Bernie Sanders’ silly “socialism”

The more I find out about Bernie Sanders the more I like him.  But I just can’t get past that “socialist” label.

1.  For years people like me have been called “McCarthyite” if we label someone a socialist.  And now we are suddenly to believe that socialism in America is perfectly acceptable?  So I’m no longer a McCarthyite?

2.  Bernie Sanders claims he wants to make the US more like Denmark.  But Denmark scores higher on the Heritage “Economic Freedom” ranking than does the US.  How will Sanders boost economic freedom in America up to Danish levels?  He doesn’t tell us.  Although Denmark scores only slightly higher than the US, his social welfare plans would push the US far lower on the Heritage Economic Freedom ranking.  So to catch Denmark he’d have to make the US massively more market-oriented in other areas. Will we have Denmark’s private fire companies?

It’s true that there are many countries in the EU with socialist parties.  Here they are, with unemployment rates in parentheses:

Belgium (8.6%), Bulgaria (9.6%), France (10.2%), Greece (25.6%), Hungary (7.0%), Italy (12.7%), Luxembourg (5.7%), Portugal (12.4%), Spain (22.5%)

OK, Luxembourg is doing well.

And here are some European countries without (AFAIK) any major party that calls itself “socialist”:

Austria (6.0%) , Britain (5.6%), Denmark (6.0%), Finland (9.5%), Germany (4.7%), Ireland  (9.7%), Netherlands (6.9%), Sweden (7.5%)

[Update:  I should not have relied on Wikipedia.  Garrett M points out that the Netherlands does have a socialist party.]

Bernie Sanders likes to say that he favors the Scandinavian model, but doesn’t seem to realize that the Nordic countries view the socialist label as toxic.  The term ‘socialism’ used to actually mean something.  It meant opposition to capitalism. It meant government ownership of the means of production.  The socialist parties in southern Europe actually favored socialism when they first choose their name.  Yes, they did edge somewhat away from government ownership of industry in the neoliberal era, but the name stuck.  And they are still more socialist than northern Europe.

So why would Bernie Sanders call himself a socialist, and not a social democrat?  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he’s a little bit ignorant and a little bit eccentric.  However, not only does he not favor the Nordic economic policies that earned those countries high rankings in economic freedom, he doesn’t seem to favor their paternalistic social policies either.

You might say this stuff doesn’t matter, what matters is “substance.”  Really?  Is American politics about “substance”? What is the “substance” of Donald Trump’s tax plan to go after the hedge fund owners? How will he do that? What is the “substance” of Hillary Clinton’s true underlying views on the TPP?  American politics is about many different things, but “substance” is certainly not one of them.

Almost overnight the term ‘socialism’ has gone from being toxic in America, to non-toxic.  As I indicated, that doesn’t really tell us anything interesting about Bernie Sanders, he’s just confused.  But it just may tell us something important about America.

PS.  The left in America likes to think of itself as “reality-based” and the right as being “faith-based.”  But that’s not how things work in the rest of the world.  Elsewhere, Socialists oppose reforms to make the economy better, they are the new reactionaries. Here’s a recent example from the FT:

Portugal’s bonds started the day looking queasy, and they haven’t picked up since.

The problem is politics. Acting prime minister, the centre-right Pedro Passos Coelho, has still not been able to forge the coalition he heeds to govern with the opposition socialists. (Elections were held at the start of this month, and while Mr Passos Coelho won the most votes, he did not snag large enough share of the vote to govern alone.)

Analysts at RBS warn that the political situation in the country is more complicated than many assume.

The ball is in the court of the defeated Socialist party – they could either support centre-right PàF, or form a coalition with the radical left. The first has always been the base case of analysts; yesterday however Socialist leader Costa declared his party was closer to an agreement with anti-austerity parties and negotiations with PàF were interrupted.

We now see a 50% probability of a left-wing government, which would halt the country’s reform momentum and would likely start rolling back the reforms already implemented. Such political risk adds up to Portugal’s worrying economic fundamentals.

And check out how Brazil’s socialists are doing.  (A few years ago Krugman praised their policies.)  And how about Venezuela?  (praised by Corbyn)  How about Greece? How’d that negotiating advice from Stiglitz and Sachs work out?  Yes, I’m cherry picking.  But when I read America leftists I sometimes have the impression that they have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world.  If America ever adopts socialism is will look far more like the Brazilian variety than the Danish variety.

