My question to Bernie Sanders supporters:
When someone in Bangladesh observes your lifestyle, it seems as incredible to them as that of the 1% seems to you. Why are they not entitled to help themselves to your things, the way you consider yourself morally entitled to help yourself to the goods of the American rich?
In your answer, avoid moral irrelevancies like national borders; can we tolerate inequality just because it’s cross-border?
Extra credit: take a picture of yourself divesting yourself of most of your goods in the name of global equality.
-Thomas E. Woods
With every election cycle there is likewise a new hopeful candidate that promises to go against the powers that be. This campaign cycle is a prime example with Bernie Sanders leading the charge.
Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, has swept in with promises of ending corruption, and greed, while simultaneously spreading fairness, equality, and free services. And like any politician who gains support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices, millions have flocked to his support. There are some receptive supporters of Bernie that may be swayed, I know of a few whose hearts are in the right place. Like Obama supporters of the past there may be some worth exchanging words with, one individual at a time. To their credit, I have found that many Bernie Sanders supporters have the same goals as I do, yet it is exhausting if not impossible to persuade any of them.
For instance, when Bernie is called a socialist, many will lash out in response that Bernie Sanders is in fact a democratic socialist; asserting the two aren’t the same. What many don’t realize is that their definition of “democratic socialism,” is just a repackaged definition of socialism (be it state socialism or otherwise). For instance, “socialism,” is common/worker ownership of the means of production. Democratic Socialists of America describe a tenet of “democratic socialism,” as “the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them”. Wikipedia defines democratic socialism as a “political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production.” I assume those in political power would ideally be “democratic socialists” as well, but the point is that it is nothing but semantics in the sense that when you unpack the definitions they are essentially the same concept. Supporters of Sanders will often say the distinction between “democratic socialism” and “socialism” is that the former is often controlled by dictators and tyranical governments, which is often true but disingenuous. We can say that neither work, but that’s the distinction they’re trying to make. There exists no significant difference other than under democratic socialism voting takes place which is nothing to be proud of since elections take place in even the worst of socialist regimes. Putting “democratic” in front of “socialism” doesn’t make it any more feasible of a concept than putting “democratic” in front of “fascism.” If Bernie Sanders and his supporters actually understood political science, they would just call themselves “social democrats”.
When asked for examples of “democratic socialism,” Bernie supporters quickly and erroneously point to Scandinavia, but don’t look closer to know what most of those Scandinavian countries have in common is a massive welfare state; they have much lower corporate taxes than we do, (23.5% in Denmark, 22% in Sweden, 20% in Finland, 28% in Norway, 40% in the U.S.) lower estate taxes, (top estate tax in U.S. is 40%, 15% in Denmark, 20% in Netherlands, and no estate tax in Sweden or Norway), they outrank us on the heritage economic freedom index, it’s much easier and cheaper to start a business there, they have no minimum wage laws, and so on. Basically, they have a huge welfare state, but on almost every other count they’re much closer to a free market than we are, which is at odds with “democratic socialism”. By their logic, they should be calling for freer markets, not less.
Bernie supporters take pride in the fact that, unlike other candidates who are supported by “big banks,” Bernie is supported by unions; implying that Bernie is “for the workers,” but overlook unions’ ill effects. Unions are like any other cartel: they are beneficial to members at the expense of non members. Union members receive above-market wages so long as the union can legally prevent its employer from hiring workers who accept lower wages. This is why they can’t function without the ability to forcibly exclude competition through labor legislation. Labor unions raise the price of goods for consumers in various ways, both indirectly and directly. Unions, ceteris paribus, produce less output, increase costs, and get cozy with government to ensure their inflated wages and high prices are protected by such policies as tariffs and trade quotas. Thus, it is conflicting to say unions are “for the people,” if one is talking about everyone in a society.
Bernie supporters will protest how it is unfair, or doesn’t make sense, that house loans and car loans are at a lower interest rate than student loans, but overlook that given the default rate on student loans compared to cars and homes, a higher interest rate makes complete sense. Secure loans such as cars and houses would be less expensive than an unsecured loan such as a student loan to compensate for risk. In contrast, car and house loans, for example, use durable goods as collateral, causing the loan to be less risky and the rate charged to be lower. Cutting rates via fiat will just lead to shortages and fewer loans to be issued.
Supporters of Sanders will lament about income inequality but fail to realize a few things. First, the economy is not a fixed pie; not all poverty is a result of someone else not being in poverty. Poverty is the natural condition of mankind. It is the escape from poverty – even to the level of “poverty” seen in the West now – that is utterly abnormal and the result of capitalism. Second, while inequality can arise in the economy it is important to distinguish if it is a result of entrepreneurship and free trade or inequality that results from political intervention such as corporate subsidies, eminent domain, copyright laws, and so on; the latter is corrupt. Libertarians are for abolishing these things. I think it’s likely there’d be less inequality under conditions of freedom. Absent these state privileges, a rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak. Even if you could abolish inequality without killing half of us and impoverishing the rest, we’d be unequal again by the end of the day, and by the end of the next day there’d be poor people and rich people again, and there is no reason to object to that by itself.
