My original text was a bit long (as well as long-winded). Furthermore, the “personal details” included were, in retrospect, a bit of a distraction to the goal of the article. So I’m making them separate.
I feel that this personal tale is still noteworthy, as it gives a glimpse into a different possibility as well as proving that me, the author, not only lives in a country which has solved the issues that the US faces right now – but that I personally also understand, support, and in fact work with them. Technically, however, it is not directly related to OWS at all, because it deals with a handful of different countries entirely – and OWS is an american movement focused on american problems desiring american solutions.
In any case, for what its worth:
My personal tale with regards to what I myself chose…as far as what kind of political system I desire to live under, is as follows…
Originally, I am a US citizen by birth. I am now however a citizen of 3 other countries as well, since then. I chose to leave the US when I was only 19 because of this exact same issue of capital-driven economy and politics in which people do not matter, only money matters. I did not leave because I was poor – vice versa my father is a doctor, I grew up in a wealthy family, I had a bachelor’s degree as a software engineer by the time I was 19, making $100,000 a year at that age (in 2000/2001). Many people have asked me why I didnt stay and make tons of money and live in the top 1%. Quite simply for me, what matters more in life is living in a just society where people are all regarded as equal citizens under social equality. What that means is that opportunity to do what one wishes to do with ones life is equal for all. Notice the word “opportunity”. It does not mean everyone lives as equals – because not everyone wants the same thing out of life. Equal opportunity implies that everybody has equal means to fulfill their goals in life, and social equality implies that whichever means or method one chooses to pursue in life, will allow oneself to live a dignified life.
However, this kind of equality (or any kind of equality for that matter) has never been the philosophy of life in the USA. What an american person is capable of doing with his or her life depends completely on the parents he or she is born to, and the economic bracket the parents belong to. This is a lottery on life system which I have no desire to be a part of. Luckily my father comes from Scandinavia so I am able to enjoy being a citizen of a country that is socialist and therefore I will be able to do anything I want with my life without worry of, basically, anything… What this means is indeed what I just said. I never have to worry – for the rest of my life – about:
1) Getting sick, injured, or disabled. Healthcare is free. If I have no income, it is free. Its also among the highest quality healthcare in the world. Additionally, this healthcare protection covers me everywhere in the world. If I’m in the middle of Africa and get malaria, my country will fly me home and hospitalize me.
2) If I desire to work in any field or industry – I can. Education is a right, not a privelage. I can get any degree, from bachelor to PhD, in any subject, at the top schools in the world. Furthermore, my country supports me financially whenever I want to study. There are limits to this (6 years government support to study), but it is very generous – I can even study anywhere else in the world, in any country, and recieve this support to study there. Regardless if I take government support while studying or not – I can educate myself in any subject for free, for life. This is important in my oppinion for a progressive society, because sometimes a person wants to change careers to something else. I have myself already done so. I have a masters in computer science with 10 years engineering/IT work experience – but in recent years Ive wanted to do more political/sociology work and now I have a masters in sociology and can do either IT or political work as I desire. I am truly free to pursue and in fact reach my goals thanks to my country.
3) If I am to pay taxes, I want my taxes to actually pay for social standards and the building of my society. There is always some corruption in every system. However it is fairly minimal in Scandinavia and we get (aside from healthcare and education), excellent road systems, one of the cleanest countries in the world, and government supported organizations for practically everything you can shake a stick at – which are open to everyone equally by law….and I mean everything: sports clubs, language learning classes, youth clubs. Basically if 20 people want to create a group for a hobby/activity, they create one and apply for government subsidies so that they can get help in doing what they want – yes there are “knitting clubs” for old women and the government helps buy them the yarn and needles. These are called “förening” in Sweden. There’s hundreds of thousands of them nationwide.
