DANIEL VAUGHAN: Democratic socialism is an oxymoron

August 27, 2018

DANIEL VAUGHAN: Democratic socialism is an oxymoron

The likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders and House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are cashing in on the newest fad on the left: democratic socialism. Alongside the new Democratic Socialists of America party, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez’s followers use red roses on social media to display their solidarity in pursuing their socialist goals.

For the most part, conservatives have focused on rebutting their points by explaining how their ideas won’t work and noting the complete illiteracy of Ocasio-Cortez on any given topic. But while those are valid points, they miss something more significant.

Democracy and socialism are entirely antithetical to each other. You can’t have socialism and democracy in the same government. The two do not coexist in any way. You could even call them mutually exclusive, or an oxymoron.

Choice, and the lack thereof

Here’s why.

Democracy, as a fundamental proposition, implies choice in all things. You have the option to vote for someone, or not vote at all.

In its most political sense, it means rule by the majority. A group of citizens can vote on any given subject and then choose to be governed in that direction.

A choice is inherent.

Socialism has no choice. There is no choice you can make in a socialist system that isn’t entirely controlled by a centralized government that has nationalized every single industry. Countries of example include Cuba, Venezuela, and the USSR.

And you get the full flavor on this point from the Democratic Socialists of America when they say on their website:

At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end. As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.

“As means and end.”

Their goal right now is just to convince people to accept their version of socialism. After that, when they gain power, they’ll immediately set about destroying the entire capitalist system.

That’s not choice at all, nor democratic. In a democratic system, there will be people who oppose the wholesale destruction of capitalism (me, for starters). And the only way to overcome that opposition is to crush opposition — which is what we’ve seen in every socialist country on earth, in any time.

When you confront them with the failures of their system in all other countries, they blithely wave their hand and say, “Those countries aren’t true socialists. Capitalism somehow corrupted them.”

You can run down a list of all the countries on their website and see the same excuse.

Here’s the problem with that write-off, even if you accept that socialism hasn’t been accomplished in any country so far: socialism will only work in a perfect situation where the entire nation of people wholly and correctly implement it.

By contrast, even sloppily done capitalism works. A little imperfect capitalism outperforms all the central planning of the socialist experts we have to listen to every day. You could even make a case that crony-capitalism works better than socialism.

And here’s how you prove that point: in the USSR, the government controlled the entire agriculture sector and dictated all decisions. The only parts of the agricultural industry that operated anything close to a free market were the private plots, which were typically around half a hectare. These little areas of land run by families outperformed the entire Soviet agricultural economy.

The Soviets were so bad at running agriculture that the United States sent the Soviets grain throughout the Cold War. President Jimmy Carter even used a grain embargo in an attempt to pressure the Soviets in 1980.

The new democratic socialists will often counter that they’re not trying to be like all their failed counterparts of the past, they want to be like the “socialist” European countries like Sweden or Denmark. But they’re wrong about that too — those countries aren’t socialist, they’re social democracies:

While it is true that the Scandinavian countries provide things like a generous social safety net and universal health care, an extensive welfare state is not the same thing as socialism. What Sanders and his supporters confuse as socialism is actually social democracy, a system in which the government aims to promote the public welfare through heavy taxation and spending, within the framework of a capitalist economy. This is what the Scandinavians practice.

And when asked about this very issue, the President of Denmark flatly rejected the idea that his state is socialist. In an interview, he called his country a market economy, based on capitalism, with a broad social safety net.

All of this begs the question: if these countries aren’t socialist, then what are these American new socialists? Are they illiterate as to what socialism is and how it works? Or is this just another instance of them using the veneer of social democracy as a means towards an end of full socialism?

It’s probably a little bit of both. In multiple interviews, politicians like Ocasio-Cortez consistently show they’re ill-prepared to describe and defend their views. And then there are people like Bernie Sanders, who cowardly refuses to reveal the price tag on his ideas like Medicare-for-All — which suggests for Bernie, democratic socialism is just a ploy to achieve socialism.

James Davenport at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) put it best: “Ultimately, socialism is incompatible with democracy because democracy, like market capitalism, allows power to flow to the individual. Democracy tolerates dissent, individual differences, and a multitude of different priorities.”

In the end, that means the democratic socialists are either liars, or illiterate.

Take your pick. Either way, democratic socialism is an oxymoron.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.