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Why You Should Be A Socialist

Not driving as much? Find out how you can get money back from your auto insurance company as Ralph welcomes Insurance Director of the Consumer Federation, Robert Hunter. Also, we speak to Chuck Collins about how the rich are parking their money in charitable foundations and taxpayers are footing the bill. And finally, the editor of Current Affairs, Nathan Robinson, joins to tell us “Why You Should Be A Socialist.”

Robert Hunter is the Director of Insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. He has held many positions in the field, both public and private, including being the Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Texas being the President and Founder of the National Insurance Consumer Organization and as an underwriter for Atlantic Mutual and Centennial Insurance Companies.

Nathan Robinson is the editor of Current Affairs and a political columnist at The Guardian. He is currently a PhD student in Sociology and Social Policy at Harvard University. He also holds a JD from Yale Law School. Mr. Robinson is the author or editor of ten books including, Why You Should Be A Socialist and Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity. You can hear more of him on the Current Affairs Podcast.

“If you look back over the course of American history, it’s people who have self-described as socialists or quasi-socialists who have been responsible for so much of the important political change in this country.”

Nathan Robinson, author of Why You Should Be A Socialist

Chuck Collins is a researcher, campaigner and writer based at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-edits Inequality.org. He has written extensively on wealth inequality. And he has been working to reduce inequality since 1982. In that process, he has co-founded multiple initiatives, including Wealth for the Common GoodUnited for a Fair Economy, and Divest-Invest.  He is the author of Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good.

“People look at private philanthropy and billionaire philanthropy and they say ‘isn’t this great? These acts of generosity.’ But we should understand, we as taxpayers subsidize charitable giving. We encourage through the tax code, people take tax breaks instead of paying taxes. We as taxpayers should have a legitimate say in how these funds are used.”

Chuck Collins, author of Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality

“The auto insurance companies are reporting sky-rocketing profits for the second quarter of 2020 – fewer cars on the road, fewer crashes. And it’s time for them to give back some of those premiums.”

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 337 Transcript (Right click to download)

18 Comments

  1. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    No Ralph, that is not the “classic definition” of socialism going back centuries, and it is very tiresome for you to continue claiming that it is in the absence of historical evidence. That is simply not how socialists defined themselves in the pre-Marx period of the early 19th century when the term was coine, and it sure as heck wasn’t how socialists used the term after Marx released his magnum opus exposing the productive arrangement as the defining characteristic of capitalism. The term only had its definition perverted into Orwellian newspeak in a pocket of the Western world in the mid-20th century by propagandists who found it useful to paint the Keynesian/welfare state as associated with some kind of foreign menace so they could attack it and privatize it. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Ralph keeps repeating this utterly anachronistic false claim about the historical definition of socialism, especially considering how many books he appears to read.

    Why you should be a socialist: capitalism is a fundamentally exploitative economic system that exists in perpetual crisis, demands war and suffering to reproduce itself, and is inherently incapable of peaceful coexistence with ecology. That’s “socialism”, as in when workers take production decisions out of the hands of a small minority of bosses and employers and democratize it. Simply wanting the welfare state to come in and redistribute wealth through taxation while keeping the undemocratic work arrangement known as capitalism around is called “social democracy” or Keynesianism. Keynesianism largely collapsed in the ’70s when it was incapable of dealing with one of capitalism’s many profitability crises. Likewise, social democracy has always been a concession to prevent workers from turning to the REAL alternative. Look no further than the fact that European social democracies have been rolling back and privatizing their welfare states ever since the USSR collapsed and they no longer had the threat of a socialist revolution to contend with.

    I know a lot of people probably think this is pure pedantry, but it really is important to use terminology that has meaning. If you’re going to call yourself a socialist, you should understand that it means something specific. When you use words in a manner that robs them of meaning, it reduces both your ability to communicate clearly with others around you and reduces your ability to THINK clearly about ideas you might find new or different.

    With regards to third parties, no socialist in their right mind thinks that the World’s Oldest Capitalist Party can be transformed into some kind of party of socialism. The party itself is literally run like a capitalist enterprise. If you think this is a realistic idea after recent painful lessons, then it’s time to finally disabuse yourself of that notion quickly. A good book for doing that is ‘The Democrats: A Critical History’, which analyzes the incredible struggles to move the party left over the last century and why they have failed literally every single time. Howie Hawkins, this year’s Green Party presidential candidate, also has a great article full of historical facts making an argument for an independent left party:
    https://popularresistance.org/from-the-bottom-up-the-case-for-an-independent-left-party/

    Please learn your history, it’s the greatest weapon we have!

