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Playing the “Socialist Card” in a Mixed Economy

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As Bernie Sanders makes the shift from a populist insurgent to an arguable front-runner, we should expect to see the Socialist Card deployed with much greater frequency than ever before. By “Socialist Card,” I mean the argument that Sanders (who, after all describes himself as a “socialist”) represents the antithesis of everything that makes American great: capitalism, free-enterprise, the Constitution, and freedom itself—none of which is compatible with socialism, which is just another name for both communism and hating Jesus.

The Socialist Card turns a discussion of appropriate percentages into a forced choice between two incompatible values, and that's just silly.
Michael Austin
There is an element of truth to the Socialist Card. Socialism, in its purist form, is a bad economic system. It maps very poorly onto the essential selfishness of human nature, and therefore invariably requires state coercion in the form of a dictatorship and a secret police.This is why nobody really wants to live in the workers paradise of North Korea.

But capitalism in its purist form is a bad economic system too. It maps entirely too well onto the essential selfishness of human nature and invariably results in massive wealth inequalities, monopolies, plutocracy, and the worst sort of social Darwinism—which is why nobody really wants to live in the libertarian utopia of Somalia.

I’m not saying anything new here. In the modern world, pure economic systems—socialism or capitalism—can only be found in failed states. Everybody else has a mixed economy that combines some elements of capitalism with some elements of socialism to produce a society where people have the incentive to create wealth and the legal requirement to participate in the redistribution of wealth through taxation. This redistribution allows modern people to have things like roads, bridges, police protection, military protection, education, and, to some degree or another, health care.

Nobody seriously doubts this—we just spend a lot of time and energy arguing over percentages. If you look at the tax rate as a percentage of the GDP—a fairly good metric for measuring the amount of wealth that is redistributed at the federal or national level—you see that most modern democracies fall somewhere around 25% (Australia is at 25.8%) and 50% (Denmark actually has the highest redistribution rate at 49%). In other words, most stable societies redistribute somewhere between one-fourth and one-half their gross domestic products.

The United States falls pretty far on the low side of the equation, with a rate of 26.9%, right in between South Africa and Bolivia. The countries on the low end—Lybia (2.7), Angola (5.7), and Sudan (6.3) for example—do not tend to be shining cities on a hill. Conversely, few countries on the high end—The Netherlands (39.8), Norway (43.6), and Sweden (45.8)—could be described as uninhabitable hell holes. And both prosperous and impoverished countries can be found all along the spectrum.

And the spectrum of political possibility in American politics is much narrower than the 25-point spread that accounts for most modern democracies. Strong political pressures against either raising taxes or cutting services keep the overall redistribution rate in a pretty tight range. All the rest of us do is try to exercise a little bit of influence on the margins. If Bernie Sanders were granted a sympathetic Congress and a bag of socialist fairy dust, he might be able to raise the rate to 30% (about where it was during the Eisenhower administration). A Ted Cruz or Marcio Rubio landslide that came with a guarantee of four years of complete congressional cooperation might, under just the right circumstances, lower the rate to around 22%.

I do not mean to minimize the difference between a 22% and a 28% redistribution rate, since the difference involves many billions of dollars and has a real impact on people’s lives. But the Socialist Card turns a discussion of appropriate percentages into a forced choice between two incompatible values, and that’s just silly. We are not going to be asked in the next election to choose between “socialism” and “capitalism.” We made that choice long ago, and we chose neither. Like just about every country on earth, we chose a mixed economy—and all we really do from election to election is tinker a little bit with the mixture.

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424 comments
GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Myles Barrett, study up my friend. You appear to have directly contradicted yourself within your own reply?

Noah Harvey
Noah Harvey

I had a bad union experience when I worked for safeway. I will concede there is a wrong way to do unions. Over all I love them but I'm not blind to the complaints. It does have to do with REMOVING the leverage of workers locally. Right to work states are all doing pretty bad economically. But the bargain the unions made to survive in non right to work states is a marginal improvement compared to the thriving unions of the Nordic countries that completely rule out any kind of need for state intervention by being real cites of leverage that are genuinely run by the workers in their localities.

