I used to be a socialist. My parents were once members of the New Democratic Party and I was indoctrinated in its principles when I attended University. My professors in Political Studies, Labour Studies, and Social Work routinely criticized our privately-owned capitalist market system talking about how exploitation was at its root. As a student I believed that to fix the world we needed to change the system and that Socialism was the solution.
Yet, in my exposure to Rudolf Bahro, I realized that Socialism was fundamentally a materialistic philosophy. It did not recognize our relationship with the planet or between each other. According to Socialism, the purpose of life was for each of us to share as equally as possible the material wealth of the planet. I rejected Socialism by helping establish the Green Party in Manitoba since I was attracted to the Green philosophy that all things are interconnected. Despite the rise of green thinking Socialism remains a constant force in Canadian society.
Canadians and Manitobans are proud of their publicly funded health care system, which demonstrates that the majority believes in Socialism to a limited extent since health care is easily our most socialistic program. I have worked in the socialized health care system since 1995 and would have to conclude that both Socialism and socialized health care does not deliver Karl Marx’s stated goal of delivering “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”
Why? Socialism fails because “From each according to their ability…” assumes that both the professionals who deliver the socialized health system and the taxpayers who fund it are contented to continue supporting a system that does not deliver. The patients, health care staff, and taxpayers are realizing that socialized health care is not working (reasons to follow).
Additionally, Socialism and its health care incarnation in Canada attempts to deliver “to each according to their need” but pays little attention to what that future need will be in ten, twenty, or more years. It is so short term focused that it is unaware of the ecological and financial costs of delivery and its impact on those not currently receiving care. It ignores the changing social dynamics of society and how society defines what a community is. It is unsustainable, fraught with institutional thinking, and delivers poor to mediocre results.
To me Socialism has failed where it has taken root and so too will our health care system. Canada’s socialized health care system is possibly the last nationalized social system that commands such public support but will fail because of the following reasons:
- It ignores the critical principle of leadership that can come from ownership. Ownership is the essential principles of business, psychology, mysticism, and basically anything that requires getting things done. I have witnessed well trained people avoid taking responsibility to do what is necessary in health care because there is a lack of motivation to take ownership. There appears to be an attitude that because nobody ultimately owns anything including outcomes, why do anything about it.
- It is financially unsustainable. Because Socialism is not known for its fiscal prudence (“people before profit”, except when there is no surplus you have subsistence living or worse) there is a similar attitude in socialized health care. I have witnessed dozens of people using up millions of dollars of health care dollars but we do nothing about the problem because fiscal management is less and less considered in health care spending. We are taking from a hundred Pauls to give to one Peter. What happens when those Pauls start to need care? They have the privilege of waiting lists and hallway medicine.
- It has become less compassionate because it is prone to unionism, institutional thinking, political correctness, and hypersensitivity to risk. I have seen how a client’s unpleasant behavior is intentionally misread by care providers as being unsafe, then withdrawing their obligation to provide service, and thereby putting the client at risk. Unions blindly protect their members and not for the benefit of the society that pays their salaries. These institutional thinkers forget that people are unpleasant because they are going through difficult times. We have lost our patience and our compassion.
- It cannot compete with the vibrant and more critically responsive economies of more capitalist countries. Just like the range of goods and services found in the West is what makes it so attractive to the people leaving Cuba or the old eastern communist bloc, needs are something that are dynamic. Because we will always have newer technologies that can either cure illnesses or extend life, those new needs are too expensive for a socialized system. Like all technology, the initial expensive treatment becomes more affordable as processes and scales of economy improve.
- Capitalism is way more flexible and adaptable than Marx and Engels could foresee. There are capitalist companies that realize that happy and contented employees is a competitive advantage and they are not trying to get the lowest wage person. There are definitely some companies who do, but as capitalism has moved towards more talent focused staff, the advantage has moved to employees. Employees can be empowered in capitalism and this is borne out in health care. Socialized health care lacks this dynamism.
- Finally, Socialism says that by virtue of being human you are entitled to receive everything that the material world has to offer. There is no requirement for you to buy it or earn it. Is this sane? Is this even ecologically or economically sustainable? No, it is impossible to give everyone everything. Currently in health care, there is no institutional benefit to take care of yourself. You are treated the same as a person who has smoked all of their lives or are obese. People who have drinking problems are given kidney transplants. People who are never able to contribute to society are given more than those who worked all of their lives. In the same way that industrious hard work does not pay in a socialistic economy, being healthy does not get you priority if something should go wrong. Instead the system caters to the chronic users (and abusers) of our system.
For these reasons, free-market enterprise will win out because it creates the most happiness for the most people. This does not mean that the Socialist philosophical principle of sharing has to be lost. Sharing is one of the most important things we can do but I think that it needs to be done without coercion and to the best of one’s ability. I would respectfully suggest that Marx was either wrong or misinterpreted. He should have said “To share according to one’s ability, with another according to their relationship.” Relationships are the only true sharing network. Socialism foolishly has tried to institutionalize something that naturally develops. Perhaps this explains why Socialism and its experiments have consistently and spectacularly failed.