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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

American Left and the Challenge of Globalization

Sheri Berman, associate professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University and author of “The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century,” has an interesting big picture essay at Dissent‘s web pages. There’s a lot in Berman’s essay that merits thoughtful consideration, but we’ll just share this teaser and encourage everyone to give her entire piece a read:

Helping people adjust to capitalism, rather than engaging in a hopeless and ultimately counterproductive effort to hold it back, has been the historic accomplishment of the social democratic left, and it remains its primary goal today in those countries where the social democratic mindset is most deeply ensconced. Many analysts have remarked, for example, on the impressive success of countries like Denmark and Sweden in managing globalization—promoting economic growth and increased competitiveness even as they ensure high employment and social security. The Scandinavian cases demonstrate that social welfare and economic dynamism are not enemies but natural allies. Not surprisingly, it is precisely in these countries that optimism about globalization is highest. In the United States and other parts of Europe, on the other hand, fear of the future is pervasive and opinions of globalization astoundingly negative. American leftists must try to do what the Scandinavians have done: develop a program that promotes growth and social solidarity together, rather than forcing a choice between them. Concretely this means agitating for policies—like reliable, affordable, and portable health care; tax credits or other government support for labor-market retraining; investment in education; and unemployment programs that are both more generous and better incentivized—that will help workers adjust to change rather than make them fear it.

Berman has much more to say about the challenge of globalization faced by social democrats and democratic socialists in a 21st century context, as well as their respective accomplishments in the 20th century. Her article should be of considerable interest to all Democrats and progressives concerned with long-haul strategy.

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