Fred Kesler
Fred Kesler

The rule of optimum freedom is the RULE OF LAW. Where there is no rule of the law the strong will always use their power to oppress the weak.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Copy & pasted that thought gem, thanks! .....lol.....

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

So on point.....many people on both "sides" of this will have no idea for what you are advocating. Well stated.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Ghost replies on this thread.....ooooo!.....spooky!

Jacques Wreeper
Jacques Wreeper

Let's make this easy, "forms of government" can vary between Authoritarian to Libertarian & every combination in between. "Economic policy" can float between Capitalism to Socialism & every mix in between. Form & policy commingle with each other into a "Ruling Philosophy". BS's "Democratic Socialism" is just a self-directed, more quasi-Libertarian form of Socialism.....nothing more, nothing less. He contradicts himself throughout his platform, because obviously.....the more Socialism you push for.....the less Liberty people maintain.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Who's Pete? Someone needs an economics lesson. America hasn't been a Capitalist economy since the 19th Century. We've been a mix just like any other viable economy. Democratic Socialism is not a far stretch from any other form of Socialism or even Communism for that matter. In fact, its' greatest strength, the Democracy jive, is also ironically its' biggest downside making it very unstable. Susceptible to far more corruption & influence than a more Centric or Mix economy. The point being that it can easily shift into the economic forms that you least desire.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Jared Hoeft, well.....lol.....as us economists like to say, "that depends, as compared to what?" I understand what you're saying.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Robin Feusner, here's the catch, maybe where you & I differ in opinions.....I care about people's jobs. Sure, the costs may be cheaper for me, & if I selfishly thought of only me, I'd just move to Canada. But, I care about the economics, & I really can't explain why I'm passionate in that way. I just believe that fundamentally if people feel safe & secure, then all else works itself out. I mean, you do realize how many of Bernie Sanders' economic policies juxtapose each other right? For example, "Medicare for All" & a "$15 Minimum Wage", how does that play out exactly in the healthcare industry?

Robin Feusner
Robin Feusner

Medicare for all will be funded by every working adult AZ had this Medicaid program years ago it worked till the for profit made it go bankrupt. How it worked is every one pays into the account through their income taxes everyone pays about 30.00 per pay check. it is based on income those making over 20,000 were moved to a sliding fee scale but everything is covered 100% the copays were based on income We can do the same thing with Medicare for all everyone pay 30.00 per month 100% coverage no high deductions no high co pays. it is far cheaper then what everyone is paying now. it would save tens of millions of dollars in every state. every home would save 100.00s

Jared Hoeft
Jared Hoeft

Yeah they are, but none of his stances involve dismantling capitalism and replacing it with a wholly socialistic system.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

I believe that you're confused. Almost all modern economies are a mix of Capitalism & Socialism.....the few exceptions only prove the rule. Bernie's brand of Democratic Socialism aims to be very Socialist as the end game. Sanders plan promoted both Corporate Socialism & Institutional Socialism expansion in the U.S. economy.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Hillary is a Progressive-Statist Democrat (in the sense that she works the Crony Capitalism tip). Bernie has his own version of Democratic Socialism that is very, very Socialist. But neither one oppose Capitalism per se, it's just not a priority on either of their platforms. Come on man, keep it real, Bernie's 12 points are all highly, highly Socialist.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

