If you don’t like President Trump’s economic policies, you might have an even worse choice in upcoming elections: socialism.
As Democrats try to figure out how to counter Trump, they’re lining up behind some Bernie Sanders ideas from 2016, including “Medicare for all” and free college for everybody: Appealing ideas, as long as you don’t consider the cost. Unspeakably expensive, if you do.
Now comes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a charismatic, 28-year-old Latina who upset an old-guard Democrat in a New York House primary on June 26 and will probably be headed to Congress next year. Ocasio-Cortez is a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist who’s even more leftist than Bernie Sanders, and her ascent has triggered hopes among some that the Democrat Party will become a sort of workers collectivist movement.
Except that’s not what Americans want. Americans’ impression of the federal government has fallen sharply and consistently since 2002, and it’s not just a Trump phenomenon. Only 18% of Americans say they trust the government these days, a portion that’s only slightly lower than during Barack Obama’s presidency. Yet the leftist solutions to legitimate problems almost always involve huge new bureaucracies that will somehow do everything better than private-sector entities.
Trump’s tax-cut legislation is unpopular, but that sure doesn’t mean Americans favor the huge tax hikes that would be necessary to establish or expand a vast array of new government agencies and benefits. People dislike the Trump tax cuts because they feel the wealthy benefit too much and the middle class too little. That’s not the same as “Raise my taxes to make government bigger.”
Ocasio-Cortez belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America, which dates to 1971 and supports some of the worst economic ideas in history. Here’s an example of what it stands for: “Very large, strategically important sectors of the economy — such as housing, utilities and heavy industry — would be subject to democratic planning outside the market, while a market sector consisting of worker-owned and -operated firms would be developed for the production and distribution of many consumer goods.”
That’s the old Soviet model of central planning, which has failed everywhere it has been tried because as bad as capitalist abuses can be at times, a government-run economy is infinitely worse. They still haven’t gotten the memo in Venezuela, where inflation is approaching 1 million percent because corrupt socialist leaders can’t figure out how to bake bread or pump oil. Thing is, they shouldn’t have to.
Socialism is apparently becoming trendy. At least 42 socialists are running for office this year, according to the Associated Press. In a Harvard poll, one-third of millennials said they support socialism, with capitalism edging it out by just nine percentage points. A group of liberals in Congress has drafted a “people’s budget” that would fund trillions of dollars in new federal programs and soak the rich to subsidize the poor.
Awful socialist ideas arise in response to legitimate problems. The U.S. health care system is broken and discriminatory. Quality education is too expensive. Income inequality is too severe. The Trump tax cuts did disproportionately favor the wealthy, and may be clawed back amid the next populist revolt.
But putting government in charge of the parts of capitalism that work—namely, the efficient production of most things—would wreck economic growth and lower living standards, uh, collectively. There are better ways to fix real problems, including bipartisan efforts at health and education reform, including smaller, regional programs that can be scaled up if they work.
Some Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have tried to swat down efforts to socialize the Democratic Party, aware that large blocs of pragmatic independents and other swing voters may flee just when Democrats need them the most. Maybe they should tell genuine socialists to drop the “Democratic” part. Rational centrism is still the best antidote to Trump radicalism.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman