How Democratic Socialism Is Different from Liberal Capitalism

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance it is because you follow me on twitter, and thus you are probably familiar with how spicy I can get on Twitter.

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It’s part of the appeal of twitter: powerful people want to use the platform to get out their message but cannot avoid getting criticized (though that is quickly falling away). Generally I feel pretty justified in going after the people go after and being a bit sharp since they are generally exceedingly comfortable and privileged people who need a bit of jostling. Which is good because this is probably going to eventually be something I’ll need to explain to some NY Bar ethics committee.

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But every once in awhile I regret being a troll rather than earnest. The most recent such time was the following exchange:

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First off anyone who says “read a book” as an insult is an asshole. Of course Charlotte has read books (I’m guessing all the Harry Potter books for starters), what I’m really saying is “read the books that I’ve read,” which is a dumb thing to say if you don’t then specify which books to read!

To be clear, this isn’t an apology to Charlotte. I wouldn’t say Charlotte is a bad person necessarily, just that she is a Warren supporter with a very specific agenda of trying to corral Bernie supporters to her candidate. I obviously can’t know whether she is sincere or not with this post, but even if she is, her goal is still to blur the political distinctions between Bernie and Warren in order to make the question about whether you’re supporting the woman in the race as opposed to the person with the best platform.

The reason why I regret my response is that Twitter is a public platform and there are plenty followers of both me and Charlotte who don’t understand the difference between democratic socialism and liberal capitalism, and me saying “Read a book” is very insulting to an understandable lack of knowledge about something that is not taught in school and which the media has systemically misinformed the public about. So without further bloviating on my part, here’s the difference between democratic socialism and liberal capitalism.

Democratic socialism is the political belief that the economy should be run democratically as a matter of justice since the majority of people, working class people, are the ones who are most responsible for creating the value in our society. While there are different ways this can be accomplished, from nationalizing certain industries to having worker cooperatives, the common belief is that decisions about how the economy is coordinated and directed should be decided democratically. What goods and services are produced in society should not be based on whether a profit can be made off of them but instead on social need (the “social” in socialism) mitigated only by resource constraints (including increasingly environmental sustainability). To achieve this kind of socio-economic system, democratic socialists believe in encouraging class war both by taking over the government so that it will be by and for working class people and by taking more control of private companies by organized labor actions, boycotts, and civil disobedience.

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Liberal capitalism is the political belief that the economy should be run by investors and owners as a matter of justice since they “risk” their money providing investments in companies. Unlike its more extreme cousins though, liberal capitalism recognizes that this dynamic creates inequality, but unlike democratic socialism it believes that inequality can and should be addressed by “market friendly” regulation rather than systemic reform (despite her messaging to the contrary, very little of what Warren advocates for would be “systemic” reform). The liberal capitalist believes that most goods and services produced in society based on whether a profit can be made off of them reflects the will of the people, and so-called “market failures” (social needs not being met) can be ameliorated by again “market friendly” regulation like the Affordable Care Act. To achieve this kind of socio-economic system, liberal capitalists believe in discouraging class war both by a government of experts and professionals addressing “market failures” in ways that do not cause too much disruption to corporations turning a profit, and by seeking “industrial peace” by trying to balance the concerns of organized labor and capitalists through models of “business unionism” that see the interests of the capitalists and workers as overlapping rather than opposed.

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Now here comes the most important part: so what? Well, that is going to vary from person to person, but here’s why I think it matters.

I am an atheist: I do not believe in God or gods, and further I believe morality is human-born and relative. There is no divine or universal purpose to our lives, much less a direction we should by universal law follow.

As such, my morality is based on a fairly basic principal: in my short time on this earth, I want to have the best possible life and I want others to have the best possible life, both because I’m a social being who wants interaction and love and because I know my best life is only possible through the work of others as well as my own work.

Our current capitalist system does not provide the best possible life to me or anyone else outside the top 1% of people. I have personally watched countless liberal reforms like the Affordable Care Act modestly improve some lives while still leaving the abominable amount of inequality intact. I have studied history and seen that history is not an inevitable progression to a better world under this system, as we have come full circle from Jim Crow apartheid to integration and then back to de facto segregation in our schools and racist mass incarceration. The current system’s prioritization of profit has put us on track towards climate catastrophe that could likely end human civilization as we know it, and even now that this is widely known our government is doing even less to stop it than before, and the liberals who claim to care are cowards who refuse to back plans ambitious enough to deter the climate catastrophe.

Caring is great. Wanting, as Charlotte said, no one to be left behind in our economy is a good desire. But it isn’t enough. Because centuries of liberalism similar to what Warren and the other candidates support has failed to prevent the vast majority of people from being left behind. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re one of the people who has been left behind. So ask yourself — is it good enough to want no one left behind but to resign to capitalism, or is it time to try something new and fight for democratic socialism?

Written by

Feminist socialist writer fighting for econ justice. Views do not represent my firm, DSA, or my cats, who are sadly both ultra leftists.

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