Today, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders was asked to describe his view of socialism. Sanders stated “[t]o me, democratic socialism means democracy…”
“When you go to your public library, when you call your Fire Department or the Police Department . . .[t]hese are socialist institutions.”
I think sanders is right, these are all examples of socialism. And that is why we can look to the internal problems each one of these programs have as examples why socialism does not work.
Libraries are a great example of how many in the post-scarcity movement’s logic works. You have a supply of books that go above and beyond the average means of necessity. Some author/publisher produces what they think is a desired amount of copies of their book. When a book is highly valued, the publisher may decide to produce less and sell high, or may produce many copies and sell low, hoping that (whichever route they take) they will gain the most profit (this is sounding oddly like capitalism so far?).
Either way, public entities will purchase a set number of copies of the book and then allow people to borrow them for a set period of time for free. In the realm of actual production there are more than enough books to go around, but in the library world, the amount of books have artificially been restricted and when the supply is high one may wait many a months for the latest popular fiction (as 17 year old me will attest to from first hand experience). This is great for people that are so dirt poor, that they can not afford to buy a book brand new, and especially for children who don’t really have the option to work, so that they might save up for a book (isn’t that because of socialism as well? hmm…).
Actually, this sounds like a terrible idea. In an open market system, books become devalued over time, and thanks to re-selling and over valuation, one can find many books for less than a dollar! While there may be a limited audience and realm at which a library may serve a purpose (sort of like a free-market, pro-welfare state society), most people will suffer more from a library market than the free market (an aside, many public libraries will not have access to rare books and choose to forgo the purchase of text books for the latest romance novel, thus making the general library populous only be able to obtain folk or populous knowledge).
If I am being fair to Sander’s point, I think what he is trying to say, is that fire departments are a good model for how health-care should be ran. Everyone is opted in, everyone has access, everyone pays something, and no one seems to complain. I think this might be his strongest example.
Although, even some liberals will disagree that healthcare should be a mandated insurance based model. As Jonathan Haidt puts it “[o]nly a working market can bring supply, demand, and ingenuity together to provide health care at the lowest possible price.” Quoting heavily from an article by David Goldhill, Haidt points out that, while insurance works for some things (such as disaster relief), it can actually ruin services and products, giving us a sort of unmarked product effect. In fact, even fire fighting service seems to be a socialist idea that may work better in an open market.
The most ironic part about Sanders using this example is that the left (and the public as a whole) seem to be completely dissatisfied with the current police-state. The problem with public police is exactly the same problems with democratic socialism. If a private company makes a mistake, they pay for it with their wallets. If a public monopoly (the police are a monopoly), pay through the trust of the public. Which one is more likely to illicit change? This is sort of a no-brainer. Corporations act preemptively, they react to public stigma so they do not lose business. But in general, the government doesn’t do this. It takes much more to change a policy when the powers aren’t incentivized (a corporation doesn’t want to lose business, an NPO/NGO doesn’t want to lose funding), because what would they lose?
I agree with Bernie, he is right, more democracy in government is better for everyone. But by example, he points to socialism (and perhaps government in general) by showing three public entities themselves are examples of how socialism has failed, and would fail if it was applied elsewhere.
In closing, it must be remembered that democracy itself isn’t what the elite would have us to believe:
The masses favor socialism because they trust the socialist propaganda of the intellectuals. Those intellectuals, not the populace, are molding public opinion. – Ludwig Von Mises