PPS.  From the list above, it sort of looks like socialism appeals to Catholic and Greek Orthodox countries. But my hunch is that the true cultural divide is language, not religion.  Northern Belgium, Bavaria, Ireland, and Austria are all Catholic regions, and all speak non-Latin languages.  And all four places are prosperous.  The cultural dividing line in Europe is not at the Belgium/Netherlands border, it runs right through the center of Belgium.  It’s probably more correlated with language than religion.

PS.  I have a much more important post over at Econlog.



61 Responses to “Bernie Sanders’ silly “socialism””

  1. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    17. October 2015 at 05:51

    I thought that one of your most important issue was immigration (“more, more, more.”) I would think that calling “sharply raising the level of immigration, even up to a level of open borders” a “Koch brothers proposal” (as an obviously intended insult) because it interferes with socialism in one country would be a bigger problem than being a nominal socialist who likes Denmark:

    If someone wants to be a socialist and actually mean Denmark, that’s fine. If they say that they like the Nordic countries but think that the Nordic countries still have their 1970s policy and really like a fantasy of the Nordic countries, that’s different of course.

  2. Gravatar of miguel miguel
    17. October 2015 at 05:51

    Scott, his ‘socialism’ is the one of the nordic model, big welfare state, relatively low income inequality due to high taxes, high bargaining power of workers. I would also like to think he wouldn’t be opposed to some of the free market characteristics of these countries. It is simply not true that the southern europe is more ‘socialist’ (I’m portuguese) in those aspects. Most of the left wing here also has also the nordic model as its ideal.

  3. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 05:57

    America already has adopted socialism, it’s just a question of how much farther we’ll go down that path. I agree with most of what Scott says in this post, but Britain does have an openly socialist party (Labour); they used to go around addressing each other as ‘Comrade’. As the Peter Sellers character Fred Kite hilariously depicted in ‘I’m All Right, Jack’.

    Now that I think of it, Bernie Sanders’ obtuseness does remind me of Fred Kite; ‘Russia is so wonderful. All those wheat fields…and ballet in the evening.’

  4. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 06:02

    A friend of mine at Northwestern has recommended this woman’s work to me;

    So, I’ll be reading ‘The Land of Too Much’ soon.

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 06:08

    ‘Scott, his ‘socialism’ is the one of the nordic model….’

    Which failed, as did every other socialist experiment, from Lenin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Kim’s North Korea…Hitler and Mussolini’s versions. I’ve recommended this paper before here;

    The title says it all, ‘SCANDINAVIAN UNEXCEPTIONALISM: Culture, Markets and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism’

  6. Gravatar of nmb nmb
    17. October 2015 at 06:16

    Wall Street banksters won’t let Bernie go too far, but what about people?

  7. Gravatar of Britonomist Britonomist
    17. October 2015 at 06:22

    Scott, unrelated but I was wondering what your current thoughts on Brazil are? They seem to be both suffering from high inflation, but contracting real GDP, stagflation. What is the market monetarist approach to this, what should Brazil’s central bank do?

  8. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    17. October 2015 at 06:25

    It’s not religion or language, it’s breakfast. In Northern Europe, you can find a tasty, protein-rich, filling breakfast, whereas in Southern Europe you can’t. How can you sustain principles of thrift, entrepreneurship, and good governance on a croissant and cup of coffee for breakfast?

    Give any Catholic a delicious Continental Breakfast from Flanders or Austria and they’ll find that so-called “Protestant Work Ethic”.

    The main structural adjustment plan that the EU should be proposing for the Eurozone periphery is mandatory muesli and eggs with breakfast.

  9. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    17. October 2015 at 06:28

    And just look what happened to the UK once we stopped having the huge breakfasts we had before 1914: still good in absolute terms, but it was inevitably the end of the greatest days of the British Empire. The US has also run into problems since you stopped tending to eat those big 1950s-type breakfasts you see in Pleasantville; you’re still doing very well, but just look at e.g. US public finances since a “coffee and bagel” culture became widespread.

    Notably, Seventh Day Adventists do very well on a range of indicators and IIRC they invented modern breakfast cereals.

  10. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 06:35

    ‘…my hunch is that the true cultural divide is language….’

