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 		 [ We asked thinkers on the left—and a couple of outliers—to
describe their vision for a re-imagined American economy. Just a
decade ago, “socialism” was a dirty word in American politics. Not
anymore.] [https://portside.org/] 

 WHAT WOULD A SOCIALIST AMERICA LOOK LIKE?  
[https://portside.org/node/18085] 

 

 Politico Magazine 
 September 3, 2018
Politico
[https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/09/03/what-would-a-socialist-america-look-like-219626]


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 _ We asked thinkers on the left—and a couple of outliers—to
describe their vision for a re-imagined American economy. Just a
decade ago, “socialism” was a dirty word in American politics. Not
anymore. _ 

 credit: Charles Krupa/AP // Politico, 

 

Debates over its merits were mostly limited to obscure blogs, niche
magazines and political parties on the other side of the Atlantic. But
more recently Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a handful
of other politicians have breathed new life into the label, injecting
a radical alternate vision for the U.S. economy into the mainstream
political debate. Ahead of the midterms, politicians like
Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, and Kansas’ James
Thompson have proudly held up their endorsements from Democratic
Socialists of America, the country’s largest socialist group, whose
numbers have swelled since Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

For Fox News viewers
[http://video.foxnews.com/v/5812638329001/?#sp=show-clips], it’s the
stuff of nightmares—not to mention that skittish Democrats fear
alienating swing voters more comfortable with their party’s
post-Lyndon B. Johnson incrementalism. According to a poll
[https://news.gallup.com/poll/240725/democrats-positive-socialism-capitalism.aspx]from
August, however, for the first time since Gallup has asked the
question, more Democrats approve of socialism than of capitalism.
Could socialism really come to America—and what would it look like?
Politico Magazine invited a group of socialist writers, policy wonks
and politicians (and a few critics) to weigh in, and their responses
were as diverse as the movement itself—reflecting, if nothing else,
the expanded political horizons of our post-Trump brave new world.
—_Derek Robertson_

***

IF IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR THE NORDICS, IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR US.
_Matthew Bruenig is the founder of the People’s Policy Project, a
progressive think tank._

One way to implement socialism in the United States would be to copy
many of the economic institutions found in the Nordic countries of
Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. These countries, which
consistently rank near the top of the world in happiness, human
development and overall well-being, have highly organized labor
markets, universal welfare states and relatively high levels of public
ownership of capital.

To move in the Nordic direction, the United States should promote the
mass unionization of its workforce, increase legal protections against
arbitrary termination and allow workers to control some of the seats
on the corporate boards of the companies they work in, as Senator
Elizabeth Warren has recently suggested.

When it comes to the welfare state, the country should create a
national health insurance system, akin to some Democrats’
“Medicare for All” proposals, extend new parents paid leave from
work, provide young children free child care and pre-K, and give each
family a $300 per month allowance per child. The United States should
also provide housing stipends to those on low incomes and increase the
minimum benefits for those on senior and disability pensions.

To increase public ownership over capital, the government should
establish a social wealth fund and gradually fill that fund with
capital assets purchased on the open market. Over time, the returns
from this fund could be parceled out as universal payments to every
American, or used for general government revenue. The government
should also build at least 10 million units of publicly owned,
mixed-income social housing, which would both increase public
ownership of the U.S. housing stock and provide a much-needed boost to
the housing supply in prohibitively expensive metropolitan areas.

***

DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM IS ABOUT EXPANDING DEMOCRACY.
_David Duhalde is the senior electoral manager for Our
Revolution_, _the Sanders-inspired progressive nonprofit._

The often-ignored core of how we would implement socialism is the
expansion of who makes decisions in society and how, including the
democratic ownership of the workplace. Democratic socialism in the
United States is as much about expanding democracy as it is anything
else.

In the short term, socialists, like liberals, want to protect,
strengthen, and expand social services and public goods. We do so,
however, not just because those programs are humane, but to move us
toward a social democracy where people’s lives are less bound to the
whims of the so-called free market. Universal health care and a jobs
guarantee, two seemingly radical ideas that are in fact currently
before the Senate, would be just the first steps toward social
democracy.

Establishing democratic socialism means democratizing ownership of
capital, our jobs and our personal lives. Socialists believe that if
you work somewhere, you should have a say it in how it’s run.
Through unions, worker councils and elected boards, this is possible
at the company level today. Furthermore, if your labor generates
profit, under socialism you would have an ownership stake and a
democratic say in how your workplace is run. Co-ops and public
enterprises like Mandragon in the Basque country, Cooperation Jackson
in Mississippi and Red Emma’s in Baltimore give us a partial glimpse
into what such ownership could look like. This type of democratized
economy would grant autonomy to historically neglected communities,
and it would be the foundation of any socialist United States.

