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Social Democracy is still alive

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, November 24th, 2017 - 49 comments
Categories: capitalism, China, class war, Deep stuff, Economy, Globalisation, Politics, us politics - Tags:

Socialism has to work with capitalism – if we want to keep both democracy and the states’ redistributive goods and services. The name for that work is social democracy.

Straight socialism is deeply unpopular and isn’t coming back in our lifetimes.

Our current coalition government is a classic social democrat government. It’s not going to nationalise anything.

The revolution will not start, let alone be televised:

It’s going to spend on social and infrastructure goods and services like we haven’t seen in quite a while. It’s even going to hold itself to account to lowering child poverty. It’s the state working within capitalism, softening and directing it, and being more assertive about it. Labour movements stronger than ours are not in power much anywhere. Though hope springs eternal.

Socialist redistributive power and a strong active state do well for people when they work together. Here’s why.

Governments around the world are increasing their redistributive efforts.

This redistributive capacity has led to a decline in poverty right across the world.

In the U.S., homelessness has continued to fall from both G.W. Bush and Obama programmes.

And when governments spend a lot on social services in particular education, the GINI coefficient really starts to fall.

China is going to have to figure out this relationship between state redistributive effects and its own transformation from an export-led economy to a more consumption-led one.

Capitalism is still powerfully effective but even with New Zealand’s strong version of social democrat government, the road to a stable society is simply massively steep and long.

I’m sure there are lots of theoretical alternatives, but the one we have in operation here now stands in stark contrast to National, and also stands our Labour-led government in great global company.

With socialist governments in rapid decline right across the world, and just a very few social democrat governments re-emerging after many years out of power, it’s useful to remind ourselves of what governmental combinations are working well. They are social democrat governments.

49 comments on “Social Democracy is still alive ”

  1. Straight socialism is deeply unpopular and isn’t coming back in our lifetimes.

    How can something that people don’t understand be deeply unpopular? Perhaps it’s the lies?

    Perhaps it’s time that we socialists came out and simply said that we’re going to do what’s needed, what the people choose.

    The way to tell a true socialist state is by its participatory democracy.

    You know, I don’t think there’s been one of those since the fall of Ancient Greece. Of course, Ancient Greece was capitalist and had all sorts of rules preventing the majority of people participating in elections.

    Quoting link:

    They see a party that’s institutionalized, that has helped to build institutions, and that is now invested in them. They see politicians who compromise, policies that are cautious, activists who talk about familiar ideas. They see us alongside the conservatives and the liberals, and from where they are standing, they see hardly any differences among all of us. They see, essentially, the status quo.

    That sounds about right and the only people giving an alternative voice (but then reneging on it) happen to be the hard-right populists – like Trump.

    And at no point in that article did I see any mention of socialism being unpopular. What I did see was a social-democrat telling everyone that they should just keep doing the same as what they have been doing – despite that one paragraph that I quoted.

    China is going to have to figure out this relationship between state redistributive effects and its own transformation from an export-led economy to a more consumption-led one.

    Yes, because having even more of the world going full Consumerist is a such a good idea…


    Capitalism is still powerfully effective but even with New Zealand’s strong version of social democrat government…

    Capitalism is bunk and always has been. Overall it simply destroys and what it destroys is society and the environment and it does it for greed.

    I’m sure there are lots of theoretical alternatives, but the one we have in operation here now stands in stark contrast to National, and also stands our Labour-led government in great global company.

    That’s got to be one of the most confusing sentences I’ve read. It seems to be trying to a) disparage any possible alternatives to the present system, b) compare our present system with the National Party and c) kiss Labour Party arse.

    Our present system is identical to the one we had under National – it just has different managers. Sure, those managers are going to be better than the previous lot but they’re not actually going to change anything. This is why, as that article you linked to points out, the far-right populists are rising in popularity. They’re actually saying that they’re going to change things.

