The new rising star of the Democratic Party is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The 28-year-old former bartender doesn’t know much about politics – this week, she bungled her way through an interview answer by referring to Israeli “occupation” of Palestine and citing her lack of expertise on the issue despite her international relations degree. But she’s young; she’s energetic; and she speaks in glowing terms about rights to housing, food, college and health care. She’s a charter member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a group, we’re informed by The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg, that is on the rise. “Its growth has exploded since the 2016 election,” Goldberg reports, “from 7,000 members to more than 37,000.”
What exactly is democratic socialism, and what distinguishes it from socialism plain and simple? Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t know. When asked about it by Meghan McCain on “The View,” she stated that there is a “huge difference” between the two notions but then concluded, “I believe that in a moral and wealthy America, in a moral and modern America, no person should be too poor to live in this country.” Which doesn’t explain the difference at all.
The difference is truly between socialism and social democracy. Socialism suggests state ownership and control of all major resources – and generally ends with the complete collapse and destruction of the productive population. Social democracy suggests redistribution of capitalistic gains -- more like Denmark or Norway or Sweden. It’s unclear where Ocasio-Cortez lies on this spectrum considering that the DSA openly acknowledges its desire to abolish capitalism.
But let’s assume that what Ocasio-Cortez and Democrats want is actually just European-style social democracy. If that’s the case, they’re still misreading the tea leaves: The Nordic countries aren’t thriving and healthy because they’re socialist; they’re thriving and healthy because they are small and homogenous. In fact, Nordic lifestyles means that Nordic life expectancy outclassed life expectancy in the United States before the Nordic states tried to grow government redistributionism radically. The left is fond of citing Norway and Sweden – even though both are now moving in a politically right-wing direction – but neglecting Switzerland, which is just as successful and far less socialistic.
Furthermore, generous welfare policies can only operate in small, homogenous countries because if you open the borders to such countries, immigrants flood in and then sink the boat. That’s why voters in Europe have been consistently moving toward a more restrictionist view of immigration – particularly in that bastion of social democracy, Sweden.
Yet the democratic socialist dream never dies, even as it fades away in Europe. Democrats will continue to point toward the Nordic states and claim that utopia is a mere “free lunch” program away. But lunch is never free, as a former bartender should know.