Bernie Sanders supporters will harp about how “trickle down economics” has failed us, but don’t realize that “trickle down” comes from the politicization of particular economic policies. “Trickle down,” is a derogatory phrase based upon a misrepresentation of supply side economics claiming it is about “giving money to rich people,” but as far as the discipline of economics is concerned, “trickle down” does not exist. That is, the term was coined by non-economists. Media talking heads from the New York Times, Paul Krugman, and President Obama attack the “concept” but as Thomas Sowell points out, “The “trickle-down” theory cannot be found in even the most voluminous scholarly studies of economic theories”, and that “none of those who denounce a “trickle-down” theory can quote anybody who actually advocated it.”
Bernie supporters will argue that capitalism failed us and will point to the 2008 housing crisis as an example. If asked about specifics, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act is usually mentioned as an immediate cause. In the very rare case you’re talking to somebody who knows anything about that act, they’ll mention the provision that mandated a separation between consumer and commercial banks, the repeal of which I agree was relevant, but wasn’t the cause. Repealing it made, for certain large banks, the money of consumers available to invest in securities such as credit default swaps, which increased the amount of investment in the bubble and those banks’ leverage on those investments. If it had remained in place, the bubble would have inflated a bit more slowly and probably collapsed a bit later, but that was a relatively minor development in an environment where massive quantities of new money created by the Fed were flowing into that sector, and specifically into that sector because of actions of Congress explicitly designed to bring that about. So they’re inflating this bubble, promising to keep inflating it forever, removing the risk of these investments by various means such as Fannie and Freddie, and encouraging loans to unworthy borrowers. Nobody who knew what was going on and also had a clue about economics could have believed this was sustainable. So, I’d agree with any “sketchy lending practices” accusation as well, but then the question is why all the banks, all at the same time, started engaging in these practices. The usual answer is, of course, “greed” as if banks weren’t greedy in the 90s. The correct answer is that Congress and the Fed were doing everything they could to encourage these loans, fund them and ameliorate the associated risks to the banks by putting those risks on the taxpayer.
When talking about Bernie Sanders, supporters proudly liken him to a modern day Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) while simultaneously ignoring that FDR ordered all monetary gold from Americans to be confiscated, ordered the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans without due process into concentration camps via Executive Order 9066, and most importantly prolonged the Great Depression (see: here, here, here, and here). Additionally, these policies were commended by the likes of Hitler and Mussolini, plus lasted his entire time in office, whereas the depression of 1920-21 is unknown by a majority of those who revere FDR that ended in a much shorter time frame via a different approach (see: here and here).
When you bring up economics, Bernie supporters brush it off as a dismal science that doesn’t fix problems, but overlook the nature of economics as a descriptive science which aims to explain markets as they are, rather than dictate how they should organized, and to what extent the state should intervene in them. The aim of economics is to explain how the structure of individual action, and how scarce means are used to fulfill particular, unlimited ends. Economics does not posit if anything is “wrong,” nor can it “fix anything,” as this falls outside the scope of the discipline. However it can inform you about the consequences of a given action or policy. This is one of the objectives of economics, to describe the world as it really is, or more specifically, the world as it can only be due to axiomatic laws, just as physics does
Supporters of Sanders will boast how Bernie will get money and funding out of elections, which is a legitimate grievance, but fail to understand that how much is spent by a candidate doesn’t determine if that candidate will win. For instance, Mitt Romney outspent Obama in 2012 and lost. Rick Perry spent over 4 million dollars on tv ads which got him only 10% of the votes during the Iowa caucus in 2012. The Koch brothers spent over 30 million going after Obama which proved fruitless. Yes, money is needed for an election but does not guarantee a particular outcome.
With Sanders on the campaign trail, as usual, the “anti-war left” comes out of hiding congratulating his war record, but failing to mention that Sanders supported Clinton in Kosovo (had war activists arrested), voted to fund the wars both in Afghanistan and Iraq (opposing a withdrawal of Iraq), votes for funding to Israel along with supporting their 2014 war in Gaza, voted for sanctions on Iran, and supports the campaigns in Syria and Libya. Further, Bernie Sanders also has supported a plethora of sweet-heart deals and increased military spending to the military industrial complex. But all is well, as long as it isn’t a republican doing it and because he is standing up to Wall Street.
