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Understanding Sanders

US Senator Bernie Sanders’s repeated attacks on inequality show a commitment to democracy and to giving people a voice. In fact, he is a social democrat, and thus closer to his fellow senator, Elizabeth Warren, one of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, than their rhetorical differences might suggest.

NEW YORK – When US Senator Bernie Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” he arguably is using those words in a different way than many other people. Once that becomes clear, more American voters should have reason to support him than currently do.

The original meaning of socialism implied public ownership of the means of production, or, more colloquially, the nationalization of firms and corporations. Being a socialist by this definition would indeed be a mistake. For starters, the state is not an efficient manager. Moreover, in the long run, this model of socialism has been shown to lead to a society quite opposite to the one that state ownership was meant to achieve.

The experience of the Soviet Union demonstrated why it is a mistake to centralize ownership in the hands of the state, with all the booty in one place. Sooner or later, control of it is bound to be captured by a few individuals – the nomenklatura during communism’s heyday, followed by oligarchs during its decay. In other words, the last stage of this kind of socialism is, ironically, crony capitalism.

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