    True, Shakespeare solved a lot of problems for us Yank, Canuck, Aussie, Brits.

  11. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 06:42

    Economic reality can even strike Sambaland;

    Brazil plans to auction contracts to operate hydroelectric power plants on Nov. 6, with no restrictions on foreign bidders, a finance ministry official told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

    The auctions will kick off one of the country’s efforts to spark an economic recovery by selling concessions for large infrastructure projects with more market-friendly rules. The government hopes to auction contracts to operate 29 existing power plants to private operators, Paulo Correa, the finance ministry’s secretary for economic affairs, said on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank summit here.


    “We want to make room for more competition,” he said.


    Other auctions will come up as the government completes the rules, Mr. Correa said. A contract to operate a 300-mile (493.3 KM) stretch of highway connecting the southern states of Paraná and Santa Catarina will be auctioned in December, he said.

    Ports, airports and other highways are in the pipeline for next year, he said, adding that the government is still working on ways to make railways more attractive for investors.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 06:47

    John, I agree, he has reactionary views on immigration.

    Miguel, I think you misunderstood my post. I understand very clearly what he likes about Denmark. My point is that it’s silly to call that “socialism.” Portugal has groups that call themselves socialists, not Denmark. He should call himself a social democrat. Or a Nordic-style social democrat, or something that indicates he actually knows something about the rest of the world.

    And no, I don’t think he’d support Scandinavia’s free market policies. Do you have any evidence of him pushing for massive privatization in the US? (rail, postal, water, airports, air traffic control, TSA, etc, etc.) Freer international trade?

    Patrick, That’s debatable. Tony Blair would disagree with you, although Corbyn would agree. But yes, there was a time when Labour was essentially socialist, and they may be moving back to that positive (let’s see of Corbyn survives.)

    Britonomist, MM can’t save Brazil, their problems are almost entirely supply-side.

    W. Peden, I strongly support that proposal.

  13. Gravatar of Britonomist Britonomist
    17. October 2015 at 06:58

    So MM is a demand side only school? It doesn’t have supply side policy recommendations?

    Also I still think it’s an interesting problem facing the central bank, what exactly are they supposed to do in the face of a supply side crisis?

  14. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    17. October 2015 at 07:12


    “Also I still think it’s an interesting problem facing the central bank, what exactly are they supposed to do in the face of a supply side crisis?”

    Target NGDP.

    “So MM is a demand side only school? It doesn’t have supply side policy recommendations?”

    As with old monetarism, you can (in principle) have all sorts of divergent supply side views among market monetarists.

  15. Gravatar of Britonomist Britonomist
    17. October 2015 at 07:13

    Anyone got Brazil NGDP figures?

  16. Gravatar of Lawrence D’Anna Lawrence D'Anna
    17. October 2015 at 07:19

    I read the socialist label as being for more government control over the economy any way he can get it.

    Besides that, what else is there to Bernie’s candidacy? What are the things you like about him?

  17. Gravatar of miguel miguel
    17. October 2015 at 07:26

    “He should call himself a social democrat. Or a Nordic-style social democrat, or something that indicates he actually knows something about the rest of the world.”

    Well, he calls himself a democratic socialist. And points to the nordic model when asked what he means with the term. Isn’t it a quibble to argue that the term “social democrat” should be used instead of “democratic socialist” ?

  18. Gravatar of miguel miguel
    17. October 2015 at 07:28

    Maybe not and you are right (

  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 07:40

    Britonomist, MM does not have supply side recommendations. MMers do have supply side recommendations (which may differ from one person to another.) My recommendation for Brazil is to adopt the sort of market reforms that worked in Chile, and also shrink the state. Spending in Brazil is far too high (and mostly favors the rich.)

    The central bank should keep total labor compensation growing at a slow but steady rate. Perhaps they are already doing that. In any case, the central bank can’t solve Brazil’s problems.

    Lawrence, One of the links says that he opposes paternalism. Check it out.

    Miguel, You said:

    “Isn’t it a quibble to argue that the term “social democrat” should be used instead of “democratic socialist” ?”

    Yes, it’s a quibble. As I said in the post all of American politics is quibbles. Do you think what they say now is an indication of what would happen if they are elected? It’s all about style, not substance. I also “quibble” when the GOP says they are fans of small government. They are not. Then they say that by “small government” they mean a war of drugs, a war on terrorism, a war on immigration, militarism, Medicare expansion, etc.

