Hungry? I can offer you a round, red, big apple, or a big, round, red apple. Do you have a preference?
If you say those two phrases out loud, you will probably find the first one hits your ear wrong. It is one of the “secret” rules of English; there is a “correct” order for the placement of adjectives to sound “right.” This isn’t something that Maine’s schoolchildren spend time learning — native speakers just pick it up — but those new to the language struggle with it.
Word order can matter in politics as well. There is a difference between a “social democrat” and a “Democratic Socialist” in the popular imagination.
The “Democratic Socialist” mantle is shouldered, once again, by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Who is not a registered Democrat, but proudly a socialist, although his definition of the term is somewhat muddled. Meanwhile, Americans generally do not use the term “social democrat,” but it describes the European mixture of welfare and capitalism, predicated on substantial taxes and government regulation.
Next year’s election will explore America’s temperature for “social democracy.” President Donald Trump’s trade strategy — tariffs coupled with subsidies for harmed industries — could fairly be described as a mixture of welfare and capitalism. Meanwhile, the umpteen Democrats running for president have no shortage of ideas on how to spend money on government safety net programs. Some, like former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, welcome capitalism with open arms. Call him a capitalist Democrat.
Meanwhile, perhaps the most interesting candidate running on the left is Andrew Yang. A former lawyer and entrepreneur, his “big idea” is a so-called “Universal Basic Income.” What is it? Essentially, a guaranteed payment monthly from the government to every American. Call it Democratic Capitalism.
If that sounds crazy, it is. And it isn’t.
One of the rare bipartisan initiatives in Augusta this year is a bill to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. The left-wing Maine People’s Alliance supported it, as did the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Eliose Vitelli and Assistant House Republican Leader Trey Stewart jointly penned an OpEd in the Bangor Daily News lauding it.
It works by giving a tax credit to low- and moderate-income earners. In some cases, the credit is bigger than the tax bill, which turns it into a subsidy; the government is giving the taxpayer money. So why would the left and right agree on it?
Because Republicans and conservatives, contrary to caricatures, believe poverty is a bad thing. And there are some tax cuts that Democrats and liberals like.
In short, it is an example of social democracy in action. Or democratic capitalism. Americans across the political spectrum generally agree that a safety net is appropriate and necessary for society. That is why Social Security is almost universally acclaimed by elected officials and the public writ large.
Which brings us back to Yang. We have big, convoluted government programs already in place to give people money like unemployment, Social Security, and TANF, but also tax programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit. As the economy changes, more and more people are no longer covered by traditional employment safety nets.
Drive for Uber? Work freelance as a computer developer? Maybe our government programs, together with the tax code, should be rethought and redesigned to cover new ways people work. All with the same goal as the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that work always leaves you better off than you were before.
Because, whether you are a social democrat or a democratic socialist or a capitalist democrat or a democratic capitalist, there are some areas where we agree: Poverty is bad. Work is good. And “round, red, big apple” sounds strange.