What is a Democratic Socialist?

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders

One of the running conversations here that carried over from that other place is between me, Bron and the other participants here trying to explain to him what socialism, and in particular democratic socialism, means. It is a fun interaction in no small part because Bron has some really hilarious definitions he works from and can be obstinate as a chunk of granite, but that is itself no small part of why we love him so. However, democratic socialism is not what most people think. The word “socialism” itself has become so value-loaded and demonized in American culture since the days of the Cold War that unless you have a legal and/or political science background, few know what it is and falsely equate it to communism or fascism. While it is neither of those forms, the mistake is easy enough to make as both of those dismal forms have varying degrees of managed economies and a managed economy is a salient feature of all forms of socialism. Not all forms of socialism are created equal either. Some are just as destructive as communism or fascism or laissez-faire capitalism albeit for differing reasons. Democratic socialism is its own creature, a creature with a successful track record in some very robust Western nations. The really important part of the term is “democratic”. The economy of a democratic socialist country is managed to the benefit of the demos – the people. As in all of them and not just those throwing the most money at candidates or legal fictions pretending to be real people doing the same.

Let’s hear what the latest candidate “accused” of that nasty ol’ socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has to say about it. Speaking to Ezra Klein at Vox, the Presidential candidate gave his definition. To wit, he said the following . . .

Ezra Klein

Tell me what it means to be a socialist.

Bernie Sanders

A democratic socialist. What it means is that one takes a hard look at countries around the world who have successful records in fighting and implementing programs for the middle class and working families.

I think absolutely that the cost of prescription drugs should be regulated

When you do that, you automatically go to countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and other countries that have had labor governments or social democratic governments, and what you find is that in virtually all of those countries, health care is a right of all people and their systems are far more cost-effective than ours, college education is virtually free in all of those countries, people retire with better benefits, wages that people receive are often higher, distribution of wealth and income is much fairer, their public education systems are generally stronger than ours.

And by and large their governments tend to represent the needs of their middle class and working families rather than billionaires and campaign contributors. When I talk about being a democratic socialist, those are the countries that I am looking at, and those are the ideas that I think we can learn a lot from.

Ezra Klein

What is the underlying principle there? What are the situations where you look at a given area of the economy and say, “That’s something we should turn over to the market,” or, “That’s something we should possibly federalize”?

Bernie Sanders

Good questions. Health care, to my mind, is a right of all people. That’s what I believe. I think every man, woman, and child is entitled to health care, and that right exists in virtually every other major industrialized country on Earth. We are the odd guys out there. Despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act we have 35 million people who still have no health insurance, and, more importantly, millions more are underinsured with high copayments and high deductibles.

I think a Medicare-for-all, full-single-payer approach is the way to do it.

I believe in Medicare for all people, and I think that is not an area where private insurance companies should be functioning, because once you have private insurance companies their goal is to make as much money as possible, not to provide quality care. In terms of health care, yeah, we should have a public health-care system guaranteeing health care to all people in a cost-effective way. I think a Medicare-for-all, full-single-payer approach is the way to do it.

In terms of education, I don’t know how you have the United States being competitive in a global economy if we do not have the best-educated workforce in the world. What does that mean? It means that everybody should be able to get all of the education they need, regardless of the income of their families. What does that mean? It means we should go back to where we were 50 years ago and what Germany and many other countries are doing, and say, “You want to go to college? You have the ability to go to college? You have the desire to go to college? Public colleges and universities will be tuition-free,” because education must be a right of all people.

It seems to me that when you look at basic necessities of life — education, health care, nutrition — there must be a guarantee that people receive what they need in order to live a dignified life.”

This is as good a definition as any; a government that is run for the people by the people for their mutual benefit and not the sole benefit of an oligarchical subset of the population. A government that measures its success by the prime metric of overall citizen well being and the average standard of life. A government founded upon and recognizing the principle that a society is like chain; ultimately only as strong as its weakest links. A government that truly lives up to the word “representative democracy” and yet still has a free enough market system to spur growth and innovation while preventing harmful exploitation. That is democratic socialism.

