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Socialism: Clowns To the Left of Me, Jokers To the Right

Brett Davis

Posted on February 11, 2019 05:17

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Too many people don’t know what socialism is and isn’t.

During the recent State of the Union, President Trump spotlighted socialism to decry it as a failed system, much to the chagrin of rising political star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and curmudgeonly Sen. Bernie Sanders, both self-identified democratic socialists. Ocasio-Cortez stewed, while Sanders’ response to the president’s dis of socialism was to turn a shade of red reminiscent of the former Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle banner.

It’s a curious phenomenon then that so many in America – including democratic socialists who wrongly think adding the descriptor “democratic” makes socialism more benign – don’t know what socialism is, or pretend not to. (This socialism-with-better-PR Sanders now endorses is a far cry from his days as a self-identified “Trotskyite” and more recent cheerleader of the socialist disaster of a nation that is Venezuela.)

For the record, socialism is defined as an economic system where government controls the means of production and distribution of goods and services.

Because supporters of democratic socialism don’t understand socialism (or want to sugarcoat what it really is), they tend to conflate public goods typically provided by government – think roads and schools – with socialism. That’s why so many folks on the left erroneously claim as socialism everything from Social Security to Medicaid to highways to emergency services to the Post Office to sewer systems and more. Even people who should know better have mindlessly parroted this line recently, including venerable newsman Sam Donaldson.

It’s a rhetorical trick designed to make socialism more palatable to the masses, even though none of the aforementioned public purpose spending involves government taking over the economy and confiscating private businesses. 

Socialism supporters, including Sanders, further muddy the waters by pointing to Nordic countries as alleged models of success when it comes to democratic socialism. That said nations are in fact capitalist economies with generous welfare states – leaders have explicitly refuted the socialism label – lends credence to the notion Sanders and company don’t quite grasp the reality of socialism.

Unfortunately, the left does not have a monopoly when it comes to confusion on socialism. Certain folks on the right incorrectly tag welfare programs and the concept of universal health care as socialism.

They are, of course, opposed to government relief programs and Medicare for all on the grounds they are part of an already enormous and growing welfare state, but said programs by definition are not socialism.

Still, they are on solid ground in worrying about corporate welfare – government bailouts and subsidies to various industries – as a form of socialism. Furthermore, they are correct to be concerned that democratic socialists’ championing of more and higher taxes and even more charitable social welfare could eventually lead to de facto socialism in America.

Any real conversation about socialism rests on the important distinction between big government and state control of the economy. The left’s attempt to redefine socialism – and to a lesser extent, the right’s as well – makes an honest dialogue difficult, to say the least.

Brett Davis

Posted on February 11, 2019 05:17

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