By Tim Butterworth
From single-payer health care to climate change, the 2020 Democrats have ambitious plans. But these new, grand, and green deals aren’t as radical as some make them sound. In fact, big public projects are what made America great.
When President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower took office in 1953, America had been buffeted by the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. The Cold War put us in competition with Soviet “5-Year Plans” and Chinese “Great Leaps Forward.”
Eisenhower was concerned that soldiers would return home to closing factories. So Ike pushed for massive infrastructure spending, creating the “Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”
Congress funded a half-century of highway construction, building 47,000 miles — the biggest public works project in the history of the world. It cost $500 billion in today’s dollars, with 90 percent coming from Washington and 10 percent from the states.
The interstate highways transformed America.
In 1919, it took a month or more to drive cross-country; the record today is a little over 24 hours. Automobile ownership skyrocketed, gas sales jumped, motels mushroomed, the suburbs ﬂourished, and malls were built. Construction companies, automakers, and oil companies ﬂourished, too, along with their workers.
There was a downside, of course. Rail and mass transit were marginalized, urban sprawl spread across the land, the daily commute grew longer, and our carbon footprint grew bigger, as multi-lane highways destroyed urban communities.
Still, it puts lie to the chant that “the U.S. has never been a socialist country!” After all, we drive on socialist, government-owned roads.
Meanwhile there’s almost universal support for Social Security, our government insurance. And half the country — including Medicare and Medicaid recipients, veterans, and federal elected officials — receives some form of socialist, government-funded health care.
Consider also the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned corporation created by Congress in 1933. Tennessee and five nearby states were devastated by poverty, hunger, and ill health. Only 1 percent of farm families had indoor plumbing, and about a third of the population in the valley had malaria.
Starting in 1933, our taxes paid to build TVA power plants, ﬂood control, and river navigation systems. In 1942 alone, the construction of 12 hydroelectric and one coal steam plant employed a total of 28,000 workers.
Today the TVA is a federally-owned corporation with assets worth over $34 trillion, according to the SEC. And while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rails against socialism, half of his constituents in Kentucky buy cheap, publicly produced TVA electricity. Free-market, for-profit, capitalist power states often pay twice as much.
Like our highway system, we need to change our TVA to meet the challenges of climate change. But that means better priorities and more investment, not less.
Federal taxes paid for the highways and the TVA, which are now supported by gas taxes and electric bills. In those years of great public works projects, the wealthy elite paid a much greater share of their income in taxes, with the highest marginal tax rate reaching 94 percent.
Claiming that government is the problem, not the solution, administrations since the 1970s have reduced that top rate over and over. The 2017 tax law again reduced the top rate for billionaires, creating great fortunes for a few, and great national debt, but not great public works.
Let’s get past the S-word — socialism — and have a real discussion on how to build an America that’s great for all of us.
Tim Butterworth is a retired teacher and former state legislator from Chesterfield, New Hampshire.
Socialism has been proven not to work, especially socialized medicine. How’s it working out for Venezuela who happens to be a Socialist Country? It isn’t, that’s why they’re in the decline they’re in. KEEP SOCIALISM OUT OF THE U.S., IT HAS NO PLACE HERE! Oh and don’t forget, as much as Sanders wants to Socialize this Country with “free” everything, nothing is free.
I’m am so tired of being told that the government provides Social Security and Medicare when I have paid for them my whole life and STILL PAY.
If roads were privately owned, imagine the chaos. The government didn’t provide them without collecting taxes and fees from me. Don’t tell me, you didn’t build that because I did.
Infrastructure plans are aok as long as the projects are fairly awarded and supervised and the money doesn’t go down the drain like Solyndra.
When the government is in control, we lose. They stole from the Social Security fund and now there is a problem? Why don’t they just collect SS on all income not just the lower salaries. It is the upper incomes that can afford it — makes no sense.
We don’t need socialism — just stay out of my way.
