In this age of political polarization, how fundamental are the philosophical divisions that separate the American left and right? That question requires serious engagement with the ideas and ideals of both. Once we understand each side’s foundational commitments, it may be possible to bridge the gap between them.

The distinctive role of the Niskanen Center, as I understand it (I’m a newcomer here and haven’t written for this website before), is to build that kind of bridge. Its characteristic move is to start from libertarian premises and show how, properly understood, they lead to a robust regulatory structure and social safety net. Niskanen thus aims to build a new political centrism. It can produce surprising conclusions, as when Will Wilkinson showed how traditional Republican Party ideology, combined with a clear understanding of recent developments in American political economy, led him to support the presidential candidacy of Elizabeth Warren.

I will argue that one can get to a similar centrism from the other direction – starting from socialist premises. Consider two of the best recent manifestoes of the left: John Judis’ The Socialist Awakening: What’s Different Now About the Left (2020) and Fred Block’s Capitalism: The Future of an Illusion (2018). Both books begin with an intense concern for the worst-off members of society and a deep skepticism of contemporary American capitalism. Both end up embracing propositions that could have come out of Niskanen. This is a field of possible common ground that neither of them (nor, so far as I have been able to tell, anyone else) has noticed. It suggests the possibility of a very broad-based centrist coalition.

Judis identifies himself as a “longtime leftist who labored unsuccessfully decades ago trying to create a socialist movement in the United States, and whose hopes for a socialist politics have been rekindled by the Bernie Sanders campaigns.” His book, an incisive, short overview, was reviewed in the New York Times. The book recounts various iterations of socialism, from Eugene Debs to the present, and also has a chapter on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. It sensibly points out that any program for redistribution requires national boundaries and restrictions on immigration. It offers a helpful sketch of the trajectory of modern socialist thought but is less clear on what concretely “a socialist politics” now aims at.  

Socialism, as Judis understands it, is “a traditional left-wing alliance of the bottom and the middle of society against the very top.” Its mission is “to unite the bottom and middle of society around an agenda that shifts power and wealth from capital to labor.” He quotes with approval Sanders’ statement that “socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything,” but rather “creating a nation and a world in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.”

That is as close as he gets to a definition. These formulations describe a coalition and an outcome, not a program nor an ideal picture of society. In particular, this understanding of socialism says nothing, positive or negative, about whether there should be a free market economy. It has no specific policy entailments – or rather, it supports whatever policies are likely to deliver that decent standard of living.  

The ambiguity is not confined to Judis. Americans are bitterly divided about socialism, a term whose currency probably helped the Republicans in the 2020 election. That is largely because they disagree about what the word means. Most of those who champion it, notably Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, think of free markets supplemented by a much more generous safety net than we have now, the sort found in Norway and Sweden. Those who either are sincerely repelled or, like Donald Trump, are looking for a scare word point at regimes with tyrannical, centralized economic control: Venezuela and North Korea.

Judis is right that “there is no singular definition of socialism.” But there is a well-established meaning that many people associate with the word. He and many other socialists just don’t happen to like it. Merriam-Webster defines “socialism” as “collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” That’s not what Judis aims for: “Socialists today who talk vaguely of an economy based on public ownership and control of the means of production – the standard Marxist formulation – are engaging in utopian thinking.”

At the same time, one occasionally gets a whiff of Marxist ideals. The new socialists, he says, “see socialism as developing within capitalism, the way capitalism developed within feudalism.” Some of his illustrations – “the creation of regulatory agencies to police corporate behavior, and public ownership and control of essential services or industries (such as health care, education, transportation . . .)” – are familiar aspects of welfare-state capitalism. Some are the status quo in America.

But Judis’ formulation does not concede the legitimacy of capitalism. It might reasonably be taken to imply that socialism should eventually displace capitalism altogether, as capitalism displaced feudalism. There will be “cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, and nonprofit businesses developing within the niches of capitalism and progressively expanding their reach.” Ultimately, ”the mix of capitalism and socialism would change in favor of socialism.” This neither excludes nor entails the utopia propounded by Jacobin magazine, today’s most prominent voice of American socialism, which understands socialism as “intentional intervention on behalf of the working class, with the aim of eroding capitalist class power and eventually eliminating capitalism altogether.” The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) declares that “the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them.”

