Socialism: What it really means
Like other Republicans, President Trump is worried about the creeping menace they call “socialism,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. “America will never be a socialist country,” he proclaimed in his State of the Union address. But what do Trump and the Right actually mean when they cry “socialism”? Certainly not enormously popular programs like Medicare and Social Security, or the regulations that “temper the excesses of a market economy.” In fact, what the Left actually wants is “a market economy, but with extreme hardship limited by a strong social safety net and extreme inequality limited by progressive taxation.” In other words, a “social democracy” like Denmark or Norway, not a Marxist autocracy like Venezuela. In Venezuela, said Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal, the government has seized the oil industry and other means of production, planting the seeds for the country’s economic collapse. Here, Democrats are proposing steeply progressive taxes and programs such as “Medicare for all” that are “certainly liberal, probably radical, possibly unwise. But socialist? Hardly.”
But if Medicare for all “isn’t socialism, what is?” asked The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Such a policy would require massive government control of the health-care market. Idealistic proposals like these are based on “compassionate” concern for the downtrodden, said David Weinberger in TheFederalist.com, which is why 51 percent of Americans under 30 now view socialism positively. But nationalizing U.S. health care and providing tuition-free college would require $42.5 trillion in the first decade. That would require tax rates in excess of 50 percent for most Americans, including the middle class. When the government claims more than half your income, “doesn’t the state assume primacy over the individual?” That’s what socialism really means.
This semantic argument is missing the point, said Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg.com. Few Democrats advocate that the government seize and operate private industry; when they use the term “democratic socialist” or “Green New Deal,” they are thinking of Franklin Roosevelt’s attempts to save capitalism from its excesses. Progressives are advocating addressing the nation’s massive income inequality, through better access to health care, higher taxes on the wealthiest, and job-creation efforts for struggling Americans. “But please,” let’s not call these ideas “socialist.” It just distorts and confuses a very important debate.