4) The raw resources of my country, are owned and controlled by the people of my country. This is a hallmark of socialism. Water cannot be owned by a private corporation and profited on. Everybody requires clean water to live, therefore it is a right by law that every citizen of Sweden owns the water supply. This holds true as well for Energy; Sanitation; Telecommunications; and Public transportation. Food must also be subsidized so that there are strict regulations on profiteering from bare food stuffs – while still giving a good profit to those who grow food. Yes, there is a balance, and it is beneficial to both growers and consumers. My fathers family is from rural farm families and I can speak for how well off Swedish farmers are – definitely above the 50% line. While cost of living in Sweden is still quite low and everybody eats well and what they want to eat.
5) Finally, I demand that my country takes care of people who cannot take care of themselves; and if possible does everything in its power to get them back on their feet to supporting themselves. This includes but is not limited to: disabled people, people without work, people addicted to substances, terminally ill people – or just sick people in general. What I demand in this “taking care of” clause is that EVERYBODY has a home to live in, food on the table, and continues to have equal access to transportation, communication, raw resources (water, sanitation, etc.), education, and opportunity.
So, in short, those are the 5 topics which to me are most important about a country. I’m not here to persuade anyone or talk anyone into agreeing with one or another political system however. I am here to explain this whole situation: the cause of it; why people are protesting; what they want, and the only actual solutions to fixing the problems. I know right off the start that the 5 demands that I make of the country I chose to live in, are not at all equal to that which the OWS is protesting for. Indeed, the demands that I put on my country are far beyond what OWS and the USA would even be capable of implementing in the forseeable future.
The irony is that Sweden, a country with no natural resources and under cover of frost and snow half of the year, can achieve this. Iceland a little remote island of 300,000 that effectively live on the rim of a volcano have done even better. I think the americans reading this would also be surprised (and probably no doubt deny it completely) that Cuba, an island which our country (USA) embargoes still for 60+ years, an island with no natural resources, also does better. (Yes Ive lived in Cuba, and if you want a model of a real, participatory democracy…Cuba is in fact the western hemisphere’s #1 democratic country – thats a scientific fact. A fact you will never hear in the US.)
And heres the kick in the teeth…
After hearing about all these good things that I get from my country over here…what I always hear from americans (especially americans), is “oh but you have to pay insane taxes…I dont want to pay that much tax”. But the kick in the teeth is actually this: Tax rates for the average Swedish employee (who works 6 hours a day, btw, as standard) is less than 30%. Ya, thats right. You see, when taxes are actually spent on the people, and not towards corruption, its a hell of alot of money that can be used to do something good. For example I had an IT job in the government once where I made ~3500 USD per month and paid 28% tax on that. However, after paying taxes and cost of living for my 2 room apartment and eating out at a nice restaraunt nearly everyday for lunch, I still pocketed about ~1000 USD per month. This was a public sector job paid on a very average wage however. In private sector I could pocket easily ~4000+ per month (after expenses) as both cost of living is low and people generally dont need to spend alot to live quite nicely. Of course private sector work is much harder and more demanding than public sector, generally. It also has more risk. So there are of course trade-offs. Keep in mind however that 4000 USD in Sweden takes you at least twice as far as it does in the US. Costs of activities and life in general is less than half of what it is in the states.
So the end result of saying that is this question: I had a salary of $120,000 in the US working in silicon valley some years back – that was in the top 2% of the US salary range. I rented a 3 bedroom house, and shared it with 2 other people, in a small working class neighborhood – we lived cheaply, we cut costs as much as we could. Indeed, the place we lived and quality of our food and lifestyle wasnt nearly as good as I enjoyed in Sweden on my ~3500 a month. But the end all question is: after paying for health insurance, paying taxes, having to pay for costs of vehicle and everything else…how much did I pocket each month? About ~3500 out of my ~7,000 salary per month (after 36% tax). Which is less than what I would pocket in the same private sector job in northern europe – yet I would also get so much more for the taxes I paid in Europe: higher quality living standards, well kept roads, public transport, clean cities, free education, hobby/activity/sports clubs, and on and on and on…
Keep in mind what my salary in the states was, however. I was in the top 2% of salary ranges in the entire country. The average cost of living versus wage in Sweden allows a lifestyle and living standard that only the top 5% of americans will ever be able to have. That means at least 80% of swedes live at the same or better level than the top 5% of americans. This is in a country with no natural resources, and under frost and snow for 6 months of the year.
