Sometimes it feels like Socialism is on the rise in America. Even though Joe Biden won the 2020 Democratic presidential primary — a feat only achieved because establishment lions (namely South Carolina congressman Jim Clyburn) stepped in when far left-wingers Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren moved to frontrunner status — progressives had been on a roll electorally and had already been successful in heavily influencing the Democratic Party’s platform.
In a relatively short time, “The Squad” and its three highest-profile members — Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — had already managed to push the Democratic House leadership to the left. Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, even nominated self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to be president at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, even though Biden had the nomination sewn up. As a conciliation prize, Senator Sanders soon took the reins of the powerful Budget Committee, which has enormous influence over tax and spending thanks to a budget mechanism called reconciliation, which allows legislation to pass with a simple majority.
All that said, regardless of how many people like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez periodically emerge, the reality is that America’s economic system is capitalism. Period. This is a fact that isn’t going to change and for this we should be exceedingly grateful. As the old saying goes, capitalism is the worst kind of economy until you try all the rest.
It is my belief that those on the far-left have gotten their hopes up — and that the modern-day conception of “socialism” in the United States has gotten twisted — because 1) the true definition of socialism has been completely watered down, together with 2) a couple of interesting public polls. A Harris Poll conducted in February 2019 revealed that 49.6 percent of Millennials and Gen Z-ers agreed with the statement: “I prefer living in a socialist country;” 73.2 percent agreed with the statement: “Government should provide universal health care” and 67.1 percent agreed with the statement: “Government should provide tuition-free college.” A Gallup poll released in May 2019 found that “43 percent of Americans say socialism would be a good thing for the country.”
Let’s be clear: These polls are measuring what I like to call sunny-side-up socialism, not what true socialism actually is. A perfect example of this perversion of socialism is when Bernie Sanders points to Denmark as an example of his brand of socialism … which is strange because Denmark is not a socialist country in the least. Even the 25th Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen rejected Bernie’s definition when he remarked, “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.”
Aha! There it is. These polls are not measuring what Americans think of socialism à la Joseph Stalin or Chairman Mao Zedong. Rather, the term has come to mean something entirely different to many Americans. When “socialism” is mentioned in America today, it is more about the view/approach one takes to the welfare state, not whether or not the government should have complete control over our lives.
To me, the American view/approach to the welfare state is a spectrum: On the far end of one side there is zero help for citizens. Sink or swim, everyone is pretty much on their own. On the far end of the other side everything is provided to citizens for basically free. Where the United States should land on that spectrum is an entirely different conversation, but the term “socialism” should not be a part of this conversation regardless of who is having it.
The fact is that Merriam-Webster defines socialism this way: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; a system of society or group living in which there is no private property; a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.”
...and that is just not going to happen in the United States of America. Period. Believe me, the polls I referenced earlier would look far different if the question asked was: “Do you agree with this statement: I want the United States government to take all of my private property from me, tax me at a rate of 90 percent, and then be completely in charge of running every single thing about my life.”
If that were the alternative, I imagine most of us would just work to improve the system we’ve already got! : )