Socialism and social democracy

From a comment on a Facebook post by Max Sawicky, asking about the difference between socialism and social democracy (sadly, I think the context was one of the internecine disputes in which the left has long specialised, though the right has now caught up and surpassed us).

Socialism and social democracy

I’ve switched back and forth between the two terms, with a more or less constant understanding of their meaning. For me, “social democracy” refers to the actual policy program advocated and to a significant extent implemented by social democratic parties in the mid-20th century: free and universal health care and education, a social welfare system sufficiently broad and generous to eliminate poverty, full employment and strong unions, in the context of a mixed economy. “Socialism” refers to a fundamental transformation of the capitalist system incorporating and going beyond the social democratic program to end large-scale capital and dependence on wage labour.

That is, as I use the terms, social democracy refers to a contemporary policy program and socialism to a utopian aspiration. During the period of neoliberal dominance, , I described myself as a social democrat, defending the achievements of the 20th century and trying to extend them where possible. Now that there is an opening for the future, we need the kind of utopian vision I associated with “socialism”.

48 thoughts on “Socialism and social democracy

  1. @Anthony Allowing execs options as part of their salary package has been a contentious issue and is influenced by company performance (in publicly listed companies).

  2. I would not bother yoking long-term progressive Left ideology to egalitarian vocational tertiary education. Within a decade or so the notion of spending five or so years at university acquiring a life-long professional qualifications for a job that will be soon be vacuumed up by a cloud-based AI will have a naive and threadbare look.

    Already most graduates are, quite correctly, gloomy about long-term career prospects. No doubt from bitter experience with the “gig economy” and “job portfolio” resumes. But also they see the robot writing on the wall.

    That’s not to say universities are another legacy industry heading for the robot knackery. I think they can be re-branded as 21 century finishing schools, where young people can acquire some sort of civilizational inheritance, be mentored by wise old heads and meet potential mates.

    That is after all what Plato’s gymnasium was set up for. Forward to the past is my motto.

    The Lefts best ideological selling point is the fact that the Internet of Things is a natural commons and therefore should be owned (but not managed) by the public. The robots will of course administer the IoT. We humans should not worry our pretty little heads with it.

  3. @Julie Thomas
    Government are people too. The difference is they use other people’s resources to increase their own utility. I was a very left leaning, tax and spend type of person before my time in government. But the things I saw go there swung my politics much further to the right. The incentives for government are all wrong. The less they have at their discretion the better.

  4. hc @ #25 said:

    But I am more confident in claiming that many students now attending universities generate almost zero social value.

    I assume that should be read as “zero [net] social value”, when the publicly funded 2/3 fee subsidy and the opportunity cost of 3 years out of the workforce is offset against any putative gains tertiary education has generated in their productivity.

    But I would go further than this and state with confidence that, in a substantial fraction of students, tertiary education is of negative social value, after taking into account subsidised fees, employment downtime and the Mark Twain effect:

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

  5. may :
    but isn’t “leveraging” using other peoples money?

    Sure but its the individual’s choice to invest, nobody is compelling them to do it. The investor’s interests are also much better aligned with the corporate interests than they are with government.

  6. But “free” education is funded by all so there is a regressive transfer from poor to wealthy.

    Err, no: this is dodgy. Uni kids in their own right have no money, by-and-large. Their parents have money, but the kids have no legal claim to it. A person with no legal claim to assets is by many definitions “poor”, and giving a poor person money is a transfer to the poor, no.

    So you’re going to need a more-sophisticated analysis.

    [this is also why having the centrelink independence age at 25 is indefensible in any consistent framework.]

  7. @S

    Other people’s resources? lol private property is theft just as much as tax is theft and using other people’s property.

    And you know what I’ve worked in small business and the things I saw there reinforced my understanding that emphasising and incentivising the selfish and greedy nature of human behaviour is all wrong. The less encouragement that is provided for people to act as ‘individuals’ the better.

    There is such a thing as society.

  8. @S

    It is true that government is by people and so it follows that the ‘vibe’ that influences people will influence the way that ‘government’ functions.

