Democratic Socialism

What’s in a Name?

I am alarmed by the promotion of socialism in America today. Proponents throw out definitions and make distinctions between socialism, communism and what they are calling Democratic Socialism and even Social Democracy. Does giving it a better sounding name makes it a better thing? Or do they think they have found a way to create a good version of an inherently bad thing? It is as if what makes socialism a bad thing is purely in the details of implementation. And they know a way to create the utopia without the oppression, starvation, and disasters that have historically followed previous attempts.

In reality, what makes any brand of socialism bad is the principles upon which it is based – principles which are directly in opposition to the principles upon which the United States was founded. To think that such conflicting principles can be merged into a successful system is unrealistic.

A Little History –
Foundations of American Government

I studied Karl Marx, and admit that some of his ideas sound rather good – in theory. This is especially so when understood in light of the system of aristocratic oppression of peasants from which he came. But this kind of oppression is a far cry from anything experienced in America today.

American colonists rejected this same aristocratic system in creating the United States of America. A fundamental principle of our government is the right to own private property and subsequent associated rights. It is true that this opportunity initially was not available to everyone, but it was available to many more than the “1 percent”-ish, wealthy land-owning class in the Europe they left.

Our government is based upon principles of personal choice and self-direction. It encourages initiative, innovation, free enterprise, personal development and prosperity. In such a system, some obviously prosper more than others, but otherwise there is little or no incentive for excellence or improvement. Consequences, positive or negative, are always connected to choice.

The Fallacy of “Rule by the People”

Our government was designed to keep a balance of power between branches of government and with representation of the people. Socialism presents itself as “rule by the people” because it sprung out of an effort to eliminate a elite ruling class, but the reality is that it creates an opportunity for a different, but very powerful ruling government entity.

Government is actually controlled by people – either “we the people” as a whole with each having some say in a representative manner, or a government controlled by a single dictator or a powerful group or “party”. The idea of “democratic socialism” is basically using democratic principles of choice/vote to get citizens to voluntarily give up control to a government, which most likely will become powerful and oppressive. There are always those waiting to take control and exercise power that citizens relinquish.

Democratic Socialism?

It is naive to think that you could take from socialism some good things and merge them with democracy and have something better. How could one guarantee economic benefits without decreasing liberty? How could one prevent the negative aspects of socialism becoming part of the system?

The costs of socialism would involve more than money, but also a loss of freedom. The distinction that “democratic socialism” is better than communism or plain socialism because it takes into account the choice of the people, is a misleading assumption. The majority might vote into effect socialistic laws, but then those laws become binding on everyone. There is no ability to “opt out” of compliance, but rather there are serious penalties for those who did not personally choose. Such socialism gives tremendous power to the state. In effect, the choice to vote for socialism is actually a choice to give away freedom.

If government becomes the giver of all good things to everyone, someone has to pay for all this. It is unrealistic to think that it will all be free. If the government is the giver of everything, it also becomes the taker. Taxes have to increase for everyone, not just the rich. The rich, being taxed more greatly, would be enticed to leave the country taking with them their earning potential, goods and services, and leaving employees without jobs and the government without their taxes.

Human Nature

The underlying issues and the reason socialism has and will continue to fail, is basically human nature. True economic equality can not be accomplished by compulsion or legislation when you recognize the core issues of selfishness and greed. You can’t cure the greed of the wealthy by taking away from them and giving to the greedy poor who want what they have not earned. Greedy politicians will always ensure that they get more than everyone else.

History has shown that even by physically eliminating (killing off) the wealthy, educated and prosperous, another group – government – steps in to assume the position of power and control, leaving the masses no better off and likely much worse off. The few, now government officials, will glut on the labor of the people. And history has shown that tyranny follows.

There will never be true equality in a society unless and until all of the people, especially those in leadership positions, are equally good, righteous and selfless. All must be willing to put the welfare of others and the good of society above their own self interests. I don’t see this happening in the USA of today. There will always be those individuals who thirst for and then abuse power. A socialist system gives them a great opportunity, which can easily be seen in a study of history.

Why this Generation?

The real irony to me is the support of socialism by a “me-generation” – one that has grown up being told how special they are, getting and expecting attention for everything they do, and feeling entitled to anything that anyone else has. How could socialism possibly work with such people? Do they really think that by all getting free stuff that they want, that it can still be “all about me”?

