NY Times: The socialism of Bernie Sanders isn't really socialism

The NY Times published a piece last Friday titled “Socialist! Capitalist! Economic Systems as Weapons in a War of Words.” The piece is a sort of interview with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz who is eager to argue that the kind of socialism now emerging in the United States isn’t really socialism or at least not full communism:

“The meanings of the words have changed over time,” said Mr. Stiglitz, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton and a former chief economist of the World Bank. And the words have become the subject of a branding battle crossing political and generational divides.

The professor in Mr. Stiglitz shared a history lesson that reached back to the early 20th century, about how socialism and communism became linked. And he made the case that Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, wasn’t actually a socialist — at least as the identity has long been defined.

Mr. Sanders’s agenda — which drew a fair share of cheers during a Fox News town-hall-style meeting this week — is not focused on “ownership of the means of production” or a statist system, Mr. Stiglitz said. “He’s really concerned about the social contract of health, education,” he added…

(In Europe, Mr. Stiglitz said, similarly minded politicians might rightly be called social democrats. A simple switch in word order emphasizes the “social” instead of “socialist.”)

In order to avoid the “S-word” Stiglitz has titled his new book “People, Power and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent.” Progressive Capitalism is a term of art I hadn’t heard before but I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more of it in 2020. Pete Buttigieg has said he’s in favor of “democratic capitalism” another effort at rebranding the s-word.

There’s a very similar piece about Sanders’ socialism was published last week by the Globe and Mail.

This would not be the first time a U.S. presidential candidate has invoked the spectre of a socialist threat to scare voters away from the other party. What is different this time is that popular elected politicians in the United States, such as the rhetorically gifted and media-savvy congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several of her colleagues, not to mention Bernie Sanders – enthusiastically embrace the S-word.

Stiglitz is correct that much of what Sanders promotes in terms of particular policies would make him a Social Democrat in many places in Europe. But the media, in general, remains a bit too eager to gloss over his radical past as a fan of socialism in Latin America and the USSR that was not merely a flavor of social democracy.

And if Sanders is getting the kid gloves treatment, the media often seems determined to politely ignore signs that AOC really means it when she labels herself a Democratic Socialist. The fact that she may be one of the most popular figures on the left ought to make pinning down where she stands of interest to the media. She keeps saying she’s not a fan of capitalism but it’s only being taken seriously by media on the right.

To his credit, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Sanders about some of this back in 2016 and Bernie’s response was to a) filibuster and b) say “let’s not get into red-baiting here.” He then admitted Cuba was a “dictatorship” but still seemed eager to praise some of the “good things” Castro did in Cuba. It does make you wonder what Sanders would be willing to tolerate here if he could get some of those “good things” done in the US.