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The Democrats Are the Socialist Party Again

Until recently, they had eschewed the S-word, but now they embrace it

By KEVIN D. WILLIAMSONNational Review

The unfinished business of the Democratic party is socialism. Don’t take my word for it — consult Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders gave a madcap speech in which he ridiculed past conservative critics, beginning with Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan, for characterizing the expansive welfare-state ambitions of the New Deal and the Great Society as movements toward socialism. And then he . . . characterized the expansive welfare-state ambitions of the New Deal and the Great Society as movements toward socialism.

“This is the unfinished business of the Democratic party and the vision we must accomplish,” he said. “These are my values, and that is why I call myself a democratic socialist.”

President Hoover, the prescient man, is owed an apology.

As my colleagues and I recently documented over the course of two special issues of National Review, socialism — not exactly progressivism, certainly not liberalism — is ascendant among Democrats, including Democratic elected officials, and on the American left more generally. Senator Sanders is a declared and avowed socialist, one who is attempting to posthumously recruit the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to his cause. (King took a hard economic turn toward the left in his later years and spoke of socialism on a few occasions, but to deputize him on behalf of the gentleman from the whitest state in the Union is a bit much, and more than a bit unseemly.)

Senator Sanders is not alone in this. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the callow young Democrat from New York, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as is Representative Rashida Tlaib, the Jew-baiting strange-o from Michigan, along with about 40 other candidates who were elected as Democrats in 2018. “We are building a pipeline from local positions all the way to national politics,” the Socialists said in a statement after the 2018 elections. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper was hooted and jeered at when he affirmed on the stage of the California Democratic convention that “socialism is not the answer.”

And yet . . .

Ronald Reagan, an FDR man, spent his entire career insisting that he was a New Deal Democrat estranged from his party: “I didn’t leave the Democratic party — the party left me!” Many conservatives see in the tax-cutting, Cold War–fighting John Kennedy a kindred spirit. Much of the Republican criticism directed at the hilariously misnamed Affordable Care Act asserted that it would undermine Medicare, the jewel of Lyndon Johnson’s so-called Great Society program — and some of those Republicans even meant it.

Richard Nixon insisted that by the 1970s we were all Keynesians. Are we all socialists now?

There are two important factors at play here: The first is ignorance of the past, and the second is ignorance of the present.

Socialism is an idea with a history. (And a body count of some 100 million human beings in the 20th century, but leave that aside for the moment.) The most ordinary and traditional kind of government spending is on public goods, which are defined in economics as non-rivalrous and non-excludable in consumption. Think of a missile-defense system: Missile defense is a non-excludable good in that a system that protects the civic-minded taxpaying citizens at No. 7 Main Street also protects the freeloading deadbeats at No. 9 Main Street, whereas a guy selling apples can exclude those who do not pay; it is non-rivalrous in that Smith’s enjoyment of protection from Nork nukes does not diminish Jones’s possible enjoyment of the same, whereas every apple Smith eats leaves one less apple available for Jones.

In theory, spending on such public goods as defense and law enforcement is most of what liberal governments are supposed to do, with some political disagreement over what counts as a public good. (Roads? There are both public and toll models.) In reality, most of what modern liberal governments spend their money on is social welfare, the public provision of non-public goods such as food and education, both of which can be (and historically have been) provided on an ordinary market basis. These are not public goods rigorously defined, but they are publicly provided in practically all modern democracies on the theory that a society as a whole is better off if there is guaranteed universal access to a minimum of them.

The public provision of non-public goods is sometimes described as socialism, but it is distinct in that socialism requires an additional factor: central planning, often but not necessarily in concert with state ownership of the means of production. Food stamps are social welfare, but government-run farms and groceries are socialism; housing-support vouchers are welfare, but government-owned housing projects are socialism. American conservatives spend a fair amount of effort trying to convert or partially convert such genuinely socialistic projects as the monopoly K–12 education system (in which the means of production are state-owned and the workers are state employees) into more conventional social-welfare programs by replacing or augmenting direct-provision models with vouchers or other market-enabling alternatives. There is a significant difference between government funding of services and government provision of services, which is why, for examples, most Republicans have made their peace with Medicare but resist a British-style socialist-monopoly model of health care.

