A simple and terrific ‘socialist’ idea that the U.S. should have the courage to replicate

Image: www.inthepublicinterest.org

In case you missed it, there was a fascinating development last week in another western nation that one can only hope the U.S. will someday soon have the common sense and political courage to mimic.

As journalist Megan Specia reported in the New York Times, Scotland has become the first nation to make period products (i.e. tampons, sanitary napkins and the like) free.

LONDON — Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products freely available to all who need them, after final approval was given to a landmark piece of legislation in Parliament on Tuesday.

The measures are intended to end “period poverty” — or the circumstances, and in some cases, prohibitive expense that have left many without access to sanitary products when they need them.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, posted on Twitter shortly after the vote on Tuesday evening that she was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation” which she called an “important policy for women and girls.”

A draft bill received initial approval in Parliament in February, and the measure was officially passed on Tuesday, with lawmakers voting unanimously in its favor.

The idea is so simple and obvious that it’s positively brilliant. As commentators Anna Austin and Kelley Massengale explained in a fine essay for Policy Watch a couple months back, the issues of “period poverty” ()as well as “diaper need”) are serious ones in our state and sources of enormous stress and shame for the women impacted.

Of course, as Donald Cohen of the nonprofit group In the Public Interest recently explained, one can already hear the ideologues on the right fulminating about “socialism” and “personal responsibility.” Here’s Cohen:

“What next?” the right-wing pundits would ask. I don’t know, maybe other things we all rely on? Health care? Child care (I’m pretty sure every one of us was a child at one point)? A college education?

None of those things are free, because nothing is. But how we pay for them depends on whether we decide they’re essential public goods that everyone should be able to get regardless of income, gender, religion, race, disability, or any other difference.

That’s what the tampon fight exposes. Opposition to tax-free menstruation products is surely discriminatory and sexist. Reducing the cost will help poor women who may have to choose tampons over food and other basic needs.

But there’s something much more fundamental at play. Scotland has reminded us that, in the words of right-wing economist Milton Friedman—though this probably isn’t what he had in mind—we have the freedom and power to choose.

We can take things out of private markets—all or in part—when they meet an essential public need. And menstrual products do just that.

Cohen’s post also called attention to a U.S. advocacy group called Period Equity that’s been pursuing the much more modest objective of making menstrual products tax exempt. As the news from Scotland indicates, maybe the group needs to be more ambitious.

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