Tag Archives: economics: communism/socialism

Health Care Costs, Greed, and “Socialism”

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

The Washington Post has provided some data on medical costs across a selection of countries (Argentina, Canada, Chile, and India in grey; France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain in blue; and the U.S. in red). The data reveal that American health care is very expensive compared to other countries.


No wonder the US spends twice as much as France on health care.  In 2009, the U.S. average was $8000 per person; in France, $4000.  (Canada came in at $4800).  Why do we spend so much?  Ezra Klein quotes the title of a 2003 paper by four health-care economists:  “it’s the prices, stupid.”

And why are US prices higher?  Prices in the other OECD countries are lower partly because of what U.S. conservatives would call socialism – the active participation of the government.  In the U.K. and Canada, the government sets prices.  In other countries, the government uses its Wal-Mart-like power as a huge buyer to negotiate lower prices from providers.  (If it’s a good thing for Wal-Mart to bring lower prices for people who need to buy clothes, why is it a bad thing for the government to bring lower prices to people who need to buy, say, an appendectomy? I could never figure that out.)

There may also be cultural differences between the U.S. and other wealthy countries, differences about whether greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  How much greed is good, and in what realms is it good?  Klein quotes a man who served in the Thatcher government:

Health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere.  It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.

So we Americans roll along, paying several times what others pay for medical procedures, doctor visits, and drugs.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Have Obama Conspiracy Theories Lost Traction?

For whatever reason, there has been a real slump in the number of people typing “obama gun” (will he take our guns away?), “obama muslim” (the idea used to run at about 20%), “obama socialist” (the republic “hangs in the balance“), and “obama citizen” (thank you, Snopes) into the Google search box since the 2008 election.

Here’s the Google trend (and the search link):

We don’t know how much these fears, versus other concerns, will affect votes against him this year, although there have been some good efforts to track the effects of anti-Black racism on his vote tally.

Naturally, not everyone who Googles these things believes the underlying stories or myths. But it seems likely they either believe them, are considering them, heard someone repeat them, or are arguing with someone who believes them, etc. So I’m guessing – just guessing – that these trends track those beliefs.

But maybe four years of Obama as an actual president has softened up the hard-line hatred in some quarters. What do you think?

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

North Korea: An Ad-Free Utopia?

This post is an updated version of one originally published in 2010.

Skipping through a set of images of North Korea by photographers David Guttenfelder and Vincent Yu, I was reminded that the city is almost entirely devoid of advertising.  There is political propaganda everywhere, of course, but there is an overwhelming absence of the marketing for products characteristic of capitalist societies.  All of the print and electronic media is under state control, and the state administers and controls the economy as well.  Accordingly… there is almost no advertising.  The images in the slide show give us a peak into this world without ads:

Images from a 2010 LIFE slide show after the jump:


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“In God We Trust”: Communism, Atheism, & the U.S. Dollar

Americans are familiar with seeing the phrase “In God We Trust” on our paper money.  The motto is, indeed, the official United States motto.  It wasn’t always that way, however.  While efforts to have the phrase inscribed on U.S. currency began during the Civil War, it wasn’t until 1957 that it appeared on our paper money, thanks to a law signed by President Eisenhower.



The motto wasn’t simply added in order to please God-fearing Americans, but instead had a political motivation.  The mid- to late-1950s marked an escalation in the Cold War between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and their respective allies.  In an effort to claim moral superiority and demonize the communist Soviet Union, the U.S. drew on the association of communism with atheism.  Placing “In God We Trust” on the U.S. dollar was a way to establish the United States as a Christian nation and differentiate them from their enemy (source).

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The U.S.: #1 in Health Costs

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

In case you wondered about what we in the U.S. pay for health care compared with those unfree unfortunates who suffer under various forms of socialized medicine, here are some graphs from 2009 showing the advantages of what is sometimes called “the best health care system in the world.”

The graphs are from the International Federation of Health Plans. I’ve selected only four — to show the relative costs* of

  • an office visit
  • a day in the hospital
  • a common procedure (childbirth without complications)
  • a widely used drug (Lipitor)

You can download all the charts here, but be warned: it gets boring. We’re number one in every chart, at least in this one category of how much we shell out.

