Socialism is Back
The American left is twisting itself into knots trying to figure out its basic messaging. Once discredited, “democratic socialists” have been re-energized, led by a 76-year-old Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who has been preaching socialism for half a century, and 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a stunning upset winner over favored Democrat Joe Crowley, a 10-term Congressman and chairman of the Democratic Caucus. Ocasio-Cortez won by appealing to youth-oriented, tech-savvy, digital millennials on social media.
Sex and the City challenger Cynthia Nixon, a self-described democratic socialist, with the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America party, has challenged New York governor Andrew Cuomo, no centrist himself. Both claim socialism is making a big comeback, especially on college campuses and among the younger generations. Socialist fervor is shifting the ideological center of the Democrat Party further to the left, with the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand.
In the State of California, where the Republican party is in exile, especially in the coastal counties where 68% of the population lives, it is hardly surprising that more than 90% of Democratic voters have a favorable view of avowed socialist and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats.
Among the nearly 20 million registered California voters, 45% list themselves as Democrats; 26% list themselves as Republicans; 24% list themselves as “no party preference;” and the remaining 5% are registered as Libertarian, Green, American Independent, or Peace & Freedom.
In Santa Barbara County, party preference is slightly less skewed: 41% registered Democrats; 31% registered Republicans; and 23% “no party preference.” Historically, “no party preference” voters tend to break 43% for Democrats; 29% for Republicans; and 28% for neither party.
What Is Democratic Socialism?
Democratic socialism is based on the premise that government ownership, control, and regulation of business is morally fairer, more efficient, and more desirable than private ownership with its free market competition.
According to democratic socialists, the U.S. exploits its workers and destroys its middle class. Therefore, more power needs to be placed in the hands of government. The state needs to provide all 350 million U.S. citizens and 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants with lots more “free stuff” – free hospitalization and medical care, free colleges and universities, free food stamps, and free housing – all administered by federal and state enterprises.
Socialists favor a government that can tell its citizens what to eat and how to eat it – no fertilizer and no pesticides; no sodas (and now no straws); regulate restaurants and hotels, and every other business; and deliver a $15-per-hour minimum wage for farmworkers and dishwashers.
It is a short leap between telling people what to eat and drink and what to think. Government already tells schools what to teach and how to teach from kindergarten through high school. Teachers’ unions oppose competitive charter schools. Does democratic socialism represent the new face of the Democratic party?
Young Voters for Old Socialists
Face it, getting free stuff is appealing to millennials. A Harvard Business School poll found that 51% of voters between 18 and 29 reject capitalism while one-third favor socialism. For millennials, single payer healthcare and free college are just common sense. They have been taught that inequality is the cornerstone of American history; we are a nation of racial and economic victims.
President Reagan was wrong when he claimed that too much government is the problem. The solution is more and bigger government to cure our inequities. Among all voters, Bernie’s approval rating stands at 57%, 17 points higher than President Trump.
As millennials grow older, have children, and pay taxes, all those bills for “free goodies” will be theirs – with interest. By that time, the next generation of millennials will be expecting even more “free stuff.”
What is the Difference Between Socialism and Communism?
Socialists can own personal property while communists cannot. Socialism is “Communism light,” without the purges and murders of the bourgeoise. Both Communism and socialism promote a larger and more intrusive government, massive central planning, redistribution of income and higher taxes on private businesses and the financially successful. Karl Marx set the tone for collectivism with the publication of Das Kapital in 1867 and The Communist Manifesto in 1848 when he wrote, “The theory of communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”
A core belief of socialists is that capitalism only succeeds by exploiting its workers. Large corporations are all labeled as greedy, but small businessowners, union leaders, government worker unions, and able-bodied people who take government handouts in lieu of working are not greedy, according to socialists. The truth is that most businesses, large and small – like most individuals – try do the right thing, at the right time for the right reason. There are bad apples in every pot, even in the Catholic Church.
For most people, it is more desirable to be seen as caring and compassionate liberal than to be labeled as conservative with a cold heart and racial biases.
Socialism’s Record: Fail and Fail Again
Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that it cannot be ignored. Allowing the government to decide what is best for you is the antithesis of freedom of choice. Democratic socialists want to own, manage, and control everything – climate, healthcare, environment, distribution of wealth, welfare, wages, steel prices, foreign trade – everything. Socialism completely ignores the diversity in workers’ ambitions, drive, capabilities, and desires. Socialism is a false God, more likely to fail than free market capitalism.
Historically, free market capitalism has been the economic system that has increased the living standard for the greatest number of people. Socialism has failed to produce either robust economic growth or greater personal freedom. Under Margaret Thatcher, Britain sold its socialized industries and strengthened its free market system. Productivity rose and so did per capita income. France hovers between slow growth and no growth with its mandated socialist 35-hour workweek and public service union strikes.
In Russia, Bolsheviks calling for the abolition of private property, seized power by exterminating the bourgeoise. Twenty million Soviet citizens were put to death by the regime. China’s economy stagnated after the Communist takeover. Deng looked to entrepreneurial free markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea. He wisely encouraged foreign investment in private industry to reverse his country’s downward slide.
Fans of Socialism point to Finland, Norway, and Denmark as role models for a progressive welfare state. These three Scandinavian countries together have a population that is less than half of California’s 40 million residents. None has the military strength to prevent invasion; all rely on NATO for their national security.
The story of Venezuela tells the story of democratic Socialism with absolute clarity. Venezuela, with all its oil and natural riches, by 1950 enjoyed the 4th highest per capita income in the world. Starting in 1958, government regulations and controls, high taxation, price controls, and restrictions on private property, led to a contracting economy, runaway inflation, mass emigration, and starvation for a country with the largest oil reserves in the world. If we ignore the lessons of Venezuela and Cuba as well, and swoon over Socialism, we will deserve what we get.
William Bradford and the Pilgrims, in their first year in Massachusetts, decided to share all their food production in one big collective: the original “socialists in America.” They nearly starved until they converted into free market capitalism,” where each farmer owned his own farm and used or sold what he produced, while providing a safety net for those too feeble to provide for themselves.
My Own Experience
I must confess that as a 22-year-old hotshot graduating from Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs 60 years ago, I rushed home to tell my old-fashioned father of my joy at discovering “democratic Socialism” thanks to my uber-liberal professors at Princeton. The Woodrow Wilson School was a primary pipeline for training would-be future leaders at the U.S. State Department.
My dad was an independent small-business owner who had to meet a payroll every week to survive. He simply smiled and chose to ignore the rantings of the fruit of his loin, who had drunk the academic Kool-Aid at one of America’s great universities.
After subsequently spending two years of military service in the back seat of an F-89 jet fighter, and 15 years with corporate IBM and then American Express before serving as president, CEO, and chairman of the board of two hotel chains – Best Western and Choice Hotels International – I saw first-hand how excessive government interference could crush the hopes and dreams of thousands of our franchised hotel owners and operators, and their employees.
I learned that free-market capitalism, despite its flaws, is the greatest system in the world to raise workers out of poverty, catapult them to the middle class, and then enable them to own their own hotels, and groups of hotels. This was especially true for immigrant hotel owners who arrived in this country dirt poor, but through their own individual initiative, personal responsibility, and hard work achieved their American dream, an impossibility without the structure and advantages of free-market capitalism.
The suppression of capitalism, with its replacement by state enterprises and central planning, is a risk not worth taking.