Lin, you would not be rich! I’ve been in the investment business for over 35 years. A ” conservative investment” would give you a return of about 2% above inflation and you won’t get rich on that. Granted, you’d have a lot of money, but the cost of living will have grown dramatically.
You’d also forfeit any disability benefits from Social Security. I know every one thinks it won’t happen to them, but it does happen and the loss of income is terrible.
Allen Flynn says
Mr. Butterworth neglected to identify that there is no pure socialist country past or present that is or was successful. Those countries pointed to today as successful socialist (usually a Scandinavian country) are blends of socialism and capitalism and are very, very small in population and gdp.
Today’s American socialist advocates are promoting a full body plunge into a socialist vat. Before you subscribe to this socialist utopia, just learn the details of the role each of those pushing would play. You will find they would maintain millionaire lives (see Bernie Sanders now) however all of your hard earned rewards will be taken and shared among all.
Mr. Butterworth implies scare tactics have been employed when socialism has been presented. However if you look closely you’ll see those scary stories are real descriptions of places like Venezuela, The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Cuba, North Korea, and Nicaragua. All powerhouse countries right?
Please don’t accept just my word or Butterworth’s please do your own research. Don’t think socialism means being social as many millennials and younger Americans do. Educate yourself, learn what you may be committing yourself to. This is important folks.
“Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.”
I would be a multi-millionaire today IF every penny of my Social Security Tax money had been conservatively invested in MY name. Instead I was forced to hand it over to the spendthrift federal government who has wasted it away on other useless purposes so now I won’t have ANY Social Security income after 2035 when the fund goes broke. And some are saying “don’t believe the myth that SS will be gone in 2035”. Well you can’t get blood from a stone! They say that you will get reduced benefits. Great! Work ALL my life to end up getting LESS than when I first retired while inflation keeps going UP. Others say we will just increase the federal deficit to keep SS afloat. WTF? The US is currently over 22 Trillion in debt and can barely afford the interest payments let alone pay down the debt. So much for your Socialist programs Mr. Butterworth!
Don Appignani says
We are all socialist. We just don’t realize it. We drive on public roads, and benefit from goods transported on these roads and our railways. I went to public schools, we use airports that we built with public funds. We all benefit from seaports, hospitals, the military, social security, medicare and medicaid, and on and on and on. These are all examples of what has been done by a socialist society that my family and I could not afford to build on our own. Society does this for us by assessing and collecting taxes in various shapes and forms. Collectively, we all benefit from this form of socialism. So the next time you see your tax bill, remember, all these benefits have to paid for by someone.
Alphonse Abonte says
Show when the government gets involved in program, see a screwed up program, especially Dems. Green New Deal. HAHA!
Cuba is an example of a socialist nation. Its economy is state run and it lacks a stock exchange. … The country of North Korea is a socialist state, lacking a stock exchange, supporting many social programs, and the economy is state-run.
How are they doing, NOT TO GOOD>
Enkay Cardova says
Tim Butterworth’s article is seriously flawed. He forgot to mention one of the most massive boondoggles of socialist spending in the US- some 95 billion dollars given away to the able-bodied, including not only direct grants but loan assistance for businesses and housing. What is this “socialist” boondoggle of federal government spending and giveaways? It was called the GI Bill. Ironic that some of those who rail against “socialist” federal spending, do s from the comfort of government financed houses, and/or would not be where they are today, and would not have the wealth or assets the have today except for this awful “socialism”- why the money was just given away to the “able-bodied.
Ah yes the standard response- well that money was “earned” by those who “served their country.” Yes indeed, but why did/does so much of the money benefit those who have NOT “served.” You know, like those bored housewives who transport kids to socialist skools on subsidized suburban streets and highways.
UP above someone opined that a “conservatively” managed non-socialist deduction would have made them a “Multi-millionaire today.” Really? In fact social security is “managed conservatively” and as such yields returns MORE than people have put in, TAX FREE, comparative to a conservative long term annuity. Social security by the way is responsible for one of the best anti- poverty programs in US history in its early decades, helping the elderly cope much better with poverty by providing a minimum floor of benefits.