***

CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT, IT’S ABOUT MAKING COMMUNITIES MORE EQUAL.
_Rashida Tlaib is the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 13th
Congressional District._

Socialism, to me, means ensuring that our government policy puts human
needs before corporate greed and that we build communities where
everyone has a chance to thrive. I’m resistant to labels, even ones
that might obviously describe me, like “progressive,” because I
feel like once the media starts defining you, instead of letting your
actions speak volumes, you start to lose a bit of who you are. I’m
proud to be a member of the Metro Detroit DSA because they are working
for the same things I’m working for—a living wage for all people,
abolishing ICE and securing universal health care, to name just a few.

We’re trying to create communities where the education you have
access to, or the jobs you’re able to get, don’t depend on your
zip code or your race or gender. People aren’t looking for a
“progressive” or a “democratic socialist” representative,
necessarily, but they also aren’t scared of those words—they’re
just looking for a fighter who will put their needs ahead of corporate
profits and never back down. So, if other people want to call me a
democratic socialist based on my fighting for public goods that make
us all better off, that’s fine with me, and I certainly won’t tell
them otherwise. But I define myself through my own unique lens—I’m
a mother fighting for justice for all. Ultimately, I’m trying to
build coalitions and inspire activists to create a society where
everyone has a chance to flourish. That’s the socialism I’m
interested in.

***

SOCIALISM WOULD REMEDY THE SYSTEMIC DEPRIVATION OF PEOPLE OF COLOR.
_Connie M. Razza is director of policy and research at the think tank
Demos._

A more democratically socialist—or equitable—American economy
would require a re-engineering of the structures that have
systematically stripped wealth and other resources from communities of
color. To see these structures, one could look back hundreds of years
to Europeans stripping land from Native Americans and enslaving
Africans to till that land; one could look back just nine months to
Republicans passing a tax cut to benefit their big-money donors at the
expense of the working and poor people.

Additionally, a new system would adjust how corporations are treated,
recognizing what is already true: We invest in corporations and the
infrastructure they rely on because they should serve us. With the
current mood for deregulation and cutting taxes, we’ve shifted power
to corporations. Appropriate regulation and fair taxation help
business to pool resources—whether money (as in finance), power (as
in energy companies), technology, food—and distribute them where
they truly need to go.

Crucially, an equitable future requires that everyone has an equal say
in American democracy—equal ease in access to voting, free of overly
restrictive hurdles. Smart public financing would enable voters to
participate meaningfully by donating to candidates and enable all
qualified citizens to run for office. Money should not give the
wealthy extra votes. A more balanced political economy would recognize
that only speech is speech, and the opportunity to influence the
thinking of representatives is through the soundness of ideas.

***

DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM MEANS DEMOCRATIC OWNERSHIP OVER THE ECONOMY.
_Peter Gowan is a fellow with the progressive nonprofit the Democracy
Collaborative._

A democratically elected government should own natural monopolies such
as utilities and rail transport; provide social services like health
care, education, housing, child care and banking; and create a general
welfare state that eliminates poverty through guaranteeing a minimum
income, with assistance for people with disabilities, the elderly and
families with children.

But we have to go beyond that. We need measures to establish
democratic ownership over the wider economy, and eliminate our
dependence on industries that rely on pollution and war for their
existence. There need to be strategies to allow workers in the
defense, aerospace and fossil fuel industries to repurpose their
facilities for more socially useful production, drawing on the example
of the Lucas Plan in Britain, where workers designed and published a
viable “alternative corporate plan” that included funding for
renewable energy, public transport and medical technology. We need a
mechanism to transfer corporate equity into sector-oriented social
wealth funds controlled by diverse and accountable stakeholders, which
would gradually transfer ownership away from unaccountable elites and
toward inclusive institutions.

A democratic socialist America would be a society where wealth and
power are far more evenly distributed, and it would be less cruel,
less lonely and less alienating. Democratic socialism aims for the
liberation of human agency and creativity—not just in America, but
in all the countries that capital exploits and invades for the profits
of our nation’s billionaires.

***

IT’S ABOUT GIVING EVERYONE A VOICE IN DECISION-MAKING.
_Maria Svart is national director of the Democratic Socialists of
America._

Our collective power is the key to what socialism in America would
look like, because democratic socialism rests on one key premise: We
don’t have a blueprint, so expanding democracy to include all of us
is both the means and the end.

The problem with capitalism is not just that a system fueled by a
wealthy, profit-hungry elite is inherently unstable, or that it leaves
whole layers of society starving in the streets. It is that it relies
on the dictatorship of the rich. The fundamental difference we expect
from a socialist society is that we will all have a voice in the
decisions that impact our lives. Workplaces will be owned by the
workers who run them, rather than an authoritarian boss.

