I have long adhered to the proposition that we should extend grace to our ideological opponents. In fact, when discussing fellow Americans, I reject wholesale the increasingly common language of combat in politics (e.g. political “enemies,” culture war, etc.), and strongly argue that we should presume the good intentions of those with whom we disagree. This is not to suggest, however, that we should fail to call out dangerous and damaging ideas when they threaten our nation’s future.
I believe one of the most dangerous ideas to gain traction in 21st century American politics is the myth of “democratic socialism.” There are many dangers inherent in all forms of socialism, including the currently in vogue brand of democratic socialism.
Proponents of Democratic socialism in the US argue that socialism is supposedly responsible for the success of the “Nordic countries plus Switzerland.” To the extent that these nations have been successful, it has been almost exclusively in proportion to their embrace of free markets and trade. I will dedicate future columns to deconstructing the myths associated with the supposed panaceas of northern Europe, but let’s begin with a more fundamental exploration of what is being promised by prominent American socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
Traditionally, socialism has been defined as collective ownership of the means of productions, which has in practice meant government ownership, a stand-in for the collective when the government is democratically elected (or so the story goes). In the last fifty years or so, the definition of socialism has been expanded (by both its advocates and by critics like Friedrich Hayek) to include an expansion of the welfare state and large-scale direct and indirect government control of the economy despite nominal private ownership of many industries. However, the proposals currently advocated by democratic socialists would easily expand the size and scope of our government far beyond even the Western European models they seek to emulate.
Consider for example the trifecta of policies that seem to unite nearly all the new American Left: universal health care, “free” college, and a federal jobs program. These programs will cost at least 42.5 trillion dollars over the next decade alone, doubling federal spending at a time when we already run trillion dollar deficits during an economic expansion (deficits which are expected to continue into the future).
If we add in the Green New Deal, we can add another 10 to 15 trillion dollars in spending over the next decade.
Altogether, these four programs alone would more than double the federal government’s size relative to our national income, from roughly 20% today to over 40% under this nightmare scenario. Adding this federal spending spree to existing spending by state and local governments, which currently runs well over 2 trillion dollars annually, and we are facing down a dystopian future in which most of our economic output is controlled by the state.
You would imagine, given that paying for these myriad socialist schemes will require at least four trillion dollars of extra taxes per year to pay for it, that its proponents would at least be doing all they can to juice economic growth and job creation to pay for it. The reality could not be further from the truth.
Modern-day socialists like Bernie Sanders and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren want to fire the tens of millions of Americans that either work in the private health care and traditional energy industries or work to support them. For those fortunate enough not to work in these targeted industries, you are not safe from their scheming either unfortunately. Whether it is the imposition of a fifteen dollar federal minimum wage (ignoring the vast discrepancy in costs of living across the country), dramatically increased regulation of corporate boards, anti-growth trade and environmental policies, and the promise to jack up all forms of corporate and personal income taxes, you can be sure that your industry (unless you work for the federal government perhaps) will suffer, as well.
Reducing inequality and expanding economic opportunity do not require us to commit social and economic suicide. Those that advocate for this basket of atrocious and destructive policies must realize that America’s global competition are secretly cheering them on, knowing that like all nations as powerful as ours we can only be weakened economically from within, and the current wave of socialists may have the best shot at succeeding.
Damon Dunn is a fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute.