Conservativism, Socialism, America, and Fear

America is so afraid of Communism that we’d rather go bankrupt than buy better health, cheaper

I rather like the information here, especially the median wealth information, and what it means compared to the information here, about median income, and the information here, on net debt-to-GDP. In the end they tell a story about some tremendous, obvious failings within America’s economic system, failings with both antiseptic negative economic impacts as well as moral failings. It’s a story about fear, and what it means to be culturally American.

There are a few stories here when you look at all these links together:

  • The gap between median wealth and net mean wealth is a good measure of how unequal the distribution of wealth is in the country. Consider a place with ten people in it, nine owning $0 and one owning $10M: it has a median wealth of $0 and a mean wealth of $1M. That’s not a great place to live.
  • The median wealth countries all tend to embrace socialized medicine and strong public support for post-secondary education. Medical bankruptcy is the most-common form of bankruptcy in the US, an incredibly disruptive and wealth-destroying event, and university education is a tremendous hole of American debt. It’s no wonder that the US can draw in such good income (see the second link) yet have much less to show for it.
  • The US has, in terms of median wealth, 64% of the OECD average of median wealth. We’re on par with Portugal and Slovenia, places that make two-thirds or half of what Americans do. Put differently: for every $1 a typical American makes in a year, they end up converting that, year-on-year, to $1.46 in wealth over their lifetime. Someone in Portugal converts $1 in yearly income to $2.75 in ultimate wealth. They’re more frugal to some extent because they earn less and culture is clearly part of this equation rather than just numbers, but there’s still a story in those numbers about how inefficiently the US converts income into wealth.
  • Taking a look at the third link, with debt-to-GDP, and you see that the US is on par with France. Running a nationalized healthcare system is economically wise at both the personal and national level: free market healthcare is a scam. The US spends 17% of our GDP – the highest in the world – on healthcare (about $2.9T), it is an average product, it is bankrupting us, and we have nothing to show for it. Sweden is in second place in the OECD with 12% of their GDP towards healthcare. If we could wave a magic wand and have Sweden’s system, we’d be spending around $800B a year on anything else other than a system that bankrupts us. It’s a terrible inefficiency.

It seems clear to most that there are some industries, services, what-have-you, which are not well-managed by markets with respect to the customers/citizens at large. That rationale is precisely why I support things like socialized medicine; it just so happens that others draw the line at, say, roads and parks. I’d call that overly conservative, but in the end the exercise of the rationale feels to me to be an ultimately conservative line of thought: test, move cautiously, keep what works… the part that seems missing in American conservativism is that one ought to eventually feel comfortable also tossing aside what doesn’t.

“Seizing the means of production” is an overwrought phrase that, when unreservedly adhered to in practice, tends to look like Zimbabwe. Central planning is not a universal panacea. Making wise decisions about what markets can and can’t do, however, and respecting that there are certain things that they magically cannot or will not do will in certain cases look like big bad Communism, and the question then is what are you scared of, and is it truly relevant. For example, I don’t see many gulags in France because of universal health care and generous leave policies and their post-secondary education system. Their finances are doing rather well, actually, at the national and personal level – in the latter case, much better than the US in terms of widely building wealth between generations regardless of class distinctions. Yet Zimbabwe and Venezuela are held up as what happens when you decide that markets run healthcare systems rather poorly, despite the tremendous gap between “socializing the healthcare system” and “nationalizing your country’s most-vital export” that only seems to be bridged by fear rather than an appreciation for what it actually takes, socially and historically, for that final event to come to fruition.

Progressive conservativism is a thing. It’s about as popular as libertarianism, I imagine, though I think it’s the fundamental position of the reformacon commentariat.