Communism/socialism treats the masses as “comrades” – all the same, nothing special about any, all insignificant workers, easily replaced by any other warm body. Is this really what they want – to be just a nameless number in a system? Or are they just short-sighted, thinking only of getting something without any personal effort? Did they really buy into the idea that they were individually that special when they all got the same participation trophy? Or did they just come to expect any reward that anyone else got because it would not be fair for some to get something that others did not?

Do they think that things like a guaranteed job with a living wage would mean that they – these young people who feel that menial physical labor is beneath them – get the kind of job they choose? Historically those government guaranteed jobs have been things like working in rice paddies, mines and factories.

Do they think that a house for everyone means they get the house they want in the neighborhood where they want to live? Historically government guaranteed housing has been government assigned sub-standard housing built by workers who have no incentive to do good work.

Maybe the appeal of socialism seems natural for those who have come to feel entitled, but that is a deceptive seduction. In buying into it, they may get what they feel entitled to, but it is an empty prize – meaningless because in accepting it, they lose any uniqueness, individuality or personal sense of accomplishment.

Agency and Liberty

The purpose of government should be to facilitate the free exercise of agency, to protect and promote liberty. Government guarantees however, tend to come with increased government control and less freedom to choose. This inconsistency of this with the value we Americans place on the rights of personal choice should be obvious.

American Dream vs Socialist Fantasy

We are hearing much about Socialism these days. A study of history should show that this does not turn out well. However those promoting Socialism in America propose that their version would bring all of the benefits without any of the problems.

Before we get all excited about getting free stuff, I think we need to understand some fundamental principles upon which our government and American society was founded. The principles underlying Socialism are in direct opposition to the principles underlying democracy and our way of life – the American Dream.

In the Beginning

The founders of our country wanted a government that didn’t interfere or impede personal pursuit of happiness. In the world they came from peoples’ lives were limited by the circumstances of their birth. They sought to eliminate those constraints and place everyone on the same ground. That does not mean there are not limits, but rather than limits imposed by culture or government, all are limited by their own personal desire, initiative and effort.

There were no guarantees of prosperity given to these new Americans by their newly established government. Just opportunity and guarantees that the government would not restrict their rights. The prosperity of the Nation was dependent upon the prosperity of its citizens. They prospered through their initiative and hard work. Their efforts benefited not only themselves and their families, but they also contributed to society. When everyone contributes, society prospers.

A Living Wage

One expectation of this new socialism is that everyone is entitled to an income sufficient for them not just to live – but to live comfortably, or in a manner in which they would like. They use the term “a living wage”. The reality is that people all over the world are “living” on very little income, especially compared to what most people in this country make. Even those living near poverty in this country live better than many in the world.

Wages are based, not on needs of the worker, but on what the work is worth – the value of it to an employer or someone seeking a service. Therefore, some jobs are “worth” more than others. Usually there has been a significant investment in time and effort and experience to meet requirements for certain jobs, therefore the pay for those is higher – they are worth more.

Adjusting the Wage Gap

There are two ways to approach insufficient income – decrease expenses or increase income. Many would simply suggest pay everyone more. But it is more complicated than that.

At times I have said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that the reason my husband and I enjoy relative financial security is that we “live like poor people”. Basically, we learned to live and be comfortable living “beneath our means”. We could have, like many other people, gone into great debt to have a bigger house, nicer cars, lots of toys and expensive vacations. We adjusted our “wants” to invest in our future, so that now retired, we are comfortable and have a sense of security.

This seems to be a hard concept for many, especially young people who have come to see as necessities many things that I easily lived without for years. When things get hard, there is a great distinction to be seen between “life sustaining” and “lifestyle maintaining”. So “living wage” based on the idea of “life sustaining” would include only basics. Heat and electricity and food are life sustaining. With limited income, adjustments can and should be made on expenses.

Of course, the other way to fix the disparity is to increase income. In other words, find a job that pays better. This of course, is easier said than done. Knowing that wages are based on the value of the work done, the way to do that is to increase personal work value. It likely will require gaining more education or training to qualify for a higher paying job. This is where initiative and effort come in. It also may require delayed gratification and sacrifice to increase one’s value to employers.