What do you think?

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in 2016 Election, Political Science, Socialism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to What is a Democratic Socialist?

  1. bron98 says:

    Personally, I think Bernie is a nice guy.

  2. Bron,
    Glad so see we have common ground on a least some matters. Hope today finds you and yours well, and have a great weekend.

  3. bron98 says:

    Dr. Stanley:

    Any time you remain vertical, it is a good day.

    Thank you and you do the same.

  4. This is so bad it’s good. Have a morning grin with this little ditty.

  5. rafflaw says:

    Hilarious Chuck! 😳

  6. Oro Lee says:

    America has a long and successful experience with small-scale democratic socialism — rural electric cooperatives. Just don’t tell those farmers they are socialists.

  7. pete says:

    From my experience, the electric co-ops get the power back on faster after storms than the larger companies.

  8. Pingback: The 2016 Discourse should be about Quality not Quantity; Debates should be less like Thunderdome and more like a Conversation | Flowers For Socrates

  9. Gene Howington, Pete and Chuck Stanley, Socialism is not at all what it is made out to be. For people who want to be slaves to the government, Socialism is definitely for them. Socialism is basically where government has full control of the economy.

  10. Jeffrey,

    Your ignorance is showing. There is a difference between “planning” and “controlling”. At one extreme you laissez-faire capitalism which has no social controls on the economy. At the other extreme, you have communism which is a command economy (what you speak of). Neither of these systems work in practice. History has shown that communism failed and due in no small part to the fact that it ignores human nature. History is in the process right now of showing that laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t work due in no small part to the fact that it plays to the worst elements of human nature. You also make the mistake of thinking socialism is one monolithic homogeneous concept. It is not. Some forms of socialism – for example agrarian socialism as practiced by the Khemer Rouge – are disastrous. However, democratic socialism works just fine. If you don’t believe this, I’m sure that the people of Canada, Sweden and Norway will be surprised to find out that they are “slaves”. Democratic socialism works because it depends on a blended economy. Parts of the economy essential to either maintaining a healthy society – such as health care insurance – are controlled by the government in varying degrees. However, all other market segments are largely left to the whims of the marketplace. In fact, democratic socialism depends on having a partially if not mostly free market to foster innovation and growth.

    It’s probably not your fault, really, that you don’t understand this topic. You live in a country that has been ideologically brainwashing you since the end of WWII to demonize any form of socialism and worship at the altar to Mammon that is laissez-faire capitalism. But that’s okay.

    You’re about to learn the hard way that totally free markets are a bad idea. You and everyone else. If we all don’t get killed in the process or end up slightly radioactive.

    Have a nice day.

  11. Gene Howington, what makes you think I am being ignorant? What are your thoughts about F.A. Hayek’s writings, those of Thomas Sowell or those of Milton Friedman? Also, as far as tax reform goes, what are your thoughts regarding progressive taxation, a flat tax or a consumption tax?

    • What makes me think that? Well the use of the word “slave” and treating a diverse and nuanced socioeconomic political theory as an undifferentiated monolith for one thing. Referring to Austrian school economists as authorities doesn’t help much either. Economics may be the dismal science, but the Austrian school isn’t even science. More polemic scree based on ideology over any kind of sound observations and measurement of economic forces. I am familiar with the works of all three men (from years of arguing about the Austrian school with my friend Bron and people on Turley’s blog). I’m not impressed with any of them. As far as taxes go? I think they should be progressive, equitable and absolute with very limited deductions for individuals and even fewer for corporations. Taxes are the fuel for building societies. If you benefit more, you should pay more. But greed is not good. It is myopic and shortsighted. Two words that apply quite well to the Austrian school as well.

  12. Gene Howington, read Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Direct taxes were prohibited.

    • Oooo. And an Originalist too. See, that is what happens when you read something without the proper context to understand it. The word is “jurisprudence” and the history of law. Two concepts most Libertarians fail to have let alone grasp.

