Social Democracy and the Democratic Party

It would be helpful for Democrats to be more careful with their language. None of what they are advocating in terms of policy is what one would define as democratic socialism. Even Bernie Sanders, though he refers to himself as a democratic socialist, is arguing for policies that resemble the social democratic systems of the Nordic countries, and this does not include the social ownership of the means of production that socialism entails.

What Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are really arguing for is a social democratic philosophy of government and economics. In such a system, government provides services that are essential to equality of opportunity for all persons and fair and equitable access to the core necessities of life regardless of one’s income. This entails strong public K-12 education and access to strong college and vocational education for all. It also entails universal healthcare and social programs for the elderly and most vulnerable in our society.

Such a social democratic system also uses progressive taxation to support social programs and infrastructure for human and ecological flourishing. In social democratic systems there is less income inequality and greater equality of opportunity. This does not mean that government owns everything or operates everything. It does mean that the government maintains systems and regulations to maintain fairness, justice, health, safety, workers’ rights, and ecological sustainability – all of which are essential for the flourishing of persons-in-community.

None of this is remotely close to the totalitarian socialism of the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. It is very close to the social democracies of Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, which by all measurements are the happiest, healthiest, most participatory, and least corrupt countries in the world. These countries are the success story of social democracy, and this system has proven to be the best way to organize our societies for the well-being of both people and the planet. Democrats would do well to be clear about this distinction in their language as they articulate their vision for our country.

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