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 . . .
Tell me what it means to be a socialist.
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.
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”?
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?