      • Gene Howington, yes, I am an originalist. As written, the 16th Amendment effectively overrode Article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Read them both and compare them.

        • I’ve read the Constitution more times than most people. I also know the history and jurisprudence of subsequent acts, laws and case law. Here is the problem with Originalist thought. It is based on a fiction that the Constitution is an immutable death pact and incapable of subsequent alteration when nothing is further from both the truth and the express intentions of the Founders. Your lot lost the judicial battle over the legality of Federal income tax long ago. It’s called the 16th Amendment (for starters) and all the subsequent jurisprudence and decisions finding it Constitutionally acceptable.

          That’s the problem with Libertarians.

          You love the Constitution without really understanding it.

          • Gene Howington, what about the USA Patriot Act? The National Defense Authorization Act? Where the heck is it in the U.S. Constitution that the federal government is granted the power to enact laws like that? Also look up Aaron Russo’s documentary America: Freedom to Fascism.

  13. Also of note:

    amendment (noun): In practice. The correction of an error committed in any process, pleading, or proceeding at law, or in equity, and which is done either of course, or by the consent of parties, or upon motion to the court in which the proceeding is pending. 3 Bl. Comm. 407, 44S; 1 Tidd, Pr. 696. Hardin v. Boyd, 113 U. S. 756, 5 Sup. Ct 771, 2S L. Ed. 1141. Any writing made or proposed as an improvement of some principal writing. In legislation. A modification or alteration proposed to be made in a bill on its passage, or an enacted law; also such modification or change when made. Brake v. Callison (C. C.) 122 Fed. 722.(emphasis added)

    The Founders left the Constitution amendable for good reason. Times and circumstance change as must laws to correct injustices past or remedy injustices future. The Constitution is by design a living document.

    Originalists. No sense of etymology.

    • ragnarsbhut says:

      Gene Howington, if there was a proposed Amendment that banned corporations from contributing to political campaigns, which all states refused to ratify, even though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld proposed Amendment as Constitutional, who has the better argument from a legal standpoint-the states as a whole or the U.S. Supreme Court?

      Chuck Stanley, Democratic Socialism is an oxymoron. Any person with any semblance of common sense would know that.

  14. Wait, wait! What about the 3/5th’s Compromise? Those items you mention? All errors which will in time be corrected, Jeffrey. As Justice Hand once noted “law is the shadow of justice”. People are imperfect and equity is a perfect concept. This is why the Constitution is a living document. Justice is a journey, not a destination. And consequently why Originalists are ridiculous.

    • ragnarsbhut says:

      Gene Howington, your last statement is absurd. If many states were recorded as having giving validity to a proposed Amendment because they were sold a set of lies, despite the states not giving their blessing, why should that be deemed legitimate and their actual refusal to ratify a proposed not legitimate? Can you provide a rational explanation for this?

      Chuck Stanley, the idea of Democratic Socialism is absurd. Democratic Socialism is an oxymoron by its very nature. For people who want Socialism as a governing model, Cuba is out there waiting with open arms.

  15. Gene Howington, yes, I am an originalist. Article 1, Section 8, the 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th, 13th and 14th Amendments should be grounds to render the income tax as null and void. Also, look up the documentary America: Freedom to Fascism by Aaron Russo on http://www.youtube.com to learn the truth about income tax laws. Unless you are happy to live in blissful ignorance. Also, income tax was struck down in 1894. That and the required number of states was not legally met. Some states were falsely recorded as having ratified it. Here are a few links for you: 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6ayb02bwp0, 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yeCdfqQZ7w, 3: http://fromthetrenchesworldreport.com/federal-income-tax-in-us-is-illegal/44752, 4: http://fromthetrenchesworldreport.com/how-some-states-did-not-legally-ratify-the-16th-amendment/44584-look up these links and learn the truth for yourself.

    • I think I will refer to my excellent Jesuit legal education to inform my legal opinions and knowledge rather than YouTube whack jobs.

      Remember: appealing to authority is only a fallacy when you or your source are not actually experts.

