One Thing the Mormon Church Does Right - Socialism

As much as I can't stand the Mormon religion or religion in general as an institution, there's one thing that most religions (particularly Mormonism) get right. They help each other. This is why I find it incredibly ironic when I hear politically conservative Mormons ranting on about why "socialism will destroy America." I have heard some of my Mormon family members and colleagues "discuss" socialism as if it were a dirty word. They'll compare it to communism and act like they are the exact same thing. They'll smear propaganda all over their Facebook walls talking about how terrible Bernie Sanders will be for America because he will socialize everything and "give free stuff to people that didn't work for it."

It becomes immediately obvious that most of these people actually have no idea what the concept of socialism even means, yet they drive on public roads every day and don't even bat an eye. The irony in the extremely conservative Mormon culture here in Utah is that they are all part of one of the most socialized institutions you could come up with. Mormons pay a tithing every single month to the church. They even have people that will audit members and ensure they are paying their share. They also accept "fast offerings" every month which consists of the members fasting for a day or part of a day and then donating the money they otherwise would have spent on food to the church.

Tithing, fast offerings, and other generous donations from its members are what keeps the church going financially. They do this because they believe in and support their church. Why wouldn't they? If I genuinely believed the things they said were true then I too would probably support it. That's another discussion for another time but the point is that they happily and wholeheartedly give away 10% of their gross monthly income because they care. Despite what the church does with the money being completely opaque, some of that income definitely manifests in the form of some very helpful services. The Bishop's Storehouse is one such service.

The Bishop's Storehouse is essentially a form of member-only welfare for Latter Day Saints. It's a great concept that helps the poor and needy among them. I agree that it's a great service and a wonderful idea. What I don't understand is how so many members of the church don't realize that this is a shining example of socialism working wonderfully and to the benefit of all those who support it. If it weren't for the members choosing to support such a service then it wouldn't be able to do what it does, which is to help lift up the less fortunate who aren't in a position to be so generous and are just trying to get by. The fact that the Bishop's Storehouse exists and that members support it boggles my mind when held up against the fact that those same people call those currently depending on food stamps and welfare "freeloaders."

I have extended family members who legitimately believe that my wife and I are liberal Bernie supporters because we are "entitled" and want "free stuff." Yet I've never heard any one of them elaborate beyond calling a bunch of less fortunate people "freeloaders." It's pretty safe to say that most of them have never actually had to be on welfare because if they had then they would understand that they don't live in the lap of luxury just "mooching" off the government. Their lives are stressful and most people in that situation would definitely prefer to be well-employed and support themselves. I don't doubt that you'd be able to find and point out people that appear to do nothing but take advantage of that system, never actually putting forth the effort to rid themselves of that dependency. That's unfortunate and I don't deny that I too wish everyone cared about being self-sufficient. With that said, it's not really my job to decide who is and isn't doing enough to satisfy what I think they should be doing with their time. What I can do though is help and support them without judgement and realize that the cost of doing so is a fraction of the budget we will set aside for our military.

Regardless of what I think of some of the people who utilize these services, I'm still happy to contribute to a societal institution that helps and supports the less fortunate in our society. That's socialism I'm happy to support. It doesn't stop there either. We need only examine the Canadian healthcare system to see another fine example of a socialist concept hard at work to the benefit of the people. Yet here in the US conservative people can't stop shouting that it's going to "destroy America" (which nobody can ever seem to tell me what they even mean when they say that). As I mentioned earlier, even our roads are a fine example of something that is and should be socialized. Nobody seems to mind when their taxes bear fruit in the form of a shiny new blacktop twice the size of the old one, but some will absolutely lose their mind if they find out someone on food stamps bought a steak at the grocery store. Even though it's irritating, nobody screams that UDOT should be abolished when roads fail to keep up with Utah's population growth, yet many think welfare should just be done away with altogether because it doesn't perfectly transform everyone who needs it into responsible people.

One has to wonder how so many religious people can hold these views while simultaneously believing that the stories of Jesus are an embodiment of the good that man should strive to uphold. I highly doubt that Jesus would have stood in judgement of the needy before agreeing to help them out. In fact, the bible is very clear that Jesus was unbiased when it came to who he blessed. He befriended sinners without expectation, setting an example for what a truly good being should be like. While I don't believe that Jesus existed in any sort of divine sense, I do believe that the character of Jesus is a fine example of what humanity should strive to become. No it doesn't make sense to socialize everything and I don't deny the benefits of delegating many choices down to the state level. But how can anyone deny the almost entirely positive benefits of socialized medicine? How can you look at Canada and say their country is "destroyed" by socialism when they seem to be doing better than we are in that regard?

