Aug 10, 2008

The "S" Word

Forgive me, but I need to vent.

With the upcoming election in the US, emotions are running high. And we Mormons are no exception. You could ask why I even care. I’m not American, I don’t live in America and I’m not even eligible to vote. So maybe what I say doesn’t really matter.
I was born and raised in Canada. The past six years I’ve lived in Norway. But I have strong ties to the US because of family, friends, and the fact that I grew up in a border town. I’ve travelled extensively through the US and every day I watch American TV, read American news, and am surrounded by American media. I love America and Americans. I think that America does a lot of things better than anyone else in the world. Taking care of its poor is just not one of them.

I find some of the online political debates interesting, particularly where Mormons are concerned. Liberals and Conservatives duke it out and both try to defend their points of view with scriptures and “what Jesus would do.” I’ve taken part in some of the discussions and have been surprised by some of the things I’ve read, particularly the resistance where health care is concerned. If Obama wins, he has his work cut out for him.

One person in one of the health care debates referred to me as “an unabashed socialist.” I’m not a political scientist, so I’m not going to get into a detailed analysis of my political leanings, except to say that my ideals best fit the label of “Social Democrat.” I don’t agree with everything regarding socialism, but all I can do is give my point of view and tell about what has worked for me. I’m not talking about the Soviet Union or North Korea here. I’m talking about good ol’ modern-day, western European democratic socialism. Socialism: the dreaded “S” word.

I’ll never say that the systems under which I’ve lived are perfect. I can point out plenty of problems and challenges that need to be addressed. However, I have to say that I get frustrated when American Mormons deem the systems of other countries to be a “failure” because we might have to wait a few months to get a non-emergency operation, or even “evil” because so-and-so prophet was a Republican. Some go as far as to say that you can’t be a “real” Democrat and a good Mormon. Or you can’t be a Democrat and a “real” Mormon. Some view Liberalism and Mormonism as the antitheses of each other. You can be one, but you can’t be both.

I saw the case of one member in the US who was adamantly against socialized health care and at the same time was trying to spread the word about raising money for a toddler’s liver transplant. It was a very admirable gesture and I certainly hope that the local ward came through with the funds to help this child. But if I needed a liver transplant, I’d be sleeping better at night if I knew that my government health plan was going to pick up the tab, than if my surgery was riding on my local ward, or whoever else, chipping in out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps I’ve just become too cynical over the years, but I just don’t have much faith in the charity of my fellow man. If I needed a transplant, I think my odds would be better if people are forced to pay taxes to fund my care than if they are given the choice. On top of that, I know that their turn will eventually come and they will need to see a doctor for whatever reason.

A government that includes things like socialized health care, or social benefits and programmes may not be the only solution. But has anyone come up with a better one? It may be superficial to do so, but I’m only going to look at the surface. I don’t live in a mansion and I don’t drive an Escalade. (If I did, I wouldn’t be able to afford the $12 USD/gallon gas!) We have to pay pretty hefty taxes and the cost of living is very high. It can be hard to keep your head above water and stay out of debt here, just like anywhere else. However, we don’t have to worry about who will pay if we have to go to the doctor, have surgery, chemotherapy, or get disabled. If we have to take some time off from work for illness, we won’t lose out on income. If we had kids, we could take time off to be with them during their first year of life or when they’re sick, without worrying about losing our jobs or pay. Some people here have a little and some have a lot, but the class difference is less evident and virtually everyone has what they need. Maybe not what they WANT, but what they NEED. When people have what they need (i.e. a roof over their heads, food on the table, basic healthcare), then they’re generally happy. A happy population with minimal poverty naturally results in less crime, which makes society generally safe, peaceful, and productive.

Canada and the Scandinavian countries have consistently topped the UN’s Human Development Index of the best countries in the world to live in. Since 1985, Canada or Norway has been first every year, except for 1991 and 1993 (Japan) and 2007 (Iceland). This is largely to do with health care and the state welfare systems. Somebody please tell me why this is bad for me and my fellow man?

