Democratic Socialism

National Review’s Kevin Williamson noted about Bernie Sanders, “Bernie bellows that he remembers a time when you could walk into a department store and “buy things made in the U.S.A.” …Like most of these advocates of “economic patriotism” (Barack Obama’s once-favored phrase), Bernie worries a great deal about trade with brown people — Asians, Latin Americans — but has never, as far as public records show, made so much as a peep about our very large trade deficit with Sweden, which as a share of bilateral trade volume is not much different from our trade deficit with China, or about the size of our trade deficit with Canada, our largest trading partner. Sanders doesn’t rail about the Canadians and Germans stealing our jobs — his ire is reserved almost exclusively for the Chinese and the Latin American. I spoke with Bernie volunteer McKinley Springer, an earnest young man whose father worked for the UAW local hosting the rally. He’s very interested in policies that interpose the government between employers and employees — for example, mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave. He lived for a time in Germany, first studying abroad and then working for Bosch, an automotive-parts company. He is a great admirer of the German welfare state, saying: “I ask myself: Why do they have these nice things, and we can’t?” I ask him to answer his own question, and his answer is at once familiar and frightening: “Germany is very homogeneous. They have lots of white people. We’re very diverse. We have the melting pot, and that’s a big struggle.”

Kevin Williamson added, “Donald Trump has some thoughts on that…He knows who Them is: The Koch brothers, who make repeated appearances in every speech; scheming swarthy foreigners who are stealing our jobs; bankers, the traditional bogeymen of conspiracy theorists ranging from Father Coughlin and Henry Ford to Louis Farrakhan.”  Sanders’ emphasis on finding bogeymen like the Koch Brothers and foreigners who are taking our jobs is no different than what Trump has done.  How many times has Trump railed against Wall Street, big donors and even the Koch Brothers? Sanders’ worldview begins with the idea that there are just too few people, the 1%, who have far too much wealth and this wealth has allowed the rich to tilt the economy in their favor. Sanders believes in a zero sum economy in which wealth is not created but needs to be shared equally. In Sanders’ worldview, there is no mention of creating wealth or expanding opportunity for the middle class.

Bernie Sanders’ view of trade and immigration are not much different from Trump’s, as he told the editorial board of the New York Daily News when he stated that he agreed with Trump that we negotiated bad trade deals, and added, “I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65 cents an hour, you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers ‘competing’ against you under those conditions.  So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States…I don’t think it is appropriate for trade policies to say that you can move to a country where wages are abysmal, where there are no environmental regulations, where workers can’t form unions.  That’s not the kind of trade agreement that I will support.”

Sanders is making the case that he wants no trade with emerging economies, but what if trade is an important vehicle to lift these countries out of poverty?  And note these countries are either Asian or Hispanic dominated; so Sanders opposed trade with countries with people of color not white. As we will see soon, racial politics dominate both the new right rising from Trumpism and Democratic socialism.

In the journal Democracy: Journal of Ideas, a seminar featured, “Middle Out Middle,” discusses how the left view the economy today. One participant noted, “Middle-out economics argues that national prosperity does not trickle down from wealthy business people or corporations; rather, it flows in a virtuous cycle that starts with a thriving middle class. Middle-out economics demands a systemic policy focus on the skills, capacities, and income of the middle class.” Investment and capital formation are not mentioned, but for Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, give money to the middle class and magically wealth is created. The question of where we get the money before giving it to the middle class is never discussed. As one participant declared that “Demand from the Middle class- not tax cuts for the wealthy- is what drives a virtuous cycle and job growth and prosperity… Rich businesspeople are not the primary job creators; the more middle class can buy, the more jobs we’ll create…Middle-out economics means investing in the health, education, infrastructure, and purchasing power of the Middle Class.” This is an essential aspect of democratic socialism; provide the middle class with benefits and money from the government and multipliers will kick in with growing economy.  What is missing from this formula is the creation of wealth. How often during the 2012 election did we hear from Obama or Senator Warren that entrepreneurs didn’t build their business but government did through the creation of roads and schools? Entrepreneurs and business merely were inventions of government policies as opposed to being created by entrepreneurs themselves. Businesses are to be servant of the government; contributing to what the government deems necessary.

Sanders stated during this election, “You can't just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don't necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don't think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on.” For Sanders, all of economics is zero sum in which a producer of underarm deodorants is stealing food from hungry children and government must step in to guide businesses in the right direction while taking from the wealthy to share with the middle class and the poor.

Democratic socialism and national populism are driven from the same tree roots but they only diverge in approaches as opposed to diverging from ideals. Both accept that government must direct businesses. The only difference is which group benefits from the zero sum economy that their policies will create.


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