    • Tricledrown 1.1

      Greed is a survival instinct and will always be with us.
      Communism is pure socialism and hasn’t worked anywhere as totalitarianism / Greed is it’s undoing.
      Pure Capitalism becomes totalitarianism Monopoly by oligarch’s.
      A balance between them works best.
      Fundamentalists on both sides live in Silo mentality.

  2. adam 2

    Social democracy, not sure you got the right word their Ad. Looking through your links it’s more a manifesto for support of third way politics, just an observation. But good on you for trying out the term – hope for you yet to embrace the idea.

  3. Bill 3

    Socialism has to work with capitalism – if we want to keep both democracy and the states’ redistributive goods and services.

    Uh-huh. Except that socialism is the antithesis of capitalism, and if there’s a state redistributing (or distributing) goods and services then likewise, there is no socialism.

    Social democracy on the other hand, accommodates capitalism and moderates it via state intervention (redistribution of goods and services).

    I could say more on other aspects of the post, but sorry Ad, your post jumped the tracks before it left the station….

  4. David Mac 4

    I’m a social democrat and minor capitalist player because I love fishing. I don’t need to fish so I prefer to trade some of my time and effort for outboard fuel and bait rather than expecting the efforts of others to bankroll my hobby.

    Forms of capitalism are as old as mankind. It’s as old as the first caveman with a natural gift for making spearheads worked out he could score a slightly larger share of the hunt if he stayed home and made spearheads to trade as the rest of the clan stalked prey. They all ended up getting more meat. Capitalism is not necessarily evil.

    • Bill 4.1

      Reads like you’re confusing trade with capitalism. Trade takes many forms and has (like you say) existed since “forever”.

      Capitalism, unlike trade, is predicated on the exploitation of labour.

      • Reads like you’re confusing trade with capitalism.

        Yep. That does seem to be the problem today with many mistaking trade as capitalism.

        Capitalism, unlike trade, is predicated on the exploitation of labour.

        Through the private ownership and control of the nations resources and land.

        • Macro

          .Through the private ownership and control of the nations resources and land.

          Yes; this is the fundamental error which Locke and subsequently Adams committed in their justification of Private Property in Money without limit. Initially the ownership of Private Property was justified by the concept of the owners acquired the property by “mixing their labour”. That this is so much bullshit is obvious today when a handful of people control half of the world’s wealth.

      • David Mac 4.1.2

        The caveman that no longer faced the dangers and discomforts of the hunt, got to stay home with his family and chip at stone yet end up with a larger share of meat than the others…that guy is capitalist scum!

        But if collectively every family ends up with more to eat, has exploitation taken place?

        I find it hard to believe that you would allow anyone to exploit you Bill, me too, I won’t stand for it. I give my time and effort willingly.

        • Bill

          Well no, he’s not a “capitalist scum”.

          A simplified version might run…

          under capitalism the caveman of your scenario would be denied access to the means of production (the stone quarry or whatever) and the required tools.

          He would have to rent his labour to the capitalist who owned such things in return for a wage. And that would not allow him to buy the things he produced (the arrow heads), seeing as how the capitalist would have secured their own profit margin when setting the price of the arrow heads.

          sans capitalism, the caveman may well set to making arrow heads if he was particularly good at it while others hunted (a horizontal division of labour) and would enjoy a fair share of the hunt.

          And in response to the second part of yuor comment – every single job that pays a wage has exploitation set at its core. And I don’t hold – not for a second – that people generally give their time and effort willingly. A lot of acculturation goes into having people go along with the notion that a job = dignity etc. And that’s before we get into the motivational aspect of fear that keeps people on the hamster wheel because no money = no food or shelter and no reasonable way to provide for oneself etc.

          • David Mac

            Yes, things take on a different complexion when Spearhead Joe floats his cottage industry on the Bedrock Bourse and has to talk to Mr Slate about cubits of spearhead stone.

            I think there is a link between the size of corporate entities and the exploitation of people and resources. The acres of empty faces sewing on Nike logos, the abandoned trashed drilling sites bearing the rusty logos of the same places we buy petrol.

