WORLD WATCH - We have been criticizing the Republican leadership over many issues, beginning with the fact that they have systematically opposed any legislation advanced by Democrats that would better the lives of American people, from healthcare to housing, minimum wages, renewable energy, labor unions, and more.
Making the rich richer through massive tax cuts at the expense of the poor became a sound fiscal policy, denying climate change to benefit the oil companies is how they tried to stimulate the economy, and passing countless voting restrictions in scores of states to make it extremely difficult for minorities to exercise their constitutional right to vote is their path to secure their grip on power while dangerously eroding the democratic pillars on which this country was erected.
To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder.
No one has articulated so absurdly the Republican views better than Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative commentator and author of several books who said, “Socialism violates at least three of the Ten Commandments: It turns government into God, it legalizes thievery, and it elevates covetousness. Discussions of income inequality, after all, aren’t about prosperity but about petty spite. Why should you care how much money I make, so long as you are happy?” Is there anything more topsy-turvy than this bizarre statement?
The reality is – as we all know – that capitalism, not socialism, turns Profit into God; capitalism, not socialism, legalizes thievery in the form of exploitation of the worker, the extraction of surplus-value, and the subjugation of workers and their rights. Capitalism literally could not exist without greed; it turns greediness into a requisite of the system itself. But if providing food and education to poor children is socialism, then we take pride in being socialists. Indeed, what is socialism, across all its countless forms, other than the longing for a better world and the belief that we can in fact do better?
Shapiro’s extraordinary statement should be carefully examined though – not simply because it contains falsehoods and errors, but because it is basically incoherent if examined closely. It is not that Shapiro says things which are factually wrong – anyone may commit that mistake on occasion, though we try not to. But his statement in fact makes no logical sense at all.
Take the opening statement: “Socialism violates at least three of the Ten Commandments.” Put aside for a moment whether socialism violates three, four, or all of the Commandments for that matter – personally that is not how we evaluate an economic system. The point is that Shapiro seems to place the Ten Commandments very high (he does not specify whether he is talking about the Jewish, Catholic or Protestant versions of the Decalogue). The Ten Commandments come from the Holy Bible – so it must follow that he holds the Bible as equal in authority, or why hold the Decalogue as authoritative? It is a part of the Biblical narrative, originally appearing in God’s words from Mount Sinai to the Israelites.
Are we supposed to imagine that global capitalism is somehow beholden to the Ten Commandments? Obviously not. We would refer Shapiro to the prophet Jeremiah who lamented that “From the least to the greatest, everyone is greedy for unjust gain” (6:13). And at 22:16 we read that “He defended the cause of the poor and needy and so all went well. Is this not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.” If Shapiro regards the New Testament as also authoritative, we’d remind him of Jesus’ words that “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24).
But it is Shapiro’s last sentence which is the real kicker. Why should I be interested in what another person makes if I am happy? He is right. We are fortunate enough to live comfortably and it matters little to us personally what anybody else’s income might happen to be. But what of the 13 million children that struggle with hunger in the United States alone? Are they happy and flourishing, are they happy when they go to school the next day hungry, unable to focus or concentrate, are they happy to return to their home, or perhaps their shelter and see their parents struggle to put dinner on the table? What of the over 580,000 homeless on any given night? Are they happy?
Under these conditions is it not justified to point out how income inequality has surpassed practically every measure we have ever known? If someone is going to cloth themselves up in the mantle of the Bible then they should be aware of what the Bible teaches as a whole: that we must care about and act on behalf of those who have nothing, who have been denigrated and oppressed by a brutal system that rewards a tiny few at the expense of the vast majority.
While the Democrats are focusing in particular on social issues and climate change, they are accused by the Republicans of being socialists whose main agenda is to tax the rich and spend the money recklessly on social program. Yes, this is what the Democrats ought to be doing, not only to save the planet but also to save huge segment of the next generation of American youth who are despondent and despairing as they have been subjected to perpetual poverty and a lack of attainable education. From the Republican viewpoint, engaging in major social programs is tantamount to socialism, which is totally inconsistent with capitalist America in which they hold so much pride.
The fact that every day scores join the roster of millionaires and every few weeks a new billionaire is born, while millions of American join the ranks of the poor, is of no concern to the Republicans. After all, this is what capitalism is all about. Is it any wonder then that we see such gross inequality becoming ever more extreme? According to the Economic Policy Institute, chief executives of big companies on average “now earn 320 times as much as a typical worker.” From 1978 to 2019, compensation grew 14 percent for typical workers, while for CEOs it rose 1,167 percent.
The point is that the socialism of the future is not about planned economies versus free markets, or state-owned versus privately-owned means of production. Socialism is about providing financial assistance, a free college education, and universal healthcare to those in need; it is about allowing workers to vote at the workplace when it comes to the things that matter to them the most.
Socialism in America is about securing human rights, strengthening the pillars of democracy and providing equal opportunity to every American, regardless of race, creed or gender. Only then will a new day dawn for this country before the Republicans squander what’s left of the noble American experiment.
(Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. Dr. Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City. [email protected] Web: www.alonben-meir.com)