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Berwyn: Social democracy a worthy goal

BOB BERWYN

When the dust settled after the most recent round of European parliamentary elections, much of the analysis focused on the gains made by the far right. The economic earthquake of the past nine months had a political aftershock. According to pundits, voters shied away from liberal, pro-Europe policies, looking for security by looking backward.

It’s not surprising. In countries like Austria and France, conservative parties played to the lowest common denominator by inciting fear and spurring xenophobia. Finger-pointing and blaming foreigners for problems is a tactic that has long worked well for nationalistic right-wing interests all over the world.

But while some of those parties continue their dangerous dance with neo-fascism, another aspect of the elections was less reported, namely the strong showing made by Greens. Of course, you’d have to look somewhere other than the mainstream press to read how Greens garnered nearly a quarter (23.6 percent) of the vote in Belgium, 16 percent in Denmark and France, 12 percent in Germany, 9 percent in the Netherlands and 8 percent in England and Wales.

Modest totals, to be sure, but still a sign that a significant number of voters responded to a platform of social, economic and environmental justice and equity. Green parties will continue to make gains in Europe because the concept of social democracy has evolved to point where it’s no longer seen as a threat but as a political philosophy that enhances democratic values. Far from stifling individual initiative, an enlightened umbrella of economic and social security helps advance prosperity and personal liberty.

There are many different ways to measure the relative well-being of countries around the world, but most of them come to the same conclusion. Take, for example, a human development index based on life expectancy, the adult literacy rate and the gross domestic product per capita, then throw purchasing power parity into the pot, to measure the relative purchasing power in different countries.

Based on these factors, the ranking in order from 1 to 10 goes like this: Norway, Iceland, Australia, Luxembourg, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium and the United States.

When it comes to sheer wealth, the U.S. ranks in the top three by most accepted measures, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the CIA World Fact Book. But when it comes to the distribution of that wealth, the U.S. is number 92.

I’ve read many of the arguments, but still never really understood the knee-jerk reaction against economic and political policies that modestly seek to create some level of economic parity. For me, the best example of how that can work is Germany, where I lived for many years. Despite relatively high taxes, there’s no shortage of personal wealth in that country. Mercedes and BMWs line prosperous shopping streets in cities and villages, the arts thrive, most workers get a month of paid vacation in their first year on the job, and quality health care and education are available to nearly everyone. No one is hungry, Nobody puts off basic medical needs just because they can’t afford it.

The story is similar in many of the other countries on the list, all of which exercise varying levels of social democracy. This is not some socialist utopia. It’s the real world, and it may be hard to grasp from within the bubble of the carefully controlled mainstream media and political propaganda so prevalent in the U.S.

It seems there should be a way to get past the polarized ideological debate and move on to the place where nuance lives, where compromise thrives and where dissenting opinions are not just tolerated, but embraced for the lessons they might offer.

The current debate about health care in the U.S. could be a place to start. Instead of positing either-or arguments, we should realize there is some middle ground where reasonable people can agree. Rather than sticking with tired old cliches about personal choice, isn’t it time to ensure collective security by finding a way to meet the basic needs of all our citizens?

It’s almost inconceivable, in this day and age, that a country as rich and powerful as the U.S. can’t take care of its own people in this important area. It’s time to stop playing politics. It’s time to get something done.

Bob Berwyn has been reporting from Summit County since 1996 and travels to Europe frequently.


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