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Why Americans Like Socialism

Americans overwhelmingly support either pure socialism, or at least the next best thing – Swedish-style social democracy.

Bernie Sanders speaks at rally at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa, December 15, 2015. A study shows Americans overwhelmingly support either pure socialism, or at least the next best thing - Swedish-style social democracy. (Photo: CJ Hanevy /

The big Republican knock against Bernie Sanders – and, to some extent, the knock on Hillary Clinton and any Democrat – is that they want the US to be more like Europe, particularly Northern Europe. Bernie’s socialist policies might work fine for Scandinavia, Republicans say, but they’re pretty much DOA in the good old US of A. Marco Rubio even went so far as to joke at a recent debate that Bernie would actually be better off just running for president of Sweden.

Now, Sweden doesn’t actually have a president (it’s a constitutional monarchy with a king as its head of state and a prime minister as its head of government), but Rubio’s point here is still pretty obvious. Basically, he’s saying that even if it were a good idea, Bernie Sanders’ Sweden-style socialism would never work in the US because dammit, this is the United States and we don’t like commies here.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Conservative columnist David Brooks gives another version of this argument in his latest op-ed for The New York Times. He writes

There’s nothing wrong with living in Northern Europe. I’ve lived there myself. It’s just not the homeland we’ve always known. Bernie Sanders’ America is starkly different from Alexander Hamilton’s or Alexis de Tocqueville’s America, or even Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s America.

But is that really true? Is Sweden-style social democracy really as alien to the American way of thinking as David Brooks says it is? Do Americans really prefer our way of doing things to the Scandinavian way of doing things?

Well, contrary to what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, they don’t.

Americans actually really like socialism, in particular Swedish-style democratic socialism, the kind Bernie Sanders is promoting as part of his political revolution.

A couple of years ago, Harvard University business professor Michael Norton and Duke University Psychology professor Dan Ariely conducted a study in which they showed Americans three different pie charts.

The first pie chart represented how wealth is distributed here in the US, with the richest 20 percent of all Americans controlling 84 percent of all wealth.

The second pie chart represented how wealth is distributed in Sweden, a much more equal society in which the richest 20 percent of the population controlling a much smaller share of all wealth – around 18 percent.

The third chart represented an imaginary society in which wealth was distributed equally among all sectors of the population.

After showing people these three charts, Norton and Ariely then asked them which style of wealth distribution they preferred.

The responses to this question were stunning.

A full 92 percent of people said they preferred a Swedish style of wealth distribution. Seventy-seven percent, meanwhile, said they actually preferred a perfectly equal distribution of wealth.

So what’s the takeaway from all this?

Easy: Americans overwhelmingly support either pure socialism, or at least the next best thing – Swedish-style social democracy.

Which brings us back to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and the generally leftward-swing that’s sweeping the entire Democratic Party.

Say what you want about the feasibility of “democratic socialism,” but the argument that it’s somehow out of step with what the American people want is just flat-out wrong. Americans do want socialism, even if they’ve been bludgeoned by decades of Cold War era propaganda into believing that it’s an affront to our democracy.

The Republican attacks against progressive ideals will likely continue and will get even harsher as we move into the general election, but as progressives convincingly make their case to the American people that democratic socialism is the way to go, those Republican attacks will fall on deaf ears.

A specter is haunting the US: the specter of the death of the middle class, and Americans increasingly believe that European-style democratic Socialism is the cure. And genuinely progressive candidates across the US – who did really well in the past few election cycles – are poised to do better than ever.