    I happen to think there is a big difference between socialist and social democrat. One supports capitalism and one opposes capitalism. Maybe others don’t think that’s a big difference.

    Have you ever in your entire life read about someone who supports “socialist-capitalism”? It’s an oxymoron.

    Of course none of this matters, he has near zero chance of being elected president.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 07:45

    Miguel, Thanks for the link, that is helpful. It’s the way I have always understood the term ‘socialism.’

  21. Gravatar of Garrett M Garrett M
    17. October 2015 at 07:46

    It looks like the Netherlands does have a party that calls itself the Socialist Party:

    Wikipedia calls them social-democratic.

  22. Gravatar of Ken Simpson Ken Simpson
    17. October 2015 at 08:10

    “The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of ‘liberalism’ they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”

    – Norman Thomas (1884-1968), six-time U.S. Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America

    It is always illustrative to read the platform paper of the Socialist Party for the election of 1928:

    Nearly every plank has been adopted by Americans over the decades hence.

  23. Gravatar of collin collin
    17. October 2015 at 08:17

    Do we have an inner ‘Bernie Sanders’? After the debate, I find myself bored with Sanders as he has not developed any kind of foreign policy vision. Every answer he gives is ‘greedy bankers’ or ‘Denmark!’ And I tend to value a President’s foreign policy more than their economic or social views as that is the area the President has the most influence on. Additionally, HRC is very hawkish for Democrat Party and that was the issue that Obama beat HRC in 2008. (And Trump’s peace through Trump Very Militaristic! is the most dovish Republican candidate that is actively running. Rand does not have the heart anymore for this Primary run.)

    Lastly at 5.1% unemployment is not the right time to pursue Sanders course.

  24. Gravatar of Jose Romeu Robazzi Jose Romeu Robazzi
    17. October 2015 at 08:18

    Go to
    On the left menu, “tabelas completas”.

    On the spreadsheet, go to the “valores corrente” tab, you get NGDP on column R.

    Brazil is running 6% NGDP growth for two quarters, the slowest in 20 years. But since we are also a commodity country, Prof. Sumner’s comments on Australia NGDP may apply as well…

  25. Gravatar of e.r. e.r.
    17. October 2015 at 08:25

    For the record, “social democratic” parties, generally speaking, define themselves as socialist. Historically, it was just something socialist parties often called themselves. I mean, the Bolsheviks were, technically, members of a “social democratic party.”

    European socialists have drifted politically quite far their often Marxist roots, but this is true of the French Socialists as much as the German Social Democrats. But they still call themselves socialists. E.g., from the English version of the German SDP’s most recent program (

    Democratic Socialism

    Our history is shaped by the idea of democratic socialism, a society of free and equal people where our core values are realized. It requires a structure in economy, state and society guaranteeing civil, political, social and economic basic rights for all people living a life without exploitation, suppression and violence, hence in social and human security.

    The end of the soviet type state socialism did not disprove the idea of democratic socialism but it clearly confirmed the orientation of social democracy towards core values. In our understanding democratic socialism remains the vision of a free and fair society in solidarity. Its realization is a permanent task for us. The principle for our actions is social democracy.

  26. Gravatar of collin collin
    17. October 2015 at 08:27

    If I were to say why socialism is not as dirty word as 10 – 20 years, I put it to simple reasons:

    1) We have a generation people that did not live through Reagan/Thatcher or the fall of the Soviet empire so they did not witness socialism failures nor the huge capitalist gains of 1983 – 2006.

    2) With China and India joining the global economy, we are living a global labor glut so real wages in the rest of the world are stagnant. (Witness the real wages in the US stagnant despite the low unemployment rate.)

  27. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 08:27

    Thanks Garrett, I updated the post.

    Ken, I would not go that far. We have not nationalized the energy or transportation sectors. (Amtrak is a trivial part of transport.) Nor have we nationalized all land rents. But the social democratic parts of the platform have indeed been adopted (unfortunately in many cases.)

