Social Democracy Update 2021

A decade has gone by since I made this website. These have been years in which social democracy has not fared well in Germany or in other industrialized nations.  The reasons for that are long-standing and deep.

Following World War II and continuing into the 1970s, social democratic governments in West Germany enacted many reforms.  This was an era of economic growth, co-determination by workers in running their workplaces, and widespread support for human rights and peace. 

When the SPD (Social Democratic Party) lost national elections, it remained influential at local and regional levels, improving educational opportunities for all and supporting the construction of public housing.  During the 1960s the SPD participated in coalition governments that expanded the welfare state, raised the wages of blue-collar workers, and enacted progressive Keynesian economic policies.  

In the United States too, the Democratic Party enacted a wide range of reforms.  It was a “big tent” that brought together moderates and leftists, trade unionists and owners of small businesses, rural and urban voters.  In the 1960s the Party was instrumental in passing civil rights legislation that countered segregation and other forms of discrimination against people of color.  (That became politically possible when conservative Democrats from the South –“Dixiecrats,” as they were called — quit the Party and became Republicans.)  Medicare and Medicaid, Headstart , the Job Corps and the Food Stamp Act were additional reforms won during that decade.

Since the mid-1970s, however, industrial economies have suffered reverses that have contributed to rolling back many of these gains.  In the past decade, economic inequality and insecurity have continued to increase in European countries and the U.S.  Young people especially face an uncertain future.  Accompanying this economic downturn, we have seen over the past decade widening cultural and political polarization, while the twin threats of nuclear war and climate change continue unabated.

At the same time, though, the pandemic has helped us to understand that we all need to work together to protect the earth and its inhabitants.   There is more political awareness today that we have to find common ground.  In Germany, Chancellor Merkel will step down this year, and the Social Democratic Party may govern in alliance with the Greens and other parties.  In the United States a far-reaching Green New Deal is supported by most Americans and by the current Democratic administration. 

In brief, the promise of social democracy — a just, peaceful, sustainable world — relies today and always on the willingness of people with diverse backgrounds, interests, and loyalties to unite.

My son was born a couple weeks before we went to negotiate the Paris Agreement and so for me it was very personal for my children and for the next generation ….  I’m proud to work for a president who knows we have to go far beyond the Paris Agreement.  We need to push much further internationally  and here at home to achieve that goal of a net zero economy before 2050.  I will focus every day on the bold, new actions we need to take to combat the climate crisis, to protect our communities , to address the racial inequities at the core of our climate crisis, and do so in a way that lifts up our economy.

— Brian Deese, Director of the National Education Council, which advises the President on economic policy

Legislators Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders advocate a Green New Deal that will create union jobs, rebuild America’s economy, and help protect the planet.

The great failure of the Democratic Party has been in the domain of foreign policy.  The U.S., under Democratic as well as Republican administrations, has served as the arms merchant to the world, selling far more weaponry globally than any other country.  At the behest of Democrats as well as Republicans, the U.S. continues to provide economic and military support to extremely repressive political regimes.

Refugees from those regimes — in Central America for example — seek to immigrate to the United States.  The worldwide refugee crisis that has magnified over the past decade is driven by hardship and fear.   Social democratic legislators can best respond with policies of assistance that address the root economic, social, and climate causes that motivate people to flee their home countries.