Isn’t Bernie a socialist? Why, yes, he is and that’s bad.
Contrary to the promise in a pro-Bernie website that socialism is great, it’s not: It destroys economies and makes people prisoners of their own government.
The website I Like Bernie, But…, which was created in 2016 and has been updated for 2019, takes it upon itself to answer concerned readers who ask “Isn’t Bernie a socialist?” It assures these people that Bernie isn’t a socialist socialist. Instead, he’s a democratic socialist, which the website promises is something entirely different:
The above conclusions are just wrong, and they’re so very wrong that they need to be corrected and explained in a lot of paragraphs. Here goes:
To begin with, you need to understand what it really means to be a socialist. Only then can you understand that putting the word “democratic” in front of “socialist” doesn’t change anything.
So, what is a “socialist” system? Think of the realm of available politics as a line moving from left to right. On the far left side are totalitarian regimes, which means government has all the control and the people have none. At the far right side is anarchy, which means there is no government at all, although the resulting chaos usually means that people have no control either. (Ironically, anarchy usually ends when a strong man takes over and creates a totalitarian regime.)
All political systems fall somewhere along that line. The further to the Left they are, the more likely it is that power is centralized, and the further to the Right they are, the more likely it is that there is minimal centralized power, leaving more power with individuals.
Socialism, by definition, is a system that vests power in the government. The government owns or exercises control over all of the means of production, as well as all of the things produced. All people work under government control and all goods and services are handed out pursuant to government mandate.
Theoretically, in a socialist country, the people and the government are one and the same. The reality, though, is that you can’t have millions, tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of people in management.
What actually happens, therefore, is that all power resides in a tightly-controlled government group that makes all decisions about everything. It decides what the country as a whole will build, produce, sell, etc. As part of this, the government has to control every aspect of citizens’ lives, in order to make sure that its social and economic goals are met.
Over the last 100 years, socialism has taken on many guises, from hard to soft. In today’s world, North Korea, which vests all power in one member of one ruling family, is socialism’s most extreme face. We know that hundreds of thousands of people who have displeased the regime live in concentration camps where those who survive work as slaves.
A small percentage of those North Korean citizens who are connected to the ruling party live good lives, with food, shelter, and other creature comforts. The military is heavily supported, because socialist dictatorships are paranoid. But for everyone else — well, famine is a common occurrence in North Korea because, as you’ll see repeatedly in socialist countries, government types are horrible economic managers.
The government also fears its citizens (because it treats them so badly), so the government spies upon them constantly and punishes them brutally for even the smallest infractions. When you concentrate all power in one entity — that is, all police and military power — you’re going to have an entity that can do a great deal of harm, both at home and abroad.
The former Soviet Union wasn’t much better back in the day than North Korea is now. In its heyday, the Soviet politburo controlled every aspect of people’s lives. During the 1930s, when Stalin headed the nation, he decided that the Kulaks in Ukraine, who were small farmers with privately owned farms, had to be destroyed to make way for large collective farms run under government control.
When the Kulaks refused to cooperate with Stalin’s grand plan, he used his vast government power to steal their grain and starved them to death. Millions died.
During the 1950s through the 1980s, China had the same repressive government as North Korea and the Soviet Union. During the 1960s, when Chairman Mao announced his Great Leap Forward, which was intended to take China from a medieval economy to a modern one in around five years, tens of millions of people died because of starvation, torture, slave labor, and execution. Low estimates say that 40-50 million died. High estimates say that as many as 75-100 million died. (Because China was such a tightly closed society, there are really no photographs.)
Even today, the Chinese communist government is utterly cavalier about individual rights. It arrests and jails journalists; imprisons millions of Muslims, using them as slave labor and raping the women; harvests organs from prisoners for profit; uses slave labor to help drive the Chinese economy; and is using bullets to destroy the efforts Hong Kong’s citizens are making to preserve their democratic institutions (something the Chinese government promised to protect when it took over Hong Kong’s governance in 1997).
The Nazis, whom everyone today accuses of being on the “right,” were also socialists — that is, people from the, totalitarian, Left side of that political spectrum you see above. The Nazi party’s full name was the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.” Where Nazi Germany differed from a hardcore communist country like the Soviet Union, China, or North Korea, was that the government didn’t take over all the businesses and homes. Instead, it allowed businesses and homes to stay in private hands — as long as the government made all economic decisions and controlled all aspects of people’s lives.
The socialist system the Nazi used is called “fascism.” The first fascist government was in Italy, under Benito Mussolini, back in the 1920s. Mussolini defined socialist fascism this way: “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
Today, people think fascism is not related to socialism or communism because Hitler ended up going to war against the Soviet Union. Thus, people reason that, if communism is “left” and Hitler went to war against