The Promise of Democratic Socialism?


The Indy sheds light on the wave of democratic socialism sweeping across America.

Over the last few months, America has witnessed the rise of a novel political ideology in its most liberal quarters, and this volte-face comes almost as a retaliation to the excessively conservative, often bigoted rhetoric that seems to have gripped the GOP. As someone who does not have the right to vote in this country, I am not going to pretend to take a stance on which of the candidates in the present field I support; I am, however, going to try and deconstruct Mr. Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism and lend some perspective on what he hopes to achieve given his self-proclaimed epithets.


David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist, wrote last week of Sanders’ campaign to be mimicry of a “continent that has been sluggish for decades.” Given Brooks’ leanings, it is not surprising that he fears the arrival of a European economic order on America’s capitalist shores. But he hardly has a monopoly over misgivings regarding Mr. Sanders’ economic policy – Alan Krueger, Christy Romer, and Laura Tyson, all esteemed economists who have also previously served in the Obama and Clinton administrations, have voiced skepticism about the growth of the economy during a possible Sanders Administration. Paul Krugman has gone so far as to say that Sanders is succumbing to “fantasy economics,” and worse still, that his campaign is repeatedly resorting to ad hominem attacks against policy experts that have tried to introduce a contrarian view to his.


Why, though, is the image that Sanders seems to be painting so contentious? Why is his utopia such that it generates fervor across the nation, but is still viewed as dystopia by many? To begin understanding these questions, we must consider that Sanders’ rise to prominence comes at a time when politics in Washington is already extremely polarized. Republicans, almost unanimously, agree that President Obama’s ‘radical’ and ‘socialist’ policies have hurt the nation, and it is time for a free-marketeer to take charge. So in some ways, Sanders represents everything about Obama that the GOP despises, and what’s more, he is far more radical than many other mainstream democrats: Obama delivered affordable healthcare, Sanders wants it free; Clinton wants affordable public college, Sanders wants it free; Clinton wants banks to be regulated, Sanders wants to break them.


But the reason many are skeptical of Sanders is not simply because his agenda is too radical to stomach; it’s because it is, perhaps, too radical to materialize. People have witnessed the trouble that President Obama had to go through to pass the Affordable Care Act, and they understand that given the political climate in Washington, Sanders’ policies are most likely to remain mere fantasy.


This is most evident given Sanders’ stand on taxation and job-creation in America. Considering his democratic socialist principles, Sanders is likely to raise taxes across the board, in order to fund his vast public schemes, along with the promise to raise the minimum wage. (So, perhaps, he is more of a New Dealer than he is a Socialist). But at the same time, he wants to protect small businesses in America, and encourage big corporations to stay in the domestic market. This seems paradoxical – it is a higher tax rate that pushes businesses to shift manufacturing overseas, and to couple that with even higher wages for factory workers is by no means going to motivate them to ship jobs back domestically. This is not to say that the minimum wage should not be raised, but simply that even if it is, it might not have the intended outcome that supporters of Mr. Sanders hope it would.


There is no doubt that Sanders’ invocation of the democratic socialist policies of Scandinavian countries presents an enticing prospect, one that would be new to America. But one must also understand that the Elon Musks of the world do not operate out of Denmark for the same reason that every other international student in the world does not want to study in Norway: America represents a spirit of industry that is unique and incompatible with the ideals of democratic socialism. Furthermore, while these principles operating in a well-integrated Europe have helped cash-in on economic efficiency, Sanders’ plan to implement them in a protectionist America would not necessarily yield the same results. If anything, it would undo the pioneering efforts led by this very country to reduce barriers to free trade around the world. We would undoubtedly witness a new America under a President Sanders, but it might not be an America that the world looks up to nearly as much.



Pulkit Agarwal19 ([email protected]) is glad he does not have to make the difficult choice between Clinton and Sanders in the ongoing election.