Nine Myths About Socialism in the US

Glenn Beck and other far right multi-millionaires are claiming that the US is hot on the path towards socialism. Part of their claim is that the US is much more generous and supportive of our working and poor people than other countries. People may wish it was so, but it is not.

As Senator Patrick Moynihan used to say “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”

The fact is that the US is not really all that generous to our working and poor people compared to other countries.

Consider the US in comparison to the rest of the 30 countries that join the US in making up the OECD — the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. ((The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an organization of 30 countries which works together for economic growth and to raise standards of living. The 30 countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and the US.)) These 30 countries include Canada and most comparable European countries but also include some struggling countries like Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Turkey.

When you look at how the US compares to these 30 countries, the hot air myths about the US government going all out towards socialism sort of disappear into thin air. Here are some examples of myths that do not hold up.

Myth #1. The US government is involved in class warfare attacking the rich to lift up the poor.

There is a class war going on all right. But it is the rich against the rest of us and the rich are winning. The gap between the rich and everyone else is wider in the US than any of the 30 other countries surveyed. In fact, the top 10% in the US have a higher annual income than any other country. And the poorest 10% in the US are below the average of the other OECD countries. The rich in the U.S. have been rapidly leaving the middle class and poor behind since the 1980s. ((OECD (2008), Growing Unequal: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, Country Note: United States.))

Myth #2. The US already has the greatest health care system in the world.

Infant mortality in the US is 4th worst among OECD countries — better only than Mexico, Turkey and the Slovak Republic. ((US Country Highlights – OECD (2009) Doing Better for Children.))

Myth #3. There is less poverty in the US than anywhere.

Child poverty in the US, at over 20% or one out of every five kids, is double the average of the 30 OECD countries. ((US Country Highlights – OECD (2009) Doing Better for Children.))

Myth #4. The US is generous in its treatment of families with children.

The US ranks in the bottom half of countries in terms of financial benefits for families with children. Over half of the 30 OECD countries pay families with children cash benefits regardless of the income of the family. Some among those countries (e.g. Austria, France and Germany) pay additional benefits if the family is low-income, or one of the parents is unemployed. ((OECD Family Database. PF3: Family Cash Benefits.))

Myth #5. The US is very supportive of its workers.

The US gives no paid leave for working mothers having children. Every single one of the other 30 OECD countries has some form of paid leave. The US ranks dead last in this. Over two thirds of the countries give some form of paid paternity leave. The US also gives no paid leave for fathers. ((OECD Family Database, PF7: Key characteristics of parental leave systems.))

In fact, it is only workers in the US who have no guaranteed days of paid leave at all. Korea is the next lowest to the US and it has a minimum of 8 paid annual days of leave. Most of the other 30 countries require a minimum of 20 days of annual paid leave for their workers. ((Babies and Bosses (Vol.5): A selection of tables and charts. – Table 7.1 European workers often have seven weeks of paid holidays per annum.))

Myth #6. Poor people have more chance of becoming rich in the US than anywhere else.

Social mobility (how children move up or down the economic ladder in comparison with their parents) in earnings, wages and education tends to be easier in Australia, Canada and Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland, than in the US. ((Economic Policy Reforms, Going for Growth (2010) Part II, Chapter 5.)) That means more of the rich stay rich and more of the poor stay poor here in the US.

Myth #7. The US spends generously on public education.

In terms of spending for public education, the US is just about average among the 30 countries of the OECD. ((OECD Family Database, PF2: Public Spending on Education.)) Educational achievement of US children, however, is 7th worst in the OECD. ((US Country Highlights – OECD (2009) Doing Better for Children.)) On public spending for childcare and early education, the US is in the bottom third. ((OECD Family Database, PF10: Public spending on childcare and early education.))

Myth #8. The US government is redistributing income from the rich to the poor.

There is little redistribution of income by government in the U.S. in part because spending on social benefits like unemployment and family benefits is so low. Of the 30 countries in the OECD, only in Korea is the impact of governmental spending lower. ((OECD (2008), Growing Unequal: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, Country Note: United States.))

Myth #9. The US generously gives foreign aid to countries across the world.

The US gives the smallest percentage of aid of any of the developed countries in the OECD. In 2007 the US was tied for last with Greece. In 2008, we were tied for last with Japan. ((OECD. Table 1 of the Statistical Annex of the 2010 Development Cooperation Report.))

Despite the opinions of right wing folks, the facts say the US is not on the path towards socialism.

But if socialism means the US would go down the path of being more generous with our babies, our children, our working families, our pregnant mothers, and our sisters and brothers across the world, I think we could all appreciate it.

Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at Read other articles by Bill.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on April 10th, 2010 at 11:41am #

    Well said! And a lovely indirect answer to those who have been attacking the Catholic Church!

