Whose New “Socialism” Is It?

Molly Montgomery PhotoSocialism is back, at least in name.

But what’s behind the name and renewed interest?

A lot, according to a John Roemer, a Yale political scientist and economist who has studied the subject for decades.

Polls are now showing that a majority of Democrats, at least, favor socialism over capitalism, especially among people under 50.

A self-proclaimed democratic socialist is the leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, with his opponents following his lead in embracing plans for “Medicare for all,” free college tuition, and higher taxes on the wealthy.

Here in New Haven, a chapter of Democratic Socialists of America is up and running, joining a trend that has quintupled the national group’s membership in the past two years.  Another local activist group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, has been rallying on behalf of LGBTQ rights and against U.S. intervention abroad.

All that has happened against a backdrop of a decades-long widening of income inequality, observed Roemer. (His books include A Future for Socialism.)

“There’s been a massive disillusionment in this country,” Roemer observed during an interview Thursday on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program. The wealthy have gotten “massively richer” since 1980, while real incomes of lowest wage-earners have remained flat, he said.

Roemer predicted that politics have changed enough in this country that branding an opponent as “socialist” to scare voters, the current key strategy of the Republican Party against the Democrats, will no longer succeed.

But when people say “socialism,” they can mean very different things. The majority of people calling for a shift toward socialist policy are not seeking to have the government own the means of production, Roemer noted. They’re not looking to replicate the failed model of the former Soviet Union. Rather, they’re generally seeking a dramatic widening of the welfare statement on the model of Scandinavian-style “social democracies” to cover health care, paid medical leave, greater regulation of corporations, and a higher minimum wage, among other policies.

Roemer welcomed that agenda — as a start to a broader, modernized form of socialism he’d like to see take root. One that would preserve privately owned small business while turning over multibillion-dollar companies to government control.

“I am what is called a market socialist. I think we have to use markets to allocate resources. But I don’t think using markets commits us to having the kind of distribution of income that we have in the United States today, where about 40 percent of the wealth is owned by the top 10 percent,” Roemer said.

In addition to “market,” Roemer stresses the word “democratic.” He called that the crucial missing ingredient in the former Soviet Union and in China.

“China accomplished something fantastic. It pulled 500 million, 600 million people out of poverty. Just fantastic. That’s a huge accomplishment,” Roemer said.

“Now what’s happening that the income inequality is getting worse. There’s growth of wealth at the top. It’s not that top 10 percent in China own 40 percent of the wealth; they own 20 percent of the wealth.

“It’s a complicated system. It’s not democratic…. That will be its downfall…. It’s lost its socialist ethos.”

A “sustainable” 21st-century socialism, he argued, will require “an ethos of cooperation. That we are in this world to try to work with other people to help us all jointly to improve our situations, our lives. We have to cooperate to do that. The major form of cooperation in which we have succeeded has been the construction of large welfare states.” Where socialism champions cooperation, he said, capitalism preaches that “we’re in it for ourselves. Each of us should compete with each other. The only responsibility we have is to our families. That is a very destructive ethos.”

How does that mix of cooperation, market forces, and democracy play out in specific policy?

Tom Breen PhotoOn the environment, it means dramatic international cooperation to cut carbon emissions, Roemer said. He embraced the vision of democratic socialist U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal.” But he offered one big quibble: Its rejection of any market-based solutions. Roemer said his research has borne out what both conservative and liberal economists generally now agree is the efficacy of, say, carbon taxes, which factor in the true environmental cost of using polluting fossil fuels in goods and services; and financial incentives for companies to develop green technology. (Yale economist William Nordhaus won a 2018 Nobel prize for his research in that area.)

“I think there has to be ... massive international cooperation. That goes against the usual practice of capitalists,” Roemer said. “But I do think markets can be used to help solve the problem.”

A soon-to-be-published paper Roemer co-authored advocates a system that sets a ceiling and a price on carbon emissions worldwide, charges it to manufacturers when they pollute, and collects the fees in an international fund that divides up the money among countries based on needs. He points to French President Emmanuel Macron’s now-scuttled gas tax hike as the wrong way to proceed: “He was going to jack up the prices of gasoline to have an increased carbon tax —  which I support —  but he didn’t say, ‘I’m going to return the money to the people.’... Give them back a share of what was collected so that their income does not [decrease]. You can do this is such a way that people who need to drive most to get to work get back the largest share.”