There's an ongoing economic debate going on amongst too many non-economists. These statements may hold true: Capitalism without Socialism = Anarchism Capitalism with too much Socialism = Syndicalism Socialism without Capitalism = Communism Socialism with too much Capitalism = Fascism The Capitalism-Socialism Spectrum involves many conceptual models, but the bottom line is who controls production, how, & how much, either by established entity(s) or law(s). Socialism can be modeled in a private corporation or public institution.....rarely ever a perfect balance at any point in time, it's all relative.....a never-ending "that depends, compared to what?" Q&A.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Robin Feusner, you & I are on the same page, your just standing firmly by Sanders' plan. I've written published journal articles on the pros of the minimum wage, so I know the ins & outs. But, why not exempt the smaller businesses? There is legal precedence.....refer to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as just one example of many. Plus, I would remove all Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) exemptions that effect people & protect corporations.....thus providing more expendable income & injecting more money.....i.e. accelerating cash flows into the economy. As far as healthcare, again your list I agree with for the most part, but a single-payer AKA medicare-type approach is not the only way to accomplish those goals. Please don't be brain-washed by Bernie.....he's a great idealist, but not such a great economist.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Brian Young, I'm sincerely curious as to how you see CRA funds as a problem?

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

WOW, wild thread, I would say "pure capitalism" as in laissez faire or free markets .....AKA free enterprise is very rare & only found under very unique circumstances. This might be a very abstract point of contention, but I would say that by producing for consumers or customers in & of itself establishes a social or public control on your operations. So, did anyone here work in the the housing finance markets, or are we all just shootin' shoot? .....lol..... Raise your hands: \U0001f590\U0001f3fd It's kinda' "which came first?" But, I'm leaning toward intrusive as in unnecessary government intervention causing the housing market crash. Just think it through all the way, who loosened reqs to open up a subprime market for lower income folks but also had oversight on the packaged/insured derivatives end? That's right.....that dirty old basterd Socialist Uncle Sam!

Robin Feusner
Robin Feusner

I grew up as a small business owner my parents had a small business they never hired help they had us kids. But I had my own business under the Clintons. So I do know and understand how small businesses work. We can raise the wages up to 15.00 just not very fast. As people gain the cash to spend they will spend it creates the atmosphere needed to increase profits that allow for higher incomes. the mom and pop retail will come back. Especially in Rural America where low wages have squeezed out the small mom and pop retail low wages have done more harm to America then anything. It has caused budgets so tight it has squeezed out any extra spending. We do need to raise the wages to 15.00 just not as fast as it can in the metro. it takes time to get the cash flow to spread to rural areas. once every one is getting a living wage things will balance out. under Clinton things were beginning to balance out but it needed more time. 2000 and the mass hysteria and crash of the computer IND didn't help. but people had money and they were spending. it just needed another 10 years to get spread out

Robin Feusner
Robin Feusner

GW. The single payer is the only way to deal with this mess We do need to go after the for Profit medical system. The whole medical system is collaborative to make it profited. The AMA controls the number of MDs working they control the costs and fees. The Ins Ind collaborate with them to make the whole system for profit. We need to change their tax codes to Nonprofit it us the only way to make the whole system work at reasonable prices costs and expenses. Changing the tax codes on Pharma as well is the only way to get the whole medical system more livable for all of us. we cant put price controls on them but by changing the tax codes it takes the greedy policies out of the formula. This is how the medical system is managed in all other countries. We are the Only country with a for profit healthcare system.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Robin Feusner, I agree, I just believe that there are better ways to accomplish that for all concerned. I'll use healthcare, because it's simple.....you don't turn it into a Socialist institution that then erodes exactly what you're trying to accomplish. By: 1). Crowding out quality healthcare services; 2). Collapsing the industry by killing jobs & service-providers. Plus the greater economic impacts on the healthcare insurance markets & pharmaceuticals.....which I understand we all dislike, but they employ many, many hundreds of thousands of people to just ignore & write-off those markets.

Robin Feusner
Robin Feusner

The Government does have a responsibility of looking out for those who cant look out for themselves. Free education only advances their opportunity to a job skill. Free healthcare should be a human right. everyone deserves access to healthcare regardless of income. The Government does have a responsibility looking out for those who cant put two and two together. The Low IQ of this country are the ones being taken advantage of and abused. We all have a duty and responsibility looking out for them

Jayse Wyatt
Jayse Wyatt

Capitalism in its truest form is free market capitalism and is vastly superior for economics and for our freedoms.

