Bernie Sanders Lived Through Decades Of Socialist Failure, But He Didn’t Learn Much
While the term means different things to different people, earlier in Sanders’ career, he admitted, “I favor the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.” He had the opportunity to publicly disavow his support for these goals, but he chose not to do so. Instead, he droned on about creating a government-run, single-payer health care system.
Sanders is not alone in his passion for democratic socialism. A growing cabal of American democratic socialists, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has advocated a range of proposals that fall under this umbrella. They include instituting private market price controls and even mandating a government takeover of many private industries.
Shocking, yes. But these aren’t new ideas; they are simply recycled socialist planks draped in the shroud of democratic socialism. But calling something “democratic” doesn’t make it less insidious. After all, the word is in North Korea’s official name — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Unlike Kim Jong Un, most American democratic socialists are probably well-intentioned. But any student of history knows how this experiment ends — dismally.
Most modern democratic socialists assert that they are peaceful activists who have simply concluded that capitalism has failed and that we need to enact a new socialist order under the tutelage of democracy. As former Venezuelan leader Huge Chavez put it, “The only way to save the world is through socialism, but a socialism that exists within a democracy.”
In fact, Venezuela is the embodiment of democratic socialist policies. Democratic socialists in America and elsewhere once fawned over Venezuela — calling it an “economic miracle.” In 2013, Sanders’ speechwriter wrote, “Chavez racked up an economic record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving.”
To be fair, he wrote this when Venezuela’s economy appeared to be humming. But what goes up must come down, and the subsequent collapse has been devastating. Venezuelans do not have access to basic necessities like toilet paper, inflation is expected to reach 8 million percent or more, and people are starving (each person lost around 24 pounds in 2016). Even The New York Times observed, “Venezuela’s collapse is the worst outside of war in decades.”
In America, democratic socialists who once gushed over Venezuela are now quick to brush off its failure. Instead, they point to Nordic countries as examples of successful democratic socialism. But these countries aren’t socialist. While they have lavish entitlement programs funded by incredibly high taxes, they are predominantly free-market capitalist countries.
While the Nordic system doesn’t fit the mold of democratic socialism, plenty of countries outside of Venezuela have instituted related philosophies. And each time, things have ended catastrophically. This has been repeatedly demonstrated in communist countries, where as many as 100 million people have been slaughtered in the name of communism. In fact, the common legacy among all communist regimes is the inept administration and allocation of resources and gross human rights violations.
Like today’s democratic socialists, no communist revolutionaries campaigned on a platform of mass murder, food shortages and rampant poverty, even though that’s what they got. Rather, communist leaders sought power on a grandiose utopian vision of shared resources and equal access to services.
The truth is that democratic socialists cannot point to a single successful socialist or communist government in history. So instead, they ultimately respond to objections by insisting that “next time, it’ll be different,” or by hurling criticisms at capitalism. Maybe next time it will be different, but history is the greatest indicator of future events. To that end, socialism of any stripe looks doomed to failure.
On the second point, though, they’re right: Capitalist countries have committed many sins that cannot be overlooked or minimized. But neither can modern capitalism’s benefits, especially when compared to the failures of socialist countries. Capitalist states offer the greatest freedom, have helped increase the standard of living, and have reduced extreme poverty in a way never before achieved.
The point here is not to gloss over capitalist countries’ transgressions, but rather to demonstrate that governments of all kinds and sizes can be dangerous. However, inching toward socialism — and ultimately, communism — requires a massive growth in the size and authority of government, which is inversely related to the degree of individual liberty the people have.
Regardless of where they come from, we should be wary of proposals that further empower the state. We must remain vigilant, too, because time and again, the pendulum of government power swings toward centralized authority and despotism, and the further it swings, the more abusive governments become, and the fewer rights and liberties we enjoy.
Rather than recycling failed ideologies, democratic socialism belongs buried in the world’s waste bin.
Image credit: Yasamin Jafari Tehrani