Roemer also termed “terrible” the stand taken last month by New Haven’s Party for Socialism and Liberation in favor of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro’s anti-democratic and kleptocratic policies, he said, don’t fit a true definition of socialism.

“They tried to replace all the normal democratic municipal government with their own councils,” Roemer said. “It’s just a travesty what’s happened.”

Click on the video below for the full interview with John Roemer on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to take the New York Times quiz to find out if you are a socialist, at least as defined by the Democratic Socialists of America.

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posted by: mspepper on March 8, 2019  10:22am

Socialism or barbarism.

posted by: JohnTulin on March 8, 2019  11:12am

The Left: We will unearth anything you may have said when you were young and dumb and ruin you with it!!!

Also, the left:  Che Guevara, cold-blooded murderer who said Africans don’t like to bathe and are indolent and only want to spend wages on frivolity or drink, is dreamy!

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 8, 2019  12:03pm

This was a thoughtful discussion of present day Socialism, a concept that is as varied as the countries in which it can be found in one form or another.
  It’s too bad the comments weren’t on the same thoughtful level.

posted by: wendy1 on March 8, 2019  12:52pm

The rich need to share their wealth or watch society crumble.  Without the rest of us, they have nothing.  I dont care what you call it.  Our species will be heaving its last soon thanks to greed, violence, and our pollution so you are wasting your time clinging to a doctrine or financial formulary.  All religions at least got it right if they recommended equality and sharing.  Unfortunately these lessons were never heeded.

posted by: Urn Pendragon on March 8, 2019  12:58pm

Ahhhh, the dreaded negative stigmatism and label slapped on the word, SOCIALISM.

Socialism, in its purest definition, is the sharing of resources equally among the citizens of a country or sovereignty.  However, if the sharing and distribution of resources are not managed wisely, then you end up with a failed government like the past Soviet Union.

By managing certain resources, like healthcare, housing, jobs and education, then you are fostering a fair and equitable environment, just what Sweden and Norway exemplify.  But, for America, Socialism is looked at as a dirty word in politics and society; it’s not the same thing as communism.

Sweden and Norway only have governmental control over the necessities of life, the rest of their country’s economy is left to a free enterprise system.

Thank you for this educational and informative article.
Urn Pendragon, New Haven mayoral candidate

posted by: BevHills730 on March 8, 2019  7:57pm

John Roemer is the greatest!  Such a careful thinker.

posted by: Marion on March 9, 2019  8:47am

Anyone knowledgeable about history and the science of economics knows that socialism is a tyrannical system of shared misery and poverty. The ignorant are drawn to snake oil salesmen like Bernie Sanders, a typical “socialist” with his 3 homes - one of them a $600,000 lakefront vacation home, his luxury cars, and his many government bureaucrat perks and privileges. That’s what happens in socialism. The government bureaucrats live well and rule over a population that lives like pigs on bare subsistence welfare. Nobody flees the United States to socialist/communist nations. It’s the other way around.  It always has been. Always will be.

As for those waving banners with the Che Guevara image? Again, they’re ignorant.  Guevara being a murderous thug aside, he himself confronted the follies of socialism. In Cuba, he was frustrated when so many people were failing to show up for their socialist government-assigned work at a nationalized sugar plant. Because all were given their daily bread no matter what (since subsistence was considered a human right), why bother to work? (Economics 101 - Duh). Guevara then goes to Bolivia to inspire a socialist revolution there, discovers the Bolivian people had zero interest, finds himself alone in the woods with his starving little band of mercenaries, gets himself shot, and buried in a hole. A just end given the number of people he mercilessly executed in cold blood. And Guevara’s contemptuous views toward black people and gay people have always been conveniently buried by those who need to keep him on a pedestal.

Socialism is slavery, and only the ignorant, and those who seek power and to rule over them, advocate for it. Amazing that these people stand in front of city hall with signs like that while the people of socialist Venezuela starve and risk their lives to get out of there and escape to capitalist America where a better life awaits them.

posted by: Urn Pendragon on March 9, 2019  5:30pm

@Marion, I have to disagree with your presumptuous attitude and cavalier insensibilities on the topic of socialism and Che Guevara.  You are right about Guevara, he was a murderous pig, no question about that.  And what he sought wasn’t socialism, it was fascism, almost bordering dictatorship.