The idea of the same pay for menial labor that can be done by someone with no education or training and professional work by someone with a Degree and specialized training removes the value and worth of the education and training. It removes any incentive for people to better themselves to improve their financial situation. It would dumb down the work force.

Simply “giving” jobs to everyone without even the effort of applying – the effort to sell an employer on the “worth” of your labor – results in workers with no ambition. This is even greater when the jobs given are those the person has no interest, desire or ability to do. The quality of goods and services will go down. No one really benefits.

Free College Education

Education is an investment. It takes time and effort. It requires delayed gratification and sacrifice. Many in my generation and generations before really did “live like poor people” while pursuing an education. It may take years to finish the education process, then more years of experience to get the full benefit of that investment.

The idea of financial aid for education, in the way of scholarships, grants and even student loans, should also be seen as an investment. It is not a handout, a given, an entitlement. It is not simply based on need. Those receiving such aid must take some initiative and put forth effort to apply. They must give those providing the money some assurance that this money will be well spent. They are investing in someone who will eventually give back to society in some way.

To take away any requirements, any process involving effort to apply, also takes away any accountability for how that money is used. Where is the incentive to study and do well if the money keeps coming anyway? The idea that everyone is entitled to 4 years of extended adolescent partying, while taking some classes, does nothing to benefit society. Sure they may learn some things along the way and get a Degree, but without learning responsibility and accountability, what kind of citizens will they make?

Free Housing

The promise of housing for every American sounds too good to be true – because it is. The dream of the colonists and early Americans was to own property and be able to do with it as one chooses. In the Europe they came from, there were a few very wealthy people owning most of the property.

Early Americans of course, didn’t arrive on the frontier to find a nice house and well kept yard waiting for them. They obtained some land and then “improved” it. They sweated to remove trees, cultivate land, dig ditches, build houses and other buildings. It took a great deal of work. Because of that effort, they took pride in the results. They worked more to maintain, expand and continue to improve their property.

Homes, like jobs become better with effort. They are an investment. Having them given to you without effort, removes the responsibility and accountability. If “free housing” is given, it comes with the expectation of “free maintenance”. It is the owner’s responsibility, right? We often see this with rental property. What incentive is there for tenants to improve what does not belong to them? What incentive is there for landlords to improve what they do not have to live in?

There are many homeless people in our country, and varying causes for that homelessness. Some are homeless because the costs of housing are too high. So what is the solution for them? Have the government pay for them to live in a nice house? Or provide incentives for builders to build housing that they could afford? This may not be as big or nice a house as someone else’s, but probably much nicer than a cardboard box on the street (or the makeshift shanties many in other countries live in).

Some people are homeless because they choose to be. We value freedom of choice in this country. “Free housing” would eliminate choice of where, and often how one lives.

The Choice

So even though the idea of free stuff for everyone sounds wonderful, it is a fantasy. History has shown us that Socialism cannot provide benefits without cost. The costs may not be so much monetary as they are losses of freedom. We loose our right to choose – a right that ironically seems so vitally important to the same people who advocate Socialism.

This country and our government were built upon principles of individual liberty, self-determination, personal responsibility and accountability. The role of government essentially should be to insure those inalienable rights of life and liberty and allow us “the pursuit of happiness” as we see fit. It is indeed a dream. Maybe a dream not realized the same for everyone, but the dream is available to all.

The alternative is truly a fantasy. A fantasy that in practice likely will turn into a nightmare.

Flattering Words

I have been intrigued by the phrase “flattering words” used frequently in the scriptures. It is usually in reference to the tactics of Satan.

What is Flattery?

Flattery involves saying nice things – giving attention or praise to someone. Definitions suggest it is untrue or insincere, excessive or exaggerated. The intent is to please others, win their favor or approval, or ingratiate them so they will feel that they owe you something or need to reciprocate. It may seem to be a good thing to make someone feel better through compliments or praise, but at the heart flattery is dishonest. There is something false about it.

The real intent is not to build up, but to influence. There is an underlying attempt to manipulate, to get someone to do something or encourage them to follow. It is seductive – we trust the flatterer, conform and follow to receive more. Flattery pretends to be our friend acting in our best interest, but in the end it is self-serving on behalf of the flatterer.

Flattery can use partial truth – stating something we already believe, preceded by a seductive “if” and followed by “then you will. . .” With all of the #MeToo attention lately about inappropriate behavior, it occurred to me that this is precisely how sexual predators work. The are expert in using flattering words. “You are special” “I can make you a star”.

