The Natural Right to Vote
In the 2018 elections 40 candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America won at the national, state and local level, a result that was announced as “the rebirth of the American socialist movement after generations in retreat.” The most significant of these elections were the victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Rashida Tlaib (MI) to the US Congress. But many other avowed socialists did not fare so well. Nevertheless, the DSA was able to drag the entire Democratic Party further to the left. But it takes more than the word “democratic” in the name of your political faction to make you actually democratic.
Democracy and the right to vote arises from natural rights that Enlightenment philosophers declared each person derived from nature or nature’s god. These are rights that exist in a state of nature. Certain natural rights must be constrained if a person wants to live in a society rather than a state of nature. This is because the other people in that society also have equal natural rights and the exercise of a person’s rights should not infringe on the rights of others. Governments are constituted to secure these natural and unalienable rights and, because each person is endowed with equal natural rights, each person has an equal vote in how the government and society are configured.
The so-called Democratic Socialists believe in social rights such as housing, jobs, healthcare and retirement benefits. Social rights (sometimes called positive rights or entitlements) differ from civil rights (sometimes called negative rights or liberties) in that they do not originate from natural rights. No one in a state of nature has a right to housing. He or she has to go out and find it. And protect it from others seeking housing.
Social rights are not inherent to the individual. Social rights must be provided by the government to the people it deems worthy of receiving the entitlement. And these social rights to be provided by government must be funded either by the government owning the means of production (pure socialism which is the ultimate goal of Democratic Socialists) or by taxing the economically productive people within the country (an intermediate stage that will ultimately lead to pure socialism).
If rights are granted by government then the right to vote is not inherent to the individual by natural right, but granted to individuals by the government in order to serve government purposes. Socialists cannot say that people have a natural right to vote but not the other natural rights inherent to individuals (well they can say it but it doesn’t make any sense). Civil and social rights are antithetical. Civil rights are freedom from the predation of government. Social rights are dependence on that same government. That’s why it doesn’t make sense.
Socialist regimes have a spotty record with democracy. The Soviet Union, Communist China and Cuba stepped onto the road toward socialism through bloody revolution and imposed a dictatorship of the proletariat led by the Communist Party. And Socialism along with communist dictatorships was imposed on Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Second World War.
But many people have been seduced by the promises of the socialists. Avowed socialist Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile with only 36% of the vote and immediately took a sharp turn to the left despite lacking a majority in the legislature. We will never know the outcome of Allende’s socialist programs as he was overthrown and killed in a coup d’état by the Chilean military.
Hugo Chavez attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela in 1992 but failed miserably and was thrown in jail. However having served only two years for the attempted coup d’état that killed 15 people, he was freed and ran for president in 1997 and won. He immediately set about to change the nature of Venezuelan democracy, under which he had been elected, to a form more suited to his socialist programs. Only death could remove Chavez from office and Venezuela continues to be run by his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro. Although the opposition won the 2015 parliamentary election but they have been unable to function as Maduro created a phony constitutional convention packed with his supporters that he claimed superseded the elected congress. So much for democracy.
Likewise, in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega was democratically elected as president in 1984 after the Sandinistas had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 but lost to Violeta Chamorro in 1990. Ortega was able to get re-elected in 2006 when former president Arnoldo Aleman threw his party’s support to Ortega in return for springing him from jail after a corruption conviction. After winning with 38% of the vote (after a constitutional change) Ortega has managed to stay in power ever since by manipulating sham elections that only have the appearance of democracy.
Elected socialist leaders have managed to stay in power (or handpick their successors) in Bolivia and Ecuador as well. Socialist governments once elected to power are reluctant to allow democracy to unseat them and return the country to a non-socialist course.
So when our homegrown Democratic Socialists say that they support democracy don’t believe them. They only support democracy until they have the power needed to stay in control so that they can change the course of the country permanently. After that democracy goes out the window - because in a socialist country you have none of the natural rights the Founders declared to be "unalienable."
And while we’re at it:
Our progressive friends will say, “wait a minute, what about the Nordic democratic socialist countries?” Bernie Sanders, in his campaign for the presidency, urged us to look to the Nordic socialist model as practiced by Denmark, Sweden and Norway as the model for us to copy. The Democratic Socialists of America also highlight the success of Nordic countries on their website.
But Jeffrey Dorfman points out in an article in Forbes Magazine that the Nordic countries have large social welfare systems but are definitely not socialist. They rank very high in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom Ranking with Denmark, Finland and Norway ranking in the first quartile.
This assertion is backed up by a recent study by the president’s Council of Economic Advisors (The Opportunity Costs of Socialism). While these countries have extensive social welfare systems, these benefits are paid for with high taxes. Not high taxes on the wealthy, high taxes on everybody. The study points out that the highest marginal tax rate for individuals begins at about 1.5 times the average annual salary, which would be around $70,000 in the US. Even after the recent tax cuts, US taxes are much more progressive than those in the Nordic region. Further, the Nordic countries raise a lot of their revenue from regressive Value-Added-Taxes (VAT) that average around 25% compared to 6% for equivalent state sales tax in the US. The study goes on to note that Nordic taxes on dividends, capital gains and corporate income are about the same as in the US.
So the people in Northern Europe like their social welfare system and they pay for it by taxing everyone. Also they do not like debt. Debt to GDP in the Nordic countries is less than half that of the United States and relatively stable (compared to skyrocketing upward).
CNN reported in 2016 that Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said at a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government "I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy." CNN went on to note that many of Sander’s proposals would be considered too far to the left for Denmark.
So Denmark and the other Nordic countries are democratic free market economies with substantial welfare systems. Sounds sort of like the United States. Except they actually pay for the benefits they receive.