But, then, most European countries resist that model, too, which is why there is no NHS-style national single-payer system in France, Germany, Sweden, etc., and no state-provided health care at all in happy, well-governed Switzerland. And this is where the ignorance of socialism as an idea with a history meets the ignorance of actual political and economic practice in the European states, particularly the Scandinavian ones, that America’s self-proclaimed democratic socialists claim to admire. Senator Sanders et al. point to countries such as Sweden and Denmark and conclude that the lesson to be learned from them is that the United States should do . . . exactly what Senator Sanders et al. always have desired and always will desire to do: enact punitive redistributive taxes notionally targeting the wealthy and corporations (as though middle-class workers, particularly in the public sector, were not major corporate shareholders through their retirement funds) while building new entrenched and centralized bureaucracies to be staffed by comfortable, highly compensated Democratic constituents.

This response to the example of Sweden — which is in many ways a well-governed and prosperous nation — makes sense only if you do not know very much about Sweden. Senator Sanders, for example, desires to radically increase the tax on inheritances for moralistic reasons. Sweden’s inheritance tax is 0.00 percent. Senator Sanders wants to centralize the provision of health care in a federally funded and federally administered cluster of bureaucracies; health care in Sweden is radically decentralized, funded and administered mostly at the local level. Left-leaning Democrats such as Senator Kamala Harris of California have criticized Republicans for not doing enough to cut middle-class taxes (Senator Harris, who does not seem to know how tax refunds work, blasted the 2017 bill as “a middle-class-tax hike”), but what in fact distinguishes the Scandinavian model (and most Western European countries) from the United States is not how they tax the rich but how they tax the middle class — which is to say: They do it. While about half of U.S. households pay no federal income tax, and middle-class households pay relatively little, middle-class earners in Denmark pay about 50 percent in taxes. Taxes in the United States are disproportionately paid by those with high incomes — disproportionately even when you take the income difference into consideration: The top 1 percent takes home less than 20 percent of total income and pays almost 40 percent of federal income taxes. Taxes in the Scandinavian countries fall heavily on the middle classes, which also are the main beneficiaries of the programs those taxes fund.

Senator Sanders is an ideologically blinkered man, and he is not an intellectually curious one. His views have been set since he was honeymooning in the Soviet Union as a young man, and his speeches and writing testify that he simply lacks the intellectual capacity for growth and change. Sweden has changed radically since the 1970s, but Bernie Sanders has stood still in time, an irritable red ant suspended in amber.

But the so-called intellectuals of the Democrats’ new socialist vanguard have no such excuse. Some of them are simply dim and poorly educated (poorly but expensively, in the case of Representative Ocasio-Cortez), but many of them are intellectually dishonest. A particularly dishonest young socialist writer with something of a following recently published an income-disparity ranking of countries that was supposed to show how the Scandinavians had cracked the inequality problem. And Northern Europe was well represented on the list, which also included France, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Estonia, among other nations, in the top ten. Which is to say, the top ten countries represented radically different modes of government, radically different health-care systems, different labor markets, and different tax systems (Switzerland, for example, does not tax capital gains, something our progressive Europhiles rarely mention), to say nothing of radically different cultures. (And many scholars of governance agree that culture is a key ingredient in the Scandinavian secret sauce.) But even among the Nordic countries, there are very large differences: Iceland, for example, has one of the world’s highest work-force-participation rates; Finland’s is down about where ours is, and ours is higher than the overall EU rate. There isn’t a single, unified policy story to be derived from all that diversity.

But that is beside the point, for the Democrats. What Senator Sanders stands for is the continuation of a very old and very dumb kind of politics: adolescent anti-Americanism. It does not matter that Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland have fundamentally different political and economic models: These countries are only rhetorical cat’s-paws deployed in the fundamental progressive project: establishing that the United States and its institutions are hopelessly corrupt, and that they may therefore be cleared away to make room for something new. In this regard, the energetically nationalistic Franklin D. Roosevelt is a poor model for them — their actual lineage traces to Woodrow Wilson, whose racism and warmongering make him an unattractive totem but whose frank rejection of the Constitution and the founding principles of the nation presages their own. In this way, the socialist renaissance may be understood as distinct from the broader progressive project but also subsumed within it. The overall economic model is essentially the Democrats’ health-care model writ large: Destroy and discredit what’s there, and then . . . improvise.