  28. Gravatar of Luis Pedro Coelho Luis Pedro Coelho
    17. October 2015 at 08:29

    miguel: the Portuguese left may point to the Nordics as an example, but they often show off their ignorance in doing so. I once heard an elected politician of the Portuguese Socialist Party oppose school vouchers, saying that one should follow the example of Sweden instead; no joke.

    (Fortunately for this lady, politics is not about policy. Imagine if it were: then such an ignorant statement would have invited ridicule instead of being broadcast as “highlight” of the discussion).


    Northern Europe is much more free-market friendly than it Southern Europe. They may both say they support the welfare state, but, when they conflict, the North supports welfare over the state, while in the South it’s often the other way around (so in the North, you get voucher systems, privatized health care, private pensions, &c; in Portugal you get single-payer healthcare)

  29. Gravatar of Ben G Ben G
    17. October 2015 at 08:31

    The UK Labour party has called themselves socialists ever since Blair went, the leader said they were going to ‘bring back socialism to Britain’ before their catastrophic election loss this year and you can bet the new leader is even more socialist:

  30. Gravatar of Michael Larsen Michael Larsen
    17. October 2015 at 08:53

    All european countries have centrist socialist parties. Some use the term socialist, some socialdemocrats, some labour. Sometimes they call themself democratic socialists. It’s all the same.
    The link below is to the socialist group in the European Parliament;

  31. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 09:14

    e.r, I am aware of that history. BTW, I don’t agree that the French Socialists have drifted quite as far from Marxism as the German Social Democrats, although in the past few months they’ve certainly been catching up.

    Ben, Maybe, but that article you link to doesn’t provide much evidence. It doesn’t even have Milibrand uttering the word ‘socialism’, just agreeing with a supporter. Let me know when Labour changes its name to “Socialist.” And I’ll let you know if Labour dumps Corbyn for being an actual honest to God socialist (which might occur even before the next election.)

    Names don’t matter? Then how about this. Northern Europe is far less statist than southern Europe.

    Michael, I know all that, and indeed I also linked in this post to a list of parties in the socialist bloc of the EU parliament.

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 09:15

    Michael, I should add that the one’s that call themselves “socialist” have more statist policies than those that don’t. And indeed it’s not even close. So they are not “all the same.”

  33. Gravatar of Jose Romeu Robazzi Jose Romeu Robazzi
    17. October 2015 at 09:17

    @Patrick Sullivan
    About the Brazilian auction, you have to understand that these power plants were already operated by private investors up to early last year. What happened was that the time to adjust the contracts came (that date was expected as per the previous concession contract). And because the election process was ongoing the federal government agencies involved forced such bad terms to those private investors that those investors had no option to just give back to the government the right to operate those plants. Now, with recession and a broken state that does not have the resources to operate the plants, they come with this auction. Anything can happen, but I am not optimistic.

  34. Gravatar of Toni Toni
    17. October 2015 at 09:25

    I don’t wanna make it too simplistic, but in a lot of countries who are fucked up (south), the conservatives have been in charge and as a result people voted “socialist”.
    Most conservativ parties in northern states would probably fit into the progressiv caucus of your democratic party.
    In some cases you even had left-right changes all the time with not substancial difference and all being corrupt like shit (Greece, Spain, France; also the conservatives have been in charge when things went south) [and yes I’m looking at you USA! 😉 )…

    And your whole arcumentation is quite dangerous. If I would look at what party is in charge of a successful economy, I would look at the most successful economy perfomance in mankind (CHINA with about 9% growth over 40 years now) and conclude, that a Communist Party would be superiour…

    BTW: Sanders wouldnt make it into most European Conservative Parties (bc he would be to RIGHT!) Private ownership of Guns, ONLY 12 weeks parential leave, ONLY 10 days paid vacation… my point being. His policies are quite good and not socialist or scary at all and what the Americans make out of it is a different thing anyway. I doubt that you do as good as nordic countries, but doubt you could mess shit up like Greece (btw: not socialist at all! and never was. Was a rightwing dictaroship till the 70th and so on and so on)

  35. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    17. October 2015 at 09:48

    Prof. Sumner,

    Yglesias just wrote a comprehensive analysis of Denmark:

    I think you’d enjoy it. It seems pretty darn thorough.

  36. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    17. October 2015 at 10:41

    Sumner, so you grasp that so-called “central banking” is a socialist institution?

    Tell us more about how socialism is a bad thing again.