    Given the toxic and wrong ‘vibe’ that has over the past decades been influencing people to think of themselves as individuals who when operating as self interested rational beings make the best decisions and the claims that there is no such thing as a society that needs to be nurtured and developed for the common good, then it is entirely probable that government will not be making good decisions.

    But this is not necessarily the way government can or should function.

    And you say that it is the individuals choice to invest but this choice is not a free choice or a rational choice it is influenced by the vibe and the lies that are told to individuals to encourage them to invest. Like gambling.

    And to say that the investors interests are better aligned with the corporate interests than they are with government is not a rational argument; corporate interests are not a good thing for the individuals who make up the society and corporations do not have any commitment toward any community that aims to make the world a better place for everyone.

    Government does have this aim even if they do not always live up to it.

  9. @Julie Thomas
    And I suppose forcibly taking other people’s money to spend how you see fit isn’t selfish? You may be able to convince yourself that would be the mark of a good person but not me unfortunately.

    Private property is the sum return on people’s capital and labour.
    Its the result of consenting and mutually beneficial transactions between people. Taxes on the other hand, are often not consentual and the people spending them are largely unaccountable with little to no skin in the game. You talk about your small business experience like it’s a qualification, well most people in government have never even had a job in the private sector. Government should always be the last resort. It exists only to do the things that people can’t do themselves. It will never be a substitute for individuals being responsible for their own lives, including their failures.

  10. @S

    “forcibly” taking people’s money? You are free to move to a country where there is no taxation.This old-fashioned glibertarian nonsense is quite boring.

    All those silly claims and the whole fake philosophy have been thoroughly discredited and individuality will never be a substitute for individuals taking responsibility for their community, the common good and working toward becoming better less selfish and greedy individuals.

  11. …Private property is the sum return on people’s capital and labour.
    Its the result of consenting and mutually beneficial transactions between people. …

    It’s interesting to compare your views with the views of Gerald Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster. He is reported to have said: ‘Given the choice, I would rather not have been born wealthy, but I never think of giving it up. I can’t sell. It doesn’t belong to me.’ It has also been reported that he was asked by the Financial Times for his advice to young entrepreneurs and replied, ‘Make sure they have an ancestor who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror’.

  12. @S
    Bleat about censorship deleted. As with nearly every propertarian I’ve dealt with here, S doesn’t understand or respect other peoples’ property rights. If you want to complain about socialism and insult other commenters, do it on your own blog

  13. @John Quiggin

    Thanks JQ, the comment in question is out of moderation. Moderation may have been triggered by my use of the word ‘vibe’ more than once.

    S, the commentator with the simplistic 1980’s libertarian schitk may have been triggered by the same word, he seems like the sort of person who is easily triggered.

    And when triggered they really do illustrate the dysfunctionality of a personality constructed on the basis of self-interest improperly understood.

    Is Alexis de Tocqueville a white male and a part of western civilisation?

    And yet some people can’t seem to understand his explanation of self-interest properly understood which is that the common welfare is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being.

    And S has a blog? I suppose he doesn’t get much of chance to trot out his same old same old arguments there.

  14. @Jack Strocchi

    The Dunkirk period, and WW2 in general, is getting a cinematic revival because cultural generals fight the last war, or rather the last war several wars ago, rather than face the realities of our next challenges.

    In WW2 mythology, it’s the last war where we (the West) were the good guys… except we weren’t, not even then. That whole period. WW1 prequels to WW2 sequels, demonstrated the tendency of capitalism to erupt in imperial war or in fascism and imperial war in an attempt to resolve its contradictions.

    Were the British in India any better than Nazis? We can ask the same questions of Belgium in the Congo, the British and French in the Middle East, the French in Indochina and so on.

    Of course, when I say we weren’t the good guys, people with standard Manichean thinking imagine I mean some other state or states were the good guys. No. States run by elites (aristocratic elites, capitalist elites, party elites, corporate elites) are never the good guys. They are always the bad guys. Your nostalgia for the traditions of elitism is a regressive dead-end.

  15. Ken_L,

    You would be warmed by the Amel Yachts story, crafted by the incredible Henri Amel.

    Amel was blind for an extended period of his career.[5]

    At the time of his death in 2005, Amel donated 12,000 of his 13,000 shares in Chantier Amel to the company’s employees. (from Wikipedia)

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