Giancarlo Sopo: Debunking six myths about democratic socialism for Floridians - Florida Politics

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.


  1. “Even after dispelling myths regarding socialism, some will continue to misuse the term as a slur to describe garden-variety liberals”
    Sopo’s article is exactly that, a slur on garden-variety liberals. Socialists are a very small fringe group and do not represent the views of a majority of voters. The run away globalism and shareholder capitalism of the last 40 years has ravaged the middle class. Presidents of both parties did little to protect/help working people from these changes. We need a return to stakeholder capitalism that existed in the US from the 1930’s to the 1970’s thanks to FDR. Many European countries practice stakeholder capitalism, they give labor a seat at the table. They spend way more to train workers. Thanks to lobbying by Wall Street and Big Corporations, Apple can keep hundreds of billions of dollars offshore to avoid paying taxes, and then borrow billions to do stock buybacks that enrich the wealthiest Americans. Most other corporations are doing same. Was America a Socialist country in 1960 when the top federal income tax rate was 90% (I don’t support putting it back to 90%)? The US is the only developed country without Universal Health Care. Are all the other countries Socialist? The right wing campaign to defund and destroy the government is plain to see. Where is the infrastructure plan from the current administration after a year and a half? Can you imagine if libraries did not exist and someone proposed creating a library system in today’s political climate? They would all howl about how expensive it would be and an example of government over reach.

    1. Thomas – True Liberalism is nothing like your left wing today. A true Liberal would scare the hell out of the DNC. They are much further to the right than the entire party – and more so than most of the Republicans too.

      This is America – Not Sweden or Denmark. Look at the amount of their earning they have to give to the Govt for other people to decide their future. Me, I’ll keep mine and make my own way thank you.

    2. Some tendencies of democratic socialism advocate for revolution in order to transition to socialism, distinguishing it from some forms of social democracy. For example, Peter Hain classifies democratic socialism, along with libertarian socialism, as a form of anti-authoritarian “socialism from below” (using the term popularized by Hal Draper), in contrast to Stalinism, a variant of authoritarian state socialism. But, they both still quack and waddle ….so ….must be a horse right ? Uggggg Socialism lite – start a trend –

  2. Huh? There’s an entire section dedicated to debunking the myth that all democrats and progressive policies are socialism:

    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.

    1. He makes no effort to suggest Gillum is not a “Socialist” as DeSantis has painted him.

      Sorry you didn’t get it.

      1. ??? He clearly wrote that the accusations against Gillum and DeSantis would never hold up in court and implied at the end that the Dem nominee is just a typical liberal.

        1. Then why spend the whole article telling us how bad Democratic Socialism when the points are irrelevant because they don’t apply to Gillum? Give me a break!

  3. Once again, using fear to influence voters to vote against their own interests. The author should be ashamed of the lies in this piece. None of the Democratic socialist platforms I’ve seen in our current political arena have any intent to destroy capitalism, but rather to curb it’s detrimental effects on the working class. Shame on this author to aspiring to instil a disingenuous fear in voters, for the intended consequences of maintain the catastrophic policies of the greedy neo con government. Shame…

        1. Sure I can engage – let’s start here – no personal attack needed – actions speak much louder than words.

          Then we can go here –>

          and then maybe here – no attack just fact ! Let me know your thoughts – I am interested.

  4. Well there is a lot of stuff there. I agree with many of your points. The current two party duopoly has paralyzed our government. I am not sure the solution is a third or fourth party, although I am open to consider it. I especially liked “The body politic today is critically ill from an ethical prognosis. Greed and power create corruption and the nature of man is such that it opens places of power and wealth for those willing to exploit the opportunity for their gain.”. I subscribe to this Harvard analysis and potential solutions from Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter One of their solutions is electoral reform. I work for Florida Fair and Open Primaries We are doing a citizen initiative to end closed primaries so NPAs can vote in the primary. I don’t see anything specific in the links you provided that tell me which policies Gillum is advocating would end Capitalism or any of the other horrible outcomes the author is describing.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read some of the articles I posted. More than most do.

      Here is a different way to look at it – try and tell me which of these principles of Liberty he is advocating and how will he bolster them in a Constitutional process?

      Healthcare is not a right.
      Student Loan Relief – I paid for mine !
      Climate Change – Yes it changes – give me a break
      Gender Equality
      Regulatory oversight ->
      Minimum Wage -> Gov’t out of business
      Higher taxes –> for only a segment of the people.
      Medicare for all
      These are just a few of the precepts I find socialist in their pretext.

    2. Tom – I looked @ your site – interesting. I will do more homework on the organization but there are points of merit there. Thank you for being engaged. Even if we don’t af=gree on everything !

    3. Ending capitalism is the declared end goal of Socialism. Let’s be fair. The progressive methodology is to incrementally claim small pieces until a whole is gone. Thus making what is today – normal tomorrow. Fabians and others avow to militant violence in their effort. So – advocacy for socialist precept is anyway you look @ it – contrary to Liberty and American Individualism. We are not a collective – we are nation of individuals – E Pluribus Unum

      Tell me then – what of the 28 Pirnciples of liberty Gillium supports

      1. “The progressive methodology is to incrementally claim small pieces until a whole is gone. “. Sorry Eric, we will just have to agree to disagree on that one.

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