As the smallest minority, the minority of one, a John Locke liberal for life, I believe all men are by nature free, equal and independent, which sovereignty should have meaning and liberty and possessions should not be trampled on by governments or the state.
Since my high school years, in the matter of politics there always has been a form of civilized discourse with my progressive and socialist friends who have shown themselves to be insensitive to the idea that people wish to find happiness for themselves based on self-reliance and self-responsibility and do not wish to be steered by the state as guardians of their welfare.
As Will Durant and Ariel Dunant write in their journey through history, exploring the possibilities and limitation of humanity over time:
“The struggle of socialism against capitalism is part of the historic rhythm in the concentration and dispersion of wealth. The fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality, while the fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom.”
Give the devil his due, today in Europe socialism, in the form of the social democracy movement has been part of the de facto political mainstream since the end of the 19th Century and has led to a more balanced, equal and ordered society.
But the gospel of socialism and state control has often been undermined by excessive taxation in order to finance the annually swelling state, leading to bureaucracy, corruption and the choice between public plunder and public graft.
In the matter of European culture it should be appreciated that economic decisions are frequently driven by concerns for fairness, equity, and reciprocity, whereby there is the behaviour based on “noblesse oblige” by some in society. Noblesse oblige, is a social norm that obligates those of higher status, who’s wealth is based on familial inheritance over generations, to be generous in their dealings with those of lower status in order to improve their society, not out of a sense of superiority, but rather a desire for excellence and selfless service.
It should not be lost on my American friends, Europe started re-building its European house including social and regulatory systems shortly after WWII in a different time when the population was less (EU28 had a population of 400 million in 1950 – 515 million in 2020) and people understood the need for sacrifices and facilitating the structural changes and necessary investment after the horrors of WWII.
Over time investments were made in our social welfare and pension systems, including universal healthcare, a good infra-structure, environmental and education systems which took 70 years to build, and like investments in a well maintained mansion the house requires less repairs.
The case can be made and contemplated, since WWII Europe has contrary to the US prioritized social-coherence and economic investments over high defense spending. This has led to higher taxation, which in the US compared to Europe is relatively low, at 30% on income compared to close to 50% on income in Germany, France and Italy.
There is also less income inequality, the average household in the top 20% in the U.S. makes 8 times what a family in the bottom 20% earns. In Germany, this ratio is just over 4 times.
European priorities have led to moderate spending on defence often to the chagrin of our American friends and financial budgetary prudence resulted in balanced budgets and well run countries like Germany and the Netherlands which have fat on their bones, also due to the appalling excessive taxation rates in the 1960-1980 years. Others like Italy, Spain and Portugal have had policies which were less financial prudent and have been unable to limit their national debt to a reasonable level of between 50-80 %.
Today as the result of neo-liberal policies, corporate taxation has been lowered and reached a reasonable level, with personal taxation compared to the US this is still excessive, but this is also a matter of choice what we consider to be a civilized society.
As the result of good governance and austerity measures a number of European countries have a satisfactory national debt / GDP ratio of around 50 % compared to a national debt / GDP ratio of around 140 % in the U.S..
This led to a European society, which undoubtedly has its problems, one of them being the demographic with an aging population, but also a society in which less people have been left behind, have a better quality of life and higher participation in the work process compared the US.
In the 1970’s with the abandonment of the Keynesian social democratic policies and the long overdue implementation of market-oriented, monetarist and neoliberal policies (privatization, deregulation, independence of central banks, free trade, economic globalization and anti-inflationary fiscal policy, among others.)
This resulted that more people were pushed into the labour market, unemployment came down and labour force participation went up and the social democratic “nanny” welfare state was scaled down. Over the years, also influenced by the timely dissolution of the Soviet Union and the following breakdown of communism, voter support for social-democratic parties and their empty phrases collapsed.
In France, Greece and the Netherlands social democrats hold less than 10 percent of the seats in parliament. In Germany and Italy, social-democratic parties are at a historic low. Britain’s Labour Party’s as a result of Jeremy Corbyn disastrous “Brexit” and “Thatcher-revolution-in-reverse” choices has not won an election since 2005 and is in decline.
Some social democrats understood this trend early, like West-German Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt (1976), a leading European social democrat, articulated this in Le Monde as follows: “The profits of enterprises today are the investments of tomorrow, and the investments of tomorrow are the employment of the day after.”