The real lie is not that we are inherently bad or worthless, rather than wonderful as the flatterer tells us. The lie is that doing the wrong things will bring us the approval, praise or attention that we seek.

Promoting Pleasure

What could be more flattering that encouragement to “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.” 2 Nephi 28:7

I had an interesting conversation when the question was asked “If you knew the world would end tomorrow, what would you do with your last day today?” Many of the comments were about “bucket list items”, like adventures, taking that last opportunity to some fun thing that they had always wanted to do. The flatterer would convince us that a fulfilled life is a life full of pleasure, and we would should not deny ourselves any enjoyable thing.

How self-centered to think that life should provide never ending opportunities for our entertainment and enjoyment. Never mind that many of those things which are presented as “pleasurable” come with some rather painful and unpleasant consequences. The flattery also comes with the promise that there will be no negative consequences.

Which leads to the next flattery . . .

. . . When God is inserted into flattering words.“God loves all his children just the way they are and wants them to be happy” so therefore whatever makes one happy is good, approved by God and should be encouraged. This is the kind of flattery which would cause parents to think they were good parents for allowing their children a steady diet of sugar, no schedule for sleep, meals or anything, and fully encourage dangerous play.

Preventing Accountability

As Satan flattered Cain with the idea that he could kill and have his brother’s flocks and no one would know, he flatters us that our sins, flaws and mistakes can be secret. Flattery also tries to convince us that we can do whatever we want and nothing bad will happen, results will always be in our favor.

Nehor, in the Book of Mormon used these very flattering words to lead the people astray: “all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.” (Alma 1:4)

One of Satan’s strategies to destroy agency is to remove accountability. The flattery is that we can do whatever we want without negative consequences. We can have pleasure without pain.

Pride & Popularity

Flattery plays to human vanity – the fault of pride. We all want to feel that we are okay. We love to hear “you are wonderful”, “you are beautiful”.

We are told to tell ourselves affirmations – to “Love yourself”, “celebrate your uniqueness”.  It is true that many of us have tendencies toward constant self-criticism and positive affirmations help counter that, however both can be manifestations of an unhealthy focus on self. When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we are especially vulnerable to flattering words, as if hearing from someone else that we are wonderful will make it so.

Pride really desires to feel that we are more than okay, that we are somehow better than others. “It is all about me.” Flattery feeds the comparisons of pride – to be smarter, more beautiful, more accomplished, more successful than others. It makes us feel that we are more than we know we actually are. But we want to believe that others think more of us, so we eat it up.

This kind of flattery prevents any real improvement. If we are okay – or more than okay – there is no need for change or progress. Add to that the flattery that rather than change yourself, everyone else should have to adjust to accommodate you, because you are perfect the way you are.

Pursuing Power

Connected to pride is the pursuit of power. If you are convinced of your superiority – you are smarter or better than others – you naturally should have power over other inferiors. Control, dominion and compulsions follow. Flattery convinces those with power that they are deserving and it is okay to use that power for their selfish desires rather than any sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.

Flattery lead to thinking that you are your own god. You are the supreme authority over self, and therefore not subject to restrictive rules or authority.

False Prosperity -Wealth Without Work

Connected to a lack of accountability is the flattering idea of gaining wealth without work. Lotteries make huge amounts of money by flattering us that we could become rich – and think that we should be rich. Pride causes us to compare with others and to envy and covet.

Such flattery leads people to seek the “vain things of the world” or “treasures” that really have no lasting worth. I find it interesting that “vain and foolish” are paired together so much in scripture.

Flattery about worldly wealth encourages dishonesty and deceitfulness – lies that ends justify means. Flattery feeds entitlement, the idea that you have some “right” to have anything you want and that you deserve any good thing that anyone else has. Flattering words fuel socialism – the promises of “free” things without mention of the real cost of loss of freedom.

Precepts of Men

The flattery here is in our own wisdom, or the pleasing philosophies of men. The result is in effect setting up things like science, “learned” experts, or even ourselves as god. We can create our “own truth” rather than acknowledge actual truth. We then can feel “authentic” when living by our self-defined reality. “Be true to yourself” is really code for “embrace your natural man”. Flattery convinces us that the natural man is our authentic self and should be embraced and affirmed rather than overcome.

