‘Democratic Socialism’: A new name for socialism, but the same failed, oppressive, and deadly results

Just because you put the word “democratic” in front of socialism doesn’t make it work any better. The ideas behind “Democratic Socialism” are not much different than those behind regular old socialism, which always ends in failure, repression, and death.

Ilya Somin in Reason’s The Volokh Conspiracy:

Perils of “Democratic Socialism”

The seemingly new version of socialism advocated by many on the left today has all too many flaws in common with old kind.

One of the most significant recent developments in left-of-center politics is the rise of “democratic socialism.” Democrats are currently engaged in an important debate over whether this is a good direction for the party. They should heed prominent liberal legal scholar Cass Sunstein’s warning: “Those who now favor large-scale change should avoid a term, and a set of practices, that have so often endangered both liberty and prosperity.”

Prominent self-proclaimed socialists include Bernie Sanders (one of the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in the party. Some recent surveys indicate that many more Democrats have a favorable view of “socialism” than “capitalism,” though others show less support for it. Even a good many politicians who eschew the democratic socialist labels have endorsed some of the radical policies associated with it, such as the Green New Deal, “Medicare for All,” and federal government-guaranteed jobs for all Americans, among others.

Historically, socialism—defined as government control over all or most of the economy—has led to mass murder, poverty, and oppression on an enormous scale. The experience of communist nations around the world is instructive. To avoid terminological confusion, it is worth noting that the communists saw themselves (correctly) as implementing socialism; “communism” was, on the Marxist-Leninist view, a later stage of social evolution none of these regimes ever actually claimed to have attained. The current horrible oppression in Venezuela (perpetrated by a socialist regime that generally does not claim to be communist), which has led to perhaps the biggest refugee crisis in the history of the Western hemisphere,  is just the latest iteration of the same pattern.

Nonetheless, current advocates of democratic socialism argue that this awful record isn’t relevant to their proposals. They draw two important distinctions between their agenda and that of the socialist movements that caused such enormous suffering in other nations. First, they emphasize that these earlier experiments in socialism were undertaken by authoritarian regimes. By contrast, today’s democratic socialists are committed to multi-party democracy. Mistakes and abuses of power will be curbed by electoral competition.

Second, we are assured that latter-day socialists don’t actually mean to impose government control over the means of production. They just want greatly increased regulation and welfare state spending. Often, their agenda is analogized to the policies of Scandinavian nations, which have large welfare states, but remain relatively prosperous and free.

Unfortunately, these distinctions are not as reassuring as they might seem. The expansion of government power advocated by modern socialists is so great that it would put most of the economy under state control, even if much industry formally remained under private ownership. It goes far beyond any Scandinavian precedent. And it is unlikely that democracy can effectively constrain the abuses of such a leviathan state. It is also questionable that a government like that could remain democratic in the long run.

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