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Why I Get Frustrated Talking to “Democratic Socialists”10 min read

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While so-called Democratic Socialism (DS) is popular among progressives in government and the media, there is a bit of confusion over what it means, and many who support it also seem to support traditional socialism (TS), neglecting its despotic history.

Here’s some stats:

  • 39% of young Americans support Democratic Socialism 1
  • 31% of young Americans support traditional Socialism 1
  • 47% of Democrats view capitalism positively, down from 56% in 2016 2
  • 57% of Democrats now view socialism positively, little changed from 2010 2

One conclusion we can draw from this is that there are a significant number of leftists in the US who support both DS and TS. 3

This could be because they are radical enough to embrace both, or as I contend below, because there is little difference between them, except that supporters believe that their version of socialism will be the one that works (as all the rest in history have been abysmal despotic failures).

Misunderstanding Capitalism

A typical example of DS rhetoric comes straight from one of my Facebook threads:

An oligarchy employing social Darwinism is a terrible and inhuman idea. A system in which everyone’s basic needs are taken care of is a great and humane idea.

Note the caricatures of both our capitalist system, and of DS. First, this definition of capitalism, as merely a survival-of-the-fittest jungle, is not what we have. In fact, pure Democracy or Capitalism may actually be such an inhumane jungle, but we don’t have that. I responded:

While pure capitalism or democracy is a Darwinist oligarchy, a republic with basic freedoms and responsibilities is more like a meritocracy with safeguards.

Misunderstanding Democratic Socialism

I was later informed that true DS is not the same as traditional socialism, and was directed to a video of Socialism supporter Nomiki Konst explaining why DS is not the things listed on the right side of the slide below:

But to put it plainly, the government solutions that DS offers end up being exactly parallel, if not identical in outcome to the TS goals listed in the picture above. That is:

  • Government Ownership is replaced by DS with confiscatory taxes, burdensome regulations, grants only to favored businesses, and mandatory pricing and wages that have the same oppressive effects on businesses – they are no longer free to take risks with their capital because it’s taken from them when they make it, or even before due to the high cost of starting under such regimes.
  • Collective Goals is just the subversion of the individual to state-ordered monetary priorities. It means we are expected to give up the majority of our earnings for centrally planned activities. No limits on government confiscation of earnings.
  • Low Competition is certainly what government monopolies on healthcare and education, as well as in all businesses with price controls and wage minimums create. Low competition under either DS or TS means low value, high cost.
  • Shared Wealth – is their any argument that DS wants to redistribute a majority of our earnings through taxes? No.

I was informed that DS is not this, but rather includes government programs to support

  • anti-poverty programs
  • medicare
  • fair housing
  • reduced student debt

The issue is, these are addressed better under a capitalist republic. Capitalism has raised more people out of poverty (billions) than all the people murdered by Socialist utopias (hundreds of millions!). 4 5

Student Debt

Student debt has skyrocketed, not because of capitalism, but because of government loans that have incentivized college price inflation, and loans for degrees that show no promise for significant employment. 6 Note the graph below showing price indices, and that the ones with government subsidies are now priced out of reach. Lesson? Think twice before assuming government can solve problems regarding pricing.

Meeting Every Basic Human Need via Government

This is the false premise and promise of socialism. The problem with this is that humans need a system that provides equal opportunity and reward for effort, not one that provides equal outcomes and rewards inaction, which is the perverse unintended consequence of Socialism.

It means well, but it misapprehends human nature, and leads to a different kind of oligarchy, one that is much more powerful and prone to abuse by a few.

The Poor Naming of Democratic Socialism

Progressives are guilty in this case of being at least bad communicators, if not self-deceived or deceptive about their cause. It’s like calling your movement Democratic Communism or Democratic Fascism, and expecting everyone to understand you.

Even worse, it is just a Trojan horse. Instead of having the state directly own the means of production, it strips it of its profits, controls it with regulations, inflates costs through artificial pricing and wages, and thinks that isn’t the same as state ownership. It’s just parallel means (and outcome) to TS . It is quite literally a distinction without a meaningful difference.