The degree of hostility to privately owned, profit-seeking business is determinedly underspecified. If “an ideology thought to be long dead has taken hold as a broad movement among younger people,” in the words of the back cover of The Socialist Awakening, that can’t refer merely to welfare-state capitalism, which is hardly “long dead.” Judis declares that socialists “don’t envisage the government owning Apple or Microsoft,” but writes of the “failure of market capitalism.” What are Apple and Microsoft if not artifacts of market capitalism? Socialism appears as an indistinct outline in a shifting fog, like a cathedral in a Monet series.

Today’s socialist movement, Judis explains, is a coalition of people who don’t agree with each other about capitalism. There is political value in papering over those differences. Judis disagrees with the Marxists, but doesn’t try to read them out of the movement. As the old socialist slogan goes, there are no enemies on the left.

He notes “the socialists’ lack of an effective political infrastructure that can mobilize and expand the universe of Sanders’ supporters.” Their principal organization is the DSA. In 2015, before Sanders’s first run for president, it had 5,000 members; now it has 71,000.  In 2013, Judis reports, the average age of its members was 68; in 2017 it was 33. Almost every member is college-educated, more than half have graduate degrees, and, revealingly, only 3 percent have blue-collar jobs. The growth of its membership, Judis thinks, was the product of economic disappointment, particularly among young college graduates: “The average wage of college-educated workers was 2.4 percent lower in 2018 than it was in 2000.” Meanwhile, increases in the cost of higher education produced a surge in student debt. The Great Recession and COVID-19 accelerated economic insecurity. “Young college graduates increasingly found their expectations for secure, remunerative, and meaningful work dashed, and they increasingly blamed capitalism.”  

All this suggests a politics based on ameliorating specific grievances: again, a demand for specific outcomes rather than a broader vision. On the other hand, “orthodox Marxists make up a large part of DSA’s most active core.” The organization needs ambiguity about what socialism means. Noting that the DSA refused to support Biden over Trump in 2020, Judis worries that “the group’s leadership was in the clutches of Marxist antediluvians who were willing to risk isolation from the people whose support they needed to build a popular socialist movement.”

Increasing numbers of Americans, particularly the young, have favorable views of “socialism.”  But, like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez (who has 12 million Twitter followers), they take the term to mean a beefed-up welfare state, in which government assures a basic level of health, education, housing, and employment. In 2018, only 17 percent of Americans understood the term to mean “government ownership or control, government ownership of utilities, everything controlled by the government, state control of business,” compared with 34 percent in 1949. Only 13 percent of Democrats accept that definition.  

The word’s ambiguity has political consequences. A 2018 YouGov survey found that 46 percent of Democrats had a somewhat or very favorable view of socialism, with 25 percent unfavorable. (Those with a favorable view tended to be younger.) Among Republicans, only 11 percent were favorable, with 71 percent viewing it unfavorably, and 62 percent choosing “very unfavorable.” Among independents, 19 percent were favorable, 40 percent unfavorable. Hillary Clinton’s voters were 53 percent favorable, compared with 7 percent of Trump voters. Obama fought back against the label. Judis disputes Cass Sunstein’s claim that “Roosevelt was no socialist,” retorting that “Roosevelt was enhancing the power and wealth of labor at the expense of capital.” But Roosevelt never accepted the label, and Judis acknowledges that it comes with a price: “Sanders’ chances also suffered because many voters over forty-five were unwilling to support a candidate who identified himself as a ‘democratic socialist.’” After nearly losing her seat in the 2020 election, Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger said, “we need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again. Because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of it.”

The qualifier “democratic socialist” doesn’t help, because democratic socialism likewise has multiple connotations. It signifies democratic control over the economy, but what does that specifically mean? The DSA, as already noted, contemplates the end of capitalism. Terry Eagleton, in Why Marx Was Right, proposes that “decisions on the overall allocation of resources, rates of growth and investment, energy, transport and ecological policies and the like, would be set by representative assemblies at local, regional, and national level(s).” (Eagleton appears blithely unaware of the impossibility of rational calculation of investment decisions absent a price system, shown by Austrian economists in the 1930s.) Or democratic socialism could just mean political control over economic institutions – a state strong enough, and sufficiently independent of plutocratic power, to ensure that a market economy attends to human needs.

