IT WASN’T surprising to hear multi-billionaires Bill Gates, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, interviewed on CNBC-TV on May 9, defending capitalism. But it was indeed surprising that Gates made a positive comment about socialism, or at least about what is defined in the United States as socialism.
Gates pointed out that the current increase in pro-socialist rhetoric in the United States does not really refer to socialism according to any conventional definition of the word. The ‘socialist’ policies that we hear from politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders are, to a greater extent, about capitalist policies with a strong social security contribution. And that is good!
‘Socialism used to mean that a state controlled the means of production’, and, according to Gates, ‘many people here who promote socialism do not define it in that classical way.’
Gates also says that most people who favour socialism in the United States do not speak of true socialism. And they’re right!
‘The majority does not argue against capitalism… only believes that there should be changes in taxes, more progressive tax rates, and the reinstatement of estate tax. What they actually want is capitalism with a better level of taxation,’ says Gates.
According to him, most left-wing Americans do not advocate the ownership of the means of production to be passed on to the workers, that all industries be nationalised, and that private property be abolished, which are the real principles of socialist ideology.
The majority of left-wing people support politicians who promise capitalism with a solid social security foundation. But there is no indication that what they are proposing is truly socialism.
The federal employment guarantee of AOC, for example, would consist of a reference standard for employment that would include a minimum wage of $15 linked to inflation, full medical care, and paid leave for sickness and children.
This proposal would drastically improve the quality of employment in the United States by giving training and experience to the workers and at the same time providing much needed public services to communities in areas such as, education, health, park maintenance, childcare, and environment conservation.
But that’s not socialism in the classic sense of the word. It is capitalism with a strong social safety net. The majority of rich countries in Europe already have what AOC proposes. That doesn’t make them socialists. In any case, it makes them social democrats.
The United States does not have a Social Democratic party, thus, anything to the left of the Democratic Party is called socialism, because Americans do not have a vocabulary that would allow them to speak of these things with greater subtlety than that of a left against a binary right.
Why people like Bernie Sanders and AOC are labelled as socialists, and even sometimes they call themselves by that term?
Because Fox News spent Obama’s years calling all the Democratic Party’s policies so. As a result, there are two generations (Millennials and Generation Z) who simply use the term socialist without worrying too much about what it exactly means.
For the younger generations, socialism only means making sure that everyone can go to the doctor when they need it, or have a roof over their heads, or have money to buy food, regardless of that person’s circumstances.
And these generations believe that all of these can be achieved within the existing system, without overthrowing the ruling class and the setting of a new political system led by the working class.
As Gates points out, there are some real socialists in the world. And there are even real socialists in governments all over the world. But most American socialists are simply leftists who disregard party labels and talk about policies. Bill Gates knows this and Donald Trump knows it too.
It’s not that Bill Gates is progressive. Guys like Gates know clearly that the guillotines are coming, and if the United States continues along the path of austerity and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, anything can happen.
According to available information, Gates is worth more than $101 billion dollars, which should literally be considered a crime in a civilised society in which 13 million children do not have enough to eat. But, for now, we will have to accept that at least there are some multi-billionaires who recognize the need for real changes in global society.
Counterpunch.org, May 15. Manuel E Yepe is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana.
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