By Carlos Alberto Montaner
Donald Trump assures that the United States will never be a socialist country. He does not specify what he means by socialist. Most young people between 18 and 29 prefer socialism to capitalism. These preferences are reversed as they get older. Neither do young people define both terms. It seems that they think of the northern European nations: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Germany. They do not refer to Venezuela or Cuba. They know that those are disastrous countries where there is no hope of progress.
The word “socialism” serves to hide or show what its user wants. In general, it has a positive charge of “goodness”. The regimes of Cuba or Venezuela use it to designate their incompetent satrapies. “Capitalism”, on the other hand, suffers a negative semantic burden. It is associated with greedy and cruel attitudes.
As a matter of fact, European countries are as capitalist as the United States. That’s why they are doing well. They are part of the “liberal democracies” (another misleading word). In those countries the private property of the means of production prevails, the economy is guided by the market and not by centralized planning, there are periodic multiparty and transparent elections which serve to renew the ruling elites, the separation of powers exists and is effective, and human rights and the rule of law are respected. Even the former communist countries that asked to join the European Union were required to adopt “the Copenhagen criteria” that encapsulate these features.
What is the difference between “right and left” in “liberal democracies”, in the United States and Europe?
Simple: in the amount and destination of taxes.
But there are not even big differences. In the United States, citizens pay roughly 40% of GDP to the general fund, while in Europe they reach or surpass 50%. The tax bills of these nations have a similar structure. Most of it is dedicated to pensions, healthcare and education. (The US spends 4% of its GDP on “Defense”: $650 billion).
In the United States, the adoption of a universal healthcare system such as the one that exists in France or Spain seems inevitable. A clear majority prefers it, according to the latest surveys. Americans pay 19 cents of every dollar they generate in healthcare (twice the average of developed countries) and have to pay up to three times the value of medicines. That is intolerable.
With the bad experience of the “Veteran Hospitals”, the least bad solution may be the Swiss model. In that country, all citizens are required by the State to have a health insurance policy from birth till death. In some way that contradicts the liberal principles, but there are other instances in which the State “compels” the citizens. It does so when it imposes taxes, when it enrolls young people in compulsory military service or when it requires a driver’s license.
In the small Swiss market, there are dozens of companies that compete in price and quality and it is up to the individuals to choose the company that offers them the most guarantees. The Swiss law defines the care that this policy must cover. As in any society, there are people who lack the resources to pay for medical insurance, but then the Commune intervenes and pays the bill. It is not the Helvetic Confederation that takes over. The neighbors are the ones who take care of those expenses. That reduces the abuses substantially.
The cost of college education is more doubtful. While the money paid for healthcare is not reimbursable, the cost of a college education is an investment in the individual’s own destiny and it may be immoral to force others to improve the economic performance of some adults.
My granddaughter Gabriela, for example, will leave the law school of a large university with a debt of $250,000, but she will probably have an offer of an established law firm willing to pay her $150,000 the first year. It would be unfair for the whole of society to pay her university expenses. At the same time, I know that she does not waste a minute and studies intensely, like all her classmates. If she did not complete her studies, she would still have to pay the debt. Where and when education costs, students are wiser and more demanding, as we know. Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.