Over the past year a close neighbor has struggled through the painful, debilitating complications of a chronic illness. Treatment costs approached seven figures, but not once have we sponsored a GoFundMe page or a bake sale to help with expenses. Such a move is unnecessary, because we are already collectively funding his care.
Americans with good jobs live in a socialist welfare state more generous, cushioned and expensive to the public than Denmark or Norway. We pool our resources to share the burden of catastrophic expenses. But unlike Denmark and Norway, our system doesn’t cover everyone.
Election 2016 has prompted a wave of head-scratching on the left. Why would economically struggling blue collar voters reject a party that offers to expand public safety net programs? The answer is simple – they don’t want these programs. Working class white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one I and my neighbors still enjoy.
When it seems like people are voting against their interests, you have probably failed to understand their interests. We cannot begin to understand this election until we understand the power and reach of socialism for white people.
Like most of my neighbors I have a good job in the private sector. Ask my neighbors about the cost of the welfare programs they enjoy and you will be greeted by baffled stares. All that we have is “earned” and we have no use for government support. Nevertheless, taxpayers fund our retirement saving, health insurance, primary, secondary, and advanced education, daycare, commuter costs, and even our mortgages at a staggering public cost. Socialism for white people is all-enveloping, benevolent, invisible, and entirely reserved for the “deserving.”
My family’s health insurance costs about $20k a year, of which we pay only $4k. The rest is subsidized by taxpayers. You read that right. Like virtually everyone else on my block who isn’t old enough for Medicare or employed by the government, my family is covered by private health insurance subsidized by taxpayers at a stupendous public cost. Well over 90% of white households earning over the white median income (about $75k) almost universally carried health insurance even before the Affordable Care Act. White socialism is nice.
Companies can deduct 100% of the cost of their employees’ health insurance. That results in roughly a $400bn annual transfer of funds from the state and federal treasuries to insurers to provide coverage for the Americans least in need of assistance. America pays about as much to subsidize my private healthcare as we spend annually on Medicaid. This is one of the defining features of white socialism, the most generous benefits go to those who are best suited to provide for themselves. Those benefits are not limited to health care.
When I buy a house for my family, or a vacation home, the interest I pay on the mortgage is deductible up to a million dollars of debt. That costs the treasury about $75bn a year, about what we spend to fund the food stamp program. My retirement savings are also tax deductible, diverting another $75bn from government revenues. Other tax preferences carve out special treatment for child care expenses, college savings, commuter costs (your suburban tax credit), local taxes, and other exemptions.
By funding government programs with tax credits rather than spending, we create an enormous social safety net that grows ever more generous as household incomes rise. It is important to note though that you need not be wealthy to participate. All you need to gain access to socialism for white people is a good corporate or government job. That fact helps explain how this welfare system took shape sixty years ago, why it was originally (and still overwhelmingly) white, and why Trump voters backed their candidate instead of Bernie Sanders. Blue collar voters are not interested in democratic socialism. They want to restore their access to a more generous and dignified program of white socialism.
In the years after World War II, the western democracies that had not already done so adopted universal social safety net programs. These included health care, retirement and other benefits. President Truman introduced his plan for universal health coverage in 1945. It would have worked much like Social Security, imposing a tax to fund a universal insurance pool. His plan went nowhere.
Instead, nine years later Congress laid the foundations of the social welfare system we enjoy today. They rejected Truman’s idea of universal private coverage in favor of a program controlled by employers, but publicly funded through corporate tax breaks. This plan gave corporations new leverage in negotiating with unions, handing the companies a publicly-financed benefit they could distribute at their discretion.
No one stated their intention to create a social welfare program for white people, specifically white men, but they didn’t need to. By handing control to employers at a time when virtually every good paying job was reserved for white men the program accomplished that goal.
White socialism played a vital political role, as blue collar factory workers and executives all pooled their resources for mutual support and protection, binding them together culturally and politically. Higher income workers certainly benefited more, but almost all the benefits of this system from health care to pensions originally accrued to white families through their male breadwinners. Blue collar or white collar, their fates were largely united by their racial identity and employment status.
