Debunking Steven Crowder's Arguments – Defending Social Democracies

 

Thumbnail photos: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons; Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons; Political Map of Europe/Mapswire

 

Steven Crowder, in a number of videos, has criticized Bernie Sanders and the social democracies of Europe. Here, I'm going to argue that his criticisms are inaccurate and misguided for a number of different reasons. We're going to take a look at how these countries compare to the United States in a variety of ways, and I'm also going to break down and refute some of Crowder's arguments on subjects like health care, education, taxation, the best way to structure our government, and so forth. It's gonna be a fucking blast, so strap yourselves in.

In a video entitled "Why 'Democratic' Socialism Doesn't Work," Steven Crowder starts out by saying the following: 

 

"'Comparing democratic socialism to traditional socialism—or, God forbid, communism—is fear-mongering, it's inaccurate!'...It's actually pretty reasonable."

 

He then plays a clip of Bernie Sanders defining democratic socialism and says the following:

 

"This is pivotal because there's a myth going around that democratic socialism is inherently different from traditional socialism." 

 

Crowder seems to be implying here that Bernie Sanders basically supports plain-vanilla socialism. He then goes on to explain the drawbacks and follies of socialism, but I would argue he's attacking a strawman here, because when you look at the actual policies that Bernie Sanders is calling for, it's pretty clear that he's mislabeling himself as a democratic socialist when what he really supports is social democracy. It may seem like a tedious distinction, but these are very different systems of governance.

It's important to define a few terms here, because when it comes to discussing different forms of government, a key problem I see is that many people—on all sides of the debate—are simply confused or ignorant about the terminology. And this leads to people talking past one another other, making ridiculous comparisons, and misapplying these terms to countries that have completely different forms of government. So in the interest of avoiding this kind of confusion, let's first define democratic socialism. As Wikipedia writes,

 

"Democratic socialism is defined as having a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled alongside a politically democratic system of government."—as opposed to capitalism, where the means of production are privately owned.

 

The other term to define is social democracy. To again quote Wikipedia

 

"Social democracy is a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy. . . . Modern social democracy is characterized by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty, including support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, child care, education, health care and workers' compensation."—or as they might define it over on Fox News, the lovechild of Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin.

 

As we can see, these systems of governance are completely at odds with one another: One rejects capitalism, while the other preserves it. Wikipedia draws the following distinction between the two systems:

 

"Democratic socialism is distinguished from social democracy on the basis that democratic socialists are committed to systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism whereas social democracy is supportive of reforms to capitalism."

 

Now that we understand the terminology, let's take a look at a clip from one of the Democratic debates and compare Bernie Sanders' definition of democratic socialism against the definition of social democracy:

 

"What democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of one percent in this country own . . . almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. That it is wrong today, in a rigged economy, that 57% of all new income is going to the top 1%. That when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right—except the United States. 

You see every other major country saying to moms that when you have a baby, we're not going to separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have medical and family paid leave like every other country on earth. Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people." 

 

And if X out of all the porn tabs you have open, you can go to his campaign website and look at where he stands on all the other issues, and it's clear that, almost line-by-line, he supports social democracy. When, during the campaign—or where, on his website—did he say that the means of production should be collectively owned or that capitalism should be abolished? It must be in the same non-existent section where he called for a 90% tax rate—another right-wing myth about Bernie. 

To equate what he is calling for with socialism, and to label his own views as democratic socialism, is a mistake. Or who knows: it could be the case that deep down, he truly does support collectivizing the means of production and eliminating capitalism. Maybe he even thinks that we should eat the rich? If we start with Chris Christie, we can solve world hunger overnight! If Bernie truly advocates good old-fashioned, full-on socialism, we should be opposed to that, because I don't think it's a good system—but everything he said during the campaign makes absolutely clear that this is not what he supports.

[Edit - 5/26/18 - I should clarify something: Although I originally wrote the following—"If Bernie truly advocates good old-fashioned, full-on socialism, we should be opposed to that, because I don't think it's a good system"—I guess this really comes down to what we mean by socialism. 

If we're just talking about a group of employees or perhaps even the entire staff being owners of a business, sharing in the profits, and making decisions democratically, I have no problem with this and might, in fact, even prefer it over having one owner who ultimately calls all the shots and takes the lion's share of the profits. But I'm not sure whether this would fall under the umbrella of private ownership still (and thus be considered capitalism) or technically be classified as socialism, and this is kind of the problem with just tossing around labels as opposed to discussing the specific details of a system.