Selective socialism is a proven model that works.  I’ve cited Norway and Sweden several times, but I expect you wouldn’t be bothered to read up on their governments.  While it is true that only socialism is pure folly, it leads to extreme examples of corruption.  You might not like what I’m about to say, but America is more socialist than you know.

Social security, retirement, insurance, and even death benefits are all examples of capitalistic socialism.  Hell, let’s even look at the very concept of a city; pure collectivistic socialism.  Hope your head is spinning, because everything in the known world is the result of socialism; people working together for the common good.  Even the advent of inventions, books, religion and technology are selective socialism.

Hope you enjoyed your daily rant, because you are dead wrong.
Take care and be well everyone.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 9, 2019  6:52pm


Roemer literally teaches Economics 101.  He also teaches graduate-level economics that you should try to understand.  Read his new book!

posted by: Christian Bruckhart on March 9, 2019  7:20pm

Oy, here we go again. Socialism is a dead ideology, please stop trying to revive it. The Scandinavian countries are not, repeat NOT, socialist. This is a quote from the prime minister of Denmark: “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.” (Source: https://www.google.com/amp/s/fee.org/articles/the-myth-of-scandinavian-socialism//amp)

I don’t want to beat a dead horse/ideology so I won’t hijack this thread, but if you care to read my rebuttals against socialism (thank you Attorney Kane for the coffee, I enjoyed the chat), here’s a link to my thoughts: https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/guaido_president_or_puppet/

posted by: Marion on March 9, 2019  9:17pm

@UrnPendragon.  As for your own “rants,” you read up yourself.  The Nordic states you mention are not socialist.  They are capitalist.Their governments do not control the means of production. They do not control the job market. They do not even have a minimum wage law.They are welfare states, based on high taxation. And neither has border problems. They are geographically suited for what they do. Their populations are homogeneous.  They suffer no constant influx of millions of illegal migrants and refugees from third world poverty-stricken nations.If they did, their welfare system would collapse under the weight of it.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 9, 2019  10:05pm

Christian and Marion did you read the article or watch the video? John addresses everything you both are discussing.  He makes the distinctions and he is very precise with what he is arguing.  He might be one of the most precise social scientists in the world. Read his book!

posted by: Billy on March 9, 2019  10:31pm

@Marion Your assertion that Nordic countries are not welcoming refugees with great social needs into their countries is completely at odds with the facts.  The UNHCR reports that Sweden (to pick one of Urn’s examples) hosted over 20 times the number of refugees that the US did per capita in 2016, and the US rate has only gone down precipitously since then.  Don’t use old, factually inaccurate tropes to counter a very sensible, sustainable system that flattens the stockpiling of resources, and ensures that people have what they need.  Not sure what your problem is with everyone going to college and the doctor’s office without some fearing personal economic collapse. The arguments you’re making derive from taking a few too many sips of the 1%‘s Koolaid. The 1% are the people pulling the strings here…but you seem more fearful of a socialist bogeyman.  Ever heard of IKEA?  They don’t seem hindered by the version of socialism in Sweden that Urn, Bernie Sanders, and others are espousing. Once you and others quit peddling the bogus “truisms” you cite, and insert some facts, we can have a real conversation.  Until then it’s all just a “less filling, tastes great” discourse.

posted by: Christian Bruckhart on March 9, 2019  10:52pm

Bevhills, have you read Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, et al? They would be the people who created, you know… socialism? The same people who advocated state sponsored terror, the creation of separate classes (proletariat, bourgeoisie, lumpenproletariat, etc), and the abolition of private property, amongst other travesties. I watched the whole video. He barely, albeit unwillingly under Paul’s questioning, admits the eventual failure of the soviet economy, saying early in the interview that the US damned communism because after WW2 our government was afraid of Americans seeing the Soviet’s advanced economy. Really?? That statement is patently false. Then he says that socialism didn’t catch on in America because workers didn’t have class consciousness? My God, it’s like he’s regurgitating an entry sociology level class and quoting the Marx-Engels reader. He then cites China as a great socialist success without acknowledging that China’s “success” in economic terms is a total fabrication and reported based on their own numbers because they won’t allow outside observers. Or that their “success” also resulted in massive environmental degradation, recurring human rights violations, continuing support of despotic regimes (eg North Korea) and the outright theft of intellectual property which they were unable to invent themselves. He gracefully does admit the massive corruption and the (gasp) accumulation of wealth by a small (the 1%???) number of people. So I’ll ask you: what socialist country, ever, has been successful? Name one. And please don’t name any country in Scandinavia or Europe because, as a cursory search of Google will show, NONE OF THEM ARE SOCIALIST.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 9, 2019  11:27pm