The political system will be truly democratic, rather than run by
those who have bought the politicians. Family life will be more
democratic, and no one will have to depend on a breadwinner to survive
because public services like health care will be available to all, and
will be run with community oversight. Finally, government investment
will be democratic, rather than decided by corporate donors or Wall
Street gamblers. In other words, we will have true freedom, not just
survival—the choices available to us now that depend on the whims of
the few.

***

IT’S MUCH SIMPLER: SOCIAL INSURANCE.
_Samuel Hammond is director of poverty and welfare studies at the free
market think tank the Niskanen Center._

Almost a century after FDR signed the Social Security Act into law, it
remains his most enduring legacy, helping to keep more than 22 million
seniors out of poverty each year—and protecting millions more from
the risk of outliving their savings. And yet, we generally don’t
think of Social Security as, well, “socialist.” But why
shouldn’t we? Not only is it the federal government’s largest
outlay—one third of the budget, at nearly $1 trillion per year—but
its establishment signified that even the most rugged American
individualist is ultimately bound to his or her fellow citizens.

The frontier spirit of American entrepreneurship, and the enormous
heterogeneity that comes with being a nation of immigrants, means the
United States will never have the high-trust brand of social democracy
one finds in Northern Europe. Yet the success of Social Security
provides a two-word hint for how America can become more
“socialist” overnight: social insurance.

Social insurance is the public pooling of risks that markets struggle
to contain, from pre-existing medical conditions to the sudden loss of
employment. It can be done efficiently by any government competent
enough to cut checks. And while the bureaucratic opacity of the Social
Security Administration can be infuriating, it appears perfectly
compatible with America’s low-trust brand of pluralism. This
suggests that the path forward for American socialists is not
occupying Wall Street, but the streets of Hartford, Connecticut—the
nation’s insurance industry capital.

***

FORGET SOCIAL DEMOCRACY. AMERICA IS READY FOR ACTUAL SOCIALISM.
_Joe Guinan is executive director of the Next System Project at the
Democracy Collaborative._

When socialism comes to America, it won’t be “one size fits
all”—although it will have universalist aspects and aspirations.
Rather than imposed from above, it will be bottom up, in line with
America’s best traditions—able to draw, like the New Deal, on a
rich tapestry of experimentation in state and local “laboratories of
democracy.” It will be democratic, decentralized and participatory.
It will be rooted in racial, gender and sexual justice, recalling
Langston Hughes’ “and that never has been yet—and yet must
be.” It will dismantle an already-existing American
gulag—today’s racialized regime of mass incarceration,
encompassing the largest prison population in the world—rather than
imposing one. It will be about living safely, wisely and well within a
flourishing commons, in solidarity with our nonhuman comrades, rather
than overshooting ecological boundaries in the pursuit of financial
accumulation.

This will be actual socialism, rather than social democracy or
liberalism, because it will have socialized the means of
production—although in plural forms that do not all center on the
state. Instead of concentrated wealth, it will have broad dispersal of
ownership. Instead of frictionless global markets, the rooted,
participatory, recirculatory local economy. Instead of extractive
multinational corporations, the worker, community and municipally
owned firm. Instead of asset-stripping privatization, myriad forms of
democratic public enterprise. Instead of private credit creation by
commercial banks and rentier finance, the massive potential power of
public banks and sovereign government finance—harkening back to
Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

***

A RADICAL ALTERNATIVE TO AN AMERICAN CAPITALIST SYSTEM THAT IS
ANYTHING BUT FREE.
_Thomas Hanna is director of research at the Democracy Collaborative._

A practical form of socialism in the United States in the 21st century
would occur when democratic ownership displaces and supersedes the
current, dominant extractive corporate model. There is no single,
ideal form of democratic ownership, but an enormous variety including
full state ownership, partial state ownership, local/municipal
ownership, multi-stakeholder ownership, worker ownership, consumer
cooperative ownership, producer cooperative ownership, community
ownership and sustainable local private ownership.

Despite all the rhetoric about the “free market,” the American
capitalist system is anything but. It’s already reliant on a heavy
dose of government policy, regulation, administration and accompanying
interventions at various levels—in some cases even approximating
soft planning, as in, for example, the farm sector. Some such mix of
markets and planning will, at least at first, inevitably be a feature
of an American socialist system, ideally with more democratic
involvement in determining long-term national, regional and local
priorities, on one hand. On the other, it will feature greater
rationality in efforts toward more geographically equitable economic
development—not to mention dealing with the increasing threat of
climate change.

