Political Socialization

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The political process has a strange relationship to the lives of average Americans. As a result, to explain exactly what is meant here by political socialization, or the way in which we know what we know about politics (and how we gain some of our opinions), is perhaps uniquely complex. For some, it is central, the very heart of what is right or what is wrong with the country. For others, it barely appears on their radar. Lives of relative peace and prosperity can make the necessity of a political life unclear, although everyone has the vague sense that they should probably vote, even if all politicians are liars and cheats, as some believe. People often take extreme positions or are entirely indifferent to the issues of the day.

For example, if one believes, as I do, that making health care affordable for everyone means raising taxes on the wealthy and providing universal care, then one should be prepared for a great deal of anger from the right end of the political spectrum. It is remarkable to me that anyone should think that we should not take care of the basic needs of everyone in our society, but other people would be equally shocked that anyone would presume to take their hard-earned money out of their pockets for things that other people didn't earn. They would be equally incensed at the thought that such an action would further expand the power of the government over them.

Arguments about minimum wage tend to take on a more complex cast but are still based on the same opposing belief systems. One the one hand is the argument that forcing companies to pay people more will damage their businesses. This is an argument that implicitly endorses the idea of an invisible hand guiding capitalism and believes that people with money and property will make decisions that are best for everyone if they are given the freedom to pursue their interests and that conversely, government will force them to take actions that are to the detriment of the community. 

Immigration debates tend to revolve around the idea of resource scarcity. People coming into the country take services and jobs and space that American citizens deserve. Citizens are bumped out of opportunities because of them. Schools become crowded and crime and need for social welfare spike because people from another country without a way to take care of themselves arrive and make bad choices. Proponents of immigration will counter that the national fabric is made up of immigrants and that there are always nativist fears that are unrealized in the end. Ultimately, an increased workforce is always good for an economy able to make use of labor. It is a question more of the health of the U.S. economy than that of whether there are available jobs. 

In the case of health care, the political socialization factor that is among the most influential on me that I will detail is the question of what our responsibility is to other people. When people act as though they don't owe one another anything, it is as if they think we live on an island. Despite libertarian arguments to the contrary, it is the federal government that makes basic necessities for industry such as roads and other types of infrastructure possible (White para. 2). Government is built to solve large societal problems; they do not get solved any other way. Further, the ability of private corporations to conduct business with one another is dependent upon a society within which such interactions are possible, something that is well beyond the capacity of any private entity to conjure, develop, and coordinate. 

Further, doctors who support single-payer health care point out that there is much to gain from this approach. One group of doctors estimates that there would be a more than $350 billion windfall from cost savings through a single-payer system. They also believe that the quality of health care would increase substantially through the new system (Physicians for a National Health Program para. 3-5). It also increases fairness, as everyone would be covered by the system, and no one would be left out.

This is all derived from political socialization that included older people who had benefited from the government playing an active role in their lives in urban communities. The old style of Democratic urban politics which concerned itself with finding people places to stay and work and even dropped off food to homes in need produced a generation of people who saw the good in government. Admittedly, some of that good feeling waned over time and as the incompetence of government became clearer to these people who were so much in need in the early 20th century, but they retained that sense that, when used properly, aid from the government could be and had been a lifesaver for them. Later, that form of government was considered corrupt and people condemned the approach, but American politics has never quite found a way to replace the presence of an active group of people engaged in civic life who take care of the individual needs of other people. 

Support for raising the minimum wage is similarly based upon an idea about how people in a society should treat one another, paired with some anecdotal evidence from people in my life who can describe the ways in which they have been helped in times of need. These stories are bolstered by the arguments laid out by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) itself, which advocates for an increase in the minimum wage. They point out that, given the current state of the economy where so many people from such diverse backgrounds rely on minimum-wage jobs, there will be a broad benefit to increasing the wage. Contrary to how the economy operated in the past, it is not just teenagers who have minimum-wage jobs. In fact, they are so hard to come by, very few urban teens have those jobs at all (DOL para. 2). 

Opponents will argue that the impact of raising the minimum wage on businesses – especially small businesses – will be a disaster and therefore we should not support it. A recent survey, however, found 3 out of 5 small business owners in favor of increasing the minimum wage (DOL para 6). One must assume that these capitalists have examined the pros and cons and come down in favor of a better standard of living for their employees leading to greater productivity. One can also look at places like California in general and San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular where raising the minimum wage did not lead to the dire consequences some people warn against (DOL para. 7-10). Officials in Los Angeles, for example, believe that the wage increase has in turn directly stimulated the economy because people immediately spend monies on their families' basic needs (Solis para. 5).

Immigration arguments similarly question whether helping undocumented workers helps our society. One scholar who has studied the question for years has concluded that the average American's wealth has actually increased by 1% as a result of illegal immigration (Goodman para. 10). Its positive effects on the economy are similar to those of the minimum wage worker. 

Overall, the philosophical connection between these three arguments is whether one thinks that providing people who don't have much with more opportunity and wealth is beneficial to society or not. There is certainly evidence that it is a boon to the material well-being of the country. This will not stop the opponent who argues that these are morally wrong acts, that people should not be given something for nothing, and that we all have to make it through the toughest gauntlet in order to deserve what we have. 

The common link of the counterargument is a plea for empathy and a belief that society is better off when it is generous and trusting of the people living within it. All of these issues affect me and the people around me right now, and the socialization that has led me to my views affects me as well. I believe that this idea of generosity is the true tradition and heritage of this country, and I look to the people in my life who can tell stories of benefiting from the generosity of others – and those who had been enriched by acts of kindness.

For me, these principles are a birthright and a legacy for all Americans. What the troubled past of this country and the grassroots efforts to reform it have provided us is the promise of a land where people can be treated well simply because we all have a right to some basic things. The times in our history when we have trusted this and provided have rewarded us richly, and it is this belief, inculcated in me through the stories and the inspiration of my elders, that informs my worldview.

Works Cited

Goodman, H. A. “Illegal Immigrants Benefit the U.S. Economy.” The Hill. 23 August 2014. Web. 1 June 2016. <http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/203984-illegal-immigrants-benefit-the-us-economy>

Physicians for a National Health Program. “How Single Payer Health System Reform Improves Quality.” (N.d.). Web. 1 June 2016. <http://www.pnhp.org/facts/quality.pdf>

Solis, Hilda L. “Raising Minimum Wage Combats Poverty and Benefits Our Economy.” Huffington Post. 19 July 2015. Web. 1 June 2016. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hilda-l-solis/raising-minimum-wage-comb_b_7829450.html>

United States Department of Labor. “Minimum Wage Mythbusters.” N.d. Web. 1 June 2016. <https://www.dol.gov/featured/minimum-wage/mythbuster>

White, Adam J. “Infrastructure Policy: Lessons from American History.” The New Atlantis. Spring 2012. Web. 1 June 2016.  <http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/infrastructure-policy-lessons-from-american-history>