Nathan Benefield: How to deliver what ‘socialists’ want
Socialism has hit the mainstream — or so we’ve been told. Yes, democratic socialists are winning elections, including recent Pennsylvania victories in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and Bernie Sanders is again a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But does this mean Americans’ political views have U-turned from free-market capitalism?
That’s a worrisome question for those who recall the Soviet Union and have witnessed tragedies in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, where real socialism has been tried.
Thankfully, few Americans want true socialism. A March NBC/WSJ poll found that only 20 percent of Americans view socialism favorably. Even among millennials, just 32 percent prefer a government-run economy.
Socialism is only “going viral” because it’s an easy sell. Promising free stuff without saying how to pay for it is a time-honored political tradition regardless of political ideology.
But then come the details!
The Green New Deal proposal was met with more ridicule than support.
Many mouthing support for socialism are unhappy with the status quo, but they still overwhelmingly favor free markets. And they’re right to. Free-market policies are the best means to accomplish the goals democratic socialists claim to espouse, especially in these four areas:
1. Shared prosperity. Socialists attack inequality by taxing the rich, but that doesn’t help the poor. Socialist economies create income equality only by ensuring everyone is poor.
In contrast, free-market policies — including free trade, property rights, rule of law, and economic freedom — deliver prosperity for all. They’ve dramatically reduced poverty across the globe and raised living standards in developing nations.
2. Career opportunity. If socialists are worried that the wealthy have more opportunity for success than the poor, they should back educational choice.
Giving low-income families more schooling options allows their children to compete with higher-income families for educational achievement, top colleges and well-paying jobs. Educational opportunity increases students’ academic performances, improves public schools and saves taxpayer funds. The rich have always had school choice; free markets make it accessible to everyone.
3. Corporate cronyism. Socialists rightly rail against corporate cronyism. But handing out public money to big business, called “corporate welfare,” is the antithesis of free markets.
In Pennsylvania, politicians shell out $850 million per year to lure businesses to the state. Meanwhile, they ignore our state’s onerous business taxes and regulations. If they created a better climate for all businesses, they wouldn’t have to offer $6 billion bribes to companies like Amazon.
Politicians picking winners and losers won’t create jobs or grow the economy — and that’s why we should limit, not grow, the power of government.
4. Lowering poverty. The best way to lift people out of poverty isn’t by expanding welfare programs, as socialists propose, but by encouraging family-sustaining employment in a free market economy.
Welfare programs that redistribute money create dependence on government and a cycle of poverty. Instead, employment offers a pathway to prosperity. Requiring those on government assistance to take steps toward independence increases their lifetime earnings by as much as $1 million. Likewise, criminal justice reforms can promote transitions into the workforce, and eliminating barriers to employment like occupational licensing would increase economic mobility.
Socialism may be an easy sell in a campaign speech, but support evaporates when voters see the details and the power of free-market solutions. We all want an economy that delivers more for everyone — but freedom, not government control, is the way forward.
Nathan Benefield is vice president and chief operating officer of the Commonwealth Foundation.