    • Bruce K. says:

      > That is simply not how socialists defined themselves in the pre-Marx period of the early 19th century when the term was coined,

      Assuming that was true, who cares? How many people were educated and knew enough, not to mention economics itself and most sciences were pretty basic and primitive in the early 1800’s, and maybe beside the point is that Marx did his work in the mid-1800’s. It is really not relevant any more than the term energy was used the same way then as it is now. Things change, but forcing a confrontation on definitions adds another layer of obfuscation and confusion for good measure to make sure a real discussion never happens and political change is short-circuited.

      If you go with too narrow or confusing view of socialism no one would ever want to be a socialist, like if you define God and spirituality idiosyncratically there would never be any religion.

      It is academically wrong, but I like to say to get the point across,
      Socialism = Capitalism + Democracy
      Fascism = Capitalism – Democracy

      All systems, the very idea of government is/are socialist, with a predatory capitalist or fascist parasitic layer on top with a malevolent or benevolent character. 🙂

    • Ben Leet says:

      Keynes Against Capitalism by James Crotty, a recent book, will dispel your misconception of Keynesianism.There’s a fair book review by Nick Johnson at the Socialist Economist. “Neo-Keynesianism” is what you are describing. The neo-Keynesianism that was current up till the 1970s was described as “aborted”, “still-born” and “bastard Keynesianism” by prominent economists. Keynes argued for the euthanasia of the rentier, a total remake of the financial sector, strict international capital controls, penalties for surplus trading mercantilistic nations, and this financial investment council. A National Investment Authority was central to Keynes’ proposals, and it has been revived by Cornell law professor Robert Hockett who has published about it. Checking out Saule Omarova and Robert Hockett will bring up interviews, podcasts, and a detailed paper. The NIA would act like the old Reconstruction Finance Corporation in times of recession, but would also strategize development, presumably with democratic input and guidance. The Next System at the Democratic Collaborative also examines socialistic possibilities.

    • Very informative and crucial information

    • di says:

      @afdal, you are essentially correct and the guest, Nathan Robinson, says the same and Nader does allow him to clarify the “classic definition” Nader stated. Seems like Nader agreed with him by discussing examples. So, you’re correct and Nader accepted that correction.
      Thanks for the link – had seen it but not fully read it. Since Nader ran for president in 2000, and the later Green party candidates we had, we lost so much opportunity.

  2. Mark Hughes says:

    The talk about helping nonprofits reminds me of the abhorrent situation going on with “nonprofit” addiction recovery companies all across the country. As the podcast Reveal has exposed over the years but the namely the past few episodes in which they serialized this topic recently, this is a completely corrupt industry which turns addicts (who need to avoid jail time) into slaves. The specific organizations they highlighted were Cenikor, which was started by a prisoner (go figure), and its predecessor Synanon, which was started back in the 1960s by a drunken con man. There’s so much money in these organizations that it’s disgusting. So Collins is correct, there needs to be an oversight on these companies. Because that’s one industry that needs serious attention.

    Also good to hear Collins say that these nonprofits are no substitute for strong government programs and a large public sphere. When you have a country as large as ours, there’s no way to avoid big government.

    §

    So glad to hear the topic of socialism being discussed here on RNRH. I’ve heard Robinson speak before on this topic, and there’s not a lot he’s wrong about. Much of what he says here is very much in line with what I’ve heard from other socialist leaders such as Richard D. Wolff, Chris Hedges, David Harvey, and so on.

    Indeed it is about the worker’s ownership of the means of production, meaning if you work there, you’re an owner. There is no owner/worker hierarchy. One in the same. Those enterprises are called worker cooperatives as Robinson stated, and they exist all over the world and believe it or not in this country as well. The Arizmendi bakery is one example.

    He’s also correct in that socialism has many very different definitions, Prof. Wolff has stated this numerous times. One of them though is unfortunately government ownership of the means of production. I personally disagree with that, as Karl Marx states that is more accurately called “state capitalism” (‘Capital’ volume 2, chapter 3). Because in those situations the worker still has no control over the means of production; instead of a manager he or she has to kneel before, it’s a bureaucrat. Perhaps this is where Socialism and Marxism differentiate.

