A mere few years back, the American Left was doing its best to avoid association with the term socialism. Hardcore liberals weren’t happy about it, because they liked the principles of socialism, but came to understand that the rest of the nation, and not just those dirty benighted conservatives and Republicans, had negative associations with the the word. Nowadays, however, socialism is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, embodied in Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly successful bid for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Sanders is embracing the word – somewhat. Even he cannot ignore socialism’s terrible history, so he is attempting to divorce the word from that history by adding the word “democratic” in front of it.

“Democratic Socialism” would be farce if it weren’t so tragic. If we take it literally, it means that the socialistic political system is to be emplaced by popular vote, that this does manage to divorce “socialism” from its history, and that this makes everything fine and dandy. The problem is, of course, that history’s socialist tyrants were elected. Hitler and his National Socialist party came to power via a contested election. Stalin was voted into power over Trotsky by the Central Committee. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was voted both into and out of power. China and Cuba hold elections, as well. But, the phrase is not meant to be taken literally when doing so engenders negative conclusions, and these arguments will be waved off by declaring that those weren’t “real” elections. Of course, our domestic socialists don’t like “real” elections either when they give power to the other side (as they did in the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms, election results that the Left has implored President Obama to work around via his executive action).

The Left has dismissed the plain meaning of the phrase, choosing instead to inform us of their definition of “Democratic Socialism.” They’re marketing Democratic Socialism as not that “bad” type of socialism, but rather as an extension of how this nation currently operates. Police, firefighters, trash collection, roads, courts, national defense and other government services that are the bedrock of our society are all forms of socialism. The FDA, the FCC, the FAA and countless other regulatory agencies that protect us are all forms of socialism. Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and the dozens of other assistance programs are all forms of socialism. They’re quite wrong about the first group, mislabeling the second, and correct in spirit of the law about the third.

The first group are services provided for everyone, and taxes to pay for these can legitimately be considered “user fees.” This is not socialism, this is fee for service. The second group are regulatory agencies. They control what individuals and privately owned businesses do. In the language of economics, this is fascism. The third group is what best exemplifies the old socialist adage “from each according to his ability to each according to his need.” These are redistributive programs, and this makes them (and the taxes collected to fund them) socialist in nature.

But, wait, isn’t socialism, by the book, based on government ownership of the means of production? Lets consider that. “Ownership” means, in practical terms, that one both controls and reaps the benefits of that which is owned. When the government collects taxes without providing compensatory services (i.e. the aforementioned police, firefighters et al), it is a de facto partner in whatever created the revenue that is being taxed. If we travel the halls of the Left, we will often hear the assertion that redistribution is morally acceptable, because businesses that function within society owe their existence to the structure that society provides – in perpetuity. They ignore the fact that businesses DO pay taxes that cover the services that are this structure, and broaden the obligation to cover redistribution. In other words, the Left deems every member of society an employee of every business, entitled to compensation merely for existing at a level of wealth below an arbitrary threshold.

The Left hides the realities of some of the redistribution programs (i.e. Social Security and Medicare) by claiming that people pay into these systems during their working lives and are repaid the moneys they put in when they retire. This is a bald-faced lie, but it’s so seductive that even conservatives consider these programs sacrosanct. These programs are also horrifically underfunded. All the money that they’ve taken, money that is purported to have been taken to provide those retirement benefits, has been spent. None is being held against those future obligations, and there will come a day when the promises will be broken. The Left dismisses this hard reality, and worse, wishes to use these programs as models for expanding government’s size and scope.

That is the path to Venezuela. Our government is already spending far more than it collects, and more of this behavior will inevitably bring us to a time when the government is going to have to print money to pay for all these grand ideas.

Sanders’ supporters are quick to dismiss comparisons to Venezuela and the socialist regimes of the 20th century, preferring instead to point to Denmark and other northern European countries as examples of what “democratic socialism” is. They’re right in certain ways, notably in that Sanders isn’t planning to nationalize industries, but they ignore the full truth of those nations.

First, they continue to pretend that Sanders’ economic plans can be funded with only modest increases in taxation on the lower and middle classes, and that “soaking the rich” will suffice. Their paragons of democratic socialism tax everybody up, down, left and right. Our domestic socialists want to cherrypick the parts of the Northern European model they like and dismiss the parts that they don’t, ignoring the fact that you can’t take a machine apart and expect it to keep working as it did before. Meanwhile, Denmark’s effective tax rate on most of its citizens is over 40% of income, there is a 25% sales tax, there are fees and taxes throughout the production chain, etc. All this combines to, by some reports, take an 80% bite out of the average Dane’s income. Sure, health care and education are free, but free comes at a hefty price that most Americans would be shocked to have to bear.

Second, northern Europeans have societal mores that Americans do not share. Those Danes that our domestic socialists admire so much aren’t big fans of individualism and personal success, and individuals who stand out are far more likely to be shamed and shunned than congratulated and held as paragons and examples. Some of the precepts of the Scandinavian Law of Jante do exist in some of our subcultures, and people who are “too” successful (i.e. the top 0.1% of earners – unless they’re liberals) are presumed to be criminals by many, but most of this nation still respects individual success and entrepreneurism, and the “American Dream” is still about moving one’s station in life up the ladder.

All these are mere details, to be waved off and dismissed as alarmism and tendentiousness, in the eyes of our domestic socialists. Their desire and goal is to get people to accept that, not only is socialism a Good Thing, but that it’s already a big part of our lives (and the best part of what government does for us). They want us to ignore the dead 100-200 million and the impoverished billions of last century’s experiments in socialism. They want us to ignore the lessons of history, the economic calcification of the European social welfare states, the collapse of Venezuela, the poverty of today’s socialist states, and the fact that totalitarian and failed states came into being because of, rather than despite, the wishes of their people. They also want us to ignore the obvious success and benefits that capitalism has generated for all nations that embrace it, even in part.

Socialism has been brought back into favor by skillful marketing to the young, ignorant and foolish, who have seized onto that which they’ve been sold as we might latch onto a particularly memorable advertising jingle. That the product being sold is toxic hasn’t quite caught up with the glitz, glamor and shine of the packaging. Sadly, all these domestic socialists, people who are quite likely to rail against the excesses of the Mad Men who’ve been hawking snake oil to the masses since time immemorial, are going to have to take a good, deep draught of this toxicity before they realize they’ve been duped.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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