Socialism vs equal opportunity

If you look to American popular opinion, you might think that socialism is an altogether bad form of governing. Or you could be led to believe that it opposes the American Dream. The American Dream is the notion that any American citizen, given some effort, can become successful and rich. It is quite clear that this notion is a fallacy, certainly today, and presumably in the past. Some from the lower rank succeeds, typically in showbiz, but most don’t. The American dream has become a Pipe Dream.

According to Richard Wilkinson though, it may be possible to find the American Dream in Denmark. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and this is a clear pudding indeed. There is an overwhelming correlation between inequality in a society, and its social issues (murder rate, health issues, etc). Inequality is measured as how much richer the richest (20%) are than the poorest. And the inequality is huge in America.

But how do these concepts relate? Socialism is not really well defined, for that it has had too many interpretations over the years, with communism being the one dragging socialism into the mud (for some). Modern and pragmatic socialism as practiced in the Scandinavian countries isn’t very much like these older varieties. Some aspects, such as industry controlled by the government, is part of what the socialist parties fight for, but other socialist activities, such as public school, are agreed upon by all parties.

So how can it be that Denmark (and Norway and Sweden) as mostly socialist countries makes it easier to fulfill your dreams? Because social programs aren’t there to pull everyone down to the same level, but to in fact aim for equal opportunity.

An important success criteria for many will be proper education. Without deep knowledge of a particular subject, you’re not likely to be successful. E.g, a computer programmer needs deep knowledge on programming computers. Some will argue that it is better to be self taught, but that is questionable in my opinion. Those that are self-taught and successful, wouldn’t have been less successful if they learnt the same at University. And even if you are self-taught, there is a cost. A social study program will thus provide for cheap studies for most or all professions. In Europe this typically means that there are no tuition costs, and you only need student loans and stipends for your living costs. The same argumentation can be used on other levels of school – some may benefit from home schooling or similar, but most won’t or can’t, and unless school is provided for all, equal opportunities regarding a successful professional life won’t be present.

Other social programs have similar effects. Unemployment programs, social programs for those that are sick and cheap/free health care all provide individuals with the opportunity to fail or be unlucky in life, or the victim of less ethical financial movers. In total the effect of all these social programs seems to be both that the people living here are more equal in economical terms, and they have all, in general, equal opportunities.’

If you fight against social programs, as seems to be part of the ideology of the Tea Party movement, you also fight for more inequality, and in consequence, even more thourough social issues – more violence, worse health and so on. Is that what you want? You can argue yourself blue on the merits of various ideologies, but look at the facts, socialist programs works.

As an end note; having socialist programs doesn’t necessarily mean a socialist state, in fact I argue that they work better with a more market oriented state. This can be seen in Norway, where the state is too socialist leading to inefficient implementation of the programs (highly bureaucratic, very expensive), partially fueled by our oil driven economy.

Germany’s fool nuclear decision

On May 30th the news broke about Germany shutting down all nuclear reactors by 2022. This was no real surprise, but in my opinion a very foolish decision nonetheless. From a political point of view, that of the German government, it does make sense of course. The German public is overwhelmingly in favour of such a move.

Now, Germans are of course not more stupid than the inhabitants of their neighbouring countries, but I think they should ask themselves if they haven’t been a tad misled. Why is it that a majority of Germans are scared of nuclear power to such a degree, when the inhabitants of France (80-90% nuclear coverage!), Sweden, Finland and others are not?

The trigger is of course the Fukushima “disaster”, a disaster that just like the Three Miles Island incident has yet to kill anyone. This is in contrast to the actual earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has about 24 000 confirmed killed and missing combined.

Despite the extreme event from nature’s side, possibly the most extreme experienced in modern times, the reactors in Fukushima did not kill anyone. Despite its heavy damage causing actual meltdowns, the containment vessel held. No radioactive material from the reactor itself has been released.

In fact, deaths related to nuclear power are extremely rare. Even the major and extreme failure caused by human error in Chernobyl have less than a 100 deaths connected to it. (Many more are expected to die of cancer, but this is statistically difficult to prove given the high proliferation of cancer in any case. The expectation is in any case low compared to the figures mentioned below.)

Unlike nuclear power, the suggested replacements in Germany, coal power and natural gas, are deadly. As it is, all commonly used power sources, including “safe” ones such as solar, wind and hydro are more deadly (in terms of actual statistics) than nuclear power – a thorough treatise on the subject here. The upshot is that mining and burning coal is so dangerous and polluting that thousands die every year. Natural gas, especially the sort that is piped to the end user, is also dangerous, as many many are killed each year in gas explosions due to the difficulty in properly maintaining all the gas pipes.

But radiation is dangerous, isn’t it? Well, yes, in extreme amounts it is. It is just that it is difficult to actually be exposed to such amounts, and that is especially true when around a nuclear power plant. The author of XKCD recently made a nice graphical view of the amounts and sources you’re normally exposed to.

This isn’t to say that nuclear power is without issues, pertaining to waste handling, proliferation risks, uranium supply security and further improved safety precautions. These are all solvable within reasonable time though, and not immediate problems by themselves.

Beyond the decisions now made, there will be real issues for Germany, and for Europe as a whole. The electricity generated by the nuclear plants that will be powered down, must be replaced. If they fail, energy prices will rise in the whole energy pool area, one that is much greater than that of Germany itself. German industry, one that is power hungry, may see reduced margins due to increased prices.

The plan is unclear, but most commentators believe that a huge portion of the replacement must come from coal. From a country committed to lowering CO2 emissions, this seems like an incredulous move. Germany is also committed to increasing coverage from solar and wind power, but it’s just not a country where that can possibly replace removed capacity. So to top up that, there is also a likely increased usage of natural gas, which although much cleaner than coal and oil, also emits CO2.

Such a massive change must cost something? Oh yes, it will. In a world, and a Europe, where financial stability is continiously challenged, this is a move that most likely will affect the average German in a notable manner.

Later I hope to write more about our energy challenges, how and if green energy fits into the picture, the very exciting technologies, nuclear and others, under developement.