You may say that it’s wrong for the government to restrict gun ownership. I say I’m relieved to know that if I tick off some guy in traffic, it’s very unlikely that he has a gun in his glove compartment. In my view, the less guns in society, the better. You may say that there’s more to it than just providing for the physical and temporal needs of a population. I say that basic, temporal needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing and basic health care) must be met before spiritual needs. You may say that providing health care or welfare should be up to charitable individuals and not the government. I say that even if the most charitable people have limited resources. You may say that we should be free from the burden of taxes. I say that you don’t get anything for nothing and the funds have to come from somewhere. You may say that we should be self-sufficient and not rely on the government for our needs. I say that part of the human experience is having to rely on each other and no matter how prepared or self-sufficient we are, we are dependent on each other.

So why are some American Mormons so adamant about defending a system that leaves so many people on the street when they should be in a hospital, or widens the gap between rich and poor? And what religious basis is there for this?

Scandinavian society has its faults and I could make a list of things that I don’t like about it, but it’s generally a peaceful, productive, equal society that cares for the basic needs of the people. Last I checked, that’s what the Lord wanted.

So, someone please tell me. Is God frowning on Scandinavian socialism? If so, please come and rescue me from this oppressive government.


Anonymous said...

Well said! That's all I can say.

Anonymous said...

I heard a radio interview a couple weeks back discussing socialized medicine (sorry if that's an inflammatory term) in Britain. The head of the British organization (I apologize that I don't have exact facts, but it was on NPR and the archive is probably on their website somewhere) was discussing that they ultimately have to turn peoples' requests down if a drug or treatment is too expensive for their framework. To me that's a big problem with socialized medicine. Some bureaucrat or committee deciding whether someone lives or dies.

I cannot address your last question as it is a loaded one. I don't think that the Lord is for or against socialism. Of course the kingdom of God is a dictatorship in my opinion, so I don't really hold a lot of orthodox views on reality.

I will say that just because there are problems with the American government doesn't mean the government is inherently evil, just like the Scandinavian or Canadian governments aren't inherently righteous based on the reasons you listed.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Anonymous, that definitely is a problem that needs to be addressed. Yes, it's true that sometimes the government plan won't cover a treatment or medication that's deemed experimental or for some other reason. I think that's a legitimate concern.

The problem that I see is that many Americans use these horror stories (which are not as common as they want to make you believe) and they want you to believe it's the norm. It's not. And they point their fingers at governments who decide who lives and dies while their HMO's are doing the exact same thing, and probably on a much grander scale.

People want you to believe that the doctors and hospitals in Canada, the UK, or Norway somehow don't care about their patients or that our hospitals are backwards or lousy because they're government-run. They make it sound like health care in any of these countries is below-standard or something to fear. And that's so far from the truth.

I agree with you completely that the US gov't is not inherently evil, as Scandinavian gov'ts are not inherently righteous. Both have their pros and cons and can learn from each other. But not everyone feels that way.

Here's a comment I just read today on an LDS blog:

"As far as socialism, I believe it is an evil. A moral evil… Satan’s counterfeit to genuine charity."

Once again, the socialist system is being equated with Satan's plan. It may have its faults, but I don't understand how taking care of each other in a peaceful society is what Satan wants.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one you've been debating over at TMB. I hope you know that I mean no offense to you or your country of residence.

I do stick by my opinion.. I think it is a moral wrong to steal from many to redistribute wealth. Robin Hood was a cool story, but not necessarily a hero. I do believe that socialism is a counterfeit to true charity - it is getting Big Brother to beat the money out of people because you don't trust them to give it voluntarily.

In the end, I believe in freedom, and I suspect that any free system in an unrighteous world will be accompanied by problems. Also, I believe there are only two proper kinds of government. I measure government by how proper it is... not by how "efficient" it is or how many problems it can solve. Some governments can solve more problems, but they can still be improper.

