Hugo Chavez famously said, “The only way to save the world is through socialism, but a socialism that exists within a democracy; there’s no dictatorship here.”
The American political right and center have been trying to feverishly tie democratic socialism to the ongoing failure of the Venezuelan state. American advocates of democratic socialism insist Venezuela isn’t a true representation of democratic socialism and that more palatable Nordic outcomes can be achieved. However, a closer look at the policy stances of American democratic socialists reveals some very concerning parallels between their policy preferences and those of the currently failing Venezuelan state.
The ‘Democratic’ Part Doesn’t Stay for Long
In the beginning, Venezuelan socialists won power in fair, open, and democratic elections. This is important to note because American socialists are convinced democratic norms are sufficient protections against tyranny. They are not.
Democratic elections in Venezuela were slowly corrupted by those in power for the sole purpose of preserving authority. Many in America decry the role of private money in our electoral process, yet ignore the potential dangers of a centralized government-run electoral system.
It’s foolish to disregard the fact that democratic institutions are vulnerable. Millions of Americans openly question the validity of our elections for various reasons. Those on the American left have convinced themselves of substantial and effective foreign intervention into the electoral process. Millions on the right believe voter fraud is rampant. The validity of these claims is irrelevant. The simple fact that the aforementioned conspiracies are commonly held beliefs shows a dangerous erosion of trust in democratic institutions.
The idea that our current distrust in the electoral process can’t be exploited by a demagogue is wishful thinking. The democratic process is fragile. This is why the United States is a constitutional republic, not a direct democracy.
Likewise, the tyranny of the majority and the volatility of public opinion become more problematic the closer governance gets to direct democracy. Minority rights inherently require some restrictions on majorities. This isn’t a rejection of the democratic process, it’s a simple recognition of the innate limitations of the process. Voting legitimizes governance; it does not provide foolproof protections against authoritarianism. Democracy isn’t infallible.
The Venezuelan constitution originally embodied the separation of powers. However, socialist leadership saw the document as too restrictive. In response, they blurred the lines, effectively ridding the country of checks and balances, to drastically hinder any opposition to the socialist agenda.
American socialists are already advocating for subverting constitutional norms. They seek to end the Electoral College and are promoting the same court-packing schemes employed by the dictators Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. American socialists even go as far as to suggest abolishing the Senate. These are all efforts to severely weaken potential conservative or moderate opposition.
American democratic socialists don’t even pay lip service to constitutional norms. Like their authoritarian Venezuelan peers, American socialists favor heavy gun control and openly seek to curb private gun ownership. This is key to the process of centralizing force and minimizing any potential resistance in the future.
In the eyes of the American socialists, the Constitution is an obstacle to the “people’s” revolution that cannot stand. Historically, strong legal protections for minorities have often served as legal protections for political opposition as well. Inching closer to mob rule will not serve the best interest of the nation.
Once It’s Okay to Steal From the Rich, It’s Okay to Steal
Venezuela was once a prosperous nation. Socialists ruined it. Income and wealth redistribution was just the start. Price controls on wages, rent, food, and gas have devastated the country. The nationalization of several industries increased the presence of ultra-inefficient state-owned enterprises. All these have exacerbated massive shortages.
America is a prosperous nation, and in large part because our mixed-market approach has generally limited socialist interventions. Although we already employ some income redistribution, American socialists plan to dramatically expand it. They have called for a massive government reorganization of the economy via the Green New deal and the total nationalization of health care and utilities.
This command-and-control-style economic planning is disturbingly close to that of the failed USSR and the currently collapsing Venezuela state. American socialists have been shameless advocates of price controls and there’s no reason to believe their disregard of basic economics would end at housing and wage controls.
Venezuelan socialists tend to view capitalism as the problem that creates poverty by distributing wealth and social privileges via the class system (borrowing heavily from Karl Marx). This is easily the most dangerous aspect of socialism, misinterpreting the existence of residual poverty within capitalistic societies as a direct result of capitalism.
It is false. The poorest places on Earth lack market access, private property rights, and security. Places that lack profitable private enterprise are the most destitute places. American socialists have chosen to adopt the language of Chavezism in their condemnation of capitalism as a grave evil. This is drastically different from the Nordic view.
In Nordic socialism, the government doesn’t impose wage controls. It embraces free trade and has a low corporate tax and minimal regulatory regime. The Nordics view capitalism as essential to creating income and wealth to redistribute. American socialists see capitalism as a system of rampant exploitation that needs extensive restrictions, if not outright abolition. These fundamental differences place American socialists in a firm alignment with the failed models of socialism that have been relegated to the trash bins of world history.
Democratic Socialists Don’t Actually Like Democracy
The most influential American democratic socialists have an extensive history of defending regimes that were anything but democratic. There are a lot of big names among the apologists who form the thought leadership in democratic socialist circles. Bernie Sanders praised food shortages. He also defended dictator Fidel Castro and Cuba’s horrific medical system.
Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist who moonlights as an economic development specialist, met with Chavez to praise the Venezuelan dictator for his work on poverty reduction and equality. He openly trashed American capitalism and has yet to fully repent for being blatantly wrong about his infatuation with the authoritarian regime.
Mark Weisbrot, a Ph.D. economist, has made embarrassingly terrible predictions about Venezuela. He claimed hyperinflation wouldn’t harm the Venezuelan economy and in a series of articles in major publications he staked his professional reputation on the country’s stability. All his predictions were painfully wrong, and he has yet to walk any of them back.
Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist, heaped praise on Chavez’s “economic miracle” while making excuses for high inflation. Stiglitz’s apologist behavior and claims were so bizarre and cringe-worthy that one could find ample reason to question his understanding of even the most basic economic principles.
Socialist apologists often blame U.S. policy, oil, or a combination of the two for the failures of their authoritarian comrades. The current leadership of American democratic socialism has learned absolutely nothing from failed states. They have no interest in noting the differences between the various failed socialist states and the oft-cited Nordic models. In their heads, failed socialist states can be explained by: blaming U.S. foreign policy, a stubborn attachment to the no true Scotsman fallacy, a fairly naive view of democracy, or a mixture of the aforementioned.
In scapegoating American policy, socialist apologists omit that the United States has normalized relationships with plenty of “socialist” nations (i.e., China, Vietnam, Norway, and Sweden). They gloss over the fact that plenty of oil-dependent nations are far more stable than Venezuela is.
Denying the failures of socialism is the keystone underpinning the role of useful idiots in spreading a defunct ideology. Imagine the scoffs and laughs that would follow the assertion that market failure doesn’t apply to true capitalism. Yet the socialist elites make such foolhardy defenses of failed socialist models with straight faces.
Socialist States Are Failures Far More Often Than Successes
The American socialist elite have purposely deceived their adherents into believing that Nordic outcomes are the norms, not the exception. This just isn’t true. There is a long list of failed (or poorly performing) socialist states.
The new-age millennial socialists believe the European economic policy is superior to American norms with easily transferable properties. This is naive and dangerous. European GDP performance is dismal in comparison to America’s; the European quality-of-life metrics are almost destined to fall behind the United States’s in the decades to come.
Additionally, the result of the massively expanded welfare state in Europe is a mixed bag, drastically varying between member states. Spain is struggling with high unemployment and Catalonian separatists, France has been rocked by mass protest, the Greek economy remains sluggish, and one could argue that the exit of the U.K. leaves Germany to prop up the entire Eurozone. This is a brief glimpse of the mountain of problems the European Union faces. The assertion that Nordic outcomes are the norm is false and the idea that they are worth attempting to replicate is debatable.
To the extent that we can agree that Nordic outcomes are desirable, reproducing them to a satisfactory extent may be extraordinarily difficult and has immense potential to backfire. Selling democratic socialism as a foolproof means to improve the quality of life for the masses is misleading, if not outright delusional.
As the popularity of democratic socialism grows, it’s important to remember that the only real difference between democratic socialism and regular old socialism is a phenomenal rebranding effort. There is ample reason to believe that, if left unchecked, American socialism would produce the same outcomes that ravaged Venezuela.