One of the aspects of our (debased) public discourse that absolutely drives me nuts is the misuse of language–words used not to convey meaning, not to communicate, but to demean and dismiss.
For quite a while, “liberal” was the epithet of choice, mostly courtesy of Rush Limbaugh and his clones. These days, mostly thanks to Bernie Sanders, it’s “socialist.” It would be annoying enough if the people who use the term as a sneer actually knew what it meant, but it is abundantly clear that they don’t.
In virtually every modern, democratic country, economies are mixed, meaning that markets supply many, if not most, of the goods and services needed/wanted by the people who live there, while many others are socialized–that is, provided communally through government. Experience has demonstrated that it makes sense to socialize the provision of services like police and fire protection, streets and highways, education and garbage collection, and to meet social needs through programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Some countries socialize larger elements of their economies than we do, but that doesn’t make them communist hellholes. Unless, of course, you are a Fox News”reporter.”
As Paul Krugman responded,
Last weekend, Trish Regan, a Fox Business host, created a bit of an international incident by describing Denmark as an example of the horrors of socialism, right along with Venezuela. Denmark’s finance minister suggested that she visit his country and learn some facts.
Indeed, Regan couldn’t have picked a worse example — or, from the point of view of U.S. progressives, a better one.
Denmark has undeniably made different decisions than we have about the size of government and the proper economic “mix.”
American politics has been dominated by a crusade against big government; Denmark has embraced an expansive government role, with public spending more than half of G.D.P. American politicians fear talk about redistribution of income from the rich to the less well-off; Denmark engages in such redistribution on a scale unimaginable here. American policy has been increasingly hostile to organized labor, and unions have virtually disappeared from the private sector; two-thirds of Danish workers are unionized.
So–how are these soul-less denizens of an all-powerful state surviving?
Danes are more likely to have jobs than Americans, and in many cases they earn substantially more. Overall G.D.P. per capita in Denmark is a bit lower than in America, but that’s basically because the Danes take more vacations. Income inequality is much lower, and life expectancy is higher.
The simple fact is that life is better for most Danes than it is for their U.S. counterparts. There’s a reason Denmark consistently ranks well ahead of America in measures of happiness and life satisfaction.
Denmark’s economy is best described as social-democratic. It’s basically a market economy, but one in which–as Krugman puts it– “the downsides of capitalism are mitigated by government action, including a very strong social safety net.”
Americans, as we know, don’t do nuance. (In the age of Trump, we don’t do much civility, either.) We prefer flinging insults to having discussions, and either/or formulations and bumper-sticker put-downs to thoughtful consideration of calibrated solutions to our problems.
Our choice isn’t between capitalism (which, in the U.S. has devolved into corporatism) and an all-encompassing socialism (as if that were even possible.) In a country populated by rational people, we would examine aspects of our current economy and consider whether they are working properly, or whether it might be cost-effective to “socialize” them. (That is what the debate about single-payer health insurance is all about.)
Before we can make sound policy decisions, however, we need to employ the English language for its intended purpose: to describe reality and thus serve as the basis for actual communication.