My Turn: We should share wealth

Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In the dictionary, one definition of "socialism" is: "A system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state."

In our state Constitution, which many consider the finest state Constitution in the nation, Article 8, Section 2, says, "The Legislature shall provide for the utilization, development and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of the people."

Does that make Alaska a "socialist" state? Were the writers of our Constitution all wrong? Were they just closet Marxists?

The people of Alaska have been "socialists," for many, many generations in that they shared what they had, looked out for each other, and those who were "rich" often gave away all that they had. Up until a hundred years ago or so, there were no banks, no stock markets in which people could invest. So they invested in each other, family, friends and neighbors. In the Interior of Alaska, I have participated in memorials for the dead when the family gave away everything they had acquired or produced. It was, and still is, I think, a way of saying, "I'm sharing all I have, and feel sure that if I am in need, you will help."

It would be great if all people had the same opportunities in life. Then it would be fair to say that if they do not succeed, or have a good income, it is their own personal fault. But all people don't have the same, equal opportunities. Forty some years ago, when my good friends, Matthew and Dorothy Titus, moved to Fairbanks for the summer, Dorothy - who never had a chance to go to school - was thrilled when she took a class and learned how to read the labels on food in the stores. She was a bright, intelligent, hard-working woman and mother. She just hadn't had the opportunities that most of us take for granted.

Today we have the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, and this year additional sharing of our wealth for energy costs. The University of Alaska Foundation helps students who are qualified and willing to work hard have a chance at a college education, if that is what they want. Alaska Natives benefit from the services of the Public Health Service. Our hospital emergency rooms take in patients even if they don't have health insurance. Is all of this wrong? Is it "Marxism" or some evil way when we use what we have for the benefit of all?

The Scandinavian countries have some of the highest standards of living in the world. We call them "socialist," as if that were some kind of evil, diabolical scheme. Sure, their taxes are high, but everyone has public health care, they have free education, even through college for those students who are qualified and want to go that route. They also support trade schools for other students. And yes, it is true that it can be called "sharing the wealth." I fail to see how this is somehow wrong or evil.

If a person or family has assets of millions or billions of dollars, or an income of a million or more dollars a year, is it wrong to say, as Jesus reportedly said (Luke, 12:48), "But of everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required."

Personally, I can't possibly imagine how a person or family could spend hundreds of millions of dollars, or even a billion dollars in a lifetime. Isn't it fair to say they need to spread a little of their wealth with others?

Alaska really is a socialist state. It always has been, and hopefully always will be a place where people spread the wealth, share what they have, and help each other have at least a little better life.

When politicians try to win votes by using some catchy slogan, like "sharing the wealth is socialism, and that's evil," I just sit back and say: "Thank you, writers of our Constitution, for making sure that Alaska continues to be a place where we all help each other and share our wealth."

Others may want to call it a socialist state, but it's still one of the best places to live.

• Wally Olson is an Auke Bay resident.

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