Kris Morgan 9/6/2018
Democratic Socialism is a phrase that has been popularized by Vermont Senator and former Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders. The word ‘socialism’ sets off red flags in the minds of Libertarians and Conservatives alike. This is understandable given the body count of the 20th century that traces back to socialist countries. Nevertheless, supporters of the ideology claim that those opposed are merely associating their form of socialism with that of totalitarian dictatorships. Whether we agree with this statement or not, one thing is for certain; Democratic Socialism is gaining in popularity and if we are going to successfully push back against that tide, we should not engage in hyperbole. The Democratic Socialists of America webpage has two major tasks for the visitor to explore. It behooves us to listen to their message and highlight where we disagree and offer alternatives.
Number one on the to-do list is providing medicare for all. The text reads “In the capitalist system, you have to pay to get care or go without, and under a democratic socialist system, we would collectively provide care as a society.” It would be great to reach a point where everyone has access to quality healthcare. However, there are two major points worthy of examination.
First, the present medicare program is due to go bankrupt by 2026, despite the fact that it does not cover all citizens. A piece in the LA Times noted “The report from program trustees says Medicare will become insolvent in 2026 — three years earlier than previously forecast. Its giant trust fund for inpatient care won’t be able to fully cover projected medical bills starting at that point.” The Democratic Socialists would likely develop a financial plan designed to resolve this issue. However, we must keep in mind that no government program is ever presented as if it will be poorly managed and leave us bankrupt. Yet here we are, over $21tril in debt; not because of a single party or even a single office, but because of the system as a whole.
Second, though libertarians recognize and sympathize with the current state of medical services, we identify the problem as being government interventionism in the first place. Mises.org has a great piece showing step-by-step how the United States has empowered and enriched private entities at the expense of the people, resulting in higher costs and fewer services. Our solution is to end the practices that lead to the current state of affairs to begin with. We want to trust communities and markets with the ability to solve problems. Contrary to the popular belief that we have a do-nothing answer, we would remove artificial barriers so individuals can make investments and increase efficiency of current services. Models that don’t result in greater output than input end in bankruptcy, whereas political failures continue until change is advantageous for those in power, regardless of the damage they cause.
Next on their list of objectives is stronger unions. Notwithstanding the lack in details, their ideas still warrant attention. Not surprising, capitalism itself is made the target.
“Capitalism pits us against each other and workplaces are fundamentally authoritarian unless workers can self-organize and build collective power. This is why people build unions, and why employers undermine them. It is also why the capitalists as a class constantly work to undermine unions and promote narratives about unions that frame them as unnecessary, undemocratic or ineffective. We are forming a national project to fight back and build power in the economy, since outside of Wall Street, workplaces are the place where the owning class extract resources from the working class.”
Yes, under capitalism there is competition. The nature of this competition is largely peaceful, with workers determined to prove themselves more valuable than each other, and entrepreneurs working on meeting demand most efficiently. While it can be argued this is less than perfect, it is much more preferable than competing for power over each other. In free markets the goal is to trade one’s economic efforts for material gain. In socialism, the goal is to pander to, or seize, power and force everyone to do what we want. Talk about pitting us against each other!
Libertarians are not anti-union per se. Our objections only arise where force is being used. Rules which make it illegal for an employer to end associations with those wanting to form unions go against individual liberty. Freedom in these decisions would make it possible for workers and employers to weigh their options and do what is in their best interest. If a skill is valuable and rare enough, those who have it have a bargaining chip. Industry leaders would understand that negotiating is in their best interest under those circumstances. Economic problems persist where skills are not scarce, but law restricts entrepreneurs from opting out of negotiations. Demand for such labor diminishes under artificially higher costs, and lower-level employees assume added responsibilities, or technology fills in the gap. Opportunities for unskilled workers to gain experience, skills, and knowledge fade.
These Democratic Socialist stepping stones are just a launching pad to encompass key aspects of life. In their view, eventually everything would be transformed from spontaneous order to a centrally-planned, democratic decision making process. In their words, “Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”
Trade by itself is here to meet public needs. In markets, our highest order needs and wants are expressed in the pricing system. Consumers willing to buy products at high prices signal producers to direct more resources towards said goods, and the result is lower prices and a supply and demand reaching as close to equilibrium as conditions would allow.
Who determines if the public’s needs are being met in Democratic Socialism? Or, in the existential sense, how do we determine what exactly the public needs to begin with? Life is infinitely complex and peoples’ wants and needs are in a constant state of change. Running everything in a democratic manner would never allow for the flexibility needed to match these conditions, not to mention whatever the politics involved would look like. The only way to adapt to is to untie our hands and let us react to changes. A handful of us cannot possibly know what all of us need, and if they did, the bureaucratic process of democracy is far too slow to adjust.
Whatever the intentions are of democratic socialists, the course of action they have chosen will not make the world a better place. Our economy is already riddled with trade cycles, endless deficits, regulations, wars, etc, we don’t need more. The move to provide medicare for everyone is a step in the wrong direction. In bad times, just as in good times, the real solution is increased capital investment to make labor more productive and directed to meet real demand. This only occurs under conditions of freedom. The government’s job is simple; get out of the way and deal with people who infringe on private property rights. Stop running deficits, eliminate tariffs, allow interest rates to reflect economic realities, and stop inflating bubbles.
The task of taking purposeful economic action is on the people. For example, if more medical services are really what we want, then new models should be constructed and invested in privately, so that in the event the planners are wrong, they fail as they should. Under conditions where entrepreneurs hit their mark, they have a solvent system in play and get to remain. In spite of popular opinion, no form of socialism is synonymous with sharing, it’s about institutionalized theft. Scarce resources are not something we should want politicized under any circumstances. Political decision-making is precisely what got us to where we are today, and we should not be entertaining the notion of expanding it.
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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.