New and improved socialism


George Hasara – Columnist

Not so long ago, calling a politician a socialist was considered an insult. This scurrilous charge would be adamantly denied. Now, for many, the socialist label has become a badge of honor. The image of socialism has leapfrogged from the fringe to the cutting edge.

The definition game is a tricky one, especially when it comes to political descriptions. In dictionary/textbook parlance, socialism is defined as “the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” 

Of course, not all socialism is created equal. In fact, many of the advocates for the new and improved “democratic socialism,” claim that “true” socialism has never failed because it has never actually been tried. (A version of the “no true Scotsman fallacy”) The lessons learned from the National Socialist Party (Nazis) or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the collectivism of China’s Chairman Mao, apparently aren’t relevant. Democratic socialism is portrayed as a kinder, gentler version of governance, more akin to a Sweden or Norway, rather than a Venezuela or North Korea.

Capitalism and socialism can coexist in a free society. They are not mutually exclusive. There are thousands of cooperatives in this country providing a gamut of goods and services. Some succeed and some fail, just like private and corporate-owned businesses do. Any wannabe socialist is free to give it a go anytime they want. Nothing is stopping them from joining or starting a co-op or a commune. However, what they usually want is not a voluntary society but a more coercive one. For the good of all, of course.

Pairing “democracy” with “socialism” is very clever and disarming. If you can claim that the people have spoken through the voting process, then there is no limit to what can be justified. South Africa, for instance, is on the verge of a major land grab of white-owned farmlands with the goal of redistributing that land to its black citizens. (Perhaps to those who are politically connected?) Everything about this proposed program, including amending their constitution, is democratic and legal. The idea is quite popular with the majority of the voters. The South African government doesn’t even bother to use a euphemism to describe their intent. The plan is straightforwardly called “expropriation without compensation.” I call it democratic socialism in action. 

The socialist moniker may turn out to be a good marketing plan. It has a radical ring to it that garners media attention. Votes have always been bought by promising things and nothing quite says free stuff like the word “socialism.” Of course, nothing is actually free, but as long as one believes someone else is footing the bill, it’s human nature to take advantage of the situation. When visiting Sam’s Club or Costco, I’ll make a beeline straight for the free food samples. It’s instinctive. Offer a college grad, debt forgiveness or a single mom, free daycare, and you’ll probably get their vote. Whether it can all be paid for, however, is another story.

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