A Socialist America?: The Bernie Phenomenon

Bernie Sanders, failed democratic presidential candidate in 2016, not only wants a much bigger federal government—-he believes in American socialism. But he argues in a recent book for an America collectivism without saying he is a socialist; a smart but dishonest strategy. That is why he is in the Democratic party and not trying to work through an American Socialist party, which hasn’t been much of a factor in American life for close to a century.

Sanders, in a new and at times silly book, repeatedly contends that America doesn’t tax nearly enough—really? —especially the rich. He also believes in an imperial president who can remake the America economy, not through legislation or elections, but through presidential decrees.

The Socialist Imperial Presidency

Sanders apparently has no fear of a president accumulating too much power, which is actually one of the greatest dangers to our liberty in the modern era of the national security welfare/warfare state. That is, Sanders believes, provided the imperial president is a man or a woman of the extreme left who questions the principle of private property.

In his new book, “Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution,” Sanders calls for unilateral executive action to raise the minimum wage for federal workers. “In my view, we need a new executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers to a living wage of $15 an hour.”

So why stop at $15 an hour minimum?

Aren’t there many expensive parts of the United States? Why not raise the amount of federal contract worker pay to $25 or $30 an hour? Why not raise everyone’s wages sky-high by executive fiat?

The Road to Disaster

Why?

Once we have acceded to the Sanders principle that wages and prices shouldn’t be established in free negotiations between and among competing parties, but via government decree, we have taken a very dangerous step down what economist F.A. Hayek famously called the “Road to Serfdom.”

Sanders would never concede that government intrusion into the economy has caused endless disasters over centuries. Yet, indeed, it has.

More government, Sanders believes, is almost always better, a stance that should quietly please many career pols who love to pass more and more laws.

Reading this book, it is clear: Sanders is neither a student of economics nor history.

Sanders, apparently, never heard about the socialist calculation debates of the 1930s. Insightful economists such as Hayek and his teacher Ludwig von Mises, debated socialist economists almost a century ago over the importance of the price mechanism. They argued that, without the inputs of free markets and the uncontrolled prices that guide us everyday in how we buy and sell, economies would be flying blind as more and more power was given to the central planning boards that inevitably err no matter how they choose to fix wages and prices.

Why does central planning fail whether in its mild forms in the West or the most extreme forms such as in the old Soviet Union or Cuba today?

“I’m Lost”

It is because the information that guides us in a true market economy is disbursed among tens of millions of people making billions of decisions every day. This kind of de-centralized information, Mises and Hayek argued, could never be replicated by any government planning board no matter how powerful or smart.

By the way, the brilliant Mises in the 1920s predicted the downfall of the socialist Soviet Union. Decades later after the fall of the USSR, the socialist economist Robert Heilbroner, in the pages of the New Yorker, courageously conceded that “Mises was right.”

Still, people like Sanders never got the message or studied the history. They continue to insist that the road to prosperity is through enforced equality, socialism, the wisdom of the central planner and higher and higher taxes.

From the Roman Empire to Modern America

Yet greater and greater government control of the economy is a step that threatens the ability of countries to promote healthy economies. We are ignoring centuries of lessons of economic history in flawed economic controls from the Roman Emperor Diocletian to the modern American emperor who pretended to be a president, Richard Nixon, as well as tons of misguided leaders before and since.

All of them tried with various forms of central planning, which included wage and price controls. They were disastrous experiments in government power that wrecked economies as proven with the breakup of the Soviet Union. The latter’s woes are subjects Sanders’ book ignores.

Let us consider this failed socialist nation that didn’t lose a war and yet broke up. The Soviet Union imploded from the illogic of its centrally planned economics. Think of the Soviet Union. A nation that couldn’t produce enough food to feed itself; that had to import grains from the West. The failures of collective agriculture are what went wrong. Yet the Soviet Union had some of the most fertile land on the planet!

Socialism consistently produces these anomalies: shortages where there should be abundance; an abundance of products that no one wants.

Government Edict: Raise Prices

Sanders also endorses the movement in some states to keep raising the minimum wage, despite the complaints of employers that they can’t afford it or that consumers will ultimately pay with higher prices or with higher youth unemployment rates. The United States has had some high rates of youth unemployment if one factors in the millions of people who have quit on the economy. The latter are people who have withdrawn from the economy and are not counted in the unemployment statistics.

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Why the self-destructive policy of forcing prices up beyond their natural rate even though it is a policy that hurts the economy in the long run?

It is because what is often good politics—playing to crowd through short-term, politically popular solutions that are often economic moonshine—is lousy economics. This kind of backdoor socialist policy establishes that the government—through various decrees and legislation—can be more important than the efforts of individuals. The latter include small business people taking chances by putting capital at risk. It also includes millions of individuals. They may or may not someday start a business, but these are people who work hard, save and invest to make a better life for themselves, their families and generations to come. They’re entitled to keep what Jefferson in 1801, in announcing the end of Federalist taxes, called “the fruits of their labors.”

This spirit of self-improvement is the essence of what GregoryBresiger.com is all about. Sanders in this book also rails against almost every capitalist who has built a considerable fortune or had some success after many failures (Sanders spends a lot of time kicking around Wal-Mart and their successes. If he reads “Made in America,” by Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, he would find out that Walton repeatedly failed with various stores and finally found the right formula. And remember there are lots of capitalists who didn’t have happy endings).

In his book, Sanders depicts these capitalists, in part through cartoons that are an insult to the reader (charts could be used just as effectively to make Sanders’ anti-wealth points) as evil creatures, almost like the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Some Devils Aren’t Capitalists

There’s a lot of problems with Sanders’ capitalists are devils who make far too much money and pay far too little in taxes thesis: Sanders never once complains about the various non-capitalist figures who make tons of money.

How about the movie stars, athletes and sports stars who don’t start businesses that employ millions of people? These people are often as rich or in some cases richer than the entrepreneurs who often started with nothing but built businesses of great value that go on generations after they’re gone.

Sanders has no rage and complaints for the American workers who make a ton of money. Aren’t they also greedy in accumulating all that money?

Why the lack of anger against another group of Americans who also have fat bank accounts? It is because socialists must identify with “the people.” They look for votes at the expense of sensible, long-term economic policies. (The Bresiger rule of thumb in politics—vote for the man or woman, left or right, who promises the least; who is the most sober and careful about promises. That’s also not a bad rule for relationships).

To some socialists like Sanders all workers are good and all capitalists bad.

Liberty: The Perpetual Value

Actually, evil and goodness aren’t inherent in any one group. But the benefits of freedom go beyond personalities; they are eternal. That is as long as each generation understands them and reveres them.