democratic socialism
Left, OU professor David Deming; right, presidential candidate bernie Sanders. (NonDoc)

I recently lost my shit over this op-ed, which claims that youth support Bernie Sanders because they’re ignorant about history and economics. Apparently, they’re immoral, as well:

Socialism isn’t so much a legitimate economic system as it is a moral failing. It will always exist because ignorant people will always want something for nothing. If we want to retain our freedom and prosperity, then we must educate our children that the purpose of government is to secure liberty, not provide free lunches.

The author of this brain-exploding polemic is David Deming, a geologist and professor of arts and sciences at OU. Reading through his defense of this thesis is like watching a caveman tune a Maserati with a club.

There are plenty of intelligent people supporting Bernie Sanders. Perhaps Sanders enjoys such support from youth because they are well-versed in history and economics. Note: That isn’t the same as saying educated people only support Sanders. There are, of course, intelligent conservatives and centrists out there, as well.

Meanwhile, a 2012 Pew Research Center poll revealed that only 50 percent of Americans have a favorable view of capitalism.

Failures of the free market

The founding fathers — including Thomas Paine — didn’t codify solutions for wealth inequality, but it was very much on their minds. For many of them, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had a broader meaning than Deming’s narrow interpretation. And not all of them, including those we revere today, “considered property rights to be sacred and paramount,” as Deming claims. Happiness, they believed, depends on more than just owning a lot of stuff.

“Our free-market system has produced the greatest prosperity in human history,” wrote Deming.

But who reaps the benefit of that prosperity? The top-10 percent of earners. It’s not egalitarian, and the hallowed free-market system has also created an astounding amount of poverty. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is giving a lot of Americans the invisible finger.

Swedes, Danes and other democratic socialists enjoy property rights, just as Americans do. Their governments aren’t swooping down to take all of their stuff. And their societies haven’t degenerated into “squabbling factions” as Deming predicts.

Unfettered, pure free-market capitalism led to the crash of 1929. It also torpedoed the banking industry in 2008, to the tune of $700 billion, with the bill sent to taxpayers.

Progressive government, however, has seen a lot of success. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal comes to mind.

On socialism

Economist Karl Polanyi provides a nice definition of socialism in historian John Nichols’ book, The S Word.

Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society.

Socialism, pure or not, is not hundreds of years old. As a political force it emerged in the mid-19th Century. Socialist thinking in America, though, can be traced back to Thomas Paine, who wrote in the late 18th century. He wasn’t just a founding father. He was an intellectual par excellence.

Nichols writes:

The quintessential patriot of American rebellion, Tom Paine, was among the first champions of a social welfare state — penning pamphlets that would inspire the nineteenth-century radicals who came up with the word “socialism” and built movements to advance their variations on Paine’s dream.

As a relatively young movement, socialism has seen its failures, but when adopted as democratic socialism, it’s seen incredible success. Ask happy Scandanavians about it.

Moreover, the examples given by Deming as socialistic failures lacked democratic socialism. The Soviet Union was socialist in name only. That country, with the coming of Lenin, adopted what came to be known as communism. Socialism has also failed Venezuela. Rampant corruption is one of the many problems it faces. But democracy has failed in third-world countries, too. North Korea? It was never socialist. Just crazy.

On democratic socialism

That leads us to the 2016 election and surging candidate Bernie Sanders, who is not a pure socialist. He’s a democratic socialist. Big difference there. Pure socialists — as Marx envisioned them — do want to take all of your stuff. Democratic socialists only want to tax excessive wealth, and, yes, redistribute it to those in need. That shouldn’t be shocking, though, as Democrats have championed that cause, as well.

It makes sense for young people to be concerned about wealth inequality, an issue Sanders wants to tackle substantively. Many students are graduating with enormous amounts of debt. Sanders wants to make that go away.

Further, democratic socialism isn’t a “moral failing,” as Deming writes. Its architects strove for social justice, about the highest bar to be set in the world of politics. And one that no reasonable person would label immoral.

Top-10 contributions of democratic socialism

If anybody still doubts the benefits of democratic socialism, here’s a list of things it has brought Americans:

  1. Social Security
  2. Public education
  3. Women voters
  4. Civil rights
  5. Progressive income taxes
  6. The ban on child labor
  7. Public housing
  8. Medicare
  9. America’s highway system
  10. State university pension plans for professors (even when they have no idea what the hell they’re talking about)

And there you have it. With a little democratic socialism up in this joint, everybody gets a slice of the pie. Even David Deming.