Senator Sanders, in his speech, gives some thought to the Constitution — and finds it wanting. What good is the Bill of Rights, he asks, when one must struggle so hard for mere material existence? “Are you truly free if you are forced to work 60 or 80 hours a week?” The median American work week is, as of this writing, less than 35 hours a week, significantly lower than it was in 1980. What in fact distinguishes low-income households is not on average that they have too many hours of work to do but that they have too few: Only 40 percent of the working-age poor (those below the federal poverty line) in 2014 worked at all. Among those who do work, many are involuntarily relegated to part-time or seasonal work. High-income households average more work hours, not fewer, than low-income households. The unemployment rate for those without a bachelor’s degree is twice that of those with one. The problem the poor face is not long hours at the salt mine but unemployment.

But what are a few inconvenient facts when there’s a utopia to be built?

And that is the proper context in which to understand what it is that Senator Sanders et al. stand for. They may, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, roll out 55 five-point policy proposals per hour, offering them with varying degrees of seriousness, but theirs is fundamentally a negative platform. What they hate and wish to liquidate is the system of markets, trade, law, regulation, and taxes that we call, for lack of a better term, “capitalism,” and their reasons are as much tribal (they resent the social status conferred by wealth as least as much as the political power attending it), moral, and aesthetic as they are economic. But their policy proposals are almost always the same: “Pillage the rich and create a lot of new public-sector jobs for me and my friends.” And that much has remained constant whether they call themselves liberals, progressives, or socialists.

Socialists used to care a great deal about history — “historical materialism,” they called their big metaphysical idea. Something for Senator Sanders to contemplate in his waterfront dacha.


America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

By: Matthew Continettifreebeacon.com

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. This never happened in America. Labor confronted capital throughout the late nineteenth century, often violently, but American democracy and constitutionalism withstood the clash. Socialist movements remained minority persuasions. When Eugene V. Debs ran for president in 1912, he topped out at 6 percent of the vote. Populist third-party candidates, from George Wallace in 1968 (14 percent) to Ross Perot in 1992 (19 percent) have done much better.

Keep this in mind when you read about the rebirth of socialism. Yes, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are household names. Membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has spiked since 2016. Forty percent of Americans told Gallup last month that “some form of socialism” would be “a good thing for the country.” Media are filled with trend pieces describing the socialist revival. A recent issue of The Economist devoted the cover package to “Millennial socialism.” The current New Republic includes four articles about “the socialist moment.” In March, New York magazine asked, “When did everyone become a socialist?”

That question tells you more about the editors of New York than the country itself. As Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute has observed, views toward socialism are stable. In 2010, 36 percent of respondents to the Gallup poll had a positive view of socialism. In 2018 the number was 37 percent. In 2009, 23 percent told the Fox News poll, “Moving away from capitalism and more toward socialism would be a good thing.” In 2019 the number was 24 percent. Fifty-four percent said it would be a bad thing. Gallup found that less than half of America would vote for a socialist candidate.

Socialism is in vogue because no one is sure what it is. The classic definition of abolishing private property, a planned economy, and collective ownership of the means of production no longer applies. More people today believe that socialism means “equality” than “government control.” Six percent told Gallup that socialism is “talking to people” or “being social.” The same Gallup poll that found 40 percent of the public has a positive view of socialism, however you define it, also discovered large majorities in favor of the free market leading the way on innovation, the distribution of wealth, the economy overall, and wages, and smaller majorities for free-market approaches to higher education and health care. Americans are very bad socialists.

And socialists know it. That’s why their most prominent spokesmen frame their domestic agendas in the language of the welfare state and social democracy, even as they celebrate, excuse, or defend socialist authoritarians abroad. Sanders told NPR in March, “What I mean by democratic socialism is that I want a vibrant democracy.” Okay, then—who doesn’t? The following month he told Trevor Noah that socialism “means economic rights and human rights. I believe from the bottom of my heart that health care is a human right. … To be a democratic socialist means that we believe—I believe—that human rights include a decent job, affordable housing, health care, education, and, by the way, a clean environment.” But this is not so different from FDR’s conception of the “four freedoms.” So what differentiates Sanders from a New Deal Democrat?

The less prominent socialists are somewhat more specific. Article II of the constitution of the DSA, to which Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib belong, states: “We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.” That is closer to the traditional definition of socialism—a definition that implies a set of institutional arrangements that inevitably would limit freedom of choice.

“Our task is formidable. Democratic socialists must secure decisive majorities in legislatures while winning hegemony in the unions,” writes Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine, in his Socialist Manifesto. “Then our organizations must be willing to flex their social power in the form of mass mobilizations and political strikes to counter the structural power of capital and ensure that our leaders choose confrontation over accommodation with elites.”

