On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders had the opportunity to describe what democratic socialism means at the Democratic presidential debate. Since Sanders announced his candidacy, he has been asked to explain it multiple times. Unfortunately, he has either dodged the question or made vague references to Scandinavian countries. Why won’t Bernie Sanders explain democratic socialism to the American people?
Worse yet, back in August, Hardball’s Chris Matthews addressed democratic socialism with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chairperson. Matthews asked, “What is the difference between and Democrat and a socialist?” The DNC Chairperson refused to answer the question. Does anyone find this at all odd?
Sanders was asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, how can any socialist win the U.S. Presidency? This was his reply:
What is Democratic Socialism?
So, from this answer, what people heard was democratic socialism is (1) a redistribution of wealth system, (2) free healthcare, and (3) paid medical and family leave. Later in the debate, Sanders added a free college education for all Americans into the mix. Socialism makes a lot of promises, but the devil is in the details of how these promises become fulfilled, and to what extent.
Democratic socialism combines a democratic political system with a socialist economic system. This means the social ownership of commodities (everything from food to oil), distribution, and the means of production. It is ultimately the “nationalization” or “citizen ownership” of much the business being done. The only significant difference democratic socialism has with Communism is the democracy part—nondemocratic socialism doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?
So, when you hear Progressives and Bernie supporters make the statement, “Sanders is not a big-S Socialist,” this is an attempt to disassociate him from totalitarian regimes built around socialism, like the old Soviet Union. Bernie Sanders will tell you “small-s” socialism is an economic system that works for all Americans, not just the 1%. What is never spoken is how socialism fulfills the promises.
There are no significant economic differences between socialism, democratic socialism, Communism, or even Nazism. It is all ambiguous at best. If socialism was cola, democratic socialism could be described as any brand of cherry cola, while Communism and Nazism are specific brand names of cola. Each model subscribes to the axiom, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” Under socialism, no matter how hard you work, you are ultimately not completely entitled to the fruits of your labor. The benefits on your hard work, innovation, or entrepreneurship is shared with all.
Democratic Socialism and You
President Barack Obama, back in 2012, took a lot of heat for his statement, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.” Under a socialist economic system, you don’t own that either. The socialist economic system works to limit or eliminate the ability to derive profit from workers or the private ownership of production—the physical and institutional means with which commodities are produced and distributed.
Bernie Sanders loves to talk about the promises of socialism:
- A right to employment,
- A right to a living wage,
- A right to free medical care provided by the state,
- A right to maintenance in old age, in sickness, and in the event of complete or partial disability,
- A right to housing,
- A right to free higher education at colleges and universities, and much more.
What Sanders does not tell Americans, and the media seems unwilling to expose, is how socialism works to accomplish these goals. In order for the state to take ownership and control how commodities are produced and distributed, it means the end to private ownership of real property, at least with the bundle of rights Americans now benefit from. This is where people may start to glaze over.
In a socialist system, it starts with what you can and cannot fully own. You can have private ownership of personal property (furniture, clothing, household items) but you can never have full ownership of real property (real estate and its improvements, such as buildings, machinery, farms, mines, et al). So, anything of real value is ultimately owned by the government for the purpose of the “equitable” distribution.
However, the idea of an equitable distribution of wealth never leads to shared prosperity. It creates only shared scarcity. The idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor sounds good, but Robin Hood didn’t steal from the rich. He stole from an oppressive, over-taxing government. Government only consumes wealth, it does not create it.
In order for the government to provide the equitable distribution of healthcare, the state will have to control who gets what care and when. Look at the VA Health System. The Veterans Administration provides some of the best healthcare in the world, if you don’t die waiting to be seen or to have your procedure approved.
The fact is, healthcare is a limited resource even when provided by the government. In 2014, 52,000 Canadians came to the United States for non-emergency healthcare, an increase of 10,000 from 2013. The cause was wait times and lack of resources. That is what government provided healthcare looks like.
If we take all the wealth from the top 1%, it is not enough to pay for all the promises of socialism. The government seizing ownership of commodities, and all means of distribution, socialism still cannot make good. It is only when government limits who gets what and when that socialism has some semblance of being workable.
Socialism cannot give free college to all. It can only give free college by limiting who receives it, and defining who is worthy of the investment. Socialism cannot give free healthcare for all without putting limits on the healthcare received. Socialism cannot truly guarantee housing without limiting your right to own a home. It means creating a two class system, those who govern and those who rely on government.