Any political effort must rest on some vision of a good society and some account of how to bring it about (if you think we’re not there yet) or how to preserve it (if you think we already have it). Prescription presupposes description. It’s not enough to demand better health. Achieving that requires some account of how the body operates, especially if radical intervention is proposed. Treating appendicitis demands a detailed understanding of anatomy. If the aim is a decent life for everyone, then one must understand how the American economy works. The last thing a socialist should want to do is destroy the wealth that she is hoping to redistribute.

The fundamental starting point ought to be that, as Barack Obama observed, “the free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history – it has lifted billions of people out of poverty.” The new socialists need to take seriously the views of their pro-capitalism adversaries, the centrist Democrats. William Galston, Bill Clinton’s domestic policy advisor, writing with E.J. Dionne, describes the post-Cold War hopes of leaders like Clinton, Britain’s Tony Blair, and Germany’s Gerhard Schröder:

The future lay in a dynamic and increasingly global market economy with the fewest possible fetters on the free flow of capital, goods, services, workers, and information. … The future for workers lay in lifetime education and training, not in organized labor’s efforts to thwart needed change. Regulations that impeded efficiency in key sectors such as banking needed to be swept away. … Programs to promote economic and retirement security were acceptable – as long as they did not break the bank, raise interest rates, and squeeze out private investment. 

That is not all that far from the Scandinavian countries that Sanders takes as his model. Those economies are vigorously capitalist, in some ways more friendly to business than the United States.  

In some respects, the Clinton strategy was a spectacular success. The real gross domestic product of the United States grew from $9.3 trillion in 1990 to $19.2 trillion (in 2012 dollars) at the end of 2019, from $37,500 to $58,500 per capita. (The 2008 bust may or may not have shown the strategy’s limits; its causes are still disputed.) The biggest benefits happened outside the U.S.: Global extreme poverty – defined as living on $1.90 a day or less – has plunged since 1990, from 35.9 percent to  10 percent of the human race as of 2015. For the first time in history, more than half of the world is middle class or wealthier. Ocasio-Cortez says that the basic meaning of democratic socialism is that “in a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.” Capitalism is making that happen, and not just in America. Socialists should not merely give capitalism their grudging acceptance. They should greet it with wild enthusiasm.

But that spectacular growth also shows what is wrong. Even if we can’t expect every American to be 1.5 times as rich now as they were in 1990, at a minimum there shouldn’t be huge numbers who are worse off. Between 1979 and 2007, the Congressional Budget Office reports, after-tax income grew by “275 percent for the top 1 percent of households; 65 percent for the next 19 percent; just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent; and 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.” During the same period, the share of total market income received by the top 1 percent of the population grew from about 10 percent to more than 20 percent. The share of the bottom 20 percent of the population fell from about 7 percent to about 5 percent. From 2002 to 2007, the top 1 percent received more than 65 percent of the gain in total national income.  

But the fate of the bottom half has been worse than stagnation. Economic risk has been shifted from broad social insurance to workers and their families. Income is more unstable and family finances are more fragile. Jobs are less secure, and – this is the primary source of the DSA’s growth – a college degree no longer reliably guarantees middle-class status. Those without college are in even deeper trouble, consigned to far more marginal jobs than their similarly educated parents. Nearly four out of ten American adults would have to borrow money or sell property if they faced a $400 expense, and 12 percent doubt that they could raise the money at all. Import competition from China destroyed more than 2 million jobs. Most of manufacturing job loss – almost 90 percent – was, however, the result of automation, just the kind of technological progress that capitalism is good at delivering. The consequence has been a well-documented epidemic of deaths of despair.

Joseph Schumpeter famously wrote that capitalism is characterized by “creative destruction.” Whole industries disappear: There are no more jobs for watchmakers, carriage and harness makers, blacksmiths, or wheelwrights. From the standpoint of pure market rationality, the drop in American wages is a routine adjustment: The worldwide supply of unskilled and semiskilled labor rose, demand for labor fell because of automation, and prices adjusted. The American economy may just be able to do without all those workers, just as after the invention of the automobile it no longer needed all those horses. But the economic system did not purport to be for the benefit of the horses, and the horses did not vote.

