What is socialism? Even his most important supporters seem uncertain.
Actress and former government candidate Cynthia Nixon failed to provide a consistent definition when she adopted the label and challenged New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for her post. But he described what socialism is not, as he understands it: it is not Cuba, China or Venezuela. The “democratic” part of “democratic socialism” assures him, he said.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said the same thing, describing socialism as an economic ideology that will guarantee “basic dignity levels so that no person in America is too poor to live.” It’s simple, really.
And presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is arguably the most famous socialist in the United States, prefers to think of socialism as “democracy with a small d”. And by that, he means that “humans have the right to control their lives” in politics and economics – not just when it comes to health care, taxes or the environment or … well, it turns out a lot .
These vague answers have a very specific purpose: they aim to whiten socialism and remove its many negative connotations. This is also the reason why politicians like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders regularly praise the “Nordic model” or the vast welfare states adopted by some European countries, such as Sweden.
But these radical definitions (or lack thereof) also reveal how much the small American socialists understand the policies they hope to implement. Even Sanders, with his many years of experience, opposed last night when he realized that the Swedish economy is not exactly socialist.
“Basically, since the 1990s, if you look at examples in Sweden and Denmark, they have lowered or reduced property taxes, lowering company taxes, allowing coupons for schools – for public and private schools – which is one of the reasons their education has improved, ”Martha McCallum, Fox News host has explained to Sanders during a television hall on Monday evening. “So they seem to move away, more towards market reform, not towards what you are describing here.”
Sanders’ answer? “Look,” he said, “I’m not an expert on current economics in Sweden.”
Certainly not. Indeed, for years, it has hailed Sweden as the “Scandinavian socialist” ideal that provides a countermodel to American capitalism, even though Sweden is more capitalist than socialist. In fact, Sweden has one of the most market-oriented economies in the world, according to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom ranking 2019.
Sanders is also painfully unaware of the chaos that his socialist policies would cause to the United States economy – or he just doesn’t care. He systematically rejects concerns about the high prices of his policies and insists that the multitrillion hole in his math doesn’t matter because he hasn’t passed Medicare for All yet, forgiveness of student loan debt or the Green New Deal.
And it is here that Sanders’ disconnection from reality becomes evident. He has the vision and enthusiasm, but he lacks the foresight and prudence needed to turn an idea into law. Sanders is a great socialist in theory. But practically, he’s still trying to figure out what socialism means – and more importantly, what it requires.