Chris Matthews’s question on the difference between Democrat and Socialist answered

A distinguished scholar answered the Matthews Question about how Democrats and Socialists differ almost a century ago.

Last July, when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to define the difference between a Democrat and a Socialist, she laughed and said, “The relevant debate that we'll be having this campaign is what's the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.”  Strike one.

Later, this January, when Matthews asked Hillary Clinton to define the difference between a Democrat and a Socialist, her answer, coming after a few, unintelligible non-words, was “I’m not one.”  “I’m a progressive Democrat” she said.  Strike two.

Finally, Matthews stymied in two swings for a hit, asked Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer the question. A sheepishly smiling Schumer said, “Oh, I, I…it depends on how you define each one, doesn’t it?” Strike three.

Now, as a public service to Mr. Matthews, and MSNBC, Irving Fisher (1867-1947) provides an answer to the Matthews’ Question in the context of his Presidential Address, “Economists in Public Service,” delivered at the Thirty-First Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (AEA) in March 1919.

Irving Fisher was among the most, of not the most, influential, economics professor (Yale) in the first half of the 20th Century.  Here’s a partial summary of his importance to his field:

“Irving Fisher made seminal contributions across an astonishing spectrum of economic science: monetary policy rules, the neoclassical theory of capital and interest, expected inflation as the difference between real and nominal interest, the Fisher "ideal" index number, indexed bonds, correlation analysis, distributed lags, the "Phillips curve," the debt-deflation process, taxing consumption rather than income, the value of human capital and improvement in health, even the computation of general equilibrium. On May 8 and 9, 1998, economists gathered at Fisher's university, Yale, to celebrate his contributions and to examine themes in economics suggested by his work.”

He was, it can be argued, the leading progressive economist of his time.

And, during his time, progressives took care to differentiate themselves from socialists.

In his AEA speech, Fisher said this:

“The economists of a century ago were unconsciously writing from the standpoint of the employer rather than from that of the employee, as was shown by their references to labor as an expense of production. Today, on the contrary, as labor is increasing in power, we find many economists are, consciously or un-consciously, taking the point of view of the laborer. This comes closer to being the democratic, humanitarian, or public point of view, but is often in real antagonism to it. Trade unionism, socialism, and even Bolshevism, syndicalism, or I. W. W.ism have occasional champions or apologists among economists. Socialism especially has enlisted under its banner a motley group of theorists eager for some realization of their humanitarian intentions. In a sense, of course, "we are all socialists nowadays." But what should give us pause before enrolling under that banner is that, in reality, it is the red flag of class war. Whatever we may say of theoretical socialism of various types, and however much we may and ought, in my opinion, to favor in some form an increase of socialized industry, the great fact remains that the socialist group derives its real strength from class antagonism.”  (highlight added)

Now, nearly 100 years later, “class antagonism,” as expressed through identify politics (e.g., race, gender, rich-poor), prevails among Secretary Clinton’s campaign talking-points.

So, today, the answer to the Matthews Question as to the difference between a progressive democrat and a socialist is: There is none.