            I wonder if as an animal, we humans might operate best in corporate entities no larger than one where everyone knows everyone.

            • tracey

              It would be wrong to think that exploitation is only the want of large entities. Alot of those exploiting migrants that we read in the paper are SMEs.

      • Baba Yaga 4.1.3

        Rubbish. The profit motive often (not always) is predicated on looking after labour well. You views are from the 18th century, not the 21st.

        • Bill

          Really? That description, or suggested motivation fits quite well with chattel slavery – wage slavery, not so much.

          And you are aware (given your talk of a couple of hundred years back) that today’s economics are just nascent late 18thC and developed 19thC Liberalism applied to a 21stC environment, yes?

          Probably not aware of that is my guess…

        • Draco T Bastard

          The profit motive often (not always) is predicated on looking after labour well.


          The profit motive is fully predicated upon stealing from the workers. That’s why National always passes legislation like the Fire at Will Bill and the Warner Bros Bill which both made things worse off for workers at the behest of business. Then there’s their attacks on beneficiaries and unions both of which are designed to lower wages.

          Then there’s all those Western businesses moving production into Eastern countries that have lower human rights, lower wages, and even less worker protection.

          You know, all the stuff needed to look after labour well. Business wants it all gone so as to boost profits.

          You views are from the 18th century, not the 21st.

          Yours are simply delusional and goes against the evidence.

          • Baba Yaga

            “The profit motive is fully predicated upon stealing from the workers. ”
            Not if, as in most firms, the firm depends on those workers for the profit.

            “Yours are simply delusional and goes against the evidence.”
            What evidence? The profit motive is the motive to make more profit. If a business employs labour that assists in the delivery of that profit, then it is in that businesses best interests to look after it’s labour resources.

            You views of the world are more reflective of the treatment of peasants in soviet Russia than in 21st century NZ.

            • Bill

              Depending on the presence of workers who will work producing stuff in return for a wage in order to spin a profit means (there is no way around this) that the workers are being robbed of some of the value of their labour.

              The profit is precisely that portion of wages that have not been payed.

              • Babayaga

                Profit is the return to the owner for risk and capital. You clearly have no understanding of how capitalism even works.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Not if, as in most firms, the firm depends on those workers for the profit.

              The profit is the value that the workers produce but aren’t paid for. This is theft.

              The profit motive is the motive to make more profit.

              Yes, I’m aware of what profit is and it’s motive. I’m also aware that the only way it works is to steal more from the workers so that the bludging capitalists don’t have to work.

              What evidence?

              The GFC and the Great Depression and every other recession
              The increasing poverty that we see in NZ since the implementation of neo-liberalism
              Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?

              And there’s more. All the research coming out lately shows that capitalism simply doesn’t work.

              You views of the world are more reflective of the treatment of peasants in soviet Russia than in 21st century NZ.

              No, they’re really not. They’re reflective of the research.

              Have you noticed all the worker being brought in to the country whom are then abused and essentially put into slavery for the farmers and others that ‘hire’ them?

              That’s capitalism.

              Yours, on the other hand, are reflective of the 15th century that has been proved to be so bloody wrong.

            • greywarshark

              OMG Bahbah Another one of the Python Debating business.

              • Babayaga


                That brings back memories of my high school years. Always loved the Python crew. Thanks for sharing…I’ll take the dog good naturedly.

      • Baba Yaga 4.1.4

        There is ‘trade’ and there is ‘free trade’. Free trade and capitalism go hand in hand. However in a truly socialist economy trade exists, but it is nowhere near truly ‘free’, because the state sets the prices for goods and services, and often goes as far as to tell the Caveman what and how to produce.

        So in a capitalist economy, David’s caveman negotiates a price for his spearheads with his customer based on the laws of supply and demand. He is free to negotiate, and free to move to a different type of spearhead should he wish. He is free to develop new innovations, new materials and new methods of production.