He is making a distinction with market socialism.  You really should read his book and understand the distinctions he is making.  He understands and appreciates the power of markets more than most.  Check out his proofs of the fundamental theorems of welfare economics and his book on distributive justice.  You may end up disagreeing with him, but take the time to understand his work if you are going to say he is wrong.

posted by: Marion on March 10, 2019  10:29am

@Urn @BevHills:  Uninterested in reading Roemer.  Lefty economics abound on university campuses. (Don’t get my “news” from the NYT either).  Get up to speed on your exalted Sweden.  The “progressive” Sweden allowed in huge per capita numbers of migrants and asylum seekers.  The predicted result?  It’s welfare system started to sag.  Among the consequences: waiting lists for operations and access to health care. Doctor shortages. More crime - violent crime. Budget crises ensued.  Open calls for deportations. This all resulted in upheavals for the 2018 elections, with a conservative movement surge and a deadlock in election results.

Read and think for yourself. Don’t get seduced by the abstract idealism of Yalies whose grasp of the real world and what actually goes on on the ground in “socialist” or “democratic socialist” countries is ignorant or dreamy-eyed at best.

posted by: Urn Pendragon on March 10, 2019  11:56am

@Marion,  As part of my comparative policy studies, I am too well aware of the societal and political problems that Sweden faces.  I was speaking on their generalized model of shared socialist public policies.  You want to get into specific details on Sweden’s political woes.  I am impressed with your level of knowledge on the subject, and personally prefer to have this type of conversation as in-person, because you want to go into details.

I applaud you and urge that you to continue to learn about topics you feel passionate about.  Maybe broaden your horizons by looking up parallel topics that are similar to socialism and politics.  Lord knows, I’m learning something news everyday, and will never claim that I know it all.

Take care and be well.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 10, 2019  1:20pm

“Uninterested”. Good description of your approach to political economics.

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 10, 2019  2:57pm

@Christian Bruckhart:
  Most Americans have not read Marx et al because our education skipped over them, except for a summary. It was pounded into us that “godless Communism” had to be defeated.
    Both the US and Soviet Russia almost went broke before the Soviets decided to abandon their brand of Socialism, aka Communism and work on getting their oligarchy going. In other words, Communism was only one “brand” of Socialism and that leaves 999 others to discuss.
    As I mentioned before, there are a thousand forms of Socialism that have evolved in the last 150 years. Capitalism has also evolved over 300 years, and it’s apparent that, as Picketty concluded: capitalism inevitably creates inequality and as Richard Wolff and a zillion other economists have concluded, is subject to periodic booms and busts.
    The Comment section of the NHI is fine for laying out a point a view, but too tight a space in which to focus on definitions and details. Maybe it’s time to invite Prof. Wolff back.
    Are you interested in learning about the worker coop in northern Spain that has been around for over 100 years and employs around 900 people? Are you interested in learning about how democracy in the work place might be accomplished?
    If your goal is to conflate Socialism with Communism, see paragraph 2.
    If you are interested in curing Capitalism of its wretched excesses, Elizabeth Warren is with you.
    Many of us believe Bernie when he says the game is rigged.
    The growing Democratic Socialist movement is willing to accommodate both socialism and capitalism, but in a democratic framework. After all, don’t we already have a blend of both in many government programs? And how about the bail outs of Chrysler and Wall St. Banks?  Or is it only sharing with the workers and those in need of subsidy that offend?
    Socialism was a potent force in early 20th century American politics and it’s back.
    Google Eugene Debs.

