Capitalism or socialism: Which one is more democratic?

Language of Liberty

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 Why is socialism so popular? Less than 10 years ago, you couldn’t refer to “socialism” in a positive way and hope to have a career in American politics. Socialism was referred to as the “s” word.

Now it is affirmed, either explicitly or implicitly, by just about everyone on the Left. And, amazingly, given socialism’s record of failure, the Socialists seem to be gaining ground.

Why? What makes socialism so attractive to so many?

Socialism, according to its proponents, is more democratic and therefore more moral than capitalism.

Leftist filmmaker Michael Moore explains it for us. “Democratic socialism means everyone has a seat at the table and everybody gets a slice of the pie.”

The famed Socialist writer, Irving Howe, wrote something similar in his 1982 autobiography, “We believe that the democracy…in our political life should also be extended deeply into economic life.”

The basic idea here is that socialism is vindicated through its roots in popular consent.  If a majority of people, working through their elected representatives, declares something to be a public entitlement—say free college or free healthcare—then they are justified in extracting resources from those who create wealth to pay for it.

As Nathan Robinson argues in his book, “Why You Should Be a Socialist,” the moral imperative is to place the economy under the control of “the people.”

Sounds good, at least superficially… until you dig a bit below the surface.

First, what direct control do “the people” really have over any government institution?  What control do the British people have over the National Health Service? What control do Americans have over the Department of Motor Vehicles or the U.S. Post Office?  The answer of course is none. Given its practical impossibility, genuine popular control over government institutions is a mirage.

Second, what if 51 percent of Americans vote to confiscate the resources of a single person, say Bill Gates?  Does that make it right?

Under an authoritarian Socialist government, a single dictator seizes the fruits of your labor. Everyone is against that. Under democratic socialism, a majority does. The end result is the same -- you’ve been robbed.

The fundamental problem with democratic socialism, however, is its assumption that in a free-market system, the economy is not under the control of the people. This is exactly the opposite of how things work.

Let me explain.

Each of us are not only citizens, we are also consumers. These are overlapping categories: every citizen is a consumer, and every consumer is also a citizen. The consumer, like the citizen, is a voter.  As citizens, we vote once every two or four years; as consumers, we vote many times a day.

The citizen votes with a ballot, which costs him nothing, except the inconvenience of going to the polls.  The consumer votes with his money, which costs him a lot—all the time and effort he put in to earn that money.

Only a fraction of citizens are eligible to vote at the ballot box, but every consumer votes in the marketplace—even felons, even children.  Illegal aliens cannot vote for political candidates, but they, too, vote with their money. Moreover, citizens participate in a system of representative democracy -- their views are filtered through the politicians who represent them. Consumers, by contrast, vote in a system of direct democracy.

If you prefer an Audi to a Lexus or the Apple iPhone to the Samsung Galaxy, you don’t have to elect some other guy to exercise these preferences; you do it directly yourself by paying for them.  Here we see the secret of how those billionaires like Jeff Bezos got so rich.  We made them rich!  The inequality that Socialists complain about is the result of popular mandate.  Want fewer billionaires? Stop buying their stuff!

Free markets work not through “greed” or “exploitation” but by satisfying our wants, and the most successful entrepreneurs are those who anticipate our wants even before we have them.  No one wrote Steve Jobs asking him to make a phone that that took pictures, allowed people to text messages, and listen to music.  He conceived it and built it before we knew we couldn’t live without it.

Market economies involve a level of popular participation and democratic consent that politics can only envy.  We don’t need to extend democracy from the political to the economic sphere; we already have it.

And the moral grounding of free markets, just like that of our political system, is in the will of the people—in the latter case, a will expressed only on Election Day -  in the former case, a will expressed deliberately, emphatically, constantly.

We don’t need socialism because we already have something more moral and more democratic. It’s called capitalism.

Dinesh D’Souza is a writer, scholar, a renowned filmmaker and former policy analyst in the Reagan White House.  Published with permission, Prager University.

The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of Center for Self Governance to educate citizens in the principles of liberty. The views expressed by authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG.    

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L. Thomas

You have some valid points. In the preamble the founding fathers sets forth the purpose of the Constitution. They wanted a nation that would maintain justice and would insure peace. They envisioned a nation where everyone would join together to protect and defend each other. They expected the nation to make choices that would benefit the good of everyone, not just a selected few.

The founders of our nation agreed it would be for the benefit of everyone to establish a representative democracy to determine what goods and services met the objective established when they signed the Constitution in 1787. Officials are elected as a means to that end.

Local, state and national elected officials determine what goods and services are needed to make us a better nation. Some of those services and goods include law enforcement, public schools, road construction, municipal services such as fire departments and sanitation workers. The elected officials also award government funds to private businesses who provide goods and services determined to be in the good of the nation. When government funds are distributed to private businesses some regulations are established to verify the funds are used to promote the general welfare of the nation.

The challenge is to determine what goods and which services are necessary for the nation to function for the benefit of all. This process is politically managed by a representative democracy. Elected officials determine who funds the government. They have three choices. Government can be funded by businesses, by individuals but hopefully by both.

So is your issue who funds the healthcare system? I think we both would agree health care is a service that does promote the general welfare of a nation. It would probably be wise to not tell those over 65 the government is going to take away Medicare.

Saturday, November 14