Some DSs dont’ believe this, but others understand that the end game is disarming the populace, removing “unethical” profits from successful businesses, and extending the size of government to make all people “safe” (but not “free”).

Defending Capitalism

It is true that capitalism is an imperfect system, but at nearly everywhere this imperfect system has been tried, it had led to human flourishing. Even in the corrupt communist Chinese system, when capitalistic principles start to come into play, poverty flees.

This is why you never hear capitalists say “well, that wasn’t true capitalism.” Because, even as imperfectly as ANY ideal can be implemented, it works better than other systems. This is why, for example, you always have to plead “that wasn’t real socialism.” Because that idea is flawed, and no amount of redefinition or “soft socialism” can work.

Having minimal safety nets is not really socialism. But when it aborts human liberty and responsibility by penalizing hard work and success, and incentivizing dependence, it is oppressive and feeds social laziness and corruption.

Freedom and Virtue vs. Socialism and Black Markets

All government systems are generally meant to avoid the chaos that human nature creates in a world with limited resources. It is meant to insure justice.

But there is a paradox here based on the nature of mankind. The less individual virtue you can count on, the more government enforcement you need to keep order and ensure justice.

If you assume mankind is essentially, if not entirely good, you can support anarchism. Who needs government if people will naturally do what is right? Too bad that’s not reality at all. If you assume man is essentially not good, or that he can be good only through (government) education, and won’t do good of his own will, you can support a statist, communist or socialist solution. But you sacrifice freedom since you can’t rely on individual virtue at all.

Between these two extremes are libertarianism and conservatism. And in there is the sweet spot. I err towards libertarianism because I believe we can preach virtue, and have the power to change culture through the gospel. If you are less confident in our ability to inculcate virtue in a free country, then you are more conservative and believe that, for instance, government should prohibit activities you find offensive, like alcohol consumption.

Our capitalist republic promotes two symbiotic ideals: freedom with virtue.

Socialism tries to eliminate this risk, removing freedom because it does not know how to promote virtue. In fact, it assumes the worst about men, and attempts to force them to do “good” as the few in power define it. It is the worst replacement for freedom with virtue – slavery without virtue, except as enforced by the state.

Western Virtue Capitalism Makes any Socialism Look Ill

Despite greed and materialism, the West is still the most free, prosperous, and humane culture in history. Of course, without the genuine virtue created by Protestant Christianity, it would not have worked. But that too was a tacit, if not explicit assumption of the founders (public religion, though a secular government).

And even with waning individual virtue in our free system, the solution to greed in a free society is not legislative prohibitions, wealth redistribution, and overwhelming regulations, but rather, minimal regulatory protections and limits in combination with promotion of beneficial behaviors through tax and other VOLUNTARY incentives. (“Promote” in the graph below, see Proportions for Public Policy – the Normal Curve (WholeReason 2013))

Socialism, as well as Democratic Socialism, fail to respect freedom and human nature, and make promises they can not deliver on. Even worse, they plead to not be compared, but the end results of DS are the same as TS – a government oligarchy that replaces the so-called capitalist one, government control of the means of production, decreased quality and increased prices for everyone due to lack of competition and a government monopoly, black markets and fraud, and worst of all, individual dependence on government. And in the end, human and economic misery continues worse than ever. Venezuela is just one recent test case.

Democratic Socialism will produce higher taxes and costs, less freedoms, and a government oligarchy stifling the economy.

  1. Fall 2018 National Youth Poll (Harvard 2018)[][]
  2. Democrats More Positive About Socialism Than Capitalism (Gallup 2018)[][]
  3. Stark partisan divisions in Americans’ views of ‘socialism,’ ‘capitalism’ (Pew Research 2019)[]
  4. Towards the end of poverty (Economist, 2013) {{Which religion or ideology has killed more people? (WholeReason 2018)[]
  5. 100 Years of Communism—and 100 Million Dead (WSJ, 2017)[]
  6. Here’s The Real Inflation Problem We Face Today (IBD 2018)[]