What is Democratic Socialism?

(posted 7/24/2020) - I had a short exchange on FB (using my wife's account which is probably not a good idea) about what it means to use the term Free (Democratic) Socialism. I learned something I should already have known -- that the current Miriam-Webster definition of Socialism is much harsher and encompassing than I'd thought.

To wit: Noun - a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

I had assumed the word would have a more nuanced definition reflecting degrees of socialism (for example the UK's National Health Service where the government employs medical staff and provides a set of services to its citizens). Other examples of government ownership of resource segments are public education and public employee pensions, and Social Security pensions.

Now I understand why a very significant portion of US citizens are fearful of the word. They envision advocates for Democratic Socialism as having the ultimate goal of moving our society towards state / federal ownership of all means of production; basically squeezing out private ownership and associated markets. They assume that said government will ultimately remove personal ownership and take control of citizens' personal lives and aspirations. This should be frightening to any person.

But a prime counter-example is the UK National Health Service (NHS) which owns the means of production to basic health services to all citizens. Doctors and nurses are free to also sell their services on the open market but it is a totally separate activity to their contract with NHS. Is this socialism or just a decision to take healthcare out of the for-profit market environment?

Take public education in the US. Children are mandated to be educated K-12 at the expense of the public. Currently the means of production is under community level / state level controls. This is clearly a socialist concept but it doesn't strike fear in most of our minds.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration pushed the Social Security Act through congress it provided a safety-net for all workers in retirement. It has held up for 85 years and counting, even expanding benefits during the Reagan Administration. Federal government taxes workers and pays out a pension on reaching retirement age (or becoming disabled). That is central control of resources (income) and every employee must participate. Very socialistic -- are you afraid that Social Security is a step toward taking away your personal freedoms?

The state of Alaska pays out a premium to its citizens every year based on fees collected from oil and gas producers. These companies have to pay for some externalities like damages to coastlines and habitats as well for the privilege of continued operation. Isn't this socialism? The State collects a cut of profits and distributes 'dividends' to Alaskans.

In Norway Equanor ASA is a state owned gas / petroleum company which operates for profit but allocates monies for the government for health, education, housing, and basic income to citizens. State owned natural resources and state policies for use of said resources to benefit all Norwegians is definitely socialism!

I'd argue that Socialism is applied world wide to facets of government, often operating in an otherwise free-market society. The folks that use the Miriam-Webster definition (all or nothing) would say these are free-market capitalist countries that have found special case solutions to certain problems (health, education, transportation, retirement, etc.).

I have come to better understand the source of the ideological predicament we are in -- many fear a creeping government take-over of markets and personal ownership and freedom if any new socialist solution is offered (no matter how benign it seems). Perhaps proponents of new policies that increase government control of resources (or of standards limiting private sector operation) need to emphasize boundaries as much as benefits.

I expect many public debates after 2021 on policies that contain socialist ideas if a new administration and congress comes to power. I am personally willing to consider each on its own merits, rather than anticipating the 'domino' effect conservatives fear.