Millions of Bernie Sanders supporters now openly decry capitalism as inherently evil and call for the adoption of what they label democratic socialism.
The reason for this is because Senator Sanders has described himself as a believer in democratic socialism, an ideology that believes in a socialist economy whereby the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratically elected government.
There’s just one problem though, Bernie Sanders isn’t a real socialist.
Not for the one-percent
Many economists and journalists have noted that Sanders’s views aren’t really socialist, and rather are based on tax-funded social benefits rather than social ownership of the means of production. Sanders philosophies really are better described as social democracy and social welfare, which are political and social ideologies rather than economic. In this sense, Sanders is perhaps a believer in reform to capitalism, but he is not a socialist.
In defining what democratic socialism means to him, Sanders was quoted as saying:
“I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.”
This sounds great, but it isn’t socialism and is, in fact, a belief in free-market economics and a rejection of oligarchy.
“I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad.”
That also sounds great, but it’s also not socialism and is instead a call for the U.S. government to increase incentives for private business to operate in America. This is actually about as capitalist as it you can get.
Democratic Socialists of America
U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are actual socialists and members of the Democratic Socialists of America. They believe that working people should run both the economy and society, and they are against profit-making as it exists currently.
They further believe that to create a more just society, many existing structures of western governments and economic systems must be radically transformed.
The assumption that they make is that Capitalism causes greed, while in reality, greed is caused by individual character traits influenced by psychological, spiritual, environmental or perhaps even cultural factors. Greed is almost certainly not generated exclusively by economic systems.
Democratic socialists around the world believe that under capitalism, resources are used to make money for capitalists, rather than to meet human needs, and therefore workers and consumers should own and control them. Therefore, democratic socialists call for ushering in a new economic model where private ownership of the means of production is eliminated.
What about Norway?
Democratic socialists love to cite living breathing examples of socialist paradises in Europe, particularly in the Nordic countries. It is true that Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark all boast high rates of economic freedom, universal health care, exceptionally high wealth per capita, low-income inequality, impressive free-public education, and a high rate of social mobility.
But none of these countries are socialist.
The truth is that all of these countries, along with every other country in Europe, firmly subscribe to a free-market economic model and are capitalist societies. What the Nordic countries do have is a social democracy coupled with a strong social welfare component to their governments, but social democracy is not the same as democratic socialism.
Social democracy is a political and social philosophy that supports economic and social interventions that promote social justice within the framework of liberal democracy and a capitalist economy. While the origins of this ideology did come from the desire to usher in a global socialist utopia, the modern application of this concept is rooted in free-market economics.
Social democracy, therefore, requires a capitalist economy whereas democratic socialism requires a planned economy and depends on the abolition of free-market activity pertaining to capital goods.
Why words matter
Some may make the argument that it’s the ideology, not the label that matters. If it’s called democratic socialism, or social democracy, or socially democratic socialism, it shouldn’t matter just as long as the ideas are sound. While in many instances semantics are indeed not vital, in the instance of socialism they are of terrible importance. This is due to one very simple reason:
Socialism is dangerous.
Socialism has been a major cause of several terrible wars, multiple genocides, tyrants, and the extermination of personal freedoms. Socialism has also failed as an economic model on many occasions and has left many a nation crippled and disconnected from the rest of the world.
Almost all of the nations that were once in the grips of communism have now adopted a mixed economic model that requires participation in the global capitalist system, and this includes Russia, China, and Vietnam.
One reason this is concerning is that confusion around the concepts of social democracy, social welfare, and socialism can provide opportunistic ideologues with a venue to convert the ignorant.
More dangerous however is that millions may support the ideology of socialism without ever really understanding what it is they are supporting. History has shown us that this can easily result in side-line supporters allowing for world-changing events to unfold such as the October Revolution in 1917, the Enabling Act of 1933 that gave Hitler power, the Brexit Referendum in 2016, and perhaps even the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
In all of these instances, a small portion of the population determined the outcome via the use of misinformation, while those driving the agenda never made their true intentions clear until it was too late to change course.
While capitalism may be an optimal venue for greedy people to thrive, it does not cause those people to be greedy in the first place. Switching to a socialist model will do nothing to curtail greed in people where it already exists, and will instead further restrict economic freedom for individuals around the globe.
It is important that voters around the world understand what socialism actually is and clearly delineate between it and the Nordic model social democracies. Indeed, the Nordic model includes a comprehensive welfare state and a unionized workforce, however, it is entirely based on the economic foundations of free-market capitalism.