Socialism, America’s favorite political term it doesnt understand
It may be cliched, but both sides have it wrong..
The upset win of 28 year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over longtime powerful democratic incumbent Joe Crowley has sparked countless conversations over the state and direction of the democratic party. A self proclaimed “Democratic-Socialist” in the style of Bernie Sanders, she ran on an ambitious platform of Medicare-for-All, A federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free college, housing as a human right, and abolishing ICE. These policy ideas have been gaining steam in democratic circles in the last few years, and more people are coming out of the closet as “democratic-socialists” with Bernie Sanders and his supporters supposedly moving the overton window to the left as Trump moves it to the right.
What is perplexing is that, no one really knows what socialism is, and most of the people who use that term usually don’t know what they are talking about. Why am I saying that important figures in American politics are constantly making a mistake? Well, because they kind of are. For decades, conservatives have framed that social programs, government activism, and an expanded social safety net as “creeping socialism”. This frame has been strongly embedded in America’s political imagination. With Single-Payer healthcare being thought of as some left-wing fever dream.
To find the right label for this style of politics we have to delve into the world of somewhat absurd semantics. The political term appropriate for this style of politics is Social Democracy, not Democratic Socialism. The terms are way too similar, it seems crazy that they can’t be used interchangeably. So what is the difference between social democracy and democratic socialism? Social Democracy is a term for a political economy that has a welfare state and social programs with in the framework of a capitalist economy. Social Security, Medicare, Progressive Taxes, and unemployment insurance are hallmarks of a social democracy. In some ways the United States is a limited social democracy as it has a welfare state, but not as generous as those of Western Europe.
Under Democratic Socialism, all or most industry would be nationalized, with workers being the owners of the means of production within the framework of democracy in which all decisions by businesses were made by a majority vote of workers. If Ocasio-Cortez was a truly a democratic socialist, she’d be calling for the nationalization of major industries like finance, energy, and manufacturing, and replace all corporate board members with a workers vote.
The American left has long looked to Scandinavia as a role model for how American social policy should be handled. Bernie Sanders frequently cited Denmark as an example of the policies he champions as a real life example of his ideas. The thing is, is that Denmark is not a socialist country. In fact, Denmark is very capitalist.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Rasmussen, actually pushed back against the notion of Denmark being a socialist country.Denmark, until recently had a much lower corporate, tax rates, and very loose labor market restrictions having no minimum wage. The conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation ranks Denmark as having more of a free market than the US. What people don’t understand about the Scandinavian countries is that they are actually free-market economies with low corporate taxes and little regulation. They fund their generous welfare states with a VAT (Value Added Tax) which is kind of like a national sales tax, and with higher personal income taxes.
Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and their followers aren’t socialists. They are Social Democrats, New Deal-Style Democrats. Socialism is used as a boogeyman by the right, and a mislabeled ideology by the left. No one knows what they’re are really talking about and aren’t arguing intellectually, maybe it’s time we stop using that word.