Joseph Stiglitz, Clinton’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, explains what went awry. The gains from supercharged free trade were so great that, with some redistribution, they could have made everyone better off. But the winners “had increased power to shape globalization to benefit themselves, at the expense of others.” Competition of foreign labor put downward pressure on wages, and corporate interests “disliked the taxes that would have to be imposed to prevent workers from having significant income losses.”  

It is even worse than that. In an environment of weakened labor power, businesses seized opportunities to exempt themselves from the rules of the market. (This was the truth in Sanders’ claim that the system was rigged.) Capitalism, which aims at a mutually beneficial network of consensual transactions, wasn’t the enemy. Certain capitalists – particularly those who believed, or saw an advantage in pretending to believe, a nasty libertarian ideology – were. They created a distorted crony capitalism that stifles competition, licenses predation, and inhibits innovation and growth. There are many illustrations, but the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump was a reductio ad corruptum, licensing the president’s allies to make money by poisoning people.

In this context, socialism should be understood as a raw demand to make that stop. It entails no specific policies, any more than the idea of health entails any specific medical intervention. Any policy prescription must be mediated by an account of the operation of the system. Socialism, in Judis’ vague formulation, has no such account.

That’s good news for the fragmented Democrats. Socialism is compatible with any policy that actually delivers. Even an old-line conservative like Roger Scruton could concede that “the truth in socialism” is that “[a] believable conservatism has to suggest ways of spreading the benefit of social membership to those who have not succeeded in gaining it for themselves.”

The path to prosperity for everyone leads through a robust capitalism. The fundamental difference between Elizabeth Warren and Sanders, as Will Wilkinson has emphasized, is that she understands this and he doesn’t. Warren is, as she likes to say, “a capitalist to my bones.” Warren envisions a capitalism undergirded by a state that has the power to competently and honestly prevent businesses from cheating and hurting people, and in which workers receive a wage they can live on. Her presidential campaign’s elaborate proliferation of plans offered targeted interventions into specific market failures.

The weakness of the Sanders program was its suspicion of technical policy analysis. What the center-left offers is something the far left can’t do without: instrumental rationality. The left is clear about what the state needs to deliver to people – clearer, in some ways, than the policy wonks, who are sometimes determined to open up markets without caring much about collateral damage – but often muddled about how to get there. That can be the basis of coalition-building. Dionne and Galston acknowledge the casualties of the 2008 crash and regard the new talk of socialism as “a warning sign for those who want to preserve this [economic] system and an opportunity for those who would reform it. And, as has happened before, their two causes may come to overlap.” Recall that, for Judis, the fundamental goal of socialism is “creating a nation and a world in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.”  That project has technical as well as political aspects. Socialists ought to be for capitalism – a regulated capitalism with a reliable safety net. Because free markets create unendurable levels of instability, they are not politically sustainable without income supports that protect people from disaster.

Socialists like Sanders have an affinity (not so much a philosophical commitment as a taste) for big, single-payer government schemes like Medicare for All and free college for everyone. These have the virtue of quick effectiveness: The state said, “Let there be health care,” and there was health care. But their moral core of these programs is less the design than the results. The wonky counterarguments don’t dispute the value of those results. There is no fundamental value disagreement in, for instance, the claim of Sanders’ critics that free college for everyone, with no means test, would disproportionately benefit the prosperous people whose children are much more likely to attend. Or that Medicare for All is political suicide because most Americans like the insurance they have. Killing a fly with a cannon promises confidence that you’ll get the fly, but that doesn’t make the cannon the right tool for the job.  

Another reason for socialists’ affinity for big government is a naïve faith that an avowedly socialist government will represent the interests of the working class. That’s why Jacobin rejects Stiglitz’s hope for “progressive capitalism”: There’s no hope as long as there’s private ownership of the means of production. (It may also be why the DSA has such an uncritical attitude toward Venezuela, whose socialist government holds onto power with death squads.) 