It is further opined that if only this “conservatively” managed money method was in place things would be so much better, but dash it man, the money went to a “spendthrift federal government who has wasted it away on other useless purposes.” This is a perceptive observation for the money did indeed go to “useless” purposes like the GI Bill, subsidized suburban highways, subsidized electrification for millions, etc etc and the “massive waste” in scientific and technological research and development that yielded us not only the space program but such things as today’s Internet.
Some qualify their opposition to “socialism” to limit their ire to the dusky able-bodied who are getting government “giveways.” But strangely their ire seldom applies to the Irish, who as late as the beginning of WW2, had one third of their working population employed by government- at federal, state and local levels. (See sholarship: Bayor and Meagher 1996. The New York Irish) Indeed the history of the urban machines and their heavy taxation, wild spending and “giveways”- like under the regime of mayr “Big” Frank Hague in Jersey City shows that “crony socialism” has a long history in the US, long before “liberals” in the Obama era supposedly showed up.
All the examples of public works were not socialism. They were joint programs between the government and private industry. The sociallist of today want to control everything including taking over or close down businesses that do not adhere to their agenda. Also Social Security and Medicare is funded by me and the company I work for
@ Don Appignani- Thanks so much for your “thoughtful” and very “accurate” analysis and comment.
Those who have allowed themselves to be FOX fear filled and brainwashed into thinking that they would somehow be better off without all the wonderful benefits our citizens working TOGETHER have created should try living without roads, laws, schools, police, fire departments. . . and, so forth. As you noted, what we create TOGETHER is always a form of Socialism.
Under Maduro Venezuela has a presidential government. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated Venezuela as “authoritarian” in 2017.
Democratic socialism describes a socialist economy where production and wealth are collectively owned, but the country has a democratic system of government. The goal of democratic socialism is to achieve socialist goals of equality while opposing socialist ideologies. Democratic socialism is opposed to the Soviet economic model, command economies and authoritarian governance.
While FOX always refers to Venezuela. . . Democratic Socialist countries include many others such as :
BTW It is trump who has greatly accelerated our debt which should never be done in a time of the economic prosperity he was handed. His tax cuts to benefit billionaires have only made things worse for us all.
This from the Counsel on Foreign Relations:
The U.S. national debt is once again raising alarm bells. Federal borrowing from outside investors has expanded rapidly over the past decade, totaling more than $16 trillion in 2018, and it is projected to grow even faster over the next ten years. Major budget legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump, along with continued growth in entitlements and higher interest rates, will see the debt nearly double by 2029, coming close to the size of the entire U.S. economy.
If the debt continues to grow at an unsustainable level, it could expose the country to a number of dangers, economists say. In the extreme, the risk rises that Washington’s lenders, many of whom are foreign, could suddenly lose confidence, demand higher interest rates, and trigger a fiscal crisis. Short of that, rising debt could gradually squeeze discretionary spending and deny the country the tools it needs for security and economic stability. Reducing the debt, experts say, will require politically difficult decisions to curb entitlement spending, raise taxes, or both.
When politics demands that people resist available health care, amass arsenals, cut funding for schools that their own kids attend, or make other decisions that might feel emotionally correct but biologically perilous, these politics are literally asking people to die for their whiteness.
Randy Jones says
Tim Butterworth (a retired teacher and author of this essay) says, “. . . we drive on socialist, government-owned roads.” His statement begs the reader to question what basic knowledge Mr. Butterworth has or does not have. FACT – we drive, for the most part, on PUBLIC right of ways. PUBLIC meas the PEOPLE own them. Certainly the “state” exercises “law” enforcement upon those right of ways but he, I and the PUBLIC own them.
Name two government programs funded by payroll deductions that are going broke.
Name two government programs funded by payroll deductions that are going broke.