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The People's Poverty: Democracy as the New Face of Socialism
CJay Engel comment 0 Comments access_time 6 min read

The last several articles I have posted here have been reflections on the variants of socialism: both traditional marxism and reformism. I have observed that the orthodox marxists are adamant in their opposition to deviations from revolutionary attempts to establish a system of the public ownership of the means of production. However, the fact of the matter is that these orthodox marxists are a rare breed in the modern world, as the terms of the debate have shifted over time.

The new and popular face of socialism, at least by name, is so-called Democratic Socialism, which is either popular-based interventionism or a revitalized and repackaged reformism. This depends on the particular representative. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, might be considered a left-wing interventionist while the newest political phenomenon, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, might be more a socialist of the reformist persuasion. Nevertheless, both of these adopt and find promise in the Democratic Socialism label.

In a recent expose at the Democratic Socialism Jacobin magazine, the point was made very clearly: the core of Democratic Socialism is about pushing democracy to its logical conclusion.

At the core of democratic socialism is a simple idea: democracy is good, and it should be expanded.

Of course, this is what Austro-libertarian critics of democracy have always maintained: democracy, in the words of Hans Hoppe, “has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else.”

Thus, far from embracing its spread worldwide, Austro-libertarians aware of the ethical and economic dangers of socialism, are opponents of democracy.

The author of the Jacobin article writes;

This may sound fairly innocuous — who isn’t for democracy these days? But democratic socialists have something more far-reaching in mind. To us, democracy is not simply a banal amalgamation of procedures, an uncontroversial set of norms and rules that everyone can get behind. It is the quite radical idea that ordinary people — not experts, not elites, not their “betters” — can rule themselves. It is the word we use to describe the flattening of steep hierarchies, the shattering of structures that confer undue wealth and power and privilege.

The answer, of course, to the “who isn’t for democracy” question is: anyone who favors property rights, free markets, limited government, and a rising standard of living. In other words, those who advocate for freedom in a world populated by advocates of collectivism and centralized control.

The quote above, healthily in my opinion, strips the vagueness from the meaning of democracy and reveals it for what it really is: a movement against freedom based on private property, the foundation and prerequisite for a healthy and wealth society. We are told above that democracy is about ordinary people ruling themselves– but this is the opposite of the case. Democracy is stripping the decision making power from individuals and placing it in the hands of the mob, which uses the via media of the state as its weapon of enforcement. Far from being able to rule ourselves, democracy is a system in which the majority of the people are able gang up on those who dissent, from those who wish to live in peace, safe from the schemes and shenanigans of those that seek to determine the lifestyle of others.

It is not democracy, but libertarianism that truly and by definition allows all people, especially the ordinary, to live as they desire, which is the meaning of ruling one’s life. Democracy, to the extent that it undermines and wages war on the right of the property owner to do as he pleases with his own property, is the antithesis of ordinary people ruling themselves. Democracy introduces politics, and the clashes of group interests that come with it, into an otherwise relatively peaceful existence. Democracy and the means of its expression, politics, exacerbate social tensions and pit people groups against each other. Democracy is one of the major causes of social unrest in our modern world and to expand democracy in pursuit of democratic socialism is to continue farther along this path.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez state recently on the Stephen Colbert show (quote taken from the Jacobin piece):

I believe that in a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live. So what that means is health care as a human right. It means that every child, no matter where you are born, should have access to a college or trade school education if they so choose it. And, you know, I think that no person should be homeless if we can have public structures and public policies to allow for people to have homes and food and lead a dignified life in the United States.

That we live in a wealthy society, however, is precisely because of a lack of democracy. Wealth is a result of capitalism, which depends upon and is nothing without the right of private property owners to invest their capital in ways that they deem potentially profitable. Ocasio-Cortez desires that no person should be too poor to live. But as Mises noted, “[Classical] Liberalism [which includes capitalism] is distinguished from socialism, which likewise professes to strive for the good of all, not by the goal at which it aims, but by the means that it chooses to attain that goal.” That is, the proponent of democratic socialism is not unique in his desire to see poverty eradicated. The capitalist too praises its eradication. But the capitalist understands that mankind was born into poverty and wealth is a result of human action over time. Poverty can only be eliminated if the wealth of the whole society grows to a point where it reaches all corners of a given society. But it is only capitalism, not socialism, and not the democratic state which operates under the method of coercion, which can accomplish this.

Treating the accomplishments of capitalism as human rights undermine the very system that provided modern health care in the first place. The democratic socialists take examples of the products of capitalism and turn them into things that would never have been possible under a democratic-socialist order. The advancements in health care, medicine, travel, communication, widespread education, can only be observed precisely because of investment of capital in past eras. By preaching against capitalism, the democratic socialists are laying the groundwork for unraveling and regressing to the social wealth levels that existed before these marvelous accomplishments were achieved.

The future of western civilization depends on the message of capitalism and free markets. It depends on people understanding that the wealth we see around us is a result of capitalism– of the “rich” seeking profits by investing their capital in hopes of profiting. In the words of George Reisman, “the protesters and all other haters of capitalists hate the foundations of their own existence.”

Creator and Editor of Austro Libertarian. Lives in Northern CA, runs several businesses, spends time with his family, and reads as much economics and political theory as possible.