My new book: “Would Democratic Socialism Be Better?”

You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Oxford University Press, and elsewhere. It’s available now in kindle and nook; the hard copy version will be out later this month.

The introductory chapter is online here.

Here is the opening and the table of contents:

Socialism is back in the conversation. In the United States, of all places, recent polls suggest the share of young people who have a favorable impression of socialism is about the same as the share that have a favorable view of capitalism. A self-described democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, was runner-up in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary in 2016 and 2020. Think tanks and magazines devising plans for socialist policies and institutions have sprouted up. The New York Times and the Washington Post have each had an avowed socialist among their op-ed writers in recent years. Since 2016, membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has jumped from a few thousand to nearly 100,000.

Is there a compelling case for socialism? Should we aspire to shift, in the reasonably near future, from a basically capitalist economy to a socialist one?

Let’s stipulate that socialism refers to an economy in which two-thirds or more of employment and output (GDP) is in firms that are owned by the government, citizens, or workers. Two-thirds is an arbitrary cutoff, but it’s as sensible as any other. It connotes a subsidiary role for the private non-worker-owned sector.

Since the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, much of the debate about socialism has focused on lessons that can be drawn from the experience of the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and other actually existing self-styled socialist countries. I will ignore this almost entirely. Because each of those cases featured an autocratic political system, they are of little or no relevance to most modern proposals for socialism. Similarly, while the contemporary Chinese model is attractive to some, my focus is on the kind of socialism currently desired by proponents in the world’s affluent democratic nations. That socialism presupposes a democratic political system. That socialism would be a democratic socialism.

Some of the debate over democratic socialism concerns goals. The case for democratic socialism typically is motivated by goals such as freedom, opportunity, democracy, equality, and solidarity, among others. While I have some quibbles — as I explain in later chapters, I think some attach too high a priority to economic equality and to a particular form of economic democracy — for the most part I endorse the outcomes democratic socialists say they want. The aim of this book isn’t to question those goals.

To offer a realistic alternative, socialism must be workable. Socialism’s proponents have put a good bit of effort into designing institutions and policies that might make a democratic socialist economy function effectively. I will draw on these proposals. In doing so I’ll assume they are in fact workable, though I’ll also emphasize that there is considerable uncertainty, since evidence is thin or nonexistent.

A potentially significant consideration in evaluating democratic socialism is the possibility of a “transition trough” — a steep and lengthy downturn in economic well-being during the shift from capitalism to socialism. There might indeed be a significant economic cost to transitioning if opponents stop investing or shift their assets to other countries. But maybe not. Perhaps the transition trough would be like an ordinary economic recession — painful but temporary. This too I will set aside.

My focus is on what has tended to be the centerpiece of the case for democratic socialism: the notion that capitalism is bad, or at least not very good. In reaching this conclusion, most have either analyzed a theoretical ideal-type of capitalism, as Karl Marx famously did in Capital, or used a single country, often the United States, as a stand-in for capitalism. To fully and fairly assess democratic socialism’s desirability, we need to compare it to the best version of capitalism that humans have devised: social democratic capitalism, or what is often called the Nordic model. I try in this book to offer such an assessment. My conclusion is that capitalism, and particularly social democratic capitalism, is better than many democratic socialists seem to think.

1. Is Capitalism Not Good Enough?
2. An End to Poverty in Rich Countries
3. An End to Poverty Everywhere
4. More Jobs
5. Decent Jobs
6. Faster Economic Growth
7. Inclusive Growth
8. More Public Goods and Services
9. Affordable Healthcare for All
10. Helpful Finance
11. Truly Democratic Politics
12. Economic Democracy
13. Less Economic Inequality
14. Gender and Racial Equality
15. More Community
16. A Livable Planet
17. Would Democratic Socialism Be Better Than Social Democratic Capitalism?