  37. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2015 at 11:00

    Toni, You said:

    “I don’t wanna make it too simplistic,”

    Don’t take this personally, but you are in way over your head here.

    The question of who’s in power is irrelevant. Parties alternate in and out of power, but things rarely change. Greece has a more statist economy than ANY other developed country in the world. Denmark is more capitalist than the US.

    The fact that some of the southern European countries were run by dictators has no bearing on this discussion, they did not follow free market policies back when they were in power (which was more than 40 years ago anyway.)

    China’s growth rates are misleading. For example, if you go from $1000 to $2000 in per capita income, it’s a 100% growth rate, and people are still quite poor. In fact, mainland China is much poorer than any of the other ethnic Chinese regions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, etc.) Even the Chinese in Malaysia are far richer. It’s certainly not a big success, except in the sense than things are dramatically better than under the horrible policies of Mao. You can consider that change to be a big positive, but it occurred precisely because they moved away from socialism.

    As far as Sanders, he seems to have no idea what Denmark is really like, none at all.

  38. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 11:34

    Travis, I’d be interested in having you read this paper (which Yglesias makes reference to also)

    and then finding out if you still think Yglesias has done a ‘comprehensive analysis of Denmark.’

  39. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    17. October 2015 at 11:35

    Btw, why aren’t ‘people of color’ angered by Bernie Sanders celebration of an all white country like Denmark?

  40. Gravatar of Zack Zack
    17. October 2015 at 11:36

    Nice post. Not sure if you’ve mentioned this before but Denmark currently ranks 4th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. They rank higher than the U.S. in eight of their ten categories.

  41. Gravatar of CMOT CMOT
    17. October 2015 at 13:04

    Sanders doesn’t know Denmark is capitalist, not socialist, and he doesn’t know he’s a fascist, not a socialist.

    (Yes, there left-fascists, Chavez was one. But Sanders’s actual proposals look a lot Peron’s, which were a grab bag from the right and left.)

  42. Gravatar of Cory Hoffman Cory Hoffman
    17. October 2015 at 14:01

    Seems to me that what George Orwell said about fascism now applies to socialism.

    Murray Rothbard called Milton Friedman a socialist.

    Major Freedom calls Scott a Socialist.

    Self-identified socialists call Sanders a “liberal” with contempt.

  43. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    17. October 2015 at 16:02

    Actually W. Peden it is not breakfast it is lousy food. Who wants to back to work when you can sit and eat good food all day? That’s why the Italians do no work after noon.

  44. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    17. October 2015 at 20:23

    As IQs increase the Marxist illusions we generally label as socialist will gain fewer and fewer followers. Unfortunately, we have seen that there is a self-reinforcing aspect to Marxism, in that its policies tend to accidentally create people who value knowledge less. But ultimately education cannot avoid the ravenous capitalism-driven software monster that has devoured so many inefficient victims already, so while the productivity gap will probably increase faster the ignorance gap will shrink.

  45. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    18. October 2015 at 03:30


    That explanation works as well. French cheese, Italian pizza, and Greek calamari are fatal for productivity.

    Some Athenians used to attribute the Spartans’ bravery to the awfulness of Spartan food: if the alternative is food like that, perhaps death in battle looked rather attractive?

  46. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    18. October 2015 at 03:33


    Marxism may be on a secular declining trend, but I think that demographic factors in North America and Europe will favour social democratic policies for some time, at least for people over 65. It will be hard to make the argument for a smaller state in a time when an increasing number of voters are becoming dependent on the state.

  47. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    18. October 2015 at 06:17

    Patrick, Maybe that explains why his supporters seem to be mostly white.

    Thanks Zack.

  48. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    18. October 2015 at 06:47


    I’m concerned that the mostly well-meaning, but economically illiterate and highly damaging socialism you refer to will continue to surge for the foreseeable future. Perhaps it’s time for supply-side liberals, such as yourself, to have a committed and sustained focus to support policies which would help the poor and other disaffected in the US while perhaps even increasing RGDP growth potential in the process.

    Such policies, to the degree adopted, would also suck some momentum from the increasingly extreme right, which is apparently too extreme now even for the Republican Party.

  49. Gravatar of Martin-2 Martin-2
    18. October 2015 at 10:21

    ssumner: “Maybe that explains why his supporters seem to be mostly white”

    Careful now. How diverse are MMists? Indistinguishable from a random sample?