The two kinds of governments I believe are proper are these: 1) A government established directly by God, with leaders appointed directly by God. This kind of government can use force to do whatever is necessary, as the earth is God's anyways. 2) A government set up by the people, with authorities granted it by the people. This government is necessarily limited in its proper authority; it can have no more authority than the people who set it up. I have no moral authority to take money from my neighbor without his consent, therefore I cannot delegate that authority to my government. A government that does so derives its authority from thin air, for it cannot get it from the people (since the people don't have it) and God did not give it to them.

Simply put, I prefer that people be free to do what they please with their money. Freedom has costs and risks, and some of those risks are that people might (and probably will) use that money unrighteously. Such is freedom, though.

The Faithful Dissident said...


Let me comment on your 2 types of gov't.

1) A government established directly by God, with leaders appointed directly by God. This kind of government can use force to do whatever is necessary, as the earth is God's anyways.

-I agree, but we both know this is not going to happen until the Lord comes again.

2) A government set up by the people, with authorities granted it by the people. This government is necessarily limited in its proper authority; it can have no more authority than the people who set it up. I have no moral authority to take money from my neighbor without his consent, therefore I cannot delegate that authority to my government.

-I read your post from TMB and I think it's absolutely wrong to compare Norway with North Korea. You say that Norway is doing the same as North Korea, just that North Korea is taking more from its people. You are equating socialism with communism and that's unfair.

Let's analyze here:

"A government set up by the people"

-Last I checked, Canadians and Norwegians democratically elect their gov't officials. So the people is setting up their own gov't. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il don't fit that description.

"With authorities granted it by the people. This government is necessarily limited in its proper authority; it can have no more authority than the people who set it up."

-Meaning the authorities that the people have decided over time are proper and appropriate for the office of Prime Minister, Member of Parliament, etc. Kim Jong Il decided for himself what powers and authority he has and no one stops him.

"I have no moral authority to take money from my neighbor without his consent, therefore I cannot delegate that authority to my government."

-YOU should not have the right to tax your neighbour, but your gov't is YOU (OK, you may disagree PERSONALLY with your gov't, but that's what democracy is about. The majority of the people elected them to represent THEM, the people. Most Americans don't like Bush, but THEY elected him to power. If they're that sick of him and his policies, they'll vote out the Republicans in the coming election.). So, I asked you this before in the TMB discussion. Under your philosophy, why should anyone be forced to pax taxes to fund police fighting crime you don't commit, pave roads you'll never drive on, put out fires you don't start? Is your gov't overstepping its boundaries and robbing you of your freedom by doing so? You don't have a choice of whether or not you want to pay those taxes and neither do I. I just happen to pay more taxes because my gov't has a greater variety of benefits than yours and they view health care as something everyone should have. What's the difference? Why is my gov't, to quote you from TMB: “A totalitarian regime where all my money goes to the State, and then the State decides what to do with it."

Look at North Korea once again. The gov't is controlling everything and they don't have things like paved roads, infrastructure. They can't even feed their own people!

To say that Canada and Norway are doing the same as North Korea, even on a small scale, is ignorant. I don't mean to insult you as a person, but I do find it ignorant that anyone can believe that Stephen Harper or Jens Stoltenberg are operating the same way as Kim Jong Il.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Another thought, and this is regarding the role of charities in health care. I did an earlier post (Prayer Roll) about a co-worker of mine who has a brain tumour. A couple of days ago I found out that it was confirmed that he does indeed have brain cancer. If it was up to me and others to fund this young man's surgeries and treatment, of course I would want to help all I could. However, I prefer knowing that resposible gov't is funding it, even if it means as an extra cost to me as a tax payer, because if I had to chip in for medical treatment for everyone I know through donating to charity, then it would be hopeless. Not only that, but it would come at the expense of other groups of people who do rely entirely on charity, whether it be in this country or others. Every dollar that I spend donating to a charity to fund something that could be funded through taxes, comes at the expense of those who truly need it. I think of those in the world who truly are oppressed by corrupt governments who have failed their people. I think of countries like Haiti, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few, where entire infrastructures and people's lives are destroyed by corruption and totalitarianism. African countries who have a generation of kids growing up without parents because the government couldn't provide the education to prevent the spread of AIDS or the medical care to prolong the lives of people who have it. THOSE are the governments who have failed their people and THOSE are the people who need charity because their governments have left them out in the cold. Literally.

