The following is an excerpt from Mark Thoma | January 26, 2016 | Thefiscaltimes.com |
What, exactly, does Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have in mind when he asks on his website if we are “Ready to Start a Political Revolution?” He has proclaimed unabashedly that he is a socialist, a statement that has raised eyebrows about his electability. He wants to turn us into the Soviet Union!! Is that what he has in mind?
Far from it. He has qualified his statements to make it clear that he is a democratic socialist, but that term fails to convey what he really has in mind, or at least I think it does. There are two distinct political ideologies, democratic socialism and social democracy. Although they sound very similar, the definitions are very different. Democratic socialists reject capitalism as an economic system and want to replace it with state ownership of the means of production (i.e. the state owned factories, businesses, land, housing, and so on) combined with political democracy. This feature, democratic choice over political leadership, distinguishes democratic socialism from authoritarian Marxist-Leninist style socialism.
Social democracy has a different meaning. This economic system retains capitalism as an economic system, but attempts to smooth the features of capitalism that impose unfair costs or inequitable outcomes on some segments of society. This is what I’d guess Bernie Sanders has in mind despite his proclamation that he is a democratic socialist (though I’d speculate that his followers are more of a mixture). To some degree, all developed economies have some elements that fit under this definition, for example social insurance programs such as unemployment compensation or social security.
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