***

AMERICA COULD TURN INTO WESTERN EUROPE. BUT SHOULD IT?
_Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum. She
lived in the European Union for the majority of the past decade._

When Americans talk about socialism, they typically aren’t referring
to government seizing property and taking control of industry. Rather,
they mean more aggressive and redistributive policies, with more
regulation and higher taxes to fund more generous welfare
services—similar to policies already implemented in Western Europe.

While this path is clearly preferable to more extreme versions of
socialism, Americans should still be wary. Higher taxes and more
generous welfare services discourage work and invite people to rely on
the state. Countries with strong cultures of work and personal
responsibility are held up as examples of how this system can succeed,
but these are the exceptions; high unemployment rates and lower
incomes are the norm.

Americans also face unique budgetary concerns: Europe has been able to
forgo massive spending on defense and national security largely
because of the role the U.S. military plays in our global alliances.
The United States has no such guaranteed backstop. Meaningfully
cutting defense spending will make not just our country, but the
world, less secure.

Just as importantly, Americans ought to consider how welfare-state
socialism undermines people’s basic gumption. Europeans can hardly
bother to reproduce, are less charitable, have less civic engagement
and are less entrepreneurial than Americans. American innovation,
risk-taking and our fundamental commitment to leaving the next
generation better off than the last would all be jeopardized if we
embrace European socialism. These are the virtues we would undoubtedly
miss the most.

***

A COMPLETE WELFARE STATE, A TRANSFORMED LABOR MARKET AND STATE
OWNERSHIP OF THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION.
_Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent for _The Week.

The moral motivation for a move to socialism is egalitarianism, taken
from John Rawls or Jesus Christ or whomever. The basic objective would
be to harness the wealth developed by the collective operation of the
economy on behalf of the entire population, because it is unjust for a
tiny elite minority to hoover up a gigantic fraction of income and
wealth while millions are destitute or just scraping by.

In general, there are three main socialist policy objectives that make
the most sense. The first is a complete welfare state, in which the
state will catch every category of person who either falls out of work
or cannot work—the unemployed, children, students, elderly,
disabled, carers and so on. Once complete, the welfare state removes
the capitalist compulsion to work by threat of destitution, and
replaces that threat with the offer of job placement, training and so
forth. Second would be a radically transformed labor market, in which
virtually all workers are unionized and covered by union contracts,
wage differentials between skilled and unskilled are sharply
compressed, and workers hold perhaps 33 percent to 50 percent of
corporate board seats. Third is the direct state ownership of the
means of production, either through building up productive state
enterprises, nationalizing certain key companies, or scooping up large
swathes of corporate equity into a social wealth fund (as Alaska has
done).

This last one is the most radical but, I think, necessary to really
hammer down inequality. A third of all national income goes to
capital, ownership of which is increasingly concentrated. Indeed, all
the top 1 percent income growth since 2000 has come from capital.

***

MARKETS ARE NOT ENOUGH TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS WE FACE.
_Sean McElwee is a writer and the co-founder of Data for Progress._

Socialism is the radically simple idea that democratic values should
guide our economy toward the maximization of human flourishing, rather
than the accumulation of capital. We would never accept decisions
about our government being made exclusively by old rich white men, and
we shouldn’t accept decisions about our economy being made that way.
Historically, rich white men as a group have not been the best
stewards of the common interests of humanity.

When our economy is not democratic, it’s impossible for our
government to be. We cannot steer our society toward maximum
well-being as efficiently as the interests of capital override the
interests of our shared humanity. Take, for example, climate change:
The math is simple. Our largest corporations have fossil fuel supplies
that, if burned through, would push global concentrations of carbon to
more than twice the dangerous threshold. The choice is simple:
Humanity exists, and companies take a write-off, or companies maintain
profitability and human life is extinguished.

How do socialists differ from liberal Democrats? First, socialists
recognize that markets alone are not enough to solve the problems we
face. In the current moment, the market capitalization of just a few
large fossil fuel companies has been enough to override the will of
not just American voters, but the international community. More of the
economy must be taken out of the hands of markets—not just energy
production, but health care, through socialized medicine. Second,
socialists recognize that a welfare state built on imperialism is not
a progressive goal. The United States, as many Democratic politicians
like noting, is the wealthiest country in the world. That wealth is
built on violence tantamount to murder on a global scale. It is the
wages of empire. A socialist politics strives for a radical flattening
of the global income distribution.

Socialists believe that without democratic control of capital and an
end to imperialism, the goals of progressivism will be left
unfulfilled. Socialists argue that capitalism is incompatible with
democracy. To those who disagree, we pose a simple question: which
will be wiped out sooner—the market capitalization of ExxonMobil, or
the city of Miami?

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