I’m lucky enough to be the citizen of two amazing countries: Canada and the United States. I was born in Canada and spent my first 35 years there. I’ve spent the last 30 in the US.
While I value my American identity, every time I hear Americans talk about Canada it makes me want to hit them upside the head. The reality is that Americans know S.F.A. about the way Canada works.
This is especially true when it comes to issues like healthcare, guns, foreign policy, the place of religion in the public sphere, education and the role of government. Canada is a truly a different country than the United States.
Democratic socialism has become yet another topic on which I realize many Americans display a stunning level of ignorance. We’ve had Democratic socialism (or to be more technically correct “social democracy” – there is a difference) in Canada for… 80 years now. While we’ve never had a Democratic socialist federal government, the Democratic socialist party in Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has at one point been the official opposition. The NDP has run numerous provincial governments from one end of the country to the other for decades.
And yet Canada hasn’t fallen under the ‘socialist yoke.’ It hasn’t fallen into the communist orbit. The Canadian economy (aside from all the bumps and hiccups suffered by any economy) is doing just fine, thank you very much.
So I think it’s important to explain to my fellow Americans that much of the nonsense about Democratic socialism emanating from talking heads on various cable-TV networks is just sound and fury that signifies nothing.
(By the way for all those of you were wondering, I am not a Bernie Sanders supporter. For my tastes, Sanders is too old, in bad health and not a very effective legislator considering all his years in public office. I believe it’s time for Sanders and Biden and people of that generation to get the hell out of the way. Enough already.)
1. Democratic socialism is NOT communism. It’s not even socialism.
Democratic socialism has about as much to do with communism as Martin Luther King had to do with the Ku Klux Klan. Democratic socialists do not believe in one-party or authoritarian rule or that the government must own the means of production. They believe in democracy and fair elections. In Canada, for instance the NDP has won and lost political power on the provincial level many times. No NDP government has never refused to give up power when defeated in an election.
Democratic socialism is not what is practiced in Cuba or China or Vietnam or Mongolia or any of those other places where political freedoms are forbidden.
(I feel that I should also point out, however, that many nations that wholeheartedly believe in capitalism like Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Singapore also severely restrict political and personal freedoms. The urge to limit freedom seldom has much to do with the way the economy is run.)
2. Democratic socialism does not mean the end of capitalism
In a Democratic socialist country like the ones you have in, oh, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland (you know, all those countries that rank at the top of every poll about having the best healthcare, education, standard of living etc.) as well as France, Germany and the UK, the government does play a greater role in what is known as a mixed economy.
For instance, Sweden is thought of worldwide as a Democratic socialist country with a strong commitment to social programs like universal healthcare and an elaborate social safety net. But it also has very strong individual property rights and very little product market regulation. (Also known as the Nordic Model.)
Under Democratic socialism, unrestrained capitalism is tempered. Social democracy prefers progressive and humane reforms to capitalism. Wealth is distributed more equitably through a fairer taxation system to support ideas like improved healthcare, better education, literacy, and childcare.
You don’t have to have a Democratic socialist government to live in a Democratic socialist country by way. It would be a stretch to say that Boris Johnson is a Democratic socialist, but the UK has many elements of Democratic socialism like universal healthcare, childcare programs to help parents, pensions, and unemployment benefits.
3. The difference between any form of socialism and classical liberalism is economic equality
Both systems have their roots in the Enlightenment but socialism, which is very contextual, demands that economic inequality be included in any measure of a society’s structural health, along with personal freedoms advocated in liberalism.
4. The United States already has Democratic Socialism!
Surprise! If you live in the United States, you already live in a country strongly influenced by Democratic socialism. Where would we be without programs like Social Security, Medicare and public K-12 school education? Several US cities have elected officials who ran on Democratic socialist platforms.
Older, far-right Americans who complain about the kind of socialism espoused by Bernie Sanders would scream loudly if their Social Security check didn’t arrive on time. Then again, Americans have cornered the hypocrisy market on this issue.
5. We have nothing to fear but fear itself
Let’s be blunt. Even if a Democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders was elected president, the United States would not turn into Sweden or Norway overnight. It might, however, find ways to promote economic stability for more Americans like an improved minimum wage or, God forbid, universal healthcare.
Again, don’t hold your breath. This is America were talking about.