  16. Gene Howington, did you even look up the information I provided or are you just playing the role of ignorant fool for the hell of it?

    • No, Jeffrey. I’ve seen enough of that kind of bullshit to last a lifetime. And I’ll remind you that , unlike you, I actually am a legal expert. So pardon me if I think people arguing against the Constitutionality of Federal income tax are morons.

  17. Gene Howington, the U.S. Supreme Court also upheld the legal right of same sex couples to marry. Was that a good thing in your opinion? Or should that have been left to the individual states to decide?

    • The reason the SCOTUS granted cert and got involved is the fact marriage contracts are transportable. The contract crosses all artificial political and geographic boundaries. It would be chaotic for the legal system if marriage laws and obligations varied, depending on where one lives. In the eyes of the law, marriage is a secular contract, and religion has nothing to do with it. If religious organizations want to get involved, that’s fine, but the contract remains the same no matter if the ceremony is performed by the Pope or a local judge.

  18. Chuck Stanley and Gene Howington, I am an originalist. If the income tax was prohibited under Article 1, section 8 to the U.S. Constitution, if some states never legitimately ratified it, then it is null and void. Some states disregarded ratifying it. Basically, they were saying that they did not want it, even though they were recorded as having ratified it.. Also, some people have searched for a law that mandates that U.S. citizens pay income taxes. No law was reportedly found to legitimize the existence of the income tax in the U.S. from what I have read.

    • That’s what happens when one reads without comprehension of both theory and context. The Constitution is governed by a legal principle known as the incorporation doctrine. The Amendments are just as much the Constitution as the Articles. Amendments – liked or not – are not incorporated without ratification as delineated in Article V and 1 U.S.C. 106b. Since the 16th Amendment went through this process, it is ipso facto Constitutional as part and parcel of the Constitution until and unless superseded by a latter amendment.

      Plus your paragraph is full of weasel words. “if”, “wanted” “some people” “reportedly”.

      You can believe Federal income tax is illegal.
      You can believe that gravity is just a theory.
      Testing your beliefs of either misguided notion will end poorly.
      This kind of delusional belief is what ends up with idiots going to prison for tax evasion.

    • Laws can, and are, changed all the time. As far as the Constitution goes, look at the 18th Amendment that created Prohibition in 1920. That didn’t last very long. The 21st Amendment was passed in 1933, repealing it.

      As for being an “originalist” whatever that means, the original Constitution has been tweaked and modified countless times, either by Amendment or case law. If you have never studied law, then your understanding is limited and naive. From your postings, you apparently get your understanding of law from YouTube videos and libertarian blogs. If you really want to understand, go to law school and take coursework in Constitution Law as Gene has.

      Try this one on for size. Read Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3. That specifically identifies slavery as legal, and that fugitive slaves (including indentured servants) must be returned to their owners. There are some weasel words in there that give a wink and a nod to slavery without mentioning it specifically. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, making Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 moot.

  19. rafflaw says:

    I believe the term “originalist ” is a fallacy. Please explain how corporations are people under the so-called originalist theory. For some reason being an originalist did not stop Scalia and his fellow Supremes from inventing the concept that a corporation is no longer a legal fiction, but a person under the law. If a corporation can act as a person, while at the same time retaining the corporate shield from creditors, originalism is nonsense.

  20. pete says:


    IMH and non-legal O, the last three words of your posting says it all.

  21. ragnarsbhut says:

    Gene Howington and Chuck Stanley, given the fact that time and time again government has showed itself to be irresponsible with our tax dollars, does this not defeat the arguments in favor of graduated tax rates? Who can spend our money better-we, the people of the U.S.A. or our elected representatives?

  22. ragnarsbhut says:

    I find it to be laughable that Socialism is appealing to anybody. That ideology has been tried in many places around the world. What has it turned each country such a model has been implemented in? A colossal shit show.

  23. ragnarsbhut says:

    For people who buy into the b.s. ideology that is socialism, here are 2 videos: 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF2lFGyADtM, 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XgdtHewGR0 No sane person could support an economic and political model like this.

Comments are closed.