To even begin to progress in the political/economic arena,
the populist labels are, at best, unhelpful. Do a sort of Rorschach-test for
yourself in words instead of ink-blots. What do you immediately think of the
following?

Liberal
Conservative
Atheist
Believer
Socialism
Communism
Capitalism
Left
Right

And that’s just the smallest segment of what divides us. Homeless,
jobless and bankrupt all have entirely different meanings, depending on whether
you are out of a job, on the streets or drowning in debt.

They say as people
get older they become more intolerant of both the mistakes and intentions of
those younger than themselves, but I‘ve found it not to be the case. Experience
is the word for having known, gone through and survived the ups and downs of a
lived life. Wisdom sometimes, but not always, comes from that.

 



But we’re polarized. God knows we’re been told that often
enough to believe it, even though perfectly rational conversation is still
possible among our like-minded friends.

Compasses are not often wrong, but I
was once dangerously lost in the mountains of Montana at night, as the
thermometer plunged toward -50 degrees. An otherwise pleasurable elk-hunting
trip got downright scary in a matter of hours. It turned out that the
manufacturer of the compass I carried had installed the dial upside down. Easy
enough to catch in daylight, had I reason to look, but confoundingly
purposeless at night.
 



I often reflect on that.
 

Socialism is a case in point, not always true-north, nor is
capitalism, or the over two hundred isms (an inordinate number of them
religion-based) that dandy themselves about. Ism is a kind of tincture for me,
a trace color that’s likely to mask a personal interpretation and I usually try
to get a definition before chatting further.

Isms are not usually stand-alones,
they beg for modifiers; Godless communism and reckless capitalism come to mind.
Daylight and a reason to look is usually good advice.


 


Take Sweden, everyone’s knee-jerk response to the evils of
socialism, leavened perhaps (or not) by the enormous and profitable success of
IKEA and the number one Information Technology nation in the world, for the
fourth consecutive year.

Forbes magazine has this to say:

The new face of Swedish socialism

By Richard Heller, Forbes
Swedish snapshot A: Shows a taxed-to-the-eyeballs welfare
state where the government grabs more than 52% of the country’s GDP—the highest
percentage of any industrial country. A Swedish businessman who earns Euro 200,000
a year gets to keep just 49% of his paycheck. Of OECD countries, only France
comes close to Sweden in taxing its most successful businesspeople (for
complete tax data on 33 countries, see “The tax grab 2001,” Forbes
Global, Feb. 5).
Swedish snapshot B: Shows a booming economy bubbling with
entrepreneurial activity. Growth is predicted to be 3.5% for 2001; inflation,
1.7%; unemployment, 4% (less than half the European average). In 1999,
according to the European Information Technology Observatory, Sweden ranked
first in the world in investment in information technology and
telecommunications. Venture capital is pouring into Sweden, and labor
productivity is rocketing: From 1990 to 1999 productivity climbed 47% in
Sweden, against 39% in the U.S. and 31% (on average) in the EU. Last year,
Sweden topped the global standings in R&D spending as a percentage of GDP
with 3.7% (in the U.S. it was 3.1%), according to the OECD.

Will the real Sweden please step forward?  Taxed to the eyeballs, yet with a booming
economy. Rhetoric again, with both tax and boom in the eye of the beholder.

Uninformed, we throw generalities at one another and nothing much gets
accomplished in the way of revising, upgrading, junking or bowing-down to our
current economic and political (read that health-care) issues.

 


Would some comparisons help? Perhaps just a bit, something
to put some definition to the argument:

 

NAME OF
COMPARED RANKING
YEAR
AMERICAN RANK
OUT
OF
SWEDISH RANK
CIA World
Factbook – GDP per capita
2008
10
229
26
CIA World
Factbook – life expectancy
2008
36

223
10
World Economic
Forum – Enabling Trade Index ranking 
2008
14
118
3
Yale
University / Columbia University – Environmental Performance Index 
2008
39
149
3
The Economist
Intelligence Unit – e-readiness
2008
1
70
3
The Economist
Intelligence Unit – Global Peace Index  
2008
97
140
13
United States
Patent and Trademark Office’s list of patents by country 
2007
1
172
11
Save the
Children – Mother’s Index           
2007
27
141
1
Save the
Children – Women’s Index
22
141
1
Save the
Children – Children’s Index
2007
30
141
4
Wall Street
Journal / The Heritage Foundation – Index of Economic Freedom
2007
5
157
27
United Nations
– Human Development Index
2007
15
179
6
World Economic
Forum – Global Competitiveness Report 
2007
1
177
4
World Economic
Forum – The Global Gender Gap Report 
2007
31
128
1
World Bank –
Ease of Doing Business Index            
2007
3
178
14
Reporters
Without Borders – Worldwide Press Freedom Index 
2007
48
169
5
Transparency
International – Corruption Perceptions Index
2008
20
180
1
The Economist
Intelligence Unit – Index of Democracy
2007
17
167
1
Privacy
International – Privacy index (EU and 11 other selected countries)
2006
30
36
28
New Economics
Foundation – Happy Planet Index
2006
150
178
119
The Economist
Intelligence Unit – Quality-of-life index
2005
13
111
5
World Health
Organization – suicide rates by country
2004
46
100
31
NationMaster’s
index of civil and political liberties
2004
7
140
3
Save the
Children – seats in the national government held by women
2004
10
141
1
NationMaster’s
index of asylum seekers (per capita)
2001
22
28
4
NationMaster’s
index of economic aid (donor, per capita)
2001
19
24
5
NationMaster’s
index of technological achievement
2001
2
68
3

 

So, America’s kicking butt in GDP, although both nations are
in the top 10%. Ditto on patents, economic freedom and ease of doing business.

But Sweden, poster-boy for that mean old socialism, leads us by a bunch in life
expectancy, environmental performance, global peace, mothers, women and
children indexes, gender-gap issues, press freedom, corruption perception,
seats in government held by women, asylum seeker acceptance, economic donor aid,
political freedom and (gasp) democracy.


 


Democracy was always our trump card. We owned democracy.
Now, out of 167 countries, we are 17th and they are 1st. Now, the issues we own
are GDP and patents; ease of doing business and political freedom (which some
of us thought might be growing less in America).

Socialist Sweden lays claim to
a higher tax rate (49% to 33%), but what they buy with their taxes are life enhancing
benefits
and the personal freedoms usually associated with our constitution.


 


Which does not a ball-game make.
But the next time someone
demagogues you with socialist legislation and the slippery slope to socialism,
you might ask just what they mean.

Socialism is often defined as “the doctrine
of centralized state control of wealth and property.
” But, like so many
oft-stated truisms, it’s not always that way. So it may pay to take a look at
the conversation about the word and determine ahead of time who means what.

The face of the rhetorical compass is not always screwed on properly and reading it wrong can give rise to a long, cold night in the mountains.