Bernie Sanders’ self-identification as a “Democratic Socialist” has been the subject of much discussion. People in the United States are not particularly fond of the word “Socialist.” In 2011, Pew released a survey that found that only 31% of people feel positive to the term. Millennials had the most favorable opinion of the term Socialism, with 49% reporting positive feelings towards the term.
Now, there is huge difference between Socialism and Democratic Socialism. A contemporary Democratic Socialist is very much still a Capitalist, though they favor strong social welfare programs that aim to reduce economic inequality and favor regulations that curb the worst behaviors of the private sector. A Democratic Socialist is essentially nothing more than a left of left-of-center Liberal.
Socialism encompasses many varying schools of thought on how to achieve Socialism. However, all Socialists share the same broad goal of creating an economy where the workers collectively own and run their workplace. No matter how many well-intentioned memes or viral videos you might have seen that attempt to de-mystify the word Socialist, by describing things such as public roads, food stamps, public housing, or the postal service as features of a Socialist society, they are ultimately false. Those things are still the trademarks of a Liberal Capitalist society.
Now that being said, there is one truly Socialist agenda item in Sanders economic platform, that no one is talking about – building worker co-ops. Sanders introduced legislation with the aim of helping to build worker owned businesses in 2014. In a press release Sanders stated:
“At a time when corporate America is outsourcing millions of decent-paying jobs overseas and with the economy continuing to struggle to create jobs that pay a livable wage, we need to expand economic models that help the middle-class. I strongly believe that employee ownership is one of those models.”
He pointed out that there are an estimated 10,000 worker owned businesses in the United States, employing more than 10 million people.
“Simply put, when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits. They will be more productive. And, they will earn a better living.”
The legislation he introduced calls for the creation of a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank that would provide loans to people who wish to open worker owned businesses. Another bill would provide federal spending for states to create employee ownership centers. These centers would provide training and technical support to help workers create and participate in worker owned businesses.
That’s what Bernie’s Socialist America looks like.