Supporters of Bernie Sanders, you’re not some sort of rebel for supporting Bernie. You are just reciting everything you were told since you entered public schools. That’s not rebellious; that’s cultish and robotic. Supporting a candidate who calls for more government control because your grouchy father listened to Rush Limbaugh is not grassroots. Bernie is merely another side of the same coin. We all know the saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely, and if you’re going to create a job by fiat that provides you with a salary without producing anything of value, you’re going to have the authority to affect institutions in major financial ways, and you’re going to have influence over people and businesses. There is no doubt that the readily corruptible will pursue such an occupation. I don’t question that some pure-hearted ideologues will pursue office as well, but the advantage will always go to the lying and compromising demagogue, making it incredibly uncommon for a virtuous politician to actually hold office (I think it can be argued it has happened, but not extensively enough to actually effect change positively). If people are 100% good, we don’t need government. If people are 100% bad, it’s too dangerous to have a government. If people are a mixture of good and bad, it is completely naïve to assume that positions of power will not attract the latter group in droves; it’s only natural that less ethical people will be drawn into positions in which they can use power as a substitute for production.
I can’t think of anything more utopian than the indefatigable faith, after so many centuries of democracy, that next time, or one of these days, the “Right Person” will rise to power and finally make good on their promise of delivering the peace and prosperity all politicians promise. This time, you won’t have to spend those years making excuses or finding scapegoats for all the failures and broken promises. He would have fulfilled that promise, and his legislative achievements would have worked, if not for the “Other Guys in Congress”, or greedy old “Big Whoever” jacking up their prices as all the economists said they would, or those damn lobbyists, voting for more guys like me, or whatever.
Once you put people in charge, you have very close to zero control over what they do, and how much additional/unauthorized power they will seize. And so they will always take more as a result of their previous handiwork conveniently turning out to be “insufficient.” Take any government that has ever existed. We point out actual implementations of socialism, for example, and the socialists complain it wasn’t “real” socialism. But that’s just the problem: socialists were put in charge, their expected results didn’t appear, so they did unsocialist but very totalitarian things to fix/tweak it, plus whatever the hell they wanted to do. You can’t set up a damn omnipotent state and then blame the politicians rather than your ideology when they don’t behave the way you want, any more than a serious economist gets to blame “greed” when his favorite policies produce bad results. And by the way, the socialists merely took a shortcut to the omnipotent state by establishing it from the get-go. The point is that nobody is competent to make important life decisions for others; least of all people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of power.
I find that when I look back on history and around the world, I don’t have to make excuses for freedom. When I compare the relatively unregulated donut industry to the health care industry, I don’t have to come up with ad hoc explanations for why one is characterized by abundance, low prices and high quality while the other keeps getting scarcer, more expensive and lousier in spite of uninterrupted and heroic attempts to fix it by political means. I don’t have to keep insisting that Program X would have worked by now if only it had been pursued even more ambitiously. I don’t have to wonder about the coincidence of America’s first century of unprecedented freedom and unprecedented prosperity, or the historical flood of eager immigrants rather than fed up expatriates, until lately, or the coinciding reversal of that trend with our descent into the European ideal of the omnipotent democratic welfare state, or the failure of that pursuit, no matter how aggressive, to bring about less poverty rather than more.
Supporters of Bernie Sanders, most of us have the same goals in terms of economic policy — we want fewer poor people, we want the remaining poor to be better off, less corruption and so on. We generally only disagree about the means to do this, and that’s what economics is for. People only usually support programs proposed by Sanders because they erroneously believe, according to flawed economic theories they probably don’t even realize they’re using, that those are the best or only ways the poor and disadvantaged can be helped. You don’t start with a goal and try to build economic models to produce the desired results, resisting any understanding that fails to conform to your ideological preferences. Our sole pursuit is an understanding of the market, and our political advocacy comes from the results of this analysis; not the other way around. You don’t have to justify means with ends, calling for what would be called kidnapping or theft if done by anyone else, in order to bring about some ideal that never materializes no matter how many resources are coercively allocated to it, no matter how many people are locked up or killed or intruded upon or threatened with these actions if they disobey the edicts of a program that would surely achieve its intended objective if only everybody would play along. Bernie supporters often advocate counterproductive policies because their underlying fundamentals allow the open continuation of malicious policies while simultaneously allowing the bureaucracy to claim said policies are in the interest of helping its citizens.
Yet, Bernie supporters don’t seem to be interested any of these things; merely good intentions. The average supporter of Sanders won’t care that you spent years studying and fine tuning what knowledge you have learned on these important issues. The average Bernie supporter- the one who rarely shows any interest in anything philosophical or economic until election season- will dismiss your objections without hesitation; you’re just the Trump supporting republican or selfish, utopian libertarian to them. That’s because some individuals aren’t looking for anything logical like economics or property rights. They can’t be educated, reasoned with, or negotiated with….. Some people just want to watch the world Bern.
Bernie Sanders is Wrong by Tom Woods
The Bernie Sanders Reader by Ryan Mcmaken and Jeff Deist