        In a socialist economy, the state sets the price for the Caveman – it tells him what to sell and for how much. It tells him how to produce the spearheads, and how many to produce. It regulates the materials he buys for the spearheads, so that he cannot determine his own input quality or price.

        That’s why socialist economies always fail. The system is a dog, and invariably it has to be maintained, even in it’s death throes, by totalitarian regimes.

        • Bill

          If there is socialism, then there can be no state re-distributing goods and services.

          In the case of a command economy (which is what you’re talking about) there is, in the words of Lenin, state capitalism – not socialism.

          State capitalism and liberal capitalism are two sides of the one coin. Both always fail and require propping up time and time again.

          Socialism is something else again.

          • Baba Yaga

            “If there is socialism, then there can be no state re-distributing goods and services. ”

            No that happens when socialism takes over…it’s called theft.

            “Socialism is something else again.”

            Yes. It is beyond propping up.

            • Bill

              When a grouping (like the Bolsheviks) “seizes the apparatus of the state” and abolishes liberal capitalism, the result is state capitalism.

              I know I’m repeating myself here, but it can’t be overstressed that Lenin himself stated it quite unequivocally – that state capitalism was the aim of the Bolsheviks.

              And to achieve it, they jailed, murdered and exiled any who agitated for socialism.

              True enough to say that socialism is beyond “propping up” though, seeing as how it’s constantly unfolding 😉

              • Babayaga

                State capitalism is not capitalism, because there is no private ownership. The term was probably invented by embarrassed socialists, watching their theories go down the toilet.

                • Bill

                  State Capitalism isn’t Liberal Capitalism (for the reason you mention), but it is Capitalism.

                  Social Democracy sits between those two extremes – the state intervenes in the market economy (so not Liberal Capitalism) but nonetheless encourages the market economy (so not State Capitalism).

                  Lenin (no socialist in my book) was using the term (State Capitalism) from about 1917 and stated it as an aim of the Bolsheviks.

                  • Baba Yaga

                    Lenin ‘mis’used the term. Capitalism, by definition, is predicated on private ownership. State capitalism is an oxymoron.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Free trade and capitalism go hand in hand.

          No they don’t. If they did then people wouldn’t keep adding more and more regulations that lock down the market in things like patents and copyright. They wouldn’t be signing FTAs that force a country to trade even when they don’t want to.

          However in a truly socialist economy trade exists, but it is nowhere near truly ‘free’, because the state sets the prices for goods and services, and often goes as far as to tell the Caveman what and how to produce.

          Do they do that or is that more BS made up by you?

          Hmmm, it’s more BS made up by you. All a socialist government would do is ensure that prices fully cover the costs. Something that capitalists don’t like as you hear their whinging whenever the government makes effort to do so like when farmers whinged about being in the ETS.

          So in a capitalist economy, David’s caveman negotiates a price for his spearheads with his customer based on the laws of supply and demand. He is free to negotiate, and free to move to a different type of spearhead should he wish. He is free to develop new innovations, new materials and new methods of production.

          That’s NOT capitalism.

          Capitalism is ownership and control of the nations resources and land by a few for their own benefit as it allows them to bludge off of everyone else.

          That’s why socialist economies always fail.

          It’s not socialism that fails. It’s capitalism. Socialism is needed to fix it.

          If you’d bothered to get educated, read history and actually looked at the timing you would know this. But, like all RWNJs, you’ll just keep holding onto to your delusional ideology.

          • Babayaga

            Ok, go ahead and make up your own definitions. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself.

            Capitalism an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

            • Draco T Bastard

              Here, I’ll just quote your definition:

              Capitalism an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods…

              So, exactly what I said.

              And you’ll note that the politicians, at the behest of business, always limit competition in one way or another.

              • Baba Yaga

                Where does that definition include “by a few for their own benefit as it allows them to bludge off of everyone else.”?


