A Simple Explanation of Democratic Socialism (op-ed)
When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders closed a 60 point gap on the much more recognizable Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, he brought several conversations to the table. Medicare for All, a living wage of $15 an hour, and the influence of corporate money in politics.
However, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that the most controversial topic stirred in the wake of the meteoric rise of Sanders was the very core of his political identity. Democratic Socialism.
Whenever the subject of socialism is broached in the US, it's met with equal parts vitriol and confusion. This is completely understandable as socialism tends to be a very broad and oft abused ideology. So, before we get into Bernie's Democratic Socialism, it seems important to go over some definitions (including what it's not).
Socialism is defined by Dictionary.com as “A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc. in the community as a whole.”
The same website offers a potentially more clumsy (if not lazy) definition for Democratic Socialism, which is “Socialism, or a modified form of socialism, achieved by a gradual transition by and under democratic political processes.”
Now, before anyone runs off to shoot the shape of an American flag into the nearest beret, it's important to understand that the latter definition already applies (and necessarily so) to several aspects of the US government. Including the very funding of the government itself. Loosely, at least. Furthermore, none of that is the same as Communism, which can easily shift into fascistic tendencies, and should be rightly avoided.
So how does Democratic Socialism differ from Communism? The short answer is that we already have the former deeply woven into the American economy, and the latter is just an equitable form of fascism that is paraded around as an oppressed individual's idea of freedom. Communism calls for full fiscal control and financial allocation by the state, while the Democratic Socialism model under discussion requires collective input to be allocated to programs that benefit the populace in lieu of corporate supervision over life and death or freedom of opportunity.
Police, fire departments, Social Security, the military, and any other tax funded program that is meant to serve the public, falls under the umbrella of Democratic Socialism. The discussion in America is an expansion of the ideals that led to the public funding of these programs, in order to offer equity of opportunity, not results, to the American people. The idea is that healthcare, higher education, and a living wage create positive economic growth that has the potential to benefit the larger public as opposed to just the upper echelon. It's not the decimation of capitalism or a hand out for the lazy, but rather the restructuring of an already mixed economy to benefit the national community as a whole.
The fire department is my personal favorite of these examples because of the clear efficacy in its transition from private to public.
Up until the 1860s, American households had to purchase fire insurance in order to have a blaze at their home combated. Basically, you would purchase protection from a private firefighting company and they would put their badge (known as a fire mark) on the front of your house so that that company would know to put out a fire if they saw it on your property.
There were a number of issues with this system. Not the least of which being that a company that was not your service provider was much more likely to watch your house burn down than they were to use their resources to put the fire out. After all, in a for-profit system resources are the profit. This, of course, meant that fires would spread with little interference if the wrong company showed up.
By the 1860's metropolitan areas like New York and London recognized that this system of profiting off of human tragedy prevention was untenable, so they began to make fire companies public utility. Seeing the success of that line of thinking, other cities followed suit, and now you can rest assured that the firetruck outside of your house isn't concerned with the logo on your door. Their aim is singular: Put out the fucking fire.
This concept of public resources being allocated to prevent tragedy in all corners of society is at the heart of the ideas of Democratic Socialism that are being discussed in America now. Medical care and a living wage are nothing if not tragedy prevention.
“But what of Venezuela,” you ask? “FOX News says they're Socialist! Do you want bread lines?! Because this is how you get them!” The truth is that Venezuela's economy has an almost exclusive reliance on oil owned by the government. The idea of economic equity when the government owns and controls the chief resource of any country is much more akin to an Oligarchy than anything that would even be possible in countries like the US where the economy is made of a much more diverse fabric. What's happening in Venezuela is truly horrific, and it has nothing to do with the re-balancing of a mixed economy being discussed in the states. It's just profiteers hijacking a one-lane revenue stream and calling it something else.
Now, imagine calling the police and being asked what your policy number is. This is basically what the current health care system in America does. Your life may be in peril, but that matters a great deal less than whether or not you're out of network.
As a sidenote, before some lunatic gets stirred up with a masturbatory fantasy of carving a hammer and sickle into my forehead, I should posit that I'm in favor of capitalism over all. At it's core, capitalism is a system of risk, work, and reward. I'm strongly in favor of all of those paying off. However, I believe that the proper execution of such an economic ideology requires some measure of balance, which is woefully absent in America right now. Spending billions of dollars a year on oil subsidies, a two trillion dollar tax cut that largely benefits the wealthy, and pouring even more hundreds of millions into back door subsidies for full-time workers who still require food stamps strikes me as the antithesis to the kind of 'sink or swim' capitalism that we were all taught growing up. It's clearly past time for a gross readjustment to this American ideal.
A common theme among the detractors of expanding social programs in the US is funding. At the Democratic Presidential Debate on January 14th, Former Vice President Biden harangued Senator Sanders over his lack of explaining how much programs like Medicare for All would cost. Frustratingly, neither Biden nor Sanders felt it a prudent time to mention the Koch funded study that pointed out that the Sanders Medicare for All plan would cost $2 trillion less over a decade than what we currently pay. To be fair, Charles Blahous who authored the study, said that he felt it had been misinterpreted because it was based off of assumptive savings outlined in the Sanders plan, which may be why Bernie avoided talking about it. Of course, that's an assumption on my part.
At the risk of having a wholly patriotic expulsion, I personally find it unbelievable that so many nations (looking at you Scandinavia) are able to guarantee healthcare for their citizens, while the god damned US of A can't. The idea that we're looking into the back window of the car that Denmark is driving while Norway rides shotgun and Finland plays 'I spy' with Sweden should be embarrassing to every true-blue American whose pulse hasn't been snuffed out by inflated insulin costs. We're America, for fuck's sake!
In all seriousness, America is the wealthiest country in the history of human civilization. The difference between us and almost every other developed nation is a matter of priorities. Not resources. Bills like Citizens United have effectively turned the fragile sham of our version of democracy into an auction. Bribery has been disguised as free speech and corporations have been egregiously appointed personhood, and the results are clear. The will of the people is irrelevant. The highest bidder is under legal protection to influence the ways in which elected officials vote, while social programs like Medicare for All consistently poll well above 50%.
Early treatment of medical conditions is almost always cheaper and more effective than scrambled hail Mary attempts to save the critically ill. A middle and working class with expendable income is a platform that raises beneath all economic levels. An educated population is one that is capable of expanding a competitive market. If the argument to be made is pro-capitalism, then it strikes me that democratic socialism is its obvious bedfellow. True economic freedom is the product of health, education, and reasonable wages that even the odds for us all. If this requires billionaires to pay the same tax rates as the rest of us and an honest re-examination of our economic model, then it hardly seems like something worth losing sleep over.