Socialism isn't communism as many people would have you believe. They are only related in that communism is basically socialism taken to the extreme and forced into every part of people's lives by an inherently oppressive government, up to and including what profession each person would learn. Obviously trying to make EVERYTHING "fair" didn't work out and after the fact it's not hard to see why. People are unique and creative. Putting people into predefined boxes is basically torture. We want to be able to express ourselves and live our lives with freedom of choice in most things that we do. This is why so far in history democracy has been so successful.

Despite the benefits of such freedoms, most of society also recognizes that not everyone will cordially follow the rules and respect others. For this reason we created law enforcement, and we happily pay taxes to support this institution so that when the need arises, they'll be there for us. It's comforting to know that there are men and women that serve the public and will be there for you if you need them. They're imperfect sure, but they're also necessary. We also seem to recognize that it really sucks when someone's house, place of business, or even their tax-free church catches on fire. For this reason we created the fire department and brave men and women will respond to your call of distress if and when the need arises. Medical emergency? Call an ambulance and they'll shuttle you to your nearest emergency room.

Earlier I mentioned Canada's socialized healthcare system. The backlash here in the US against the Affordable Care Act also boggles my mind. Yet again I've heard over and over how people are "freeloaders" because they want "free" healthcare. It makes me sad because if anyone actually bothered to learn why I support these things they'd realize that I don't want anything for free. I and many other informed democrats fully understand that these services will result in more taxation. What people don't seem to grasp is that I'm okay with this. Just like Mormons are okay with paying tithing, I'm completely okay with paying taxes if it means that my country will be a better, safer place for those who reside here. I'm doubly okay with it when there has been precedent set that shows the success of such a healthcare program. Another reason why the ACA backlash confuses me is that the ACA doesn't even affect privatized healthcare. The benefits of the ACA only really come in for those who can't afford private insurance, which by the way is almost a socialist concept if it weren't for the fact that it was privately controlled by for-profit corporations.

I've listened to several people complain that "Obamacare" never did anything for them and that healthcare is still ridiculously expensive. Of course it is, you still have private insurance with a for-profit company. In my opinion that system is inherently flawed. Private insurance will always be about the insurance company dictating what your doctor can and cannot do; which might make sense if they were some kind of regulatory body, but they're not. Private insurance companies put you through so much red tape with everything because every denied claim is profit gained. Likewise, for-profit healthcare is able to abuse the same system by charging more when they know the bill will be paid by an insurance company. In the end it's a lose/lose system for the patient. Sure it's better than not being able to afford healthcare at all, but I still think we can do better.

Auto insurance makes sense to me. It still has some of the flaws inherent to private insurance, but in the end the damage to your vehicle is a far more straightforward conclusion than what procedure your doctor should be allowed to perform. Doctor's should be the ones deciding what procedures to perform and insurance should just be there to cover the cost. What is so bad about socializing such a service so that everyone can contribute to and benefit from it? Take away the for-profit nature of it and you instantly have a system for the people and supported by the people. Isn't that what America is really about? It's definitely true that some things should not be socialized, but healthcare is not an example of that.

The United States Postal Service is a wonderful example of something that was once a great benefit to people and made sense for the government to run, but today the post office is a nightmare and anyone who has to deal with it regularly knows this pain. USPS is a perfect example of something that we really don't need socialized anymore. For-profit companies have done their job so much better because their bottom line depends on it. A capitalist structure for moving physical goods has resulted in far more reliable services, customer support, and an all around better experience. This is because the capitalist market is competitive and the for-profit nature of these companies has resulted in several companies competing to provide a better experience for customers. Everyone wins.

The sheer cost of medical care has put even basic medical procedures out of financial reach for most patients, so insurance was created to fill that gap. Had medical services been a little more affordable in the beginning then perhaps a for-profit medical infrastructure in the US would have resulted in healthcare providers competing for my dollar. Sadly, private insurance and medical services have formed a bond that probably won't be broken for a long time. They both make each other a lot of money by engaging in practices that don't always result in the optimal experience for the patients involved. Doctors charge more money than is necessary because they can, and insurance companies rule with an iron fist to hold on to every cent because every paid claim is lost revenue. As doctors charge more, so do insurance companies get even more stingy when paying out. What if we had a healthcare system that was entirely supported by the people and even the most needy among us had easy access to that system? I think it's safe to say we'd be better off.

