The Socialist Boogeyman

When people advocate for Medicare for All, opponents cry out “that’s socialized medicine” as though anything remotely related to socialism is evil incarnate. Why is that, and why does the word evoke such an emotional reaction from so many? Let’s think about that for a minute.

First, what is socialism? Socialism probably has as many definitions as there are people who wish to define it. So being a stickler for words1, let’s go back to an authoritative source of definitions, the Oxford English Dictionary which defines socialism as follows:

A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole and their administration or distribution in the interests of all”.2

Given the above definition, who should or should not be concerned? Those who own and control the means of production, capital, land, property, etc. would be deprived of all profits from that ownership and control if we adopted socialism. On the other hand, those who receive benefit from its administration or distribution, have no reason to fear it. In the U.S., those who profit from the ownership of land, capital, etc. constitute a very small percentage of the population while the vast majority benefit from the administration and distribution of the means of production, land, capital, etc. but don’t actually profit from it and therefore have little reason to fear socialism. So why do so many Americans fear socialism? The simple reason is that we have been lead to believe socialism is the same as Soviet Communism through an extremely successful advertising campaign sponsored by those who actually have reason to oppose it.

Let’s now consider Medicare for All (M4A). Is M4A socialism or even socialized medicine? Not really, although it’s a limited form of it. Medicare is simply a government owned and operated healthcare insurance program that supplements the private healthcare insurance industry.  Expansion of Medicare would take business (and profits) away from the private healthcare corporations, and total healthcare coverage for everyone would essentially eliminate them. But insurance is only one component (capital) of our healthcare system. The means of production, which is composed of the doctors, hospitals, nurses, etc., remains in private hands and there are no proposals to change that.England has true socialized medicine.  In England, the government hospitals are owned by the government, doctors, nurses, aides, etc. are government employees and all expenses are paid by the government from taxes.

The control and distribution of money is where much of the expense for healthcare is lost. This overhead expenditure does not contribute directly to the nation’s healthcare. Under Medicare, that cost is nominally 6% of the total healthcare cost whereas that cost is nominally 25% under private healthcare insurance. M4A would drastically reduce that overhead expense and provide coverage for everyone, not just those who can afford it.

There are many more arguments for M4A, but the main point that I’m trying to make here is that M4A is not socialism and it is not socialized medicine and that even if it were, there would be no reason for the vast majority of Americans to oppose it.

1 The definitions of words are critical. It is through words that we communicate and when we misconstrue the definitions of words we fail to communicate and/or communicate the wrong thoughts.

2 According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1887), the word originated in 1835 in the discussions of a society founded by Robert Owen.