The Conservative Zero-Sum View Of Social Democracy

In the United States of America, any talk of expanding the social safety-net is met with ardent opposition from conservatives. In their view, a growing welfare state is antithetical to freedom and liberty. They believe it’s a zero-sum game.

Before Medicare passed, Ronald Reagan warned of the dangers of what he called socialized medicine. “[B]ehind it will come other government programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until one day as Norman Thomas said we will wake to find that we have socialism.” Never mind that Medicare was not and is not by any definition socialized medicine. Although, America does have socialized medicine, it’s called the Veterans Health Administration.

Reagan continued, “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Remember, he was talking about Medicare. With the benefit of hindsight, Reagan’s bellowing sounds rather naive. But because Medicare did pass, it means people did not succumb to scare tactics. However, this conservative babe in the woods routine remains intact to this day. Conservatives don’t have to prove anything, they just have to plant the seeds of doubt. Why is there a zero-sum relationship between government services and freedom? We are simply supposed to accept it on faith.


One might believe they are trying to say — We would be all for helping people gain access to health care, if not for the erosion of liberties that would result.

Hardly. A vigorous welfare state expands freedom. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” shouldn’t just be used by presidential candidates during a stump speech. That line from the Declaration of Independence should actually mean something in the real world. When the burden of poverty and inadequate access to health care weighs down a family, they are less free than their wealthy neighbor. When people have financial security, they have greater freedom in their lives to pursue their dreams, they are able to better provide for their children. and collectively all of society benefits. It is for these reasons and more that health care should be a right, and everyone should be able to go to college to get an education that allows them to pursue their dreams.

Put quite simply, America already has a heterogeneous mixture of social programs. The main difference between America and many European nations is uniformity and degree. In many of those countries, health care is indeed a right for all people. In America, health care is a right if you are a veteran (VHA) or if you are age 65 or older (Medicare). Do our veterans or our senior citizens believe their freedom is weakened by these programs? And if not, how is it that freedom would diminish if health care is a right for all citizens?

Conservatives must thoroughly explain their zero-sum view of social democracy.

inspired by How Bernie Sanders is mainstreaming ‘democratic socialism’ by Paul Waldman

GovernmentHealth CareHuman RightsPoliticsSocialism

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