But attacking socialism isn’t the cakewalk it used to be. During the Cold War, it was easy to frighten Americans with the S-word because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics offered a powerful example of the oppression that state control of all of the means of production could unleash.

The Soviet Union, however, has been dead for nearly three decades. China is communist on paper but a wildly unequal crony capitalist dictatorship in practice. Young Americans especially are far more likely to associate “socialism” with generous social insurance states than with jackboots and gulags. Sweden, Norway and Denmark are anything but frightening places…

Nonetheless, Jerome Frank was right: those slurred as socialists really do have a good track record of making capitalism work better and more justly. The S-word is not now, and, in its democratic forms, never should have been an obscenity.