If, on the other hand, we're talking about some sort of command economy, then yeah, that's the kind of system I think we should oppose (for reasons that are beyond the scope of this particular project.) I should have originally been more clear on this.]

And the countries that he points to as role models for the United States—countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden—are not staunch socialist nations; they have mixed economies—which feature a blend of capitalist and socialist principles. As Encyclopaedia Brittanica writes, 

 

"[A] mixed economy, in economics, [is] a market system of resource allocation, commerce, and trade in which free markets coexist with government intervention. A mixed economy may emerge when a government intervenes to disrupt free markets by introducing state-owned enterprises (such as public health or education systems), regulations, subsidies, tariffs, and tax policies. . . . A combination of free market principles of private contracting and socialist principles of state ownership or planning is common to all mixed economies."

 

You know which other nation has a mixed economy? The United States. Our government intereferes with and regulates everything from trade, business, education, health care and agriculture to manufacturing. The difference between the United States and these European countries is basically a matter of degree. The US government already plays a substantial role in health care; what people like Bernie Sanders are saying is basically "Let's do more of what we're already doing and let's provide universal health care through our tax dollars." Same with education: K-to-12 education in the United States is funded through our tax dollars. In these European nations, they provide universal college education in the same way, so again, moving in this direction would just be a continuation of a trend that already exists in the United States.

And the policies that these countries have in place are not some sort of insane nonsense. Internationally speaking, the United States is the outlier—and by that, I don't mean that our system is of such a stunningly high quality that we stand out from the rest. As Quartz.com reports, a total of four countries across the entire world do not offer paid maternity leave: Swaziland, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. No offense to these shithole nations, as Trump might call them, but I'd be surprised if half the people listening could even find these countries on a map.

And as Edvisors.com reports, the following countries provide free college tuition (or nearly free tution)—that is to say, taxpayer funded tuition—to all of its citizens: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Morocco, Norway, Panama, Poland, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Uruguay.

And the list of countries that provide free, universal health care to its citizens is too long to even go through, but aside from the European nations, it includes countries like Barbados, the Bahamas, Botswana, Ecuador, Panama, Oman and Pakistan.

Despite these facts, Steven Crowder is opposed to instituting a taxpayer-funded health care system. Why? Because the Post Office sucks.

 

"I find it funny that democratic socialists use the Post Office as an example for success. The Post Office was awful until—surprise!—FedEx provided compeitition: overnight shipping, 2-day shipping, it didn't exist. It got there when it got there, you hoped. Also, before FedEx, tracking numbers didn't exist. That was your Post Office. You wanna see government-run health care? Take that, and add cancer."

 

This is a pretty weak argument. You'll be surprised to learn that sending mail is not the same thing as the provision of health care. Presumably the latter would be treated as a much higher-priority task. You're not going to die if you don't get your grandmother's boring, handwritten letter in a prompt manner; receiving adequate health care is another story. 

Not only that, but we can measure the quality of health care systems in a variety of different ways to see how the United States compares with countries that have government-provided health care. One metric is cost. OECD data from 2013 shows that the United States spends 16.4% of GDP on health care, compared to the OECD average of 8.9%—with the second-highest spending nation clocking in at 11.1%.

We spend, by far, the most money on health care in the U.S. compared to these other countries. So the next time your drunk Republican uncle points out that the United States is number one, you'll have some room for agreement!

On top of cost, accessibility is a huge problem in the United States: because our health care is so costly, and because we have to independently acquire health insurance rather than having it guaranteed to us like dozens of other countries across the globe, millions of people in the United States lack coverage. According to CNBC, as of 2017, 11.3% of U.S. adults were without health insurance. Additionally, many people avoid seeking needed treatment because they're afraid of spending an enormous amount of money and think they can just tough it out. As Jennifer Taber et al. write in the Journal of General Internal Medicine

 

"People often avoid seeking medical care even when they suspect it may be necessary; nearly one-third of respondents in a recent national United States (U.S.) survey reported avoiding the doctor. Even individuals with major health problems or who are experiencing symptoms avoid seeking medical care. For example, in one study, 17% of patients diagnosed with rectal tumors reported that they waited a year or more to seek medical consultation after noticing symptoms, with some waiting up to five years. Avoiding medical care may result in late detection of disease, reduced survival, and potentially preventable human suffering."

 

It's a bit puzzling to imagine that at least some of these people must be Republicans; I'm reminded of a joke from one of Bill Maher's stand-up shows where he said: "Take your government hands off my jobless, cancer-ridden body!"