But “haves” and “have nots” is an issue of resources – and so it is actually not at all a valid grounds for comparison between political philosophies. (Despite it being one of the most common arguments amongst politically uneducated.)
Unfortunately americans only tend to understand either having, or not having – and for a long time especially in the 80’s when americans consumed goods from all over the world without paying for them – simply the fact that america “had” everything was the only important issue; and so everybody praised capitalism…even if “having” meant that it was stolen, or bought with fake money, or taken from the increasingly poorer population.
Now those same people are watching their children, and their grandchildren, pay the price of their stupidity and greed. Because thats what capitalism actually is. Its a system based on greed. The root of the word is indeed “capital”, which means the focus is on making and owning capital ie: resource wealth. The focus is not on “society” ie: socialism. Or “community” ie: communism. Or even “liberty” ie: libertarianism. It is on “capital” – thats why its called “capitalism”.
Funny thing is – there’s american colonies now in France, Spain, Germany, Netherlands…and probably in many other countries that I haven’t personally seen yet…full of americans who have fled the US system in search of a quality life – the majority of them educated and well paid professionals. The funny part of that?? Is that the US is one of the most resource rich countries on earth. The U.S. HAS enough resources that EVERYBODY could live wealthy, and “have” alot – alot more than Swedish people (Sweden has…trees?). Yet I promise you: go to any average Swedish family home, and they will “have” alot more, and I mean ALOT more, than the average american family home.
As we say, “proof is in the pudding”. Or perhaps we should say, “proof is in the swedish meatballs”. Because generation after generation, america becomes less of a country, and more of a corporate oligarchy. While many other countries excell, prosper, and do so despite the foreign meddling of the capitalist agenda. Time to wake up? Or is some notion of “national pride” still going to keep you sullying your country, your countrymen, and your children because youre too stubborn to admit that youre wrong. That you’ve been wrong all this time; and that your leaders don’t and never did actually care about you. There’s a bright point to that, however – and it is that you are not at fault for being brainwashed since early childhood by the system, to believe its lies and deceit. A child that knows nothing and is filled with miseducation and misinformation his/her entire life cannot be blamed when he/she grows up and continues to perpetuate the same misdeeds and support the same corrupt enslaving system they have been taught their entire lives to love and die for. So don’t be too hard on yourself, but if you genuinely want to take responsibility for yourself, your country, and in fact help make it better then it is about damn time you woke up and saw reality.
A real patriot wants to see his country improve. A real patriot cares about his countrymen. A real patriot will sacrifice to make his country succeed and achieve….
America does not have real patriots today (only in Hollywood movies), it has brainwashed obedient dogs that are still slaves long after slavery was supposed to have been abolished. It wasn’t abolished, it simply changed form. The same people that were slaves before, are slaves today – to credit, debt, lack of education, lack of opportunity, and lack of a civilized system to help them live a better life.
It’s your choice where to go from here. I made my choice – I’m not optimistic about americans making the right choices, not in my lifetime at least; and so I left the US. Because the right choices require being educated enough to make them, which americans are not. Americans being educated in the ways of politics and building progressive societies cannot happen right now. It will take at least 1 or 2 full generations of proper, truth-based education for that ability to become present in American society – and by that time I will be old or dead. Also, there is no way in hell that I would raise children in a society as misinformed, brainwashed, miseducation, and anti-social as what america is today. I miss my country of birth though, I really do. I consider myself an exile, because in fact I pretty much am.
Change is possible though, and OWS is proof that the people want change. Its proof as well that the people want the right KIND of change. So perhaps a little optimism is in order.
Power to the people…?