Good luck with that. Before they seize control of the unions—which represent a paltry 11 percent of U.S. workers—today’s socialists will have to overcome the same barriers that thwarted their predecessors. Nowhere has “American exceptionalism” been more evident than in the fact that the United States has been the only country without a major socialist, social democratic, or Communist party. The articles celebrating the rise in DSA membership to more than 40,000 fail to mention that there are tens of millions of Republicans and Democrats. Socialist politicians, activists, and theorists neglect the shaggy-dog history of their persuasion in the United States. The historical examples in Sunkara’s book are almost entirely drawn from Europe. It’s as if history began with Sanders’s candidacy in 2016.

In fact, socialists have recognized the difficulty they face in the United States for over a century. In 1906 the German sociologist Werner Sombart devoted a monograph to answering the question, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? Sombart noted the comparatively high and rising standard of living of American workers. “On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie,” he said, “socialistic Utopias of every sort are sent to their doom.”

American workers had won political rights earlier than their European counterparts, making them less likely to conflate civil rights with economic benefits. America’s liberal culture emphasized social mobility. The staggering racial, ethnic, and religious diversity of America made class-consciousness almost impossible. As Max Beer, an Australian socialist of the early twentieth century, wrote,

Even when the time is ripe for a Socialist movement, it can only produce one when the working people form a certain cultural unity, that is, when they have a common language, a common history, a common mode of life. This is the case in Europe, but not in the United States. Its factories, mines, farms, and the organizations based on them are composite bodies, containing the most heterogeneous elements, and lacking stability and the sentiment of solidarity.

When it comes to preventing socialism, diversity really is our strength.

The two-party system marginalizes small, independent parties and accommodates rising tendencies and programs within preexisting electoral coalitions. Most important of all, the Constitution decentralizes and diffuses power, making it extremely difficult to expand drastically the power of the state in the name of social justice.

In 1967, Daniel Bell offered an additional explanation for the weakness of American socialism: “At one crucial turning point after another,” he wrote in Marxian Socialism in the United States, “when the socialist movement could have entered more directly into American life—as did so many individual socialists who played a formative role in liberal political development—it was prevented from doing so by its ideological dogmatism.”

All of these various obstacles remain in place. In January, Gallup found that 77 percent of Americans are happy “with the overall quality of life in the U.S.” Sixty-five percent are satisfied with the “opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard.” Fifty-three percent like the “influence of organized religion.” We have the best employment situation in half a century. Real disposable income continues to rise. Last year the Congressional Budget Office reported that all Americans have enjoyed an increase of post-tax income since 1979. “It’s doubtful that most Americans would prefer to revert to the world as it was in 1979,” wrote Robert Samuelson, “a world without smartphones, the Internet, most cable television, or laparoscopic surgery,” and with the Soviet Union.

The United States is far more heterogeneous than it was 40 years ago. The success of identity politics and “woke capitalism” underscores the difficulty of making the sort of class-based appeals Sanders learned at meetings of the Young People’s Socialist League. Americans put their familial, racial, ethnic, and religious attachments ahead of membership in an income or occupational group. Besides, some 70 percent of America considers itself middle class.

One of the reasons the socialist and socialist-curious candidates in the Democratic primary have been arguing against the Electoral College and for expanding the Supreme Court is they understand the challenge the Constitution poses to their dreams. The type of centralization and bureaucratic administration socialism requires is incompatible with a system of federalism, checks and balances, and enumerated powers. Fortunately, structural change is extremely difficult in our vast and squabbling country. It was meant to be.

The self-defeating tendencies toward radicalism and sectarianism are also visible. Expanding government to provide more resources to the poor is popular; eliminating private and employer-based insurance is not. Protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions is popular; abolishing air travel and declaring war on cows is not. More money for teachers is popular; freezing support for charter schools, as Sanders called for this week, is not. DSA member Doug Henwood writes in the New Republic of a split emerging within the organization between “Bread and Roses” and the “Socialist Majority Caucus.” The narcissism of small differences has doomed such movements in the past.

Note also that Sanders has faded in recent weeks after Democratic voters encountered a viable non-socialist alternative in Joe Biden. Ocasio-Cortez’s favorability is underwater. Medicare for All polls well with voters in the abstract—when they assume it means simply more of the current Medicare program—but support falls as soon as they hear about the conformity and control it will entail.