Since we have the best health care in the world, this must mean that you get what you pay for. Our Lipitor must be four to ten times as good as the Lipitor that Canadians take.

Hat tip: Ezra Klein.


*These amounts are what providers are paid by governments or other insurers, not what the patient pays, which in many Eurpean countries is essentially nothing. See the footnotes for the tables in the original document. Or look at the comments on this at Boing Boing, a discussion which is remarkably civil (do they monitor comments?).

A Critique of Capitalism by G.A. Cohen

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.


In this 26-minute talk, philosopher Gerald Allan Cohen offers a wonderfully eloquent critique of capitalism. His critique revolves around common defenses. He suggests that even the existence of people who have earned their riches legitimately and through their own wit and work do not justify a system of private property. He contests the idea that we are all better off under capitalism compared to other economic systems, suggesting that capitalism retards the human potential of workers nefariously and by design. And he disagrees with the claim that economic inequality is inevitable. Economic inequality, he contends, will someday be seen as an injustice. Capitalism was an important stage, he concludes, and one that we need to outgrow.

I recommend that everyone take a listen, though I’ll admit it starts off kind of goofy:

Part I:

Part II:

Thanks to Chris Bertam at Crooked Timber for putting these videos up.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Against Giving Women the Right to Vote in Massachusetts

The vintage clipping below is a political advertisement from 1915 opposing women’s suffrage in Massachusetts. It claims that most women in the state do not want the vote, so if voting men gave women suffrage, they would be doing so against their will.  This, they claim, would be undemocratic.   This sounds ironic, but it makes sense in a world where men were suppose to be women’s political representatives.

The ad then goes on to try to demonize those women who do want the right to vote by associating them with other groups widely stigmatized at that time: feminists, of course, but also socialists, Mormons, and members of the I.W.W. The acronym stands for Industrial Workers of the World, an organization founded in 1905 as an alternative to the American Federation of Labor, reportedly consisting of anarchists, socialists, and union members (wiki).

Women in Massachusetts would be granted the right to vote on this day, August 18th, five years later, not by the residents of the state, but by Federal decree.

Via BoingBoing.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“Is Your Washroom Breeding Bolsheviks?”

Yesterday, while recovering from the flu, I was glancing through Jon Stewart’s new book Earth: The Book. In the chapter on commerce they included a vintage Scot Tissue ad that I initially thought was a joke. Turns out it was real, first appearing in the 1930s and urging employers to stock bathrooms with Scot Tissue products to prevent turning their employees into radical communists:

(Image via.)


Employees lose respect for a company that fails to provide decent facilities for their comfort.

Try wiping your hands six days a week on harsh, cheap paper towels or awkward, unsanitary roller towels — and maybe you, too, would grumble. Towel service is just one of those small, but important courtesies — such as proper air and lighting — that help build up the goodwill of your employees. That’s why you’ll find clothlike Scot-Tissue Towels in the washrooms of large, well-run organizations such as R.C.A. Victor Co., Inc., National Lead Co. and Campbell Soup Co. ScotTissue Towels are made of “thirsty fiber”…an amazing cellulose product that drinks up moisture 12 times as fast as ordinary paper towels. They feel soft and pliant as a linen towel. Yet they’re so strong and tough in texture they won’t crumble or go to pieces…even when they’re wet. And they cost less, too — because one is enough to dry the hands — instead of three or four. Write for free trial carton. Scott Paper Company, Chester, Pennsylvania.

What I find fascinating is the idea that even minor discomforts might lead workers to become radicalized, and that one company would market to others based on the idea that they should respect their employees and keep them happy (at least in the way that serves Scot Tissue’s interests). Preventing the spread of communism isn’t, then, just about rooting out ideologues and rabble-rousers. The message is that becoming a Bolshevik may be a response to poor working conditions or treatment by management, and thus employers have a role to play in discouraging it by actually paying attention to potential causes of dissatisfaction and addressing them (in the bathroom, anyway), rather than simply a moral failing or outcome of ideological brain-washing.

UPDATE: Reader Ben has some interesting comments:

I’ve always wondered if it was meant to be serious. I understand that we live in an ironic age, but it’s not like ironic, self-mocking and humorous ads didn’t exist before the 1990s. As time passes and inside jokes lose their meaning, it gets harder and harder to correctly interpret texts with their original meaning and context intact.