The fantasy of ‘Democratic Socialism’

Democratic socialism is political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system. The socialist party of the United States’ website declares, “We believe socialism and democracy are one and indivisible.” Similarly, the Democratic Socialists of America states:

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.

Democracy and socialism go hand in hand. All over the world, wherever the idea of democracy has taken root, the vision of socialism has taken root as well—everywhere but in the United States.”

Is it really true that socialism and democracy are inseparable? No. It’s actually a nonsensical assertion. In fact, the whole concept of ‘Democratic Socialism’ is utterly oxymoronic. In reality, the majority of people across the world support the free market, not central planning. Consider that a 2014 Pew Research poll of 25 advanced, emerging, and developing countries, found that “in 21 of the 25 countries surveyed agree that most people are better off in a free market system even if there is some inequality…A global median of 66% say most people are better off under capitalism, even if some people are rich and some are poor.” 70% of the US correspondents agreed. Another Pew poll regarding free trade, which is generally opposed by Democratic Socialists as they are more often than not also protectionists, found that an average of 58% of people in 28 European countries support a free trade agreement with the United States.


Similarly, using data from a 2006 survey of citizens in 28 formerly socialist countries, economists from UC Berkeley and the Paris School of Economics found that “[there is] a positive and significant effect of democracy on support for a market economy.” There authors go on to note that “there is no historical evidence of a democratic society without a market economy.” Indeed, this is a point even the Democratic Socialists of America have conceded. In a Q&A section on their website they admit that “no country has fully instituted democratic socialism.” Central planning simply isn’t democratic, even if socialists would like it to be.

Here are the conclusions of a few studies on the relationship between democracy and globalization and economic liberalization (which are both generally opposed by Democratic Socialists):

  • The authors of a highly cited paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) state: “Our findings support the existence of positive relationships between democracy and globalization.”
  • Another highly cited NBER paper states: “most economic liberalizations [free market reforms] tend to be preceded by political reforms, perhaps imposed by a struggling population on an unwilling leader.”
  • A highly cited paper authored by Princeton’s website states: “Regime change toward democracy is associated with trade liberalization, controlling for many factors. Conventional explanations of economic reform, such as economic crises and external pressures, seem less salient. Democratization may have fostered globalization in this period.”
  • A highly cited paper published in the European Journal of Political Economy states that in post-socialist countries: “[Economic] Liberalization has a strong positive effect on growth during transition (also when controlling for endogeneity of liberalization in growth). Democracy facilitates economic liberalization. Because of its effect on liberalization, democracy has a positive overall effect on growth.”
  • A paper published by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research states: “This paper investigates empirically the interaction between economic growth performance and political institutions in producing free-market reform… Democracies not only carry out more liberal economic policies in general [than autocracies], but they are also more responsive to economic growth crises. Democratic rule seems to be favorable for policy liberalization, but a very good growth performance weakens liberalization incentives considerably.”

Ultimately, it seems safe to conclude that democracy promotes market capitalism, not ‘democratic socialism’. If Democratic Socialists actually care about democracy than they should accept the people’s decision to support free markets.