“Democratic Socialist” is a term that has grown popular since US Senator Bernie Sanders became a national figure due to his prolonged unwillingness to withdrawal from the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary. With the election victories of headline-grabbing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other self-proclaimed democratic socialists, the democratic socialists have certainly emerged on the national stage and inflamed partisan tensions. Somewhat akin to Libertarian Republicans, Democratic Socialists may well represent the future of the Democratic Party. Just as Republicans are shifting toward one extreme, Democrats are shifting to their own. Democratic Socialists could well be a product of this trend. Where Democrats have always criticized Republicans for ignoring the financial freedom and security of Americans through their preference for business and fanatical approach to capitalism, Republicans have always criticized Democrats for their massive social welfare spending. A Democratic shift toward democratic socialism would certainly intensify the partisan bickering, but it could easily be a fad. More importantly, it could just represent a philosophical correction that favors a sort of socialistic capitalism, if such a thing can exist.
For those who believe democracy and capitalism are intertwined, which includes US citizens whose political ideologies were shaped by the Cold War, the concept of a Democratic Socialist is nonsensical. Political freedom cannot, after all, exist without financial freedom, which requires property rights that should also include business ownership. It would seem a “Democratic Socialist” is just a politically correct way of calling oneself a socialist. From the perspective of a Democratic Socialist, a lack of shared ownership in industry as well as social institutions like government precludes the existence of true freedom. Consequently, a Democratic Capitalist cannot exist from their perspective. With that in mind, the simple truth is that the ideological struggle between capitalists and socialists does not determine the democratic nature of a society. When socialist governments concentrate power into the hands of political elites, democratic representation tends to disappear. When capitalist governments allow financial and other forms of power to be concentrated into the hands of wealthy individuals and industrial elites, a nation becomes democratic in name only. Consequently, the extremes of both ideologies can, and will likely, lead to the downfall of a democratic society.
What makes the capitalist-socialist ideological struggle particularly interesting is that it helped shape the American culture, especially during the Cold War-era. Since the Cold War, the capitalist-socialist ideological struggle had largely become a thing of the past in the minds of most Americans. With the Soviet Union gone and China embracing free markets, the US found itself in a capitalist world free of major socialist threats. For faithful capitalists, today’s reemergence of socialism in the US is a call to arms. For those willing to embrace socialism, however, socialism is the answer to the failures of capitalism to provide for the needs of more and more people. It is an appeal to the more altruistic side of human nature in a time of rising poverty and growing economic disparity. Whether or not the ideological war between capitalists and socialist reemerges, there is an ideological balance between the capitalist philosophies and the socialist philosophies that must be explored. The balance between these seemingly contradictory ideologies determines how the the US economy functions as well as financial wellbeing and security of all US citizens. Their impact is so significant that shifting that balance could, once again, reshape the American culture. One’s finances determine a lot in life, so the prevailing economic philosophy of society tends to have a significant impact.
The fundamental difference between capitalism and socialism is that capitalism relies on automated mechanisms, e.g. markets, to regulate an economy; whereas, socialism relies on manual interventions by government to control an economy. It is important to remember economies solely exist to distribute wealth in order to provide for the needs of people. What feeds a lack of confidence in capitalism, especially among socialists, is the sense that capitalism exists solely to redistribute a country’s wealth to the elites. Socialism is supposed to force equal distribution to those capitalist markets fail to serve. That said, capitalist policies can be more efficient, because their automated nature allows an economy to immediately adapt to changes and avoid the ill-effects of human error policymakers introduce when under political influence. Since the introduction of the “capitalist” and “socialist” terminology, political forces have pushed the countries and Peoples of the world to choose one or the other. In truth, both “capitalism” and “socialism” represent two poles of the same economic philosophy. Making the intellectual distinction between capitalist and socialist policies is only useful when it is done to understand how public policies work. In practice, it is dysfunctional.
For the capitalist, the ability to earn a higher socioeconomic standing and profit from one’s labor, intellectual property, or financial investments is a sign of a healthy economy. Capitalists see the value in rewarding those who make industries more efficient and grow the economy through innovation, i.e. businessmen and innovators. They have confidence that capitalist policies can be engineered to distribute wealth in the most efficient means possible, i.e. to provide for the needs of people and the need for sustainable economic growth. Wise capitalists also understand economic policies can be engineered to harm an economy by enriching the few at the expense of the many. Wise capitalists are not blind to the self-serving nature of mankind as well as the tendency of elites to legitimize, solidify, and consolidate their power through economic means. For the wise socialist, the same threat exists. It is also pivotal to recognize an over-reliance on government creates a crippling dependency that empowers government by forcing people to rely on government for their basic needs while preventing them from pursuing opportunities that would make them independent.
The simple truth is that pure socialism is unsustainable and undesirable in the real world, because it empowers corrupt forces at the expense of personal economic freedom. Capitalism, in turn, is unsustainable, because it does not provide for the needs of all people, among other issues. Both socialist and capitalist policies are needed for an economy to function properly. Trying to embrace capitalism without socialism or socialism without capitalism is like the right hemisphere of the brain trying to kill the left and vice versa. Consequently, any ideological conflict that pits capitalism and socialism against each other is both self-destructive and pointless. The real debate must be about what kind of socialist policies should be embraced and what kind of capitalist policies should be embraced. If a socialist capitalist could exist, and did exist, it would be a person who embraces the efficient mechanisms of capitalism with the controls of socialist interventions, e.g. proper regulation and social welfare spending. In other words, a socialist capitalist would pretty much be anyone with a balanced, functional economic philosophy, which happens to include most Americans in the post-Cold War US. There is no need to embrace so-called Democratic Socialists and their “new socialism” nor reignite the capitalist-socialist ideological conflict. Instead, there should be a push to check the influence of radical capitalists, such as Libertarians and other hardliners.
Read old posts