Corey Robin, a professor of political science, wrote an introduction to modern socialism for the New York Times in August 2018. Socialism is a notoriously difficult term to define, typically used to define a larger desire towards social justice rather than a hard-and-fast collection of political platforms. However, Robin believes socialism is, above all, a movement toward "freedom"—freedom from economic struggle and subjugation.
The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree. When my well-being depends upon your whim, when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom but in domination. Socialists want to end that domination: to establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale, from the obligation to sell for the sake of survival.
...And of course, there’s overlap between what liberals and socialists call for. But even if liberals come to support single-payer health care, free college, more unions and higher wages, the divide between the two will remain. For liberals, these are policies to alleviate economic misery. For socialists, these are measures of emancipation, liberating men and women from the tyranny of the market and autocracy at work. Back in the 1930s, it was said that liberalism was freedom plus groceries. The socialist, by contrast, believes that making things free makes people free.
In more practical terms, many socialists want to limit the amount of power that money, and those who possess it, have over the way the country is run. The New York Times interviewed several socialist activists working on the local level in the spring of 2018.
“We want to see money stop controlling everything. That includes politics,” said Amy Zachmeyer, 34, a union organizer who helped revive the moribund Houston chapter. “That just resonates with millennials who are making less money than their parents did, are less able to buy a home and drowning in student debt.”
Across the country, socialists are focusing on hyperlocal issues. In Cincinnati, activists helped save the wing of a public library from privatization. In Austin, they pushed to pass what has been called the first mandatory paid sick leave requirement in the South.
Politico similarly surveyed leaders within the socialist movement about how they saw socialism affecting America in the future. David Duhalde, senior electoral manager for a socialist non-profit, believes socialism would allow workers to have more control over the businesses they are employed by, and thereby more control over their own lives.
Establishing democratic socialism means democratizing ownership of capital, our jobs and our personal lives. Socialists believe that if you work somewhere, you should have a say it in how it’s run. Through unions, worker councils and elected boards, this is possible at the company level today. Furthermore, if your labor generates profit, under socialism you would have an ownership stake and a democratic say in how your workplace is run. Co-ops and public enterprises like Mandragon in the Basque country, Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi and Red Emma’s in Baltimore give us a partial glimpse into what such ownership could look like. This type of democratized economy would grant autonomy to historically neglected communities, and it would be the foundation of any socialist United States.
Most conservatives remain firmly opposed to socialism. Conservative thinker George Will wrote in the National Review that socialism is far less a structured movement with actionable plans than a vague desire for "fairness."
After many subsequent dilutions, today’s watery conceptions of socialism amount to this: Almost everyone will be nice to almost everyone, using money taken from a few. This means having government distribute, according to its conception of equity, the wealth produced by capitalism. This conception is shaped by muscular factions: the elderly, government employees unions, the steel industry, the sugar growers, and so on and on and on. Some wealth is distributed to the poor; most goes to the “neglected” middle class.
Noah Smith, an assistant professor of finance, wrote in a piece for the Chicago Tribune that modern socialism misses several important points about the modern capitalist market. Smith believes certain markets, specifically housing and education, would suffer without the competition and revenue naturally created by capitalism.
On housing, however, there is the ominous possibility that the socialist approach might not be a healthy one. Ocasio-Cortez’s platform includes negative references to “luxury real estate developers” — a pejorative phrase that has been used in the San Francisco Bay Area to refer to any market-rate housing development. Cities need market-rate housing to prevent high-income workers from displacing low-income residents; let’s hope socialists will realize that this aspect of capitalism is a desirable one.
...Ocasio-Cortez also supports free public college for all. This, unfortunately, is a misguided policy idea. Because rich Americans tend to pay much more for college than poor ones, and tend to have major advantages in terms of getting admitted to expensive colleges in the first place, free college could easily end up subsidizing those with higher incomes. Meanwhile, there’s the question of implementation — federal tuition subsidies would cause universities to simply jack up prices, as they did in response to subsidized student loans. And price caps would hurt university budgets, causing quality to go down.
Ed Rogers, a Republican political consultant, wrote in the Washington Post that ignoring socialism's ties to communism and its deadly history is a mistake.
Rather than there be a wholesale capitulation to the shallow-minded embrace of socialism, I hope at least a few Democrats will have the courage to teach millennials and others the history of socialism’s debilitating, murderous past and the historic human advancement that has been produced by a free market. Remember, socialism is just a kinder, gentler version of communism. Democrats should think twice before they abandon capitalism.