Judis hasn’t completely freed himself from the old socialist nostalgia. He writes that “the idea of socialism as a command economy of nationalized firms was dashed by the collapse of the Soviet Union,” but that idea was dashed long before when it became clear that a centralized economy is massively inefficient and wasteful. It shouldn’t have taken outright collapse to show that democratic central planning is an oxymoron, that (as Bakunin had warned Marx) the concentration of economic power in the state would inevitably engender a tyrannical oligarchy. If your political faith was dashed by the fall of the USSR, you probably weren’t paying attention, because it never deserved your faith.

The American labor movement offers a more attractive tradition. Here the DSA is right: “Most of all, socialists look to unions to make private business more accountable.” Unions have been foolishly neglected by the Democratic Party for a long time. Employers have become increasingly sophisticated in defeating the aims of the National Labor Relations Act, just as taxpayers keep devising clever ways to get around the tax code. But Congress has constantly amended the law to eliminate tax loopholes, while through the Carter, Clinton, and Obama administrations congressional Democrats did little to stop union-busting. For example, they failed to block state right-to-work laws, which depress Democratic voting shares and turnout by about 3 percentage points.   

The point here is Madisonian: Abuses will happen whenever there’s unaccountable power. Big business is too powerful. But the danger that someone will be too powerful is not an artifact of capitalism. “Whenever modern idealists are confronted with the divisive and corrosive effects of man’s self-love,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1944, “they look for some immediate cause of this perennial tendency, usually in some specific form of social organization.” The problem is neither capitalism nor socialism but the many Americans who lack associations that will defend their interests.

The political system is unlikely to deliver much to the lowest-paid workers if they are politically quiescent and disorganized, easily beguiled by fraudsters like Fox News and Trump. The decline of the proportion of unionized American workers has been one of the principal causes of rising economic inequality. Organized labor was one of the few mechanisms that mobilized the less advantaged members of society into coherent voting blocs. Without private sector unions, there is little pressure to respond to those people’s interests.

If what is needed is a decentralization of economic power, then even the proliferation of billionaires, one of the aspects of the new economy that Sanders socialists most revile, is in many ways good news. It means that the government doesn’t get to make all the decisions about which public goods to support. Research into green energy is getting millions in private charitable funding even while the Trump administration insisted that climate change is a hoax.

In a socialists-for-capitalism program, one of the first things that needs to go is the word “socialism” itself. George Orwell wrote in 1946 about the degradation of political discourse:  “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’ The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.” Every use of such empty terms, he thought, “anaesthetises a portion of one’s brain.”

The sensible response by scholars who have studied the left is to distinguish (as Sheri Berman does in her wonderfully clarifying history, The Primacy of Politics) between socialism, which aims to abolish capitalism, and social democracy, which accepts a capitalist economy but demands a state strong enough to moderate its failures and excesses. Judis responds that social democracy is “a label that has no currency in American politics.” True, but there is value in a term that’s not already contaminated with misleading associations. It also helps to be able to articulate distinctions that matter. A surgeon will do a better job if he has terms more precise than “innards.” 

Today’s American left has a suicidal tendency to rally around phrases with extreme, politically disastrous significations: defund the police, prison abolition, police abolition. Proponents of reform find themselves constantly explaining that those terms are not to be understood literally (giving new significance to the old slogan, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”). But the use of this toxic language is not accidental, because in each case the most committed members of the movement aren’t fooling; they are using the phrases literally. The police abolition movement includes genuine anarchists. As Judis reports, many of the most committed American socialists are old-fashioned Marxists. Orwell thought that vague political terms like socialism “are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows the hearer to think he means something quite different.”

The DSA declares: “Until we face, and beat, the stigma attached to the ‘S word,’ politics in America will continue to be stifled and our options limited.” That’s true only if the option one hopes to keep open is the Marxist one, which even most Sanders voters reject. If the word frightens away voters, then it is the word itself that stifles politics and limits options. Dionne and Galston acknowledge that “Medicare and Social Security are, in a sense, socialist, and so are our public schools and universities, our community colleges, our water supplies and sewers, and our mass transit systems.” If those can happen without the S word – and they did – then they are not what the S word is necessary for. There are, indeed, enemies on the left.

