As independent senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders has a real chance to become the Democratic candidate for President in 2016, it is time for the American people to understand what he stands for. Sanders’ party is the Democratic Socialist party. So, what is a Democratic Socialist?
We in the USA live in a democratic capitalistic system; much of Europe lives in Social(ist) Democratic systems. These terms are not wholly accurate because the economic systems of the USA and Europe are all mixed economies, mixes of capitalism and socialism. The European Social Democracies are not really socialist because socialism requires a) no private property, b) collective ownership of the means of production, and c) central planning of the economy, none of which is true of the European Social Democracies; they are all capitalistic economies with a heavy redistribution of wealth, from top to bottom. Europe does have its own billionaires, who are heavily taxed and who do not renounce their citizenship to move to low-tax America (there are exceptions!).
Politically, democracies are one person, one vote. Economically, capitalism is one dollar, one vote, while socialism is one person, one vote, an economic system built on the democratic distribution of power.
The most profound benefit of pure capitalism is it produces the most dynamically growing economy by allowing its innovators their free-est range of expression. The biggest problem with pure capitalism is that wealth accumulates into the hands of the few, while more and more of the working population – those who are only capable of commodity labor – are reduced to slave wages and at least partial dependence on the state. And, as if their slide into near-poverty were not enough, their democracy ceases to become responsive to their needs. Democratic Socialism fixes this by redistributing much of the wealth of those with more wealth than they need. So, putting aside the name, Democratic Socialism remains capitalistic, but by a redistribution of wealth it also remains democratic and more FAIR.
Having said all this, I am profoundly in favor of real democratic capitalism. Because capitalism is more efficient than socialism, and because it rewards most those who deserve to be most rewarded, those who advance the economy as a whole. Unhappily, however, democratic capitalism seems congenitally unable to remain democratic; the people still get to dance their ritualistic dance of voting every few years, but those who rise to positions of political authority end up doing the bidding of those with the most economic power, not the bidding of We the People. In other words, democratic capitalism seems inevitably to degrade into plutocratic capitalism, where plutocracy is the rule of the wealthy.
So, a lousy name for a decent and worthy system.
Maybe we need more Democratic Socialists.
Adam Smith (1723-90), the father of modern capitalism, never uttered the word "capitalist" or "capitalism" in any of his writings.
The socialism of Karl Marx (1818-83) is the dream of very few living self-styled socialists. When most of us use the term socialist we mean “for the public good” (like Social Security and Medicare, like public libraries and public schools and national parks).
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) outlined his idea of a just political-economy in Agrarian Justice. He’d be with Sanders.
Readers: challenge me, I want to get this 100% right.