    Ralph is very correct when he uses the public airwaves and timber industry as examples in specifying that there is a difference between public ownership and public control, because both are needed in order to be authentically socialist. However a consumer co-op is not the same as a worker co-op; in this instance the worker is accountable to a consumer group or a consumer board, he or she still has a boss and therefore still no say in what to produce, how to produce it, what to sell it for, etc. In order to be more truly socialist, the worker must have control.

    Ralph asked good questions to help hone what is authentic socialism versus what is pseudosocialism because that’s what needed in any good, sincere conversation about this topic. Great guest and great discussion. I’m even glad to hear David broach the C-word, communism. Because that’s a different ball of wax from socialism and Marxism. Prof. Wolff has been very clear in his explanations that Marxism, socialism and communism are not synonyms.

    While there are indeed many different definitions of socialism as Robinson states, perhaps if there is one main takeaway here for novices as to what socialism is, it’s that it is a critique and opponent of capitalism. That’s probably the best starting point.

    • Virginia says:

      The part of what you write that I question is about worker coops. I think community members around the workplace need to have a voice in a workplace, not only the workers. I don’t know whether these would be called consumers, but if only the workers of an establishment decide how it’s run, there won’t be enough consideration of the impacts the business has in the larger context/community. I also think about a radio station. There is often talk about running KPFA as a workers’ coop. However, most of the workers there are volunteers (at least 80% of them) and not considered in this proposal. Neither is it considered that those of us who pay for the station/network deserve to have some say in the way it’s run. Even were it only run by workers including those who are unpaid, there is a great tendency to retain airtime that may tend to militate against consideration for a mission that benefits the community at large or a mission for seeking to understand unfamiliar views in the pursuit of better understanding between all peoples and peace.

      • Bruce K. says:

        > I don’t know whether these would be called consumers,

        My understanding is that the modern parlances is “stakeholders”.

        I like your point about KPFA … the people who work could be looked at as subscribers/donors that donate their time instead of money … but, yeah, how much input do they have, or should they have? I am pretty sure that those who get along with in synchrony with the establishment there may join at a higher level or become employees owners. We can always write or call in to say something.

        But that really brings into question what is a worker co-op and how should it operate? That seems like a really complicated subject that I am not sure works. If one did I would think we’d be all be hearing about it and how it works and demanding they be instituted all over the place. It puts a lot of onus on “socialism” to define itself or for someone to define what it means exactly.

      • Mark Hughes says:

        I can understand your point. Only thing I can add is something that perhaps might be a bit too heady, and that is, in many cases, the worker is also a community member. So they have a vested interest in their enterprise’s impact on the broader community.

        One of the things that typifies capitalism, going back centuries even to the East India Company, is absentee ownership. This is where those who own the enterprise are simply not there; they’re in a far-away place, and just extract wealth with too little of it returned, which causes poverty for the community the enterprise is located in.

        Also, they don’t have to suffer what economists call “externalities”, which are costs that those in the community, whether they be workers or not, have to pay as a result of the enterprise’s actions and practices. Unsafe water, polluted air, etc. This is particularly true globally; the Southern Hemisphere, for centuries, has been rapaciously exploited by the Northern, which has left the former suffering not only unsafe water and bad air, but also severe drought, widespread climate disaster, war, and so on. South America and Africa are disasters largely because of European and US exploitation. So my point is that if you have true worker co-ops, then all the owners (i.e., workers) will still have to live in the community at then end of the day, which means they’re not going to do things that dirty the water or pollute the air or cause any other problems that they’d have to endure along with the rest of the community. So there’s a safety-valve built into worker co-ops,

        Purely from an economic/Marxist standpoint, while the community should indeed have a say in the enterprise since they’re affected also, the fact is only the worker/owners are the ones producing value for the community at large. Those in the community who aren’t working for that enterprise naturally aren’t producing value for that enterprise. Which sets up a situation where those citizens who don’t work for that enterprise can be too empowered, however much, to exploit the workers because the non-employed citizens would suction up ‘surplus value’ and wealth and benefit without contributing to the production of said value. And capitalism, at its core, is rooted in the exploitation of workers. So you have to be careful that those who don’t produce that value, no matter who they are, don’t have more power over that enterprise than the worker. Does the community have a voice in an enterprise’s actions that affect them? Sure. But should they have more power over that enterprise than those who work for it? No.