By excluding lower income farm laborers, janitors, kitchen laborers or household servants, white voters could create a commonality of interest among themselves, keeping the cream of the nation’s production. Until the decades after the Civil Rights Acts, very few women or minorities gained direct access to this system. Thanks to this legacy it remains today a disproportionately white safety net, though that character is changing
Still today white families are twice as likely as African-Americans to have access to private health insurance. While two thirds of white children are covered by private health insurance, barely over one third of black children enjoy this benefit.
White socialism has had a stark impact on the rest of the social safety net. Visit a county hospital to witness an example. These places are marked by crowded conditions, neglected facilities, professionalism compromised by political patronage, and long waits for care. Fall outside the comfortable bubble of white socialism, and one faces a world of frightening indifference.
When Democrats respond to job losses with an offer to expand the public safety net, blue collar voters cringe and rebel. They are not remotely interested in sharing the public social safety net experienced by minority groups and the poorest white families. Blue collar workers want to restore their access to the privileges of white socialism. They would sooner break the entire system then let higher income whites escape with their privileges intact.
Democrats seem oblivious to the dynamics that made the ACA so radioactive among working whites. Apart from the broad aversion to welfare programs, the plans and premiums available under the Act pale in comparison to life under white socialism. Lower income families will pay premiums more than double what I enjoy for plans that still require much higher deductibles and lower coverage. What the country is willing to spend to help middle income taxpayers fund their own health coverage is a pittance compared to the subsidy granted to my employer to subsidize my health coverage.
When union manufacturing jobs are replaced by service sector work, the decrease in wages may be less than one would expect. However, the loss of benefits and dignity is astonishing. Service sector employers are less likely to carry a full-time workforce, locking workers out of the white social safety net of health and retirement benefits. Many of these former industrial workers might want to go into business for themselves, but the structure of our safety net locks the self-employed out of critical benefits.
Visit a hospital in France and the absurdity of white socialism becomes apparent. Care available to everyone in that country is of the highest quality and conditions are excellent. There is no good reason for public healthcare to be a sink of misery and ineptitude. We have developed a two-tiered system consisting of well-supported socialism for white people alongside poorly supported socialism for everyone else. Falling into the hands of “government health care” is a frightening prospect for US workers. Democrats have done nothing to ease those fears.
Any system in the US capable of delivering quality health care for everyone would have to start by eliminating the white socialism I enjoy. Structural issues have made this extremely difficult. Employer-based tax credits carved blue collar and professional white voters away into their own powerful interest block. Then in the 60’s, Medicare carved away elderly voters in a protected block with their own interests. These two powerful blocs found their needs met.
Any new taxes or burdens that might expand the social safety net to other groups always carried the potential to threaten socialism for white people. Affluent whites who might suffer from higher taxes consistently found political support from lower income whites who enjoyed benefits at the fringes of the white social safety net.
In a strange irony, the collapse of the old industrial order may break this alignment. Blue collar workers have found their access to white socialism increasingly threatened. Meanwhile the rest of the social safety net remains a frightening environment, under-funded and poorly administered, no substitute for what white workers have lost.
A rebellion by working whites aimed at restoring their access to white socialism may have a counter-intuitive impact. They might break the whole system. Oddly enough, Republicans in the current Congress are devising plans that would ruin the misguided system that gave us a two-tier social safety net.
Almost any credible ACA replacement proposal would eliminate the corporate tax deduction for health insurance, replacing it with an individual deduction. In Republican hands the tax subsidy can be expected to underfund health coverage for almost everyone, cutting even my neighbors and myself away from the cushion we enjoy from employer-negotiated plans. Along the way it would take employers out of the picture, removing their political power which has played such a vital role in preserving socialism for white people.
In effect, Republican plans would put nearly everyone in the same miserable, leaking boat. If they succeed in this effort, we might still lack an effective system. All we would need to make the system work is adequate funding. The structural obstacle built into the political system would be removed. Once white Americans were cut loose from the protected space we enjoy under our unique form of corporate socialism, we might finally be ‘all in it together’ sufficiently to deliver political support for truly universal health care.
Like so many other present challenges, our broken health care system grew from a legacy of bias in favor of white men. While this separate but unequal system continues to exist, voters left just outside its bounds will fight to regain their access rather than embracing reform. A Republican plan that would individualize the health care tax credit will probably fail to fix our health care system, but it might be just the disaster we need to push us toward competent reform. There is a chance that Trump and the GOP could accidentally open the gateway to true, universal health insurance in the US. We might soon see the end of socialism for white people.