The good news is America contains antibodies against socialism. As Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks wrote in 2000, “Features of the United States that Tocqueville, and many others since, have focused on include its relatively high levels of social egalitarianism, economic productivity, and social mobility (particularly into elite strata), alongside the strength of religion, the weakness of the central state, the earlier timing of electoral democracy, ethnic and racial diversity, and the absence of feudal remnants, especially fixed social classes.” The title of Lipset and Marks’s book is It Didn’t HappenHere. And as long as we uphold and defend the political and cultural elements that make America exceptional, it won’t.


Sorry, Liberals, But America Is Not A Democracy, And It’s Better That Way

By Clifford Humphrey • The Federalist

It is no secret that the United States is a severely divided nation. In fact, division seems to be one thing that unites Americans today. Across the country, citizens disagree on kneeling, bathrooms, guns, and free speech. Californians are so divided they are actually considering splitting up their beloved republic into three separate states.

The important question on matters of disagreement is: Who gets to settle these differences? The answer, of course, is “We the people,” but we are disagreeing more and more about what that phrase even means. This disagreement is based in part on the fundamental distinction between a democracy and a republic.

Our Founders did not believe that the people have a right to enact whatever laws the majority necessarily want, but, rather, that the people have a right to enact whatever laws the people as a whole think are just. That higher aspiration requires Continue reading


The IRS backs down: How your voice made a difference, America

By Jay Sekulow     •     FoxNews.com

Americans spoke out. And the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) listened.

A new regulation proposed by the IRS would have some nonprofit charities report the Social Security numbers of donors giving at least $250 in one year. The regulation would permit, but not require, charitable organizations to file a new, separate information return (in addition to the Form 990) to substantiate covered contributions. The new informational return would require the charity to collect an individual donor’s name, address, and Social Security number, and provide a copy to the donor.

I first sounded the alarm about this problematic issue last month. At the American Center for Law and Justice, we strongly opposed this regulation, filing comments with the IRS explaining why such a move would be damaging by undermining consumer and taxpayer protections, and likely result in reduced charitable giving.

Many others opposed the proposed regulation, too. Nearly 38,000 people filed comments online – the vast majority opposing the move. Continue reading


Progressives are wrong about the essence of the Constitution

Constitution Parchmentby George F. Will

In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected. Continue reading


The Evil Regime of Hungary

Budapest Hungaryby Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi

Throughout their convoluted and bloody history, Hungarians never marshaled the courage to look reality in the eye and graduate from their kindergarten-mentality to adulthood.  Devoid of the ability to think historically, national leaders always elected to reject the promise of the future for the sake of the tried certainty of the past.  Thus Hungary was always a country in transition between regressive authoritarianism and an even more dangerous form of bureaucratic dehumanization built on the emotions of greed, class hatred and abject immorality.

Real democracy never existed in Hungary.  It remained a poor feudal society until the union with Austria in 1867.  Yet, even after 1867, a miniscule number of noblemen managed to sabotage progress and thus prevented the emergence of a sizeable middle class.  The reign of Miklos Horthy between the two World Wars was characterized by chaos and confusion.  Politically, its condition was totally unhealthy.  Continue reading


In Egypt U.S. should hold its nose and back the military: Muslim Brotherhood is not an option

Egypt Muslim Brotherhoodby Bret Stephens

On the subject of Egypt: Is it the U.S. government’s purpose merely to cop an attitude? Or does it also intend to have a policy?

An attitude “deplores the violence” and postpones a military exercise, as President Obama did from Martha’s Vineyard the other day. An attitude sternly informs the Egyptian military, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) did, that it is “taking Egypt down a dark path, one that the United States cannot and should not travel with them.” An attitude calls for the suspension of U.S. aid to Egypt, as everyone from Rand Paul (R., Ky.) to Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) has.

An attitude is a gorgeous thing. It is a vanity accountable to a conscience. But an attitude has no answer for what the U.S. does with or about Egypt once the finger has been wagged and the aid withdrawn. Continue reading


Shame on anyone who said Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi was a moderate

by Eric Trager

Nobody should have been surprised when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” on Thursday asserting total political power. This was, after all, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader’s second power grab since he took office in June, complementing his earlier seizure of legislative and constitution-writing authorities by now insulating himself from judicial oversight. Yet Washington was caught entirely off-guard: Morsi’s power play was at odds with the administration’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “democratic party,” and his impressive handling of last week’s Gaza ceasefire created a modicum of trust between him and President Obama. So the State Department released a predictably confused statement, urging “all Egyptians to resolve their differences … peacefully and through democratic dialogue.” Continue reading


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