There is a similar vagueness in the word capitalism. In 2018, only 56 percent of Americans said they had a positive image of capitalism. But the positive-image rate was 92 percent for small business, 86 percent for entrepreneurs, 79 percent for free enterprise, leaving uncertainty about what the respondents meant by “capitalism.” It appears that they, and even some academic critics of capitalism, have in mind the stingy, radically unequal economic regime that the Republican Party now advocates.

The title of Fred Block’s Capitalism: The Future of an Illusion makes it sound like an orthodox Marxist screed, or at least a proposal to somehow abolish capitalism. It isn’t. It is a critique of “the idea that capitalism is a system that has its own logic and rules that must be obeyed or we risk losing the material well-being that has been achieved to date.” Block attacks an ideology designed to ensure that the U.S. will not “follow the path of European social democracies, which had an elaborate regulatory structure and extensive public provision of social services.” In fact, he argues, the European approach is simply another, and better, form of capitalism. In other words, like Judis (who provides an admiring back-cover blurb), he is really arguing for some form of welfare state capitalism.

Block offers a valuable etymology of “capitalism,” which, he shows, only came into wide usage in the 1980s. During the Cold War, it was part of the vocabulary of Communist parties, and others avoided it. Then a few prominent intellectuals, notably Milton Friedman and Irving Kristol, repurposed it effectively. American economic policy, Block argues, has been paralyzed by the notion “that given the nature of capitalism, all that can be done to stimulate growth is to balance government budgets, cut regulations, and rely on central banks to expand the money supply.” He cites the experience of Germany, where a quarter of workers still have jobs in manufacturing, and they “continue to enjoy wages, benefits, and working conditions that are far better than comparable workers in the United States.”

Block’s central claims about American capitalism’s pathologies can be briefly summarized. He argues that:

  • the market fails when there are externalities, positive or negative, in which case the state needs to step in;
  • the state can be corrupted by rent-seeking special interests, which can thwart the operation of markets;
  • those interests sometimes defend their right to pollute or defraud, as with climate change, so regulatory capture sometimes takes the form of preventing government from regulating;
  • markets also under-invest in human capital; the state needs to invest in training in order for citizens to be able to command good wages;
  • that under-investment produces unnecessarily adversarial relations between business and labor;
  • markets do not distribute consumption goods in a defensible way, so the state needs to redistribute in order to assure everyone a decent standard of living;
  • the state needs to have the capacity to do these things, so it is necessary to resist limitations on state power, whether from constitutions or capital markets, that constrain that capacity;
  • the state also needs to have the will to do these things; there must be institutions to represent the interests of those who aren’t rich, and private-sector labor unions are the most promising candidate;
  • economic growth need not entail the profligate consumption of resources nor increased pollution.

All of these propositions will be familiar to those who follow the Niskanen Center. They can be found in various writings of Brink Lindsey, Samuel Hammond, Will Wilkinson, and Jerry Taylor.

The fact that smart people on the left and right agree on so much is big news.  

Block could concede more than he does to the virtues of existing free market policies. His account of international capitalism doesn’t acknowledge the enormous improvement it has brought in so many places. He sometimes makes it sound like globalization has increased world poverty, when the opposite is the case. Even if we adopt the policies he proposes, there will still be a lot of inequality. Germany ranks third among nations in its number of billionaires, after the U.S. and China.  

In sum: Socialism’s purpose is assuring everyone the resources to live a decent life. Because we should all want that, we should all be socialists. The most dependable means for delivering those resources, however, is a capitalist economy, supplemented (as, in America, it has not been lately) by an array of state interventions that assure everyone an adequate share of the wealth. So today’s socialists should also be capitalists. Confused? That is because the word “socialism” has too many meanings to be useful. Stop using it.

Sanders, the most prominent contemporary American socialist, envisions “an economy in which you have wealth being created by the private sector, but you have a fair distribution of that wealth, and you make sure the most vulnerable people in this country are doing well.” It is a powerfully attractive vision. The right kind of capitalism is the way to get there.

Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University, is the author, most recently, of Gay Rights vs. Religious Liberty? The Unnecessary Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2020).  Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoppelman.