Democratic socialists are conquering the left. But do they believe in democracy?

the possible resurgence of democratic socialism. Its adherents, out to distinguish themselves from the more moderate social democrats — previously the dominant tradition on the progressive left — offer online think pieces with headlines like “Social Democracy Is Good. But Not Good Enough” (from Jacobin ), “Democratic Socialism Isn’t Social Democracy” (also Jacobin ) and “It’s not just New Deal liberalism” (from Vox).

.. if the Democratic Party’s left flank shifts from one to the other, it should know about the drawbacks that democratic socialists have historically posed for democracies. In the end, voters and lawmakers need real-world solutions for governing problems, and democratic socialists — with their frequent determination to let the great be the enemy of the good — have a poor record of providing them.

.. As for democracy, these leftists viewed it as fundamentally flawed by its association with “bourgeois capitalism” and looked forward to something “better.” With socialism their priority, and democracy a means rather than an end, this group rejected alliances or compromises with nonsocialist forces.

.. Other leftists dismissed the idea that capitalism was bound to collapse, arguing instead that it was possible and desirable to take advantage of its upsides while addressing its downsides. This camp’s most famous proponent was Eduard Bernstein, a German politician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who famously argued that “what is usually termed the final goal of socialism is nothing to me, the movement is everything.” By this, he meant that talking about some abstract future was of little value; instead, the left should prioritize concrete reforms that could create a better world. Still, this would require controlling a democratic state. And so Bernstein, like others in this group, viewed democracy as a means and an end. It was “the most effective tool for implementing . . . reforms without bloodshed” and embodied the left’s most important ideals — classlessness, equality and self-rule. Because it prioritized democracy, this camp favored alliances and compromises with nonsocialist forces.

What Are Capitalists Thinking?

If they’re worried about what’s driving the growing appeal of socialism, they need to look in the mirror.

.. You want fewer socialists? Easy. Stop creating them.
.. The conditions under which the czars forced Russians to live gave rise to Bolshevism. The terms imposed at Versailles fueled Hitler’s ascent. The failures of Keynesianism in the 1970s smoothed the path for supply-side economics.
.. the kind of capitalism that has been practiced in this country over the last few decades has made socialism look far more appealing, especially to young people.
.. If you’re 28 like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congressional candidate who describes herself as a democratic socialist, what have you seen during your sentient life?
.. As that happened, you’ve seen the rich get richer, and you’ve perhaps noticed that the government’s main response to this has been to keep cutting their taxes
.. You witnessed the financial meltdown of 2008, caused by big banks betting against themselves. Capitalists might want to consider how all that looked to a young person who came from a working-class family and who probably knows someone who lost a job or even his house, while some of the bankers who helped create the mess walked away with golden parachutes, like that of Countrywide Financial’s Angelo Mozilo, which The Times valued at $88 million.
.. You’ve watched corporations hoard profits, buy back their stock and not reinvest in their workers the way they once did as they move jobs to Central America and Bangladesh. If you read a lot, you know that stock buybacks were permitted under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 10b-18, which dates to the Reagan era, and that since it’s just an S.E.C. rule, it can be changed without having to pass legislation, but no one in either of the Democratic administrations since then bothered.

.. Back in the days when our economy just grew and grew, we had a government and a capitalist class that invested in our people and their future — in the

  • Interstate highways, the
  • community colleges, the
  • scientific research, the
  • generous federal grants for transportation and regional development.

.. during all this time, socialism didn’t have much appeal. Back in the 1910s and ’20s, during an era of intense labor strife and before the existence of the welfare state, there were a couple of Socialist Party members in the House of Representative

.. But during the “Trente Glorieuses,” to use the French term — the glorious 30 years from 1945 to 1975 when everything largely worked in Western economies — socialism’s appeal in America waned.

.. So, back now to our 28-year-old. She was born in 1990. She will probably remember, in the late ’90s, her parents feeling pretty good about things — median household income did go up under Bill Clinton more than they had under any president in a long time, even more than under Ronald Reagan. But ever since, the median income picture has been much spottier, hardly increasing at all in inflation-adjusted dollars over 18 long years. And those incomes at the top have shot to the heavens.

.. if you were a person of modest or even middle-class means, how would you feel about capitalism? The kind of capitalism this country has been practicing for all these years has failed most people.

.. Yes, it’s given us lots of shiny objects to gush about. A smartphone that can display slow-motion video is a wonder. But an affordable college education, though perhaps not a wonder, is a necessity for a well-ordered society.

.. And if you’re a capitalist, you’d better try to understand it, too — and do something to address the very legitimate grievances that propelled it.

 

Notes on a Butter Republic

for decades the right has tried to shout down any attempt to sand down some of the rough edges of capitalism, whether through health guarantees, income supports, or anything else, by yelling “socialism.” Sooner or later people were bound to say that if any attempt to make our system less harsh is socialism, well, they’re socialists.

.. The truth is that there are hardly any people in the U.S. who want the government to seize the means of production, or even the economy’s commanding heights. What they want is social democracy – the kinds of basic guarantees of health care, protection against poverty, etc., that almost every other advanced country provides.

.. Denmark, where tax receipts are 46 percent of GDP compared with 26 percent in the U.S., is arguably the most social-democratic country in the world.

.. According to conservative doctrine, the combination of high taxes and aid to “takers” must really destroy incentives both to create jobs and to take them in any case. So Denmark must suffer from mass unemployment, right?

 

Our socialist president

Protectionism, and the promiscuous and capricious government interventions that inevitably accompany it, is , always and everywhere, crony capitalism. But he is spot on about the incompatibility of America’s new darker system and the rule of law:

“Everyone depends on the whim of the administration. Who gets tariff protection? On whim. But then you can apply for a waiver. Who gets those, on what basis? Now you can get subsidies. Who gets the subsidies? There is no law, no rule, no basis for any of this. If you think you deserve a waiver, on what basis do you sue to get one? Well, it sure can’t hurt not to be an outspoken critic of the administration when the tariffs, waivers and subsidies are being handed out on whim. This is a bipartisan danger. I was critical of the ACA (Obamacare) since so many businesses were asking for and getting waivers. I was critical of the Dodd-Frank Act since so much regulation and enforcement is discretionary. Keep your mouth shut and support the administration is good advice in both cases.”

.. Protectionism — government coercion supplanting the voluntary transactions of markets in the allocation of wealth and opportunity — is socialism for the well connected. But, then, all socialism favors those adept at manipulating the state. As government expands its lawless power to reward and punish, the sphere of freedom contracts. People become wary and reticent lest they annoy those who wield the administrative state as a blunt instrument.

.. Tariffs are taxes, and presidents have the anti-constitutional power to unilaterally raise these taxes because Congress, in its last gasps as a legislature, gave away this power.

.. Noting that some Trump protectionism is rationalized as essential for “national security,” Cochrane, who clings to the quaint fiction that Congress still legislates, suggests a new law stipulating that such tariffs must be requested — and paid for — by the Defense Department: “Do we need steel mills so we can re-fight WWII? If so, put subsidized steel mills on the defense budget. If defense prefers to use the money for a new aircraft carrier rather than a steel mill, well, that’s their choice.”