It really depresses me to see so many people remain ignorant of these concepts. I really hate the two-party system that has evolved in this country for presidential candidates. I hate that it has created a situation where others can just assume I'm an "entitled liberal" and move on without giving it a second thought. I take pride in the fact that I've reasoned my way to the positions I hold and it just so happens that the candidate that embodies most of the things I care about is Bernie Sanders. That's the only reason I'm voting for him, not merely because he's a democrat. The fact that minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation for many years is scary and the fact that Bernie wants to tackle the wealth inequality in this country is something I can get behind. People try to hold that up as yet another example of entitlement but just like pure socialism is a broken system, so too is pure raw unmoderated capitalism.

The wage gap in this country exists, there's no denying that. What people will argue about are the reasons why. Economics are never simple, but there is one simple fact that is backed up by history. Minimum wage must keep up with inflation. This is economics 101. If prices can go up but minimum wage does not it doesn't take a genius to predict potential consequences of that. It means that business owners find themselves in the privileged position of being able to maximize their profit margins by cutting into employee pay. Walmart is probably the de facto example of a corporation that creates "wage slaves." I myself worked at Walmart for about four months before I finally started finding work in my field of expertise as a programmer. I was single and had a two bedroom apartment. I busted my ass in the loading dock every night for months. It was no small task either. I started having lower back issues, my feet hurt all the time, and I was constantly exhausted. Our breaks were unreasonably short and we were expected to keep going at a rocket's pace from clock-in to clock-out. It was very hard blue-collar work, but I was no stranger to manual labor and wasn't deterred at all when I first started. What knocked me back a few pegs was when payday arrived.

I worked the hardest I've worked for any job when I worked that loading dock at Walmart. When my paycheck came the cold stark reality of today's economy really struck me. It's not that I didn't want to work, I was happy to work. I used to bust my ass cleaning up new construction sites with my dad's cleaning company when I was growing up. The difference was that when I worked for my dad I actually got a fair wage that made the work worth it. Had I continued working at Walmart I would not have had the ability to keep paying rent for my little apartment. I honestly don't know what I would have done. Odds are probably good that I would have had to get a second job, otherwise I was probably headed straight to welfare and unemployment checks. How's that for ironic? What a world we might create if we can actually reign in the wage gap so that the economy flows smoothly in both directions once again. Yet people will still sit and point fingers at welfare programs and other social services trying to help the ever-growing population of lower-class citizens just get by.

Sitting and mocking the people that recognize this disparaging wage gap helps nobody. I myself have managed to work my way into the upper-middle-class because I have a skill that is in demand in today's society. Despite that fact I am still able to recognize the existence of the wage gap. I got a taste of what it's like at the bottom and it's not what older generations of people seem to think it is. Gone are the days of working ten years at a hardware store making a living and supporting a family. To survive the modern economy while being self-sufficient requires you to have very specialized skills. Even then, some of those industries are so saturated that even fresh college graduates are now having a hard time finding work. A healthy minimum wage is the start of a healthy economy. A healthy economy flows in all directions. When you get a decent wage for the work you do, even if that work is flipping burgers, you will spend more money. When you spend more money, companies and potential employers make more money. It's the circle of economic life and it really isn't that hard to understand. The trouble is getting people to calmly and rationally reason their way to this understanding.

I like to use a weight loss analogy when talking about the economy. It's a simple fact that your calories in to calories out ratio has the most effect on your body fat percentage. But that also means that the only truly effective way to lose weight and get healthy is to monitor that ratio and do the hard work to adjust it by either consuming less, exercising more, or both to a degree. Despite this simple concept there still exists an immeasurable body of pseudoscience surrounding weight-loss. Why is that? I think the answer is simply that people are always chasing convenience. This creates a market for misinformation. Telling people to buy your workout machine is a lot harder than getting people to buy your magic pill. So too is it easier to point fingers at the lower class for being "entitled" and "lazy" than it is to acknowledge that perhaps it is a lot harder for those at the bottom than you realize and that making a better country and a better economy is the responsibility of us all.

Do I think Bernie is going to be my liberal Jesus that rains free shit down upon me? No, and if I hear that one more time I just might snap. I support Bernie because he too recognizes that we must work together to make change. I support Bernie because I support my fellow Americans. I support Bernie because I support you, no matter who you are or what I might think of your priorities. That's why. I want a better America. Not free shit. I'm not asking for Robin hood to come in and shower gold on the populace from atop the Trump tower. I'm asking for people to understand basic economics and make educated decisions that will make our country a better place to live for everyone and so far I believe that is what Bernie has and will continue to stand for.