  3. Ben Leet says:

    A report from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, “Exploding Wealth Inequality in the United States”, reports that wealth at the very top has exploded.

    “The trend then inverted, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent in 2012 from 7 percent in the late 1970s. (See Figure 1.) The top 0.1 percent includes 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20 million in 2012.”

    In March of 2020, 22% of total household net worth was $26 trillion (from the Flow of Funds report, March 2020, Federal Reserve). The wealth of these 160,000 families would be $162 million on average. The Credit Suisse Bank issues a Global Wealth report (and Databook, p. 168) that shows the lower-saving 50% of U.S. families own 1.2% of total net worth, and that comes to an average of $11,544 per adult, or $22,187 per household. The average is $482,000 for all U.S. adults, and $924,000 per household.
    So the range is $160 million, $924,000 and $22,187 – for the 1%, the average for all households, the average for the lower half of households.

    Wealth has doubled in the past 11 years, from $58 trillion to $118 trillion (inflation adjusted) using the Fed’s Flow of Funds report, March, 2020. Wealth grew by $5.5 trillion yearly, which is more than the average Federal budget each year. It’s about 38% of GDP each year. It’s huge. Money that goes into the stock market and financial assets grows much faster than ordinary money used for buying things. Capitalism is all about accumulation of capital. This is well known by corporate CFOs who funnel corporate profits into stock buybacks. Professor Wm. Lazonick has been reporting on this for years. Sanders is the only politician to propose a serious tax on wealth. Could the top 0.1% fund the entire federal budget for several years? Easily. For about 7 years. Then they would have less than $20 million, on average. Not exactly broke. I should add that United Way charity publishes a report, ALICE, that claims that 40% of U.S. families live with material hardship or in poverty, unable to afford seven basics: food, shelter, utilities, healthcare, childcare, phone and transportation. Not a wealthy nation. Thanks for interviewing Chuck Collins.

  4. David Faubion says:

    Each episode of the RNRH is worthy of a jillion lauding comments, yet my fingers are too oft speechless, dazzled I guess. For example, this week Ralph’s interview with Nathan Robinson is as brilliant as is Mr. Robinson. Therefore, I heartily urge Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to meet Ralph in the giant confluence of their political and intellectual waters. Frankly, Ralph’s moving disclosure that the Cortez team hasn’t returned his calls is the first disappointing news I have heard in her brilliant, righteous and sincere service. To hear the two converse would rock the ship. The Honorable Rashida Talib did grace the hour; perhaps she can and will drag AOC kicking and screaming into Ralph’s hour. Steve and David, please consider creating an in-house Ralph Nader Day that might become the Ralph Reclaim Our Power Memorial. Love you guys.

  5. Bruce K. says:

    Can we get rid of the word socialist. It is a great word with the roots and connotation that pretty much fits what it means, but it was used 100 years ago as a bait and switch to promise people all the things that human beings yearn for, as if that was understood and possible, meaning – community, abundance, justice, equality, fraternity and liberty … all that good stuff, always by a core group of violent criminals who then take over and screw the people over using the same anti-social dynamics to drive people into war, slavery and exploitation.

    We cannot say – “we’re socialist now”, and have that :trickle” down from someone’s vision at the top and expect good things to happen, because words and brandings can be used for lies and exploitation.

    Socialism should be rebranded as “citizenism” or even get a little Trumpian … “People First”, or “equal-justicism” … and instead of something that no one understand and everyone disputes, we should just be steered by what do people need to reach a productive level. Food, housing, work, play/leisure, respect, protection from criminal evil-doers at every level, education, education, transportation, communication, health-care, all the things that bring a person up to a level where they can function as a little corpuscles in the body politic of the nation and the world.

    Past a certain critical mass things start go from the “vicious cycle” we have now to the “virtual cycle” that can steer us away from planetary and existential disaster.

    We cannot trust people or brands, we must verify what is going on, and we must have the tools to perceive analyze and react to what we see. We are cut off from that now. It is not so much that any system cannot work it if it open and predictable with the rule of law – it is that that law gets subverted and people get cut off from reality and their ability to exert their political power.

