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Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum hugs Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign event in August.

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Giancarlo Sopo: Debunking six myths about democratic socialism for Floridians

The Florida Governor’s race kicked off last week with a tweet and a race to the bottom. The morning after the primary, President Donald Trump slammed democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum as the “failed socialist mayor” of Tallahassee. Then, GOP nominee Ron DeSantis went on national television and warned that, if elected, his opponent could “monkey” up the state, which immediately elicited accusations of racism.

Bigotry and ideological extremism should have no place in Florida. The former is patently vile, and the latter is especially troubling in a state inhabited by millions of victims of Karl Marx’s gospel of envy. Such serious imputations should be based on facts. It’s understandable why Congressman DeSantis’ comment rubbed many the wrong way, but was it irrefutable evidence of racial bias? Also, one can see why Mayor Gillum’s campaigning with Sen. Bernie Sanders raises red flags (no pun intended), but does it mean that he, too, is a democratic socialist?

I suspect these charges would not hold up in court. Despite both candidates taking steps to discredit these attacks, we’re likely to continue hearing them through Election Day.

This leaves Florida voters with the unenviable task of discerning fact from fiction. Racism is usually self-evident, but identifying socialism requires a grasp of its ideological contours. Thus, it’s important for Floridians to understand what this ideology means and what it does not, so we can determine the credibility of claims routinely made by the right and the left.

Myth: Democratic socialism is unlike real socialism.

Fact: One of the most pervasive falsehoods surrounding “democratic socialism” is that it’s fundamentally different than Cold War-style socialism — it isn’t. It’s true that the two diverge on matters of governing processes but on economics, democratic socialism and the socialist policies of Havana are nearly indistinguishable. In a recent interview, the head of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the country’s largest socialist organization with several chapters across the state, identified the elimination of privately owned companies and the nationalization of major industries as the group’s primary objectives. To be clear, these are not isolated views among democratic socialists. They’re as integral to that ideology as Jesus’ divinity is to Christianity — and also largely consistent with Cuban law.

Myth: Democratic socialists are today’s New Deal liberals.

Fact: Democratic socialists view FDR’s New Deal as insufficient. As Meagan Day, a DSA member and writer at the socialist magazine Jacobin, explained last month, democratic socialists want to go much farther than the New Deal, which largely focused on aiding the elderly, poor, and unemployed. As she noted, “here’s the truth: in the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism. And we want to do that by pursuing a reform agenda today … to revive a politics focused on class hierarchy and inequality in the United States.”

Myth: Government programs = Socialism

Fact: Socialism is the collective ownership of the means of production — not all government-led initiatives meet this definition. Also, not all progressives, and certainly not all Democrats, are hostile to free enterprise. Moreover, there is scant evidence that expanding health care inevitably leads to a government take-over of the economy. Of the 25 freest countries in the world in the libertarian Cato Institute’s most recent Freedom Index, almost all have national health care initiatives via public, private or hybrid models.

Myth: It’s what they have in Scandinavia.

Fact: The Nordic region has some of the world’s freest economies. Perhaps the most common misconception is to equate democratic socialism with Nordic social democracy. This is false. Democratic socialists like the welfare state aspects of Scandinavia, but they are ultimately committed to dismantling the free enterprise system. Conversely, Nordic social democrats are at peace with capitalism and focus their energy on strengthening social services. In fact, according to a 2018 World Bank report, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway surpass the U.S. in ease of starting a business and trading across borders. They also beat us when it comes to property rights in at least one study. This is precisely why democratic socialists often argue the Nordic Model is “not good enough” because, as they say, “capitalist control persists over the large majority of workplaces.”

Myth: Raising taxes is socialism

Fact: The merits of tax hikes are  debatable, but they are not inherently socialist. It’s true that in some countries, socialist leaders have pursued high tax regimens to weaken private sector activity, but their marginal rates were usually at confiscatory levels. In addition, Florida’s constitution specifically prohibits state income taxes. And though uncertainty over taxes has been shown to affect the economy, once rates are clearly defined, other considerations — such as human capital, supply chains, and infrastructure — are likelier to dictate corporate growth strategies.

Myth: We‘re overly sensitive to socialism because America is a right-wing country

Fact: Democratic socialists’ economic proposals are extreme — even by European standards. During my research, I presented a dozen Norwegian economists with a write-up of DSA’s economic ideas that were summarized by Vox, a liberal news website, and asked them to rate where the policies would fall along their country’s political spectrum. Eleven classified them as “far-left/fringe.”

Even after dispelling myths regarding socialism, some will continue to misuse the term as a slur to describe garden-variety liberals or delude themselves that today’s socialists are not what they claim to be. The rest of us should demand intellectual honesty and a better kind of politics.

Our next Governor will have to address numerous challenges. From toxic algae that are decimating our shores and wildlife to regulatory capture and occupational licensing requirements that rig our economy, we simply have too many real problems to be distracted by fallacies for the next 60 days.

It’s time to get to the issues.

Giancarlo Sopo is a Miami-based public affairs consultant and writer. His commentary has been featured in The New York Times, Univision, Fox News, CNN, Politico, and The Miami Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @giancarlosopo.

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