A family poses for a portrait in Punto Fijo, Venezuela. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Bolstered by the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and now-socialist darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, democratic socialism is on the rise in the United States. Astonishingly, 40% of surveyed Americans say they prefer socialism to capitalism.
When talking politics with Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez supporters, advocates of the free-market, myself included, tend to ask these adherents of democratic socialism the following: “If socialism is so fantastic, can you explain the failures of Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and the USSR?”
Responses typically deflect the question and go something like: “That is not real socialism!” or “Real socialism has not been tried yet.” Such responses are often followed by some discussion of how successful all the Nordic “socialist” countries are.
However, these supporters of democratic socialism are the ones who have things backwards and the facts bear this out. Venezuela is actually the best example of real socialism at work, while the Nordic countries touted by Bernie Sanders and his fans are not truly socialist.
In fact, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the other countries that fit the profile of the “Nordic model” are simply capitalist economies that utilize high personal income taxes to finance their large welfare states. Crucial, defined elements of real socialism, such as the communal ownership of goods and services and governmental control of wages and prices, are noticeably absent from these countries.
Democratic-socialist darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Furthermore, these Nordic countries actually have economies that are more open than that of the U.S. economy in numerous respects. For example, while many of those who #FeltTheBern in 2016 were opposed to the TPP and other free trade agreements, Scandinavian countries are ardent supporters of free trade and have some of the most globalized countries in the world.
Similarly, Nordic countries are strong supporters of the big businesses and multinational corporations that are frequently maligned by American democratic socialists. In fact, before the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland all had corporate tax rates that were 10-15% lower than the prevailing American corporate tax rate.
Beyond these distinguished economic freedoms, the Nordic countries encourage a great deal of personal liberty antithetical to the community-oriented doctrine of democratic socialism. One example is Sweden, whose public education system is built around vouchers and school choice, with private schools even operating as for-profit organizations.
There are plenty of other examples of Nordic policies that inherently contradict true socialism but here is the gist: the Nordic countries who are regularly cited as evidence of successful “socialist” countries are not actually socialist. They are successful, globalized capitalist countries that utilize high tax rates to facilitate an exceptionally generous welfare state. This may be a successful model for some smaller, culturally homogenous countries to pursue but it is a misnomer to classify these countries as socialist in any sense of the word.
Student protestors and riot police battle in the streets of Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Thankfully, those with an intellectual itch are not left wondering what real socialism looks like in practice and can study both ample historical and modern examples. In the former category, there is a long list of countries whose experiments with socialism either led to collapse of the government and economy, or were eventually abandoned in favor of free-market practices, with the Soviet Union and China among the best-known examples such as the U.S.S.R. and China.
Today, the obvious case to reference is Venezuela, whose breathtaking decline illustrates the horrors of socialism. Unlike the alleged socialist countries of northern Europe, Venezuela has actually done its best to implement a socialist, communal ownership of the means of production through the seizure and redistribution of land and income by the government.
The results of these socialist policies, coupled with the brutality of President Nicolás Maduro, are horrifying. A country with immense natural resources and the largest oil reserves of any country in the world is now ravaged by violent protests, shortages of most material goods, starvation, and hyperinflation. The redistribution of land and the elimination of property rights have driven businesses out of the country in a mass exodus. 76% of Venezuelans now live in poverty, up 21% from 2000.
Astonishingly, even Maduro himself has begun to blame the collapse of Venezuela’s economy on the implemented socialist policies in his country. Such policies are the root cause of the suffering, famine, and death that is decimating what was once the richest economy in South America.
The next time a self-avowed American democratic socialist is singing the virtues of redistribution while berating capitalism in the same breath, show them photos of starving Venezuelan children and desperate Venezuelans being shot by their own army in the streets of Caracas. The lessons of the past and the present are not so easily dismissed with a calloused retort of “That’s not real socialism.”
If Venezuela is not an example of “real socialism,” then nobody, including the ever-growing crop of democratic socialists in America, should want to see what real socialism would look like.