All flattery is a tool of the adversary to shift our focus to ourselves, to the “vain things of the world” which bring no lasting happiness, and to draw us away from God, the source of all that is good.

I Don’t Want to be an Adult, Either

What does it really mean to be an adult?

I read an article by a Millennial who at age 36 still didn’t feel like an adult. The main idea I got from this was that somehow – partly because of circumstances beyond their control – the trappings of “adulthood” have eluded many Millennials. The indicators of adulthood that this person was looking at were basically “things” – career, house, family – which to them define “adulthood”. Not having found all of those at an age when earlier generations had, they don’t feel like adults. They feel that “the economic and emotional benefits promised by adulthood are overrated.”

Me as an Adult

I considered myself an adult at 22 years old. I had graduated from College and got a real job. But looking at those “things” Millennials consider requirements for adulthood, I would not have qualified. I was not married. I lived in an apartment with two roommates and was certainly not successfully established in my career yet.

Adulthood is about being independent, responsible, self-reliant and making a contribution to society.

My determination of adulthood is not based on those “things”, as if they could be checked off a list and then you had arrived. To me adulthood is about being independent, responsible, self-reliant and making a contribution to society – things that have more to do with character than age or income level. These are qualities that reflect a shifting from a “what I want” and “what can everyone do for me” focus to more of an “I can take care of myself” and “what can I do to better care for others” perspective. Maybe this is what Millennials are really missing?

Its not about you

External economic circumstances may have contributed to Millennials feeling that things are working against them, but their focus still seems to be on self – the career that hasn’t worked out the way they wanted, not having the nice home and all the things their parents worked for years for. There is an attitude that somehow by reaching a particular age all of these things should have just been given to them as “promised”. Even the lack of a spouse and children seems to be focused on their lack of something, rather than the natural adult desire to turn outward to nurture and teach and guide the next generation.

Benefits or Opportunities?

No one “promised” me or my generation “benefits” of adulthood. The 22 year old adult me had to learn to solve her own problems. Mom and Dad were not far away, but I didn’t run to them to fix everything. I worked hard to support myself financially and had to learn to prioritize and budget to be able to acquire material things. I learned to serve others and find joy in that, rather than just pursuing adventures and entertainment and activities that I found to be fun.

Sadly, I have read some obituaries lately of 36-years-olds who died way too young. Some of them told about exciting adventures, many friends and good times, as if that was all that should fill 36 years of life. I can’t help but contrast this with obits of people my age which mention children and grandchildren and enjoying time spent with them. They mention professional accomplishments, but also public service and volunteer work.

Am I there yet? Do I want to be?

As an aging baby boomer, I guess I could also conclude that I have not arrived at adulthood because I failed to get all of those “benefits” that supposedly come with adulthood. I didn’t have a long prestigious career, a huge beautiful house and all kinds of luxuries. I haven’t traveled the world and associated with important people. I am not successful as some might define it.

But even with my definition of adulthood I find myself these days having thoughts like “I don’t want to be an adult anymore”. I get weary of the responsibility of taking care of all of the messy details of maintaining a home and a life, and dealing with difficult people. I want someone else to make the hard decisions. It would be really nice not to have to worry about anything and just be entertained. I would like to be taken care of for a change.

But then, I pull up my big girl pants and get to work doing something that will help someone else. Because I am an adult.

Prosperity

“Inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land.”

In the Book of Mormon we repeatedly hear the admonition given to residents of this continent: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land.” In that Book we also see this played out in what is commonly known as “the pride cycle”. With righteous living there is prosperity. This is first seen in growth, development, progress, and general contentment without conflict. Gradually it tends to grow into wealth, at least for some. Then the cycle turns as the focus on material wealth creates divisions with the haves seeking more and feeling superior to the have-nots. Eventually it leads to destruction, either through conflicts within or weakening and vulnerability to attacks from enemies. In the Book of Mormon this often cycled back when war and devastation humbled everyone.

It is common for us to equate prosperity with wealth. Recently I heard a comment that prosperity is more about happiness than money. Definitions of prosper include synonyms like succeed, thrive, flourish, and grow in a vigorous way. Wealth may be a by-product of prosperity, but it can be dangerous to think of it as the sole definition or the ultimate goal.

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