What Does Bernie Sanders Really Mean When He Calls Himself a Democratic Socialist? Q&A With Jim Pethokoukis

What would Sanders' vision of democratic socialism mean for the country?


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has rocketed to the top of the Democratic presidential primary field by proposing a massive expansion of government: single-payer health care, free public college tuition, student loan forgiveness, universal pre-K, and more.

His plans could cost as much as $60 trillion dollars over the next decade, more than doubling the federal budget.

More than any single policy, however, Sanders has run on an idea: Democratic socialism, with the economies of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden as models.

At times in his life, however, he's also had kind words for socialist revolutionaries and regimes that are more authoritarian—although he has also condemned their harshest practices.

So what is Sanders' vision of democratic socialism? And what would it mean for the country? To find out, Reason Features Editor Peter Suderman spoke with Jim Pethokoukis. He is the Dewitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he writes and edits the AEIdeas blog.

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  1. “What would Sanders’ vision of democratic socialism mean for the country?”

    Most importantly, it means we’d have a President who’s much closer to Charles Koch’s immigration position than Orange Hitler is.


  2. A Communist.

    1. That was an interestig read. Thanks for posting

    2. The author says that Sanders must have been very “incurious” to have not noticed the state of affairs for the average Soviet citizen. I think it’s worse than that. That state of affairs was clear to anyone with any knowledge at all about the USSR. I have no idea what goes on in a mind that can ignore their own lying eyes, but it’s not a healthy mind. And Sanders has not changed at all, as evidenced by his ability to focus on one or two allegedly positive aspects of Cuba while seemingly unaware of the downsides.

  3. What Does Bernie Sanders Really Mean…

    Stop right there. You’re giving him waaaay too much credit.

    1. Pretty sure he’d be happy to tell you.

  4. What Does Bernie Sanders Really Mean When He Calls Himself a Democratic Socialist?

    It means he’s a stupid old codger who either doesn’t understand what those words mean or does understand them and is counting on the votes of morons who think “socialism” just means “big welfare state” and that anything that’s called “democratic” must automatically be good.

    1. ^this

      “Democratic socialism” is socialism.
      Full stop.
      Even AOC realizes “social democracy” is different, even while trying to call them synonyms

    2. I really don’t get why people want to use “socialism” (unless they are really for socialism) when they mean “Euro-style welfare state”. Most European leaders are adamant that their system is not socialism. Many of them tried some greater degree of socialism and found that it sucked.
      So, if what they want is a generous welfare state, why do they insist on calling it socialism?
      I suspect it’s some combination of not knowing what words mean, ignorance of how it actually works in Europe and actually wanting socialism.

      1. “So, if what they want is a generous welfare state, why do they insist on calling it socialism?”

        Because “socialism” = “free stuff for me, paid for by the rich” while “generous welfare state” = “free stuff for others, paid for by me”.

      2. it’s actually thanks to decades of right-wing messaging that any sort of public benefit, allowance, subsidy, etc. is “socialism”, back when the average person more reliably associated “socialism” with “bad”.

        1. You mean the true description of welfare as socialism.

        2. That much spinning makes most people dizzy.

  5. it means “send more money”

  6. “Democratic” socialism means “your betters run your life but pretend to allow you to have a say in it”.

  7. Um, the Scandanavians rebuffed Bernie Sanders, explaining that they were’t “Socialist”

  8. As taxes go, I’m a fan of VATs/Sales taxes.

    1. They certainly beat punishing people for being productive. But excise taxes are the best, if levied only on actions that have a cost on the (very minimal) state.

      1. Sure… either way, I’m categorically against income taxes because not only are they potentially unfair, they are demonstrably immoral.

  9. It means he can’t get elected if he called himself a communist, so he’ll try democratic socialist.

    And this morning I heard his supporters being called Sandernistas.

  10. What Does Bernie Sanders Really Mean When He Calls Himself a Democratic Socialist?

    It only ever means one of two things. The person is lying or they don’t know what socialism is.

    Take, for example, this gem from Wikipedia

    . . . or some form of a decentralised planned socialist economy.[3]

    A *decentralized* – but planned – economy. So, they’re going to devolve planning down to the lower levels. Which is just the free market.

    As a term, it was popularised by social democrats who were opposed to the authoritarian socialist development in Russia and elsewhere during the 20th century.

    Which, of course, doesn’t touch upon how you get socialism without the authoritarianism. If its voluntary then its just the way people have organized themselves through the market. If its coercive then its just socialism.

    Its like people who use the term ‘social-libertarianism’ to describe a socialized economy and culture – if its voluntary then its just libertarianism. If its coercive then its socialism. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.

  11. He means that he is a colossal douchebag who needs to shut the fuck up.

  12. A guy in Fox said that Bernie is basing his ideas on Modern Monetary Policy. Basically you just print as much money as you want to spend ad infinitum. That’s how he’ll pay for everything.

  13. Bernie is an FDR democrat. That means he believes in an economic system that combines capitalism with socialism, like every other 1st world country in the world today

    1. FDR Democrat you say…
      And putting Americans in internment camps?

      And keeping Black Americans segregated?

      And keeping Black Americans under Jim Crowe.

    2. FDR Democrat is a fascist. See the NRA.

    3. Government spending is 38% of US GDP. OECD average is 43%. The biggest spenders, like Finland and France, are at 55%. Bernie’s plans put us at 70%. Whatever Bernie is advocating for, it’s not something seen in any other first world country.

    4. “Bernie is an FDR democrat. That means he believes in an economic system that combines capitalism with socialism, like every other 1st world country in the world today”

      You left out the part where they can barely afford it since they’re free-riding on the US defense budget.
      Oh, and fuck off, slaver.

  14. Bernie doesn’t want the 1970s model, he wants the 1917 model.

  15. It means, like most politicians, he is a lying sack of shit trying to obfuscate the truth.
    Or perhaps when his type of socialism runs out of other people’s money, they get to vote on which 150,000,000 citizens the government exterminates.

  16. Bernie Sanders has been schooled in modern monetary theory (functional finance) by Prof Stephanie Kelton. He knows very well that the federal government does not need federal tax revenue to pay for expenditures. All it takes is congressional approval (look up corona stimulus). The federal government can never run out of money: it is the issuer of the currency and has a monopoly on it. Whether or not federal taxes are increased or decreased or eliminated altogether has no impact on federal expenditures.

    These two guys are being totally dishonest. They wouldn’t explain why Scandinavia has problems with its social spending except to say it ran up budget deficits. So What? Why is that a problem?
    Either they know about MMT directly or through Sanders’ last two campaigns; however, they never mention MMT in their “analysis” of what Bernie means. And then they resort to that hack tactic of all scoundrels and weak intellects: they attack Sanders patriotism. Just another smear job. Such losers. So sad.

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