A Fourth of July post

“Capitalism is the problem. Socialism is the solution.”

Almost two decades ago, near the campus of a private university in the US South, I saw this bumper sticker on a car that belonged, in all likelihood, to a fellow graduate student. Having witnessed and, to some degree, experienced the failure of an overlong socialist experiment, I couldn’t be expected to join in the young scholar’s unreasoned enthusiasm. I laughed, as one laughs at something obviously silly but also childish, hence innocuous. Yet I couldn’t be expected to try and convert him, either: to argue a point you feel should be self-evident is to risk acting silly. You may soon find yourself in a fit of uncontrollable rage at the opponent’s apparent thick-headedness – a display of weakness that would leave an embarrassing trace to linger on for years.

“Innocuous,” I said: less than a decade after 1991, it seemed virtually impossible that a large number of Americans would ever consider democratic socialism as a remotely plausible option for the US. Nationalizing the economy while expanding civil liberties seemed a bizarre, unnatural idea: a Soviet-block country with free speech and humane prisons? Then came Chavism(o)…

Fast forward to 2018. The Democratic Socialists of America is still a fringe movement but its membership is growing fast. Some of its goals are noble and would have my complete support – affordable health care and education, a humanized prison system, and an end to mass incarceration. The entirety of their objectives, however, would require a massive redistribution of wealth and unprecedented regulation of the economy. A Chavist regime in the US is still a rather remote possibility but the DSA could bring it closer by focusing on a single policy goal.

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