    It’s why Bernie Sanders who I originally had so much hope for turned out to be a total fool and lost the more talented and realistic Elizabeth Warren her chance at the Presidency. He clung to the label Democratic Socialist instead of seeing reality and joining the Democratic Party and rebranding as an FDR Democrat, which would have made sense to Americans. Did he do that because he was stupid or did he do that because getting bought off and bought out is how American politicians make it these days .. and he was getting up their in age. And now we barely hear anything from Bernie, except his boring and interminable emails that come out scattered all over every issue instead of focuses tightly on prioritizing and planning.

    Ism’s are like religions, they will never happen until we are dead, and when we’re dead and of course nothing happens. All brands can be hijacked, and like never before. Those billionaires who are paying for everything own everything and are demanding even more control and ownership. They will not let go easily or because of finger-wags.

  6. David Paul says:

    I feel as though the argument for Socialism should be a slam dunk yet I’ve not heard anyone pull it off – not even Bernie.

    “Do you like your roads? That’s Socialism!”
    “Do you like your plowed roads? That’s Socialism!”
    “Do you like paying 42 cents to have your letter brought coast to coast? That’s Socialism!” Would you prefer to bring your letter to the nearest Fedex store and pay 3 or 4 dollars? That’s Capitalism!”
    “When your kids turns 6 and you just put a lunch in their hands send them off to the local school? That’s Socialism!” Would you prefer to pony up 10 or 20K to send them to the nearest private school?”
    “Do you like your library? That’s Socialism!”
    “How about those California fires? Who’s fighting those fires? That’s Socialism!”

    The list is endless.

    My water company is owned by a private equity company in Australia. We pay twice the amount as the next town over, publicly owned water company.

    The examples need to understandable. Understandable to even the “get your Government hands off my Medicare” people.

    We’ve been socialistic country for 90 years. We are just missing the final pieces; healthcare, college . . . and we need to get our utilities back too !

    The republicans have been chipping away at it for 40 years.

    The only people who would be against Socialism are the richest among us. But it is even their own best interest to have Socialism.

    • Bruce K. says:

      here, here!

      I think it might be because socialism is a kind of moral concept, whereas capitalism is a minimal set of laws that protect the movers and shakers among us and their property rights and the right to exploit, pollute, have higher status than the rest of us based on the idea that because they, however they do it, did it, got it, did good and are superior to the rest of us, even if criminal to some unspoken degree.

      Socialism is the government – or what the government should be. If someone is dumping pollution in your air and water, or setting lifestyles up that require exploration to survive, i.e. virtual slavery, the government is supposed to represent the rights of all and any people, and perhaps the environment and future people, perhaps past people as well in their works and history.

      Socialism is the predominance of people in society, while Capitalism seems to be more about the predominance of war and aggression, tamed just enough so that the horses don’t run off and the people don’t revolt. Capitalism delights in that it provokes creative destruction, the creation usually belongs to the right and the destruction usually goes to the poor, and the rich like this idea and equate it to Darwinism and evolution.

    • Mark Hughes says:

      I like your post, David. If I may, allow me to add to your list:

      “Do you like going to a park with the family for no extra charge? That’s socialism.”
      …Or do you prefer to spend hundreds or thousands on a Disney trip (or cruise) where you’re basically detained on their campgrounds because it’s inconvenient to leave campus? That’s capitalism.

      I live in a state that requires an annual vehicle inspection in order to be eligible to renew your registration. Those inspections are a fixed price dictated by the state, which means that auto service shops can’t make shit up and charge whatever they want. That’s socialism as well.

      Like them or not, even the police are a socialist construct.

      Of course, this particular definition of socialism is a common one, as Richard Wolff has stated many times, but is not the only one. But I’ll allow that definition to slide to help make the point you’re making.

      Only main thing I disagree with, which isn’t really a disagreement but instead a specification, is that the Republicans aren’t the only ones chipping away at government-run “socialism”. The Democrats are just as bad, worse in some cases. It’s just that the Republicans are more overt in their beliefs; the Democrats try to maintain a veil of humanitarian socialism although that veil has long slipped off them. The Democrats are also big opponents of public schools; Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan was a major charter school/voucher advocate. And how can we forget all the wars Obama, both Clintons and Biden have supported over the years.

  7. melissa says:

    The show today, Aug. 24 was terrific. In fact the Ralph Nader Radio Hour is one of the best on radio. Thank you Ralph and radio producers and hosts!

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