  2. lichen said on April 10th, 2010 at 2:19pm #

    Good article; the US is a terribly unequal third-world country when it comes to social benefits; there is nothing here, yet deluded people still constantly complain about taxes and advocate that people should die in the streets more than they already do.

    The catholic church is a sick, poverty-creating, body-hating institution, absolutely, and it should be attacked. But it was not mentioned in this article; of course the catholic church was very implicit in the Franco dictatorship.

  3. rosemarie jackowski said on April 11th, 2010 at 10:13am #

    Very well said. These facts should be known by all citizens. Unfortunately that is not likely to happen. The tide of misinformation coming across the airways is just too much to overcome.

    We live during a time when truth does not matter. Radio, TV, and the Internet were supposed to fix that but it is not happening. Just getting the truth out about USA health care is not happening. 45,000 deaths per year and no one is ‘getting’ it.

    The Socialist Party could make a difference. I know. I have my little red card.

  4. Morpheus said on April 12th, 2010 at 2:19pm #

    As far as the word “socialism” goes, it has pretty much become, as in the terms of old Gilbert and Sullivan’s Major General in The Pirates of Penzance, become “spoken frequently”. I personally hardly use it because frankly, corporatism, or even doses of real socialism are supported or overlooked so much its rediculous. How about using the words such as interventionism, or imperialism, or intrusive? At least those are words I feel promising to try and use in the near future.

    @ rosemarie jackowski. I don’t know about a socialist party, but there needs to be some sort of concerted effort to support and sponsor a third party at this point. I think some sort of Green, or Socialist Party might suffice. But it has to start with Representatives and local politicians of this third party getting elected, then with the momentum built, try to re-challenge the Presidential Race as was only seemingly done twice with Ross Perot, only a different candidate. But I think a slightly left-of-center party might work in attracting moderate Republicans and some Principled Slight left Democrats, and that could be a start. Getting an effort together should start ASAP, and I would like to know if anyone has bothered with that yet.

  5. bozh said on April 13th, 2010 at 12:29pm #

    There are only two structures of society which potentially cld be fully developed: an idyllic [socialist] one and an asocialistic one [fascist, if u like]
    Of course, it may take centuries [i’m hoping decades or even yrs] to set up an idyllic society. This is, to me, the only salvation for humans and biota!
    I do think [i wish i knew more ab this] that several lands are already around midway or on their way to an egalitarian society.
    US had long ago passed the point of setting up a near-perfect asocialist society. If present trend continues, US wld have set up in in yrs or decades an ideally asocialistic or unequal society.

    And, then, what? Possible endclash of the two kinds of living? War to end all wars btwn an uncivilized world and a civilized one?
    No, probably not!? US cld change and join civilization! tnx

  6. Don Hawkins said on April 13th, 2010 at 12:54pm #

    I saved that one Bozh and the damn truth.

  7. tubby said on April 13th, 2010 at 10:43pm #

    An interesting article. I have a few comments / critiques.

    #1 I agree that the government does not want to be seen as attacking the rich, since all evidence shows both major parties dependent on their contributions. But saying it isn’t so might not be enough. Additionally, I might point out that the decimation of the US middle class has its genesis in the loss of productive industry from the US and a larger corporate control of the job market. Unfortunately, that decimation is accelerating under recent social welfare policy promoted by the likes of Walmart (and their candidates).

    #2 Standards for counting live births in the US are different from those abroad, so this comparison is invalid.

    #3 America’s child poverty statistics are an artifact of its unique demographics, I believe. It’s interesting that this administration seems more willing to deal with this problem via an expansion of abortion.

    #4 Ditto #3. There is no indication that indiscriminate cash has created or will create more responsible parents.

    #5 If employers are not providing appropriate paid leave, perhaps we should spend blog time publicizing the bad actors or fostering more labor market competition among employers rather than reviving a failed policy of government intervention or propping up corporations that are “too big to fail.”

    #6 This fails to show me that government policy is significant or effective in social mobility versus cultural or educational considerations. That is to say, it’s suspect that the study spent so much time measuring wage persistence for educated parents without bothering to measure higher educational persistence as a likely underlying cause. Social programs will never be as effective as a parent that demonstrates and instills the love of learning.

    #7 The states spend on education exactly what the voters elect. The entrance of the federal government into education has been an ineffective and unconstitutional expansion of Washington’s power. Voters who are dissatisfied with spending levels have a better chance of influencing reform if the power is properly retained locally in the state.

    #8 This tacitly implies that government’s role is to redistribute wealth. The founding fathers might have taken issue with that, as do most productive citizens with whom I have discussed this.

    #9 In absolute terms, US aid is greater, and this still neglects the unrivaled effect of US private sector aid. If someone thinks more needs to be spent on aid, they should join those of us who generously and judiciously support private charities.