Byron Watkins
Byron Watkins

Josh Leonard,that's all you took away from that? I am not impressed by attention span... 1) I specifically included police as my second example. 2) You obviously have not been in New York City's Central Park at night since nothing except possibly your brain is dead. 3) Just because a pulic police force is the best we can do don't mean it's always good; just consider the racial profiling and outright crime that officers get caught at from time to time. This post has NOTHING specific about pollution control, but I consider that some of the evil among us, which WAS mentioned. As for the public schools, I think your education makes my point for me.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Maybe you shouldn't oppose, but argue to find the middle ground? I'm multi-generational union myself. I feel the real problem is letting things get "too big" AKA "national" or "federal". Even Unions have lost touch & become way too corrupt or perceived as corrupt. Time to bring'em back down to a focused, local level, & rebrand for the people.

Noah Harvey
Noah Harvey

I'm going by about 10 + years of arguing with libertarians, an-caps, Ayn Rand Objectivists etc; The 'free market' milieu of the economic right. Maybe this is specifically from the 'objectivist' slant, but often when you ask people proposing capitalism as the best system point to a time in American history where unbridled capitalism lead to rapid industrialization of America. Objectivists tend to think that the Entrepreneurs themselves would have fixed every problem with bad work conditions, long hours, sweat shops, child labor etc.... because the inexorable laws of the market will lift up the poor and raise the standard of living universally for our civilization. And the claim here is that because child labor laws and labor unions and compensation for work injuries started being introduced as the public reacted to the extreme inequality, that the standard of living didn't climb as fast and as high for everyone due to the intervention of the state in markets. As a person who is ONLY alive because of union activity, I have a different angle in history from which to evaluate such claims. I know how hard labor regulations were fought against,, and fought for. This isn't just American society though, the aristocracy of Europe had encountered a similar reaction in its populace in the past. The analysis of which gave birth to 'marxism.' I'm not a marxist per se, you can look at what Marx advocated we DO about class war. I'm not interested in his remedies. There is validation to his idea of a struggle between owner class and worker class; and I see that struggle continue in countries that are newly being industrialized and where children are dying in sweat shops.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Hint: The closest thing to "pure capitalism" I can think of is my settling on land, harvesting food, & consuming. My overproduction is traded to the local general store for more seeds. Repeat. Of course, it's a fine line to walk, which is why I'm giving you a hard time.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Noah Harvey, Ok, well remember, you asked for it. I was giving you an out.....lol....."ad hominem" like your jumbled bunch of nonsense against some imaginary "people"? Who's proposing "pure capitalism" & what is that anyway? Protection from what? Who is this "they" or "people of their ideology"? Are you speaking for a populace or yourself? I'm not sure what socialist tendencies are? I will agree that excessive capitalism is highly socialistic.....that concept has many names. Now, I'm not doing the work for you, unless you give me something to agree or rebut. Let me read through these posts.

Noah Harvey
Noah Harvey

GW, until you point out a specific criticism and elucidate what the confusion is, you basically are doing nothing more than what amounts to an adhominem