Fifthgen said...

I think a lot of the confusion comes from conflating (one of my favorite bloggernacle words) political systems with economic systems. Many Americans (including or especially Mormons) confuse democracy and capitalism. To them, free market = economic freedom, which sounds like political freedom, which we all know is good. So free market capitalism is good. Of course, this overlooks the fact that there is nothing wrong with a democratic society whose people choose another ecomonic system. Or that it is hard to be all that economically free if you are poor. As the Church becomes more international, I wonder if American Mormons will soften up on this point? I hope so.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem comes down to America's Cold War memory. McCarthyism and the Cold War era had a huge toll on the American Psyche. I mean for 40 years, the two worst things you could be accused of were being a Commy and a Pinko (Communist leaning, espousing some communist ideals, a la socialism). Red was the bad color - GI Joe vs. Cobra - It is deeply engrained that Eurpoean Socialism is the devil. Only the hippies were able to see some good in Communism, but then they lost credibility by carrying around pictures of Mao like he was God.

However, their ideological decendants (who, thankfully, are becoming a greater and greater influence in America) were able to get past the rediculous extremes and see the concept of Social Democracy for what it is. It seems like more and more the educated thinking branch of America is accepting such concepts, and in the future, we will move that way...which is why I can't get to excited about Obama or McCain's healthplans. I really think that it will be obsolete in 10 years because America will have joined the rest of the civilized world in socialized medicine.

The Faithful Dissident said...


The thing that I find interesting is that we're supposed to be a worldwide Church, but I think that non-American Mormons, at least the ones I've known in the countries that I've been, give very little thought as to whether their gov't is divinely sanctioned or what Ezra Taft Benson defined as good government. I think that for the vast majority, and for myself included, the important thing is whether your gov't provides us with a safe, peaceful, stable country and minimal services such as education, health care, sick leave, etc, for every citizen, and where everyone has the chance to reach his or her potential. I feel that countries like Canada and Norway are doing a very good job at that. Not perfect, but good. So does God really not think it's a good thing?

Lisa said...

I think far too many LDS people forget the fact that, idealistically, we are a church that believes in ultimate socialism.

Anyone remember's eluding me now, but the doctrine that states that we are to give what we have to others, to the church, etc? That nothing is truly ours, but God's and we should share?

(Help! It's early in the morning. United Order?)

Then - and I realize this is a late comment, but someone may read this still - I invite anyone, especially LDS, to go read Brigham Young's Proclamation on the Economy.

It's often pointed out that the Church has issued only five proclamations since its birth, so each one is especially revered in its importance - well, this is one of them, issued in 1875.

It's rather interesting.

Once you get down to the nitty-gritty, this is exactly how our Church wishes to work. We as a people are not truly ready to live this way, but this is the end goal.

Face it.

(haha, maybe I'll go blog on this now! er, once I wake up and can remember *terms*)

But no, pure Socialism with imperfect people will not work. Universal healthcare? Everyone deserves healthcare. It's an uniequivocal right. It doesn't necessarily have to be all government healthcare, either. Yes, there are hurdles to overcome, but we're smart - we can figure it out.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I started talking about universal healthcare in my blog as well. Anyone can go read it. It just astounds me that ANYONE, let alone LDS/Christians, can consider healthcare a privilege and not a right.

Just astounds me.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"It just astounds me that ANYONE, let alone LDS/Christians, can consider healthcare a privilege and not a right."

Lisa, I think it astounds virtually everyone in the industrialized world -- except conservative Americans. I have never heard anyone in either Canada or Europe say that it should be a privilege and we just shake our heads when Americans try to defend not making health care available to every citizen at a minimal cost.