Economics Doesn’t End Under Socialism

Libertarian SocialismElizabeth Warren said, “I’m a capitalist. I believe in markets.” This is perhaps the stupidest or at least most ignorant thing I have ever heard Elizabeth Warren say. But it’s not just her. I hear this said all the time by people who are, in fact, socialists.

Where did people get the idea that a socialist economy wouldn’t have markets? Does economics stop working in a socialist economy? Of course not! What this idea shows is that most people don’t know fuck all about socialism.

Socialism is an economic system where workers own the means of production. That is to say: people should get paid for their work. They should not be paid for owning stuff. That’s it. Workers will still make things. They will still exchange voluntarily in markets.

Socialist Don’t Understand Socialism?

It is incredibly annoying to see self-proclaimed socialist in the United States accept this. The idea that there wouldn’t be markets seems to follow from the myth that socialism is a top-down authoritarian system like Stalinism.

I can see why conservatives and liberals would want to frame it this way. But why socialist? But maybe the issue is not why socialists would say such things but why so many liberals now call themselves socialists.

I fear that some so-called socialists are just incredibly childish. Some clearly think that socialism is some major break from reality. It’s a world where you get all the candy you want and transparent fairies dot the sky and life is a dream. I don’t know. I realize it doesn’t generally go that far but I’ve heard people say some pretty naive things that are only slightly less absurd than fairies.

But this brings up a broader point. Most people who claim to be socialists are really just old-fashion New Deal Democrats. And this very much includes Bernie Sanders.[1] Socialism means something. It’s something I believe in. And it’s not just Capitalism Lite.

Allies Not Comrades

That’s not to say that I don’t think these people are allies. I very much do. Their vision of the future is infinitely better than our present. At the same time, it’s annoying supposed socialists complain about Elizabeth Warren when she says she is “a capitalist to my bones.” Even if Bernie Sanders were pushing notably different policies (and he isn’t) it’s not like those policies have a chance in this country in the short-term.[2]

The truth is that if good old-fashioned New Deal liberalism is ever going to become dominant then people need to accept that some of us believe in actual socialism. The term shouldn’t be co-opted by people who are ultimately the opposite: capitalists.

America Needs a Real Left Wing

Understand this is not about purity. In fact, as I’ve noted there’s a very real practical issue here. Part of what’s going so very wrong in the United States is that the Overton window has contracted ridiculously and this has simply moved the country rightward.

In The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism, John Nichols noted that socialism used to be part of our national conversation. It became a boogeyman rather late in the Cold War.

Don’t Water Down Socialism

Now Liberals are trying to define it out of existence. And this may work to some extent in the short-term. But it doesn’t move us forward in the long term. Because then socialism just becomes this mushy word for an economic and political system that is not as bad as what the Republicans have on offer. And, at best, that means that roughly half of the time Republicans will be in charge. And that’s one step forward and two steps back — as it has been for the last 40 years.


[1] Based upon statements when he was younger, Sanders was a socialist. At this point, he’s an extremely successful politician on the national stage. He’s had to tone things down to get where he is. And I don’t hold that against him at all. As it is, he’s a lightning rod. His Medicare for All plan doesn’t explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t covered so the right-wing press is going crazy. Typical. But Sanders is not a socialist.

[2] I’ll admit: if Jeremy Corbyn were running here, he’d be my first choice. Because he would be a prominent advocate for actual socialism. I just don’t see Sanders as a socialist. Most Americans don’t know the difference between a democratic socialist and a social democrat. Well, it’s right there: Corbyn is a democratic socialist and Sanders is a social democrat. And it doesn’t matter what they call themselves.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Economics Doesn’t End Under Socialism

  1. I assume Warren is trying to thread a political needle here by push for a more interventionist economic policy while preempting accusations of being a radical. The woman is far too smart to be unaware of the various flavors of socialism that have been practiced throughout the world. Still, there’s also some aspect of acceding to political reality. For many Americans, “socialism” and “Stalinism” are still synonyms. Trying to argue that “that’s not what it means!” is not likely to work in the short term. Basically, you’re making a prescriptivist argument about what socialism should mean. Warren, as far as I can tell, is responding to the descriptivist definition that many people hold. In the same way, I’m told that “liberal” and “leftist” originally had very different meanings, but in America they’re pretty similar. Or how about “judicial activism,” “fiscal conservatism,” etc? It’s become more of a euphemism than an actual political philosophy. I’m glad that some people are pushing back on that, but I’m not sure how important that is in non-academic situations. If Warren saying “I’m not a socialist, but these are the policies I believe in” makes people more willing to accept market regulations and progressive taxation, then I think it’s worth it.

    • Yeah, I don’t care if she calls it “jupiterism” if that’s what it takes. Worth noting that she doesn’t have to win the nomination for her ideas to be important (although if the primary was today, she’d get my vote). Half the stuff Sanders was called radical for in 2016 are standard party positions, now.

      Governing from a “financial interests are too powerful to combat, we’ll just try to minimize the damage they do” perspective has been an unmitigated global disaster. Fascist-leaning governments are all over the world, now.

      The question is, do we have time left to change this before it all explodes in badness too awful to imagine? By moving towards a more equitable distribution of human needs? (Obviously, the money’s there.) I don’t know. We have to act as though there is. Either that, or stock up food in an underground New Zealand bunker and arm the thing with automated peasant-killing guns (which is something some rich people are actually doing).

      • I’ve wondered how serious she is about becoming president. Unlike Dave Rubin, she really is interested in ideas. But her pushing of impeachment makes me think maybe she is really trying to win.

        Is there time? No.

    • Actually, you are making the same point I was trying to make in this article. I really like her. She’s the only presidential candidate I’ve given to in this cycle and I’ve been planning to write a bunch of articles about her policies. It bugs me that some socialists (eg, Nathan Robinson) have had a problem with her calling herself a capitalist even though in the short and even medium term it doesn’t matter. (In Robinson’s defense, he recently penned a great article on various Warren proposals — but it was after I wrote this.)

      I’ve been dancing around an issue recently. It is that Sanders (who I really like) is no more a socialist than Warren. I don’t see Sanders calling himself a socialist as any part of the equation. I do prefer his position on international affairs. But on domestic economics — what I most care about — Warren has been great and should be encourage. The two together would be my dream ticket (well, reasonably possible dream). But it is very possible that Warren doesn’t want to be president or vice-president. Maybe she’s shooting for Majority Leader. That would be awesome.

      In general, I’m a grammar liberal. But when it comes to politics, I think we need to fight for words. By turning “socialism” into “the nice nordic countries that are mostly capitalist” we allow any discussion about moving past capitalism impossible. I do think it is important because this is how limits are placed on thoughts. But obviously, it isn’t as important as card check, for example.

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