By Simon Palmore '19
“It is imperative that we create a government that works for all and not just the few.” This is at the essence of Senator Bernie Sanders’s political philosophy, and it forms the very definition of his brand: democratic socialism. Though his candidacy was unsuccessful, Sanders succeeded in lighting a fire among young, progressive thinkers throughout America. Many Americans are now deciding that the fairness and justice of democratic socialism are the principles needed to form a successful United States.
Democratic socialism is defined as a philosophy that “combines a belief in a socially-controlled economy with that of a political democracy.” A socially-controlled economy, in which society and the people of society control the economy, has always been an ideal for this country. In the years following the American Revolution, the United States was governed by a document called the Articles of Confederation, which called for a very weak central legislature. This young government was unable to raise revenue and provide a prosperous life for American citizens throughout the nation. However, founding fathers such as James Madison and George Washington, as a replacement, drafted and ratified the Constitution, which gave the federal government adequate power to function as a true governing body. Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury to President Washington, proposed a radical set of economic developments. One of these was to have the federal government pay off the national debts from the Revolution in full, thus creating “conditions under which persons would loan money to the government by purchasing its bonds, confident that they would be repaid.” Taxation enabled this Hamiltonian idea, and in implementing it, the federal government ensured that the people had a stake in the success of their country.
Ideas like Hamilton’s remained in the political sphere throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. In the 1800s, President John Quincy Adams created programs and public works projects that used taxpayer money for the greater good. Historian Margaret Hogan describes Adams’s plans for the presidency: “In his first annual message to Congress, President Adams presented an ambitious program for the creation of a national market that included roads, canals, a national university, a national astronomical observatory, and other initiatives.” While a couple of these ideas (i.e. national university and observatory) seemed to have been ideas suggested purely for the President’s personal intellectual curiosity, national roads and canals were vital to the US’s economic development in the early to mid-1800s. Hamilton’s ideas developed in the 20th century—many of the programs that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced to save the US economy during the Great Depression were considered “socialist” by the opposing party. Sen. Simeon Fess (R-Ohio) declared that “The New Deal is now undisguised state socialism.” The New Deal included a variety of programs, many of which have been and continue to be vital to our nation. These programs included Social Security, the Works Progress Administration, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Throughout history, programs like these have been considered socialistic. Where would we be without Alexander Hamilton’s creation of trust and stake in government? John Quincy Adams’s roads and canals? Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act?
Proponents of democratic socialism today are not calling for a fundamental change to the workings of the US government. Rather, they are calling for a modern version of the New Deal. In the 1930s, the Great Depression left millions of Americans without employment or confidence in their ability to put money in the bank. Roosevelt’s New Deal addressed those problems, and in large part steered the nation away from economic collapse. In the present day, there are different problems that can be addressed in similar ways. Rising income inequality forces the poorest Americans to choose between eating three meals in a day and buying life-saving medicine. This very same medicine, often produced by a single, uncontrolled company, can be marked up by the company at rates of as much as 5000%. These same Americans, hampered by medical bills, food insecurity, and other hardships of poverty, are likely unable to afford to attend college, leaving them with no way out of their income bracket. These problems, while perhaps less obvious to Americans of privilege, are no less threatening and dire to poor and middle class Americans than economic problems during the Great Depression were to our economy as a whole. In response, democratic socialists propose a “New New Deal.” Tuition-free or heavily subsidized public college education, guaranteed for all Americans that couldn’t otherwise afford a good education. Increased governmental regulation of the pharmaceutical industry to prevent 5000% markups on life-saving drugs. Sufficient funding for food stamps and the EBT, so that no American ever needs to worry about their ability to feed themselves and their children. The “New New Deal” would ensure all of these policies.
If you can ignore your preconceptions about the word “socialism” for some time; if you can see the hardships facing poor and middle class Americans that have gone unnoticed and unaddressed for decades; and if you decide that now is the time to ensure a high quality of life for all Americans, then the New New Deal is your best path forward. From their roots in Hamilton’s economic plan to their implementation in the Great Depression, the principles of democratic socialism have proven that there are indeed active ways to address poverty. When the citizens of the United States do their fair share for their country, then the government has the power and the ability to put those dollars toward a prosperous future for all Americans. Democratic socialism is the road to such a future.