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.

About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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