Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of our Debate for Vermont Series.
By Jay Eshelman
In a recent VTDigger column (“Improbably, socialism gains ground in Trump’s America”), political columnist Jon Margolis sees renewed interest in socialism around the nation. He notes that the phenomenon is linked in part to Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-identified “democratic socialist.”
Yet as Margolis points out, defining socialism, and identifying appealing models of it around the world, is tricky, and a source of much debate:
Socialists do face one powerful argument against their system: It does not exist anywhere. If it’s a good idea, why haven’t the people of any country freely decided to adopt it? In what professor Schwartz conceded was ‘something of a problem,’ no democracy has chosen socialism. They all prefer a market economy dominated by private enterprise. Does this prove that socialism is either impractical or undesirable? Probably, at least for now.
The column is stimulating debate about socialism versus free market capitalism — a worthy debate for Vermont, which often is viewed as socialistic in its policies.
In the comments section of the column, Jay Eshelman, an active commenter and business owner from Vermont, writes:
The leopard is trying to change his spots again. … Capitalism, free market capitalism, isn’t a ‘belief’, it’s a description, a reflection, if you will, of human nature and interaction. What is ‘wide open, libertarian, laissez faire, Ayn Rand style capitalism’, if not free market capitalism?
One commenter, perhaps inadvertently, raises the most interesting point with her reference to David Floyd’s missive on the difference between Socialism and Communism.
It wasn’t Premier Nikita Krushchev who declared that the Soviet state had begun ‘withering away’, it was Marx and Engels who argued that following a period of transition, the government would fade away, as workers built a classless society and an economy based on common ownership. Production and consumption would reach an equilibrium: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Unfortunately, Marx and Engels stopped there. They either couldn’t, or chose not to, describe what this classless society looked like or how it operated. And, curiously, ironically, ‘early versions of socialist thought were articulated by Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), who was himself an admirer of capitalist Adam Smith’.
Think about it. True free market capitalism promotes the ‘sovereign consumer’ and ‘market equilibrium’. The U.S. Constitution is the foremost social construct ever devised that recognizes free markets and, with the Bill of Rights, the propensity of even a democratic state to become oppressive through the tyranny of its majority. It is precisely that, ‘wide open, libertarian, laissez faire, Ayn Rand style capitalism’ where Marx and Engels were heading. Unfortunately, crony capitalism and its government enablers (i.e. socialists and communists) are proving to be a tenacious malevolence in this world.
What do you think, True North readers? Is socialism on the rise in the U.S., or is free market capitalism where we are heading? The answer has broad implications for a range of issues in Vermont, from education to health care. Sound off with your own comments below.
Jay Eshelman is a former school board director and business owner living in Vermont.