Democratic Socialism

Tam Nguyen, Specials Editor

Democratic socialism has been on the rise in America lately, with many notable politicians identifying with the ideology. Among them are Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the most viable candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest and one of the most outspoken members of the House of Representatives, who is known for her controversial Green New Deal legislation.

According to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), democratic socialism is the idea of social ownership, “such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives,” and limited forms of state ownership, which are necessary for managing extensive resources, such as “large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel.”

According to Time magazine writer Olivia B. Waxman, democratic socialists “generally support ideas such as…universal healthcare, federal jobs programs, fair taxation that closes loopholes that the wealthiest citizens have found, and using taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for social welfare programs.” Waxman notes that they often denounce “big corporate bureaucracies” who, from the DSA’s perspective, monopolize industries in America to benefit a few wealthy individuals at the expense of the vast majority of the public.

While the idea of democratic socialism – namely, that the people establish, own, operate, and benefit from their own institutions – sounds favorable, it can be harmful in practice according to Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle.

In an opinion piece entitled “Democratic Socialists are Selling Us a System that No Longer Works,” McArdle challenged the idea of social ownership, saying that it would be ineffective in improving the status quo “unless most American workers are prepared to be active participants in their union local or work council.”

McArdle is referring to the fact that many, if not most, Americans lack the willingness, qualifications, and capabilities needed to control operations that affect hundreds and possibly thousands of their fellow citizens. As a result, power would continue to be delegated to a handful of leaders, except that they would now be referred to as “government bureaucrats” or “union leaders” instead of the bosses that democratic socialists so often condemn.

Another democratic socialist policy is universal healthcare, which is currently receiving widespread public support despite a Republican call to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Studies from the Urban Institute as well as the Mercatus Center at George Mason University suggest that this policy would increase federal spending another $32.6 trillion over a ten-year period. This cost concerns even health policy experts, including Emory University health policy professor and senior health policy adviser Kenneth Thorpe.

According to Thorpe, under a universal healthcare system, tax increases would be “enormous,” and many Americans would find that the burden of their tax rates would outweigh the benefits they receive under the system.

The federal government currently faces a $22 trillion national debt, so additional spending seems to be the last thing America would want when long-term consequences of a constantly-growing national debt are considered. However, this has not dissuaded democratic socialists, who assert that a universal healthcare system would instead save money for the United States by closing the income gap between Americans and reducing prescription drug prices as well as unnecessary administrative costs under the current privatized healthcare system.

The question remains as to whether or not there would be enough healthcare providers under “Medicare for All” – Senator Bernie Sanders’ solution to universal healthcare coverage – to tend to each and every American in an effective and timely manner. Seema Verma, an administrator in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted that “under ‘Medicare for All’ patients could wait up to six months or longer for a hip replacement, or worse, up to 48 hours for an emergency room operation.”

While, indeed, many other democratic countries – including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Nordic countries – have been able to prove that a balance between capitalism and socialism may work, it is important to keep in mind that these democracies are demographically, socially, and even ideologically different from the United States. What works for them does not always work for us. So America: Think carefully before you make your decisions regarding the system of government by which you would like to be governed. Just because, in theory, a government system is supposed to benefit you does not mean that it will.