  5. McFlock 5

    I always had fun at the pub debating whether I or a mate was a democratic socialist, social democrat, or some other flavour. Even though I got a pols honours degree, the different labels generally bored me – after a certain level, the difference within the leftishsts always end up being much smaller than the difference between them and the tories.

    I’ve long been an incrementalist, rather than a revolutionary, so folk like adam call me a third wayist or even a neoliberal, depending on how much they disagree with my insistence on living in the real world. But my incrementalism has never been a disingenuos excuse to leave people to rot, which I think it what separates me from a tory.

    So all that having been said, that’s why I tend to agree with the post while largely ignoring the label semantics: there is a momentum against tories in NZ, and globally. We have an opportunity for change, and our role is to encourage politicians to sustain that change, and improve the things that need to be improved.

    It’s like a pendulum – if you push strongly against the right when the swing is against you, and push gently towards the left to increase the momentum without spinning it completely over its fulcrum/axle, you can’t go too far wrong.

  6. Sparky 6

    Yes socialism worked for this country but I’d laugh at anyone who calls post 80’s Labour socialist. They brought in GST, student uni fees, created SOE’s, imposed regressive tax in the form of GST and now are pushing the pro capitalist globalist TPP deals. Where’s the socialism in any of that?

    With regards to China its actually moving towards socialism but it being pragmatic about it given its size in terms of land mass, economics and population. Social services are being extended beyond cities to people in rural areas with increases if ever so modest in welfare and disability payments. They are also doing a good job of promoting education and teacher pay has increased tenfold. Recently too their has been an implementation of weeding out corruption and cronyism in government which has seen large amounts of money siphoned off in the form of bribes and back handers. Still a long way to go as many Chinese have to meet the full cost of medical care with a similar model to the US but still better than it was.

    • red-blooded 6.1

      Sparky, when do you think this country was socialist? We’ve had various Labour governments that have intervened to redistribute wealth and lessen inequality (state housing, state schools, state medical system, the benefits system – flawed though it may be, superannuation, ACC…etc) and the pendulum has swung backwards and forwards (or left to right) in terms of how well we’ve supported and extended or retrenched and undermined those systems, but we’ve never been a socialist society.

      Going back to the original post, the approach in NZ has (almost) always been of a social democrat style. It may not be “pure” enough, or fast enough, or far enough along the leftist spectrum for some, but then we on the left scream foul when extremists on the right try to impose their values on us and our society and it’s not exactly surprising that they do the same (and centrist voters get spooked) when we do the same. I say we’ve got to do our best to build people up and embed leftist values in our social structures and institutions, but I think I’m closer to Ad than Bill in terms of how we do this.

  7. timeforacupoftea 7

    Oh GREAT !
    Lets leap back into the Social Democrat Party of New Zealand.

  8. In Vino 8

    Sad drivel from Baba and friends. The vast majority have now understood that the Capitalist profit-gougers do not look after labour well. Since the deforms of the 1980s what has happened? I remember hearing a young Roger Douglas loudly proclaiming that his reforms would work as long as we did all he wanted and became a high-wage economy. We must not, he said, become a low-wage economy.
    Well that is now accepted as what we have done – we have become a low-wage economy.
    Why? Because those deforms (called reforms at the time) did everything to undermine workers, unions, justice, and help the profit-gougers to push our wages down.

    Eat it Baba etc – nobody believes you and your type any more. We see people struggling to survive on a demeaning pay-rate less than a living wage in part-time low-hour jobs , while the profit-gougers ramble on about flexibility, how lucky people are that they have a job at all, choice is so good, sad that some people make ‘wrong choices’…

    That fact is that labour has not been looked after as you so glibly claim.

    • timeforacupoftea 8.1

      Oh dear no !
      The great “Roger Douglas” the “failed pig farmer”, a real and truely idiot.
      We know for sure, Prime Minister Jacinda and Deputy Grant Robinson won’t go down the failed path EH!

  9. Zorb6 9

    Capitalism relies on capital.Who controls and allocates that capital rules the world.

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