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 10, 2019  3:15pm

@Marion. Bernie owns 2 houses: 1 in VT and one in DC. All those phony headlines were about a transaction involving his son’s property and obvious attempts to slime him. You have to go beyond the headlines to get the truth.
  As for throwing in Che Guevara, well let’s discuss the Koch brothers and their undermining the democratic process right and left while squeezing their workers. Don’t set up this straw men unless you know how to use them.
  Your random allegations are like paint splatters. I can’t make sense of any of it.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 10, 2019  7:17pm

The ordinary citizen has not reaped any benefit from the technological advances of our ‘modern capitalist society’, only gotten more enslaved.  This is counter-intuitive to say the least.

All of ‘those efficiencies’ have been syphoned off to the 1%.

It’s going to get a lot darker before the dawn breaks…..
When I say the ‘robots are coming for your jobs’, I am not kidding! 

This is the real investment behind ‘new factories’.

Don’t fear Socialism—Fear the Techno-Plutocracy!

posted by: Urn Pendragon on March 10, 2019  10:01pm

Here is a snipet of where the mayoral candidates stand on issues. I know it’s not a debate on socialism, but maybe after checking out the link, we CAN organize a debate.


posted by: Marion on March 11, 2019  6:54am

@PatriciaKane,  NO, you are wrong.  Bernie Sanders has THREE homes. A row house in D.C. (nice digs), a home in Burlington, and a $600,000 lakefront vacation home. The “socialist” is, and lives like, a millionaire, and his wife likes the good life. That is a FACT that even the liberal SNOPES could not challenge.  You people are like the defenders of Imelda Marcos, even after her 2000 pairs of shoes in the closet were discovered.

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 11, 2019  3:07pm

@Marion: The attempts to portray Bernie as no different from Trump or Bill Gates is hilarious.
  I traced one of the news reports trying to slime Bernie to Vanity Fair. It should have read “This is a paid political opinion”. Here’s the link. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/08/bernie-sanders-summer-house
  The “3rd house” turns out to be a family camp that Jane Sanders bought with money from a house in Maine that she inherited.
  I do not have the time or resources to research the titles to the properties, but Bernie has reported the DC condo (with a mortgage) and the Burlington, VT house as his.
  Last I looked, Bernie was not a Trappist monk making jelly and jams to support the family. His Congressional income is a matter of record. I believe he is one of the LEAST wealthy men in Congress. The sale of a book did bump up his fortunes, but not even close to the Obamas’ 2 book deal for $120 million.
  If you continue to get your information from Fox News, just keep it quiet.
  People on the NHI know how to read and research and are smarter than the DNC operatives and far right wing purveyors of fake news.
  The fact that you can write in CAPITAL LETTERS does not make your information any less misleading and/ or wrong.

posted by: Marion on March 11, 2019  10:41pm

@Patricia Kane.  You’re wrong again.  Mrs. Sanders did not “inherit” a “family camp.”  And I don’t get my info from “Fox News” - another common slur from those who can’t debate facts. I read, and so should you.  The “inheritance” Jane Sanders got was a much smaller sum, far less that what was needed to buy their 3rd,  $600,000 vacation home.  And I never said Sanders was “no different” than Trump.  Stop putting words in my mouth and distorting what I say. The point I am making is that many “socialists” are full of crap - they like money, they like having multiple fancy homes and fancy cars, and most of all they seek power, typically with class warfare rhetoric, stirring up resentment, envy, and hatred along class lines for political gain.

posted by: George Polk on March 12, 2019  7:45am

For Socialism and National or Democratic Socialism to work needs control of population. Be it through population control. Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are being affected by their immigration policies and falling native birth rates. Another problem with a these systems is that it does not embrace efficiency which eventually see’s technology as a threat as we are reading in many of the above comments. My sarcastic view on Ol’ Bernie written if The NY Times or New Yorker wanted to treat him like they treat any Republican candidate: “Joined the White Flight out of Brooklyn in the 1950’s, migrated to the Whitest state east of Utah, see’s Sweden as the smartest people on earth….do we see a trend?

posted by: Patricia Kane on March 12, 2019  10:05am

@Marion. Re-read my posting.
  If you can’t get my facts in writing correct, I’m concerned about how you process things you think you heard.
  People need to ask themselves why they are so afraid of even discussing socialism, especially since we have so many government programs that resulted from socialism to begin with.