  50. Gravatar of Forget about the S-Word. The Time is Now to Stop Being a Tax-Side Deficit Hawk | Overlapping Consensus Forget about the S-Word. The Time is Now to Stop Being a Tax-Side Deficit Hawk | Overlapping Consensus
    19. October 2015 at 03:43

    […] In the wake of last week’s first Democratic Presidential Primary debate there has been quite a bit of commentary on Senator Bernie Sanders’ embracing of the dirty “s word” – Socialism. Bill Maher urged Sanders to emphasize that programs like Medicare are quasi-socialist programs. Kevin Williamson of the National Review suggested that Sanders does not understand what Socialism is when he claims that Nordic Countries like Denmark are useful models that the United States should emulate. Scott Sumner can’t get past that Socialist label. […]

  51. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. October 2015 at 08:22

    Scott, After I fix monetary policy I’ll turn my attention to supply-side.

    Martin. I believe (although I have no data to prove it) that Sanders’ audience skews more toward whites relative to the Democratic party than my readership skews white relative to the econ blogosphere.

  52. Gravatar of Martin-2 Martin-2
    19. October 2015 at 18:00

    ssumner: Scott Alexander’s hypothesis is basically that black people today are less likely to self-actualize by doing something weird like convert to Buddhism, go birdwatching, practice BDSM, and/or buy into fringe economic theories like MM or socialism. He lists many such groups along with % black participation and argues that innate unfriendliness toward blacks shouldn’t be the null hypothesis.

    I realize you never claimed that Sanders’ policies and rhetoric must be the main reason for his camp’s demographics, but I think there’s little to be learned from your line of thought and to a Sanders supporter it’s just going to seem hostile and unfair.

  53. Gravatar of Jhow Jhow
    19. October 2015 at 18:15

    Who wants to know a little about current Brazil’s situation. Arminio Fraga is one of the greatest economists in here and talk some pretty good stuff with John Taylor. Unfortunately, his political party lost in 2014 to the socialist one. Yeah, we make our choice.

    As a brazilian I must say, keep saying that “socialism” is a toxic world. Nobody deserve this shit.

  54. Gravatar of Martin-2 Martin-2
    19. October 2015 at 18:18

    And before someone points it out; yes, in my haste I mixed up mostly white with mostly not black. I had Alexander’s article on the brain and focuses on the latter.

    ssumner: I also think your estimate that P(Sanders|white)/P(Democrat|white) > P(MM|white)/P(Econ blogosphere|white) is consistent with Alexander’s hypothesis, since econ blogs are already weird places in a broad sense without the MM criterion.

  55. Gravatar of Martin-2 Martin-2
    19. October 2015 at 18:32

    I’ll even take back some of my previous comment, since if you did happen to be right that Sanders is alienating minorities this would be a perfectly good thing to point out, whoever it offends. I still think it’s unlikely.


  56. Gravatar of UK Socialists show interest in NGDP Targeting, BoE proxy moans | Historinhas UK Socialists show interest in NGDP Targeting, BoE proxy moans | Historinhas
    20. October 2015 at 05:06

    […] Sumner is both warming up to Bernie Sanders and getting excited by growing signs of acceptance for Market Monetarism. In the […]

  57. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. October 2015 at 09:47

    Martin, Fair enough, but my reply to Patrick was really more of a joke, and I doubt Sanders’ supporters read this comment section. That’s not something I would have put into a post. I certainly don’t think he is a racist, I’m sorry if I implied he was.

  58. Gravatar of Dmitri Mehlhorn Dmitri Mehlhorn
    20. October 2015 at 17:51

    Scott: though you would appreciate this — we’ve never met but it seems we’re part of a club re: Matt Bruenig.

  59. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2015 at 12:28

    Dmitri, What a distinguished club to be a part of!

  60. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    21. October 2015 at 15:54

    Also, Austria and Sweden have major socialist parties. Does the U.K. Labour count?

  61. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. October 2015 at 16:30

    E. Harding, I don’t agree, can you produce links to support your claim? No, Labour doesn’t count. To “count” the party must be called socialist. And the word Labour is not identical to the word socialist. QED. Sweden has Social Democrats, but I don’t recall them having socialists as well.

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