Jeb Patterson
Jeb Patterson

Josh, you really believe all that is going to be funded by taxing the wealthy? He, Bernie himself said that isn't possible. He said we will all have to chip in a little more. Here is the problem with Bernie and his socialism. The less money the American consumer makes, then less we consume which our economy depends on. When production falters so do jobs and furthers government dependency. Just because you raise min wage doesn't mean life will suddenly be easier, you would also have to make it illegal for businesses to raise their prices in an effort to offset the losses. Businesses aren't just going to accept paying more and cutting into their profit margin, they are going to raise prices to get back to where they were and you are back to square one with low income families. You can't reverse climate change, it has been going on long before the industrial revolution you can only create cleaner emmisions to better the air quality but that isn't the governments responsibility, it is our s as consumers. Our money dictates the market, if people became better consumers we would all be eating organic with Bio degradable material but unfortunately we aren't so we go for the cheap stuff that causes a strain on the environment. Once again, government cannot be responsible for everything, we have to accept some of it too. Equal pay also has background that many don't consider and that is women take more time off work. Now starting pay, without a doubt should be the same but is it fair that a women is off work for 10 to 12 months because she decided to birth a child and come back to make as much as a man did who was still at the job working? We need to be more rational with our thinking. Community college is affordable and in a lot of cases free because of local taxes but not many people utilize this because it isn't as sexy as going to a university where the government offers ridicules loans that can't be paid forcing the tuition to go up to recover lost funds. Get where I am going yet? Nearly all the problems we have are government induced. Federal government is not an answer. You want to get the corrupt wealthy out of office, vote. It starts at the local levels on up. You can't just show up every four years to vote on a president and hope it all works out. Our Congress has a low approval rating but we continually vote them in. The same people that protect the wealthy and give them subsidies. Get out and vote and become active, it is the only way to restore America.

Hank Purnell
Hank Purnell

Unfortunately We no longer "own" the gov. Other interests do. Just because we pay taxes , that doesn't make us "socialist" Even if some of our programs could be considered so. If one thinks we are truly a democratic nation that would be a huge error in judgment.

Josh Leonard
Josh Leonard

GW Wilson Bernie isn't that different than FDR, who was elected 4 times, saved the Country from the previous Bankster crash and created the middle class that has since been gutted by "free trade" deals and trickle down and rampant Corporate Welfare. Here are Bernie's 12 Steps. These are issues that the American Public and Bernie Sanders both care about. These are measures that the public approves, on average, by over 55%: 1. Rebuild our crumbling infrastructure 2. Reverse climate change 3. Create worker co-ops 4. Grow the trade union movement 5. Raise the minimum wage to a $15 living wage 6. Pay equity for women 7. Trade policies that benefit American workers 8. Make public universities tuition-free (paid-for by enacting a financial transaction tax on Wall Street trades), and lower interest rates on current federal student loans 9. Break up the big banks 10. Medicare for all 11. Expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and nutrition programs 12. Crack down on offshore tax havens, return to a progressive tax code, and eliminate corporate tax loopholes

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Noah Harvey, you are confused, but I understand that you probably have limited experience in these fields. That is not an insult, just a reality.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Why is everyone here so obsessed with Hitler? Fact: His economics were perfect for Germany at that time. His policies are tough to label, because they evolved so quickly, which is what made them great - flexibility & rallying people, playing human nature, gaming the energy, and building off of the confidence. I am not speaking to his brutality. War mongering. or the Fascist economics that identified the Jews as the wealthiest 1% to blame & pursue.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

ED Morrow, about the dumbest comment in this chain, what if I was to say that Bernie Sanders & Donald Trump are so opposed that they are actually very close? I'll let you stew on that one.....lol.....

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Jeb Patterson, just want to emphasis, in case people missed your great points, Socialism rigs the market, in other words, demand increases, because people have insurance & begin to go into the doctor or ER for even mild ailments or injuries, limitless moral hazard. On the flip side, healthcare workers make much less in a pressured & constrained labor market.....government keeps wages low for essential & trained professionals like doctors, nurses, techs, etc. (similar to public school teachers). This can be come an economic bubble or "Bermuda's Trianle", because the higher work loads from an increased number of parients, make the job more stressful, but it's paying the same (due to lagging contracts) or much less for new healthcare employees. So the outcome becomes overcrowded doctor offices & hospitals, as well as, not as many medical practitioners (which would usually force wages back up), but in a failing Socialist healthcare industry, it only collapses the market & pops the bubble. We've seen this before.....i.e. the housing market. You people really don't just blame the big banks do you? It was the government intervening with loose regulations to allow for low-income people to afford to become homeowners. AKA Socialism. How did that work out for us? Word.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Derek Bouchard, you have just made the best case study that these fringe economics policies face. If I may define the primary fringe areas as (Anarcho-Capitalism, Communism, Corporatism, Crony Capitalism, Democratic Socialism, Fascism, National Socialism & Totalitarianism).....all are very unstable, like trying to stay grounded while floating in the Earth's atmosphere (impossible), so they very easily float around & overlap unless tethered by an Authoritarian who declares which policy will hold at what time & which will not be tolerated. So, is that the direction we want to go in with America, knowing what you all know about power & absolute power & corruption? Those of you who think majority rule democracy is great, what happens when you are not in the majority? That's not how we do things here, yes, we take care of all through our Republic of laws.....just think it through a little more.

