Book review: Why You Should Be a Socialist

This is my review of the book by Nathan J. Robinson titled Why You Should Be a Socialist.

When reading this book, I assumed it’s talking about the United States.

What I learned

Socialism is an ideology. Socialists chase after a utopia (ideal world). We may not know quite how to get to utopia yet. But if we think about our ideal and start to move toward it, we will not just have an abstract and empty ‘hope’ but a set of real things to strive for.

Socialism is not mutually exclusive with anarchy or libertarianism. There exists socialistic anarchists and libertarian socialists, for example.

Democratic socialists value equality. For example, democratic socialists value equal voting power for public policy, and because economic power is a component voting power, democratic socialists care about economic power. You are not a socialist if you do not aspire to drastic changes in the existing arrangement of economic power, meaning it is not enough simply to affirm vague rhetorical support for ‘equality.’ This book has shifted my ideas on what equality means to socialists.

Socialist ideas are already present in the United States. Services such as public libraries are very socialist.

Socialists claim the victories of black and woman suffrage.

Some socialists like the idea of non-citizens (and perhaps younger people) having the right to vote in elections.

Some socialists devalue the United States Constitution. [It’s] a wholly illegitimate document. Women, African Americans, and Native Americans, despite together comprising the majority of the population at the time of the country’s founding, did not get to participate in the document’s drafting and ratification.

What I agree with

Many important issues relating to civil liberties are undervalued in current American politics. For example, we don’t talk about a frightened Guatemalan child in an immigration jail or the number of Vietnamese people who lost their lives in the Vietnam War (or any other war).

Current politicians encourage wars and other forms of violence. This mindset is unhealthy.

What I disagree with

I disagree a good (partial) solution to student debt is debt forgiveness or [Bernie Sanders] cutting interest rates on federal student loans. I agree that student debt is a problem, but I think we should fix the problem at its source (students getting expensive loans with low return on investment) before we think about how to fix the current symptoms (high student debt). I disagree that it’s bad for students to evaluate the return on investment of their education.

I disagree that increasing the federal (or local) minimum wage is a good thing for workers. I think that minimum wage legislation reduces choice for workers, makes smaller business more difficult to start and operate, and slightly encourages automation. I suspect these are reasons why Amazon wants to increase the federal minimum wage. (Nathan often complains about Amazon in his book.) A wage minimum shouldn’t be imposed for people who didn’t ask for it; a minimum wage should not be federally mandated. (It’s unconstitutional, after all.)

Immigrants cannot vote, meaning that they have ‘taxation without representation,’ even though the laws apply to them. Nathan argues that representation needs to be increased; more people should be allowed to vote. I think the focus should be elsewhere: taxation should be decreased (e.g. no income taxes), and representation should more local and should be less important (because government should have less power over its people).

Other comments

When talking about illegal immigrants in detention centers, Nathan blames authorities, not the people who illegally enter the United States. However, earlier in the book, Nathan talks about claims the person’s decision not to [save poor children from dying of malaria] meant a child died who otherwise would not have. I see a disconnect in Nathan’s reasoning: (rich) people are accountable for their inaction just as much as their action; and (poor) people are not accountable for their actions (ignorance of law; bringing their children illegally, endangering them). I don’t think this is what Nathan really thinks, but it’s the message I get subliminally throughout the book: privileged people are responsible for unprivileged people, and unprivileged people are responsible for nothing, not even themselves.

Immigrants cannot vote, meaning that they have ‘taxation without representation,’ even though the laws apply to them. There’s more nuance than Nathan implies in this sentence. Some legal immigrants, such as naturalized citizens, can definitely vote. Some legal and illegal immigrants can vote in certain local elections, such as in College Park, Maryland and San Francisco, California. No illegal immigrants can vote in federal elections, however.


I recommend reading this book, especially if you’ve heard a lot of bad things about socialism from the media and you’re now skeptical of socialism.