The implementation of neoliberal policies led in many countries to the more market orientated social democratic ideas of the “Third Way,” an ideology in between traditional socialism and capitalism.
Contrary to “democratic socialism” whereby our socialist friends seek to end capitalism and are committed to the radical goal of systemic transformation of the economy and society to socialism whereby private ownership is limited and wealth is collectively held and shared, the “social democracy” and the “Third Way” have since the 1970’s been committed to reconciling right-wing and left-wing politics.
In doing so the “Third Way” has been relatively successful (Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroder, Wim Kok, Bill Clinton and Emanuel Macron.} But at the same time social democracy conflicts with classical liberalism and classical socialism.
Many on the far left are opposing the “Third Way,” such as the self-identified democratic socialist former Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elisabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the United States which seeks not more “social democracy” but more “democratic socialism” which does not reform but ends capitalism and ignores all the prosperity capitalism and globalism have brought, although they claim otherwise.
With the challenges of Covid and Climate change globally on the agenda, democratic socialists are seeking to recycle the gospel of socialism I grew up with in the 1960’s. A time when the Dutch Labour Party’s (PvdA) outlined the goal of creating a socialist society, entailing: ”socialization of important branches of industry,” ”a society without class contradictions” and ”planned management for the economy, ” in their 1947 and 1959 party programs.
Joop Den Uyl (1919 –1987) who served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1973 to 1977 and passed away too soon, was the leader of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA,) from 1960s up into the 1980s and during his time an important social democratic leader in Europe.
Joop Den Uyl, with ambitions of redistribution of wealth, knowledge and power, had a profound influence on many, reason enough to oppose his gospel and become a neo-liberal for life.
Today there is in socialist circles the renewed hope to inspire people to trigger a counter-revolution in economic thinking and return to the idealized past with the old social democratic solutions.
This would mean the growth of the welfare state, higher social spending, protective Labour institutions based on managed Capitalism with ambitions of progressive income redistribution leading to much higher taxes on wealth, incomes and investments.
In this socialist Walhalla the credo has always been “the strongest shoulders must carry the largest burden,” without eroding and undermining economic growth and public health, which seems a rather dubious assumption.
By taking on much more debt and spending like there is no tomorrow progressives of different feathers will likely cause socially unjust effects as a result of the higher public indebtedness and will in time result in increased fiscal austerity measures. After all in our capitalist society debts must be repaid.
This in a world which has structurally changed, with the vast increase in mobility, free flow of capital, the internationalization of production and finances and the increased significance of the multinational corporation.
In the years behind us, the dynamics in society have changed, globalism increased income as well as wealth inequality and there is growing polarization in politics with the growth of extreme left and right populist parties which has destabilizing effect on the political system. In addition this is also fed by the corrupting influence of money in politics, which is particular severe in the US and the UK.
However, to reverse and to return to the original Keynesian demand management framework in which the state was able to domestically manage the wage-led economy and influence and control the capitalist economy seems rather doubtful and unrealistic.
With this approach democratic socialists are putting the same old wine into new shiny bottles, wine which is past its expiration date and within the framework of globalism the wine is undrinkable.
In the US these enlightened souls, supported by the progressive left wing of the Democratic “spend and pay later” party in the US Congress represented by Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, Bernie Sanders and other likeminded members which have discovered Democratic Socialism as their cure for all the ills in society, but they cannot avoid the purpose of democratic socialism is to destroy capitalism, not to reform..
They are spinning their narrative well with the attacks on private enterprises and Wallstreet which remind of the words of Sir Winston Churchill
“Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.”
But as a friend recently wrote in a letter “we live in a world full of exploitation, illness, sadness, poverty, frustration, envy and especial greed which leads to tensions in society, even revolutions.”
This is worthy of serious consideration, even intellectual contemplation, as socialistic experiments and revolutions are part of the historic dynamism and are instances which have led to fundamental socio-political transformation.
Revolts and protests have occurred in times of government monopolies, industrial masterly, business monopolies, chicanery and irresponsible wealth, when the majority of the public was poor and miserable.
There are indeed negative side effects to capitalism, which given the tension in society require recalibration in order to achieve a more balanced society with less inequality. However denouncing the benefits of capitalism as habitual is done in progressive circles without much nuance, and sacrificing capitalism for democratic socialism is not the answer.