Jay Hochstedt
Jay Hochstedt

The reduction of human society to its economic interests is the product of the Birmingham school, and ultimately political parties devoted themselves to the idea that economic - class interests are the be-all - end-all of politics. Fascism was an attempt to oppose the materialism of economics by a false spiritualization of the nations where it appeared. Capitalism is the parent, socialism the offspring, but both destroy home and homeland, leaving man both a spiritual vagabond and ultimately a genderless soulless animal without true political options.

Peggy Hale
Peggy Hale

I don't know of any socialist country that can be considered a success for its citizens. The citizens are the ones that suffer under communism/socialism. There is the upper class who live like kings, then the rest or poor people who have nothing but what the government doles out to them. They stand in line to get a loaf of bread. I take our republic any day before that! We are the greatest country that has ever existed and yet there is an agenda to destroy us.

Troy Kempton
Troy Kempton

Nobody is advocating for socialism, they are advocating for democratic socialism as part of the system which is a day and night difference. Why are people so bipolar on this. This countries greatest growth in the middle class was because one we buttressed our economy against it weakest links with social contracts and two we regulated the financial industry so that opportunity within it was evenly distributed to any in the game - it's the regulation that created the safe place where greed wouldn't take advantage of the meek. This was you 30's to the 70's where before huge economic pitfalls set out country back because our countrymen were set back. These pitfalls have returned as regulation has been gutted and the greedy have a huge advantage in the investment market that the laymen don't.

GW Wilson
GW Wilson

Ronin Feusner, I hate when this message is spread. I would much rather have Bernie Sanders' movement pull him toward greater Libertarianism & Capitalism than make this "straw man" stance that Democratic Socialism is much different than any other form of Socialism. Example: Bernie wishes to expand Institutionalized Socialism, let's say Single-Payer Universal Healthcare. The Working Class Americans will be funding this system by payroll deductions. Small Business Owners will also be funding by matching those payroll deductions. If either refuses to pay, what will happen? Sanders may be your hero, he seems like a perfect leader. Different than what we have ever had.....but his economic policy beliefs are absurd. If he really represented the masses & was willing to truly move in the direction of Liberty & Free Enterprise that was socially conscious or held to some level of social responsibility, then I could dig that shift. BUT, that mild Socialism via limited regulations is far from what he's pushing; he IS pulling for Institutionalized Socialism.....along the slippery slope of Communism. Oh, & don't get me wrong, he could dismantle all the massive Socialist Corporations or Big Banks.....he just needs to exempt the Local, Organically-Grown Small Businesses in the process.

Bill Barry
Bill Barry

Yes Bernie isa democratic socialist and wants to model the US like some of the Scandinavian countrys.and those very tiny country have the highest taxes in the world, the largest unemployment in the world. And that is what Bernie wants for the US.do you????

Jeb Patterson
Jeb Patterson

Kerrie, again, those aren't functions of the Federal government. Please take the time to learn the different branches and levels and what they are responsible for.

Carol Schrum
Carol Schrum

If capitalism was buffered by being democratic it would not be ruining our lives. The difference between oligarchy and democracy should be the argument we have. Currently democracy is s sham.

Donna Davis
Donna Davis

And who/what provides the wealth to the country?

Mark Gunder
Mark Gunder

Any form of government will fail if greed is involved.