr. Yeltsin leadership suffered from corruption and incompetence. The Yeltsin government has been accused of conspiring with insiders to loot countless billions in cash and assets from the State. People decided to put their personal benefit before the benefit of the people they were elected or selected to protect. However, although communistic neither Russia nor the Soviet Union could be considered a welfare state.
The United States has imposed an economic embargo on Cuba since February of 1962. For over forty-five years the country has struggled not because it offers healthcare and education for its entire population, but because the United States wants to make Cuba an example of economic ruin to any other country who wants to defy our government’s wishes. Since 1991 the United Nations annually condemns the embargo.
Prior to its collapse in 1989, the Soviet bloc, headed by the Soviet Union, was credited for keeping the Cuban economy afloat However, sine then, Cuba has been able to survive by building trade with European countries despite the continuing United States embargo. The fact that Cuba continues its defiance is a testament to its social programs. Many corporations in the United States are circling over Cuba, like vultures over a man dying of thirst in the desert, waiting to hear the word that Fidel Castro has died so they can swoop in and be the first to capitalize on the embargo being lifted. Unfortunately, there are way too many people in Cuba who have the personal benefit mindset, waiting for Mr. Castro to croak, who are looking to get paid and enjoy an economic bonanza while the rest of the population remains in an economic pit.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, otherwise known as Korea suffered from its own extenuating circumstances. At the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided in two with the Soviet Union controlling the north and the United States controlling the south. The two divergent governing philosophies resulted in the Korean War. When the dust settled and the Korean War Armistice Agreement signed in July of 1953, the result with the Korean Demilitarized Zone that now separates the north and south.
North Korea thrived until the Soviet collapse in the early part of the 1990s. At the same time, North Korea’s other major source of economic support, China, began to normalize its relationship with South Korea. Virtually abandoned by its major trading partners, after suffering record breaking flooding followed by several years of drought, and the mismanagement of economic policies favoring the development of heavy industry at the expense of agriculture and light industry, North Korea found itself unable to pay its trade debt. North Korea enacted an economic policy totally focused on its military. Although the North Korean economic system is completely managed by the state, there’s serious doubt that it could be referred to as a welfare state.
Many people view China as the world’s next superpower. The Chinese government is in a state of transition from communism to a form of capitalism based on a market economy. The Chinese history of governance was totally focused inward on its domestic policies. However, with the United States ratcheting global tensions and with Russia ill equipped to counter the American agenda, China is beginning to focus its attention globally. China has entered trade agreements around the world. Many of Chinese new trade partners are countries in Africa and South America that the United States pretty much takes for granted. Economically, China is an up and coming juggernaut enjoying a massive trade surplus with the United States as well as controlling well over one hundred forty billion dollars of credit to the United States. But China is far from being considered a welfare state with universal healthcare.
In order to refute the argument for policies that actually benefit the entire population, people want to point to countries that practice some form of communism as unsuccessful forms of socialism. But many countries that have equitable policies for their populations are far from being socialistic. For example, other Cuba, universal healthcare is actually enacted in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, and the UK are among many countries that have various types of universal health care systems. All that malarkey about it being too expensive is just a fear tactic to keep the country from trying. We can’t offer universal healthcare but we can go to war and spend a half trillion dollars and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
A study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranked the United States eighteenth out of twenty-four nations in terms of the effectiveness of its educational system. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, shows a decline in the performance of American students when compared to students in other countries. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, and the UK beat the United States. According to David Marsh, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Education, “In fourth grade, American kids do above average internationally. By eighth grade, they slip a bit, and by twelfth grade, they’ve slipped a lot. We’re the only country that slides down that much from fourth to twelfth grade.”
Economically the United States is arguably the richest country in the world. Yet, the richest country in the world suffers from disproportionately poor poverty ranking. As of 2006 the United States was ranked eighteenth out of the twenty-one countries listed as part of the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living to determine if a country is developed, developing, or underdeveloped. Of the developed countries, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the UK enjoy poverty rankings that are less than the United States.
In these comparisons a number of countries keep showing up over and over again as bettering the United States in its distribution of resources throughout the entire population. And one doesn’t have to guess which direction the United States is heading. Many people find it way too easy to say we can’t do for everybody so let’s just do for the ones that matter. But in the long run, selfishness and individualism will not sustain a community. The community that consists of individuals who are willing to put their personal desires ahead of the needs of everyone will cease to be a community.