American Socialism Explained

For decades, conservatives, libertarians, and just plain semi-reasonable homo sapiens have returned, with a combination of wonder and incredulity, to the question of how anyone, barring outright malevolence, could possibly continue to see socialism as in any way superior to, let alone more just than, the glorious success that is the American experiment in economic freedom and constitutionally limited government.

Here’s the answer:

In case your ears are unable to register words this remarkable, allow me to place the inaudible truth before your eyes. Remember, the speakers here are a New York Times editorial board member (NYTEBM) and a Peabody-Award-winning mainstream news anchor (PAWMNA), and the topic is the five hundred million dollars Michael Bloomberg has spent on presidential campaign advertising:

NYTEBM: Somebody tweeted recently that actually with the money he’s spent he could have given every American a million dollars.

PAWMNA: I’ve got it! Let’s put it up on the screen. When I read it, tonight on social media, it kind of all became clear. [Reading] “Bloomberg spent 500 million on ads. The U.S. population is 327 million — don’t tell us if you’re ahead of us on the math. He could have given each American ONE…MILLION…DOLLARS, and have had lunch money left over.” It’s an incredible way of putting it.

NYTEBM: It’s an incredible way of putting it. It’s true. It’s disturbing. It does suggest…you know, what we’re talking about here — there’s too much money in politics. 

And there, I believe, all joking aside, is the real reason there are still socialists in America, and that they are still able to get a hearing in the public square, to run for president, and to be taken seriously by highly educated people. 

What do I mean by that? What is the “reason” I am citing? This: If the idea that a single rich businessman could give a million dollars to each American without even cutting too deeply into his reserves sounds intuitively plausible to you — that is, if you don’t immediately, unblinkingly shout “Huh?” upon seeing such a statement — then the neo-Marxist, Occupy-Wall-Street-style hatred of “the one percent” starts to make sense. I mean, if one businessman could make all Americans millionaires today by just coughing up a small fraction of his personal fortune, then the fact that this businessman, and hundreds of others like him, expects everyone else to go to work for a living for forty years, suddenly starts to look like avarice on an absolutely Satanic scale. Why are there old people scrimping and saving on their pensions, young people struggling at part-time jobs to pay for university, or sick people worrying about their insurance coverage, if one man, Michael Bloomberg alone, could alleviate everyone’s material concerns overnight, with a simple swoosh of his pen? What kind of monster would withhold so much from so many that would cost him so little?

If, on the other hand, you still have your marbles, and consider that Bloomberg’s $500 million, if divided evenly among “the ninety-nine percent,” would actually come to about a buck fifty per person, you realize the absurdity of holding “billionaires” personally responsible for anyone else’s non-wealth. In fact, if every Michael Bloomberg in America, i.e., every billionaire, matched the contribution that the combined genius of the New York Times and NBC are imagining from Bloomberg, this would add up to a one-time personal boost of $834 for every American — less than two week’s income on minimum wage in New York State — and that’s with 540 billionaires pitching in half a billion dollars each.

Again, the issue here goes beyond a simple math error. We are talking about highly educated adults, with high-level employment specifically in the field of political opinion, who did not instinctively feel that something was inherently absurd about the thought that one billionaire’s money might be enough to make everyone else in the country rich, if only he would share it. 

Half a billion dollars. In a country whose federal government just allotted $8.3 billion in aid for the coronavirus outbreak. If Bloomberg’s $500 million could make everyone a millionaire, then that aid package could have made everyone a millionaire sixteen times over. Who would need (or want) such an aid package, if you could just directly give every citizen $16 million?

The U.S. national debt is now over $22 trillion. As conservatives and libertarians are fond of pointing out, this means that every American has about $67,000 of federal debt sitting on his head. 

Think about it. $22 trillion, divided over the U.S. population, equals about $67,000. On that scale, if Bloomberg alone could make everyone a millionaire, then he would personally be worth more than $328 trillion

A few years ago, libertarian comic Andrew Heaton made a very fun and scary video about the U.S. national debt, in which he observed that the current debt “is not just a lot of money. It’s all of the money. If we could round up all of the U.S. currency in existence — every dollar bill, every quarter, every penny — we’d still need another eighteen trillion dollars. All the gold that’s ever been mined couldn’t even cover half of our debt.”

And yet the two elite thinkers in that NBC clip had no trouble imagining that Michael Bloomberg’s mere campaign advertising expenses are fifteen times greater than the national debt.

So, why are there still socialists in America? Answer: Because, thanks to the current state of American education, there are tens of millions of people — as evidenced by the fact that two such individuals can achieve lucrative careers in the elite media, rather than being limited to cleaning toilets — who do not bat an eye, do not raise an eyebrow, do not reflexively exclaim “What the hell!” at the suggestion that one rich man has enough money to make every one of his fellow Americans wealthy, if only he wished to do so. 

The seething envy that drives socialist thinking and activism in all times and places seems a lot less sinful — almost a reasonable moral position, in fact — if we begin from the vague premise that the only thing preventing every citizen from living a life of ease and luxury is that “the rich” simply prioritize their own interests above the universal wealth of their fellow citizens, which they could create in a heartbeat, if only they cared about their fellow man.

If, by contrast, you intuitively grasp that Michael Bloomberg’s entire net worth, if redistributed over the U.S. population, wouldn’t even pay for your annual subscription to the New York Times, then the petty envy and materialist greed of socialist thinking become much easier to recognize for what they are, and much harder to mask.

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