These researchers conducted a survey asking why people avoid seeking medical care, and of the 1,369 respondents, 516—or 38%—cited financial reasons including overall cost, co-pays, or health insurance. There may have been some slight overlap here when people selected multiple answers, so let's conservatively say that about 1/3 of people who avoid seeking medical care in the United States do so for financial reasons. And considering that about 1/3 of Americans avoid doctor visits, for all reasons, 1/3 of 1/3 is 1/9th, for you mathematicians out there. This is over 10% of American adults avoiding doctor visits purely for financial reasons. This is a serious problem. People suffer and die as a result of this, and this would not be a problem if our health care system was taxpayer funded and guaranteed to all citizens.

In addition to looking at cost and accessibility, we can measure the quality of the health care provided itself. A 2014 Commonwealth Fund study ranked the United States as 5th out of the 11 countries examined in terms of overall quality.

Not terrible, but not spectacular either—especially considering the obscene amount that we spend compared to other nations. We spend almost twice the OECD average to receive mediocre health care. Imagine a drag racer spending twice as much on his car, yet it can't accelerate or drive any faster than his competition.

What this data shows is that countries which have taxpayer-funded health care systems can, in fact, provide health care of a comparable or higher quality than that we receive in the United States—and they can provide it to all of their citizens while spending dramatically less than we do.

And noting that the United States is ranked 5th out of 11 in terms of quality is great—if you have access to this health care. But the quality doesn't really matter if you're one of the millions of Americans without health insurance who puts off needed doctor visits because of the massive financial burden you would incur.

In case you don't trust this Commonwealth Fund data, for whatever reason, the World Health Organization in 2000 ranked the United States as 37th out of 191 nations in terms of the overall performance of our health care system. Ahead of it were countries that included Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Yes, this data is slightly outdated, but it's something. "Pfft, the World Health Organization? Sounds to me like a bunch of liberal propaganda."

So it's one thing to say: "The post office sucks, therefore government-provided health care would also suck."—not exactly the kind of argument that's likely to earn you a standing ovation from me. But when you actually examine the data, you see that the United States health care system is much worse than those of countries which provide precisely the kind of health care system that Crowder argues against.

The ineptitude of the Post Office, however, is not the only reason that Crowder opposes tax-funded health care; he also makes the following argument: 

 

"Under Bernie Sanders—noted democratic socialist—the middle class would pay more—a lot more. Yeah, if you're making over $50,000 a year, you'd be paying over $5,000 more a year, so there's that. I know, I know, some of you are saying: 'But we'll get free health care and college!' Again, if you believe that everyone in government is beyond corruption and those things will happen efficiently. . . . Democratic socialism necessitates trust that all of these people are beyond corruption and will do what's right for you."

 

This is a colossally idiotic argument for so many different reasons. Number one, you don't need to believe that everyone in government is beyond corruption to believe that the government could provide health care and college. Why could corrupt politicians not oversee this? Crowder's logic—if you can even call it that—seems to be that corrupted politicians cannot provide government benefits or services. 

Here's the problem with that: we all acknowledge that many high-level politicians are currently corrupted, so if his logic is correct, how is it that any government benefits or services currently provided are even capable of being provided? Your mayor might be a corrupt bastard, but the bus is still going to be there to pick you up at 7 o' clock—and the half-crazed homeless man who smells like urine is still going to be there to ride the bus and make you feel uncomfortable. Corruption certainly has all kinds of poisonous effect on our government, but it doesn't cause it to utterly grind to a halt.

And is there not corruption in business, too? Does private enterprise not also suffer from this exact same defect? Does this mean that should just abandon the idea that business can provide anything of value to us? Of course not. You don't need to believe that business is utterly impermeable to corruption to believe that it can provide real benefits to the world, and the same can be said about government.

Even if we granted that this absurd argument was correct, why not just get big money out of politics and have this not be a problem anymore? Let's rid of the legalized bribery, the Super PACs and so forth, and do away political corruption as much as we can. Considering that this is what people like Bernie Sanders also support, they then provide the solution to the very problem that Crowder brings up as a point against them.

And we know that governments can efficiency provide things like health care and college to its citizenry because many countries around the globe do precisely this. I don't know why so many right-wingers talk about these issues like it's a purely theoretical discussion about zany ideas that have never adopted, because the world is just overflowing with exactly these policies. "Pfft, yeah, you mean those systems that dozens of other countries have in place and that function spectacularly? Like that'll ever work." These people must be living on a different planet than me or something.

Steven Crowder, however, argues that things in some of those countries aren't as good as people like me make them out to be.

 

"And then they cherrypick data from individual facets of countries in order to make their point. Like Nicaragua's literacy program. Ok, why don't you talk about their GDP! Canada's nationalized health care system? Why don't you talk about the crushing debt and the Supreme Court case that ruled it a violation of human rights in 2005? Sweden? It's now the rape capital of the Western world and on the verge of cultural and economic collapse!"

 

Ok, let's talk about the Supreme Court case in Canada. First off, they didn't rule that Canada's nationalized health care system, generally, was a violation of human rights; the ruling covered a specific provision of the health care legislation of Quebec. As The Globe and Mail writes,

 

"the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Quebec's ban on using private insurance for 'medically necessary' services covered by medicare."

 

As of 2001, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, this was a provision that 6 of the 10 Canadian provinces also had on the books.

 

"Private insurance for medically necessary hospital and physician services is illegal in only 6 of the 10 provinces. Nonetheless, a significant private sector has not developed in any of the 4 provinces that do permit private insurance coverage."

 

And the rationale behind this provision, in case you're curious, is explained by Think Progress as follows: 

 

"Basic services are covered by the government precisely because the large risk pools allow the government to negotiate cheaper rates with providers and control health care costs. The government fears, with good reason, that if Canadians can leave the purchasing pools, the government’s market power would diminish."

 

Here I think there might actually be room for some agreement: Unless it could be shown that such an allowance would cause the Canadian health care system to suffer dramatically—which seems unlikely—I think people should be free to purchase supplementary, private health insurance on top of the public health care they receive if that's what they want. 

But it's worth noting that this Canadian policy is not a necessary feature of public health care systems. For example, as we read on TransferWise.com

 

"10% of all employed adults [in Sweden] get supplementary coverage to help them gain quicker access to emergency care, certain specialists, or to avoid waiting lists for elective treatments."

 

And according to Anne Karin Lindahl, writing for The Commonwealth Fund, about 9% of the population of Norway has some kind of private insurance.

Nobody is arguing that these nationalized health care systems are perfect in every single detail; obviously they have their flaws and there is room for improvement in every single nation. The point I'm making is that, on the whole, these systems are more affordable, more accessible, more ethical, and in many cases, higher quality. Bringing up specific defects in these systems does not negate this point.

And Crowder just goes way out in left field on Sweden. They're the rape capital of the Western world? What does this have to do with their welfare benefits? He's just completely changing the subject here. "Hey, look at these fantastic domestic benefits provided by the government in Sweden", "Oh yeah? Well did you know that one particular type of crime occurs relatively often in Sweden?" 

It'd be like if I said: "Hey, while you're in Austin, you should check out this great steakhouse that they have there," and you responded by saying: "Oh yeah? Well you know what else they have in Austin? Lots of drug dealers." It's just a total change of subject. It's completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. If your point is that the country isn't perfect, yeah, who ever argued that it was? 

And I'm no expert on Sweden—although I have eaten a few packages of Swedish Fish before—but based upon what I've read, any cultural or economic collapse that occurs in Sweden will largely be the result of its immigration policy—not the health care system, not the education system, not the provision of paid maternal leave, or anything of the sort.

Crowder, at one point, channels his inner philosopher and explores the ethics of taxing people to fund these things:

 

"College? This goes back to the worldview: What if I don't want to go to college? What if someone decides . . . out of their own free will to take that job cleaning septic tanks that millennials refuse to do and he gets paid well? Why should he be taxed more to fund your decision to [go to] college? There's the practical, and there's the moral."  

 

I gotta hand it to you, Crowder: That's a great point. And you know what? You got me thinking: Why should I fund K-to-12 education if I'm not going to have kids? Why fund public transportation if I drive my own car? My answer is that you should be taxed to fund these things because there's more to living in a society than just being selfish and caring only about your own pocketbook. These are improvements to society as a whole right here. Policies like this raise the floor of the entire nation. Are you really that disgusted at the idea that a fraction of your tax dollars might be improving other people's lives and you might not see a direct benefit from it? This is a very selfish and inconsiderate political ideology—and I think it has no place in our connected, 21st century society.

And even if we are viewing this purely through the lens of self-interest, society at large does see benefits when it's population becomes widely educated: These people will be more likely to create new inventions and technological breakthroughs, cure diseases, develop effective new treatments and medicines, and just generally speaking, will be more able to improve the world around us in a way that all of us—including yourself—would benefit from. Plus, wouldn't you just prefer to live in a nation that's filled with educated people? (I guess if you're Steven Crowder, probably not, because then your audience would vanish!)

And we don't just see broader societal benefits from education; when people have access to health care, they're going to be more productive and more capable of providing to society than if they were burdened by disease, some treatable medical condition, or whatever it may be.

On top of all that, you should be taxed to fund these things because this is how taxation works in a country, at least in theory: the majority of people, through their elected representatives, decide on how they want their tax dollars to be spent, and policies like this are implemented if there's enough support for them. 

What alternative system would you prefer? One where people only voluntarily offer up tax dollars for the things that they support or that they're guaranteed to use—as if this wouldn't lead to a massive shortfall and fundraising crisis? Or should we virtually do away with taxation and privatize almost everything—and if that's your preferred approach, can you point me to a nation that has successfully implemented a system like this and thrived? The advocate of social democracy has real-world example after example to point to; the libertarian, however, only has fantasies and abstractions.

And you wanna talk about excessive spending? Take a look at our military budget. According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, we spend more than the next 7 highest-spending nations combined. A universal college education plan is estimated by FastCompany.com to cost between $50 and $100 billion per year. Cut our military spending in half—which would still make us the highest spending nation, by far—and we could afford 3–6 college degrees per person. And I guarantee that if we did this, Mexico, Canada or Cuba would not invade us.

Crowder also addresses these policies in a video he did for PragerU entitled "Democratic Socialism is Still Socialism." Let's look an argument he made about Denmark:

 

"Denmark? Ok, here's the time where you point to an entirely homogeneous population about 1/60th the size of America's and you point to that as the blueprint? Ok, let's go there. This is a place where the middle class can't even afford a car because of the 180% new car tax."

 

There's a lot to break down here. First off, what does it matter that the population of Denmark is largely homogeneous? Does something about minimal ethnic or racial diversity improve a nation's health care system? I don't see how this could be relevant.

He also points out that Denmark's population is much smaller than America's. Ok? So what? Yes, a larger population means more people will need to be provided with these benefits, but it also means that there will be more people capable of funding these benefits—so everything balances out and there's no problem. This is just basic statistics right here: If the proportionality of everything stays the same, it doesn't matter what the total population is. It feels silly to even have to spell this out, but because this is such a common talking point on the right, let's take a look at the numbers in a very simplified example: 

Let's say one nation has 10 million citizens and the average income is $30,000 per year. They're taxed at 30% to provide all the benefits and government services. $30,000 x 10 million x 0.30 = $90 billion available to spend / 10 million citizens = $9,000 per citizen. Another nation has a much larger population, 100 million citizens. But if the average income is the same and they're taxed at the same rate to provide the same benefits, we find the following: $30,000 x 100 million x 0.30 = $900 billion available to spend / 100 million citizens =, what do ya know?, $9,000 per citizen. 

Scaling the population up or down isn't going to affect the quality of the benefits or government services provided because the proportionality of everything stays the same. The only exception to this would be if the population is so pitifully tiny that they just don't have the resources or infrastructure to provide such services, but clearly this is not what Crowder has in mind.

And great job cherrypicking one particular policy of Denmark: the new car tax. My goodness: What an egregious burden! They must be rioting in the streets down there, because there's no way they could languish under such an unbearable tyranny.

Let's take a look at the World Happiness Report to see if economic conditions in Denmark are, indeed, so insufferable. As of 2015—the year before this video was published, and thus, the most recent year Crowder would've had access to if he cared to look—Denmark was ranked 3rd out of 158 countries, with the United States coming in at 15th. That must be some kind of mistake: Haven't these people heard about the new car tax?

It's one thing to do what Crowder did and point at one particular policy that seems outrageous, but it's much more informative to look at broad indexes like this. I'll let Steven Crowder explain what Steven Crowder did wrong here: "And then they cherrypick data from individual facets of countries in order to make their point."

It's also worth pointing out that, of the top 10 countries in the World Happiness Report, every single one of them provides through their tax dollars universal health care, paid maternal and sick leave, and most of them provide either fully or partially-funded college educations. How strange, because if you listen to certain people on the right wing, you'd expect the people in countries with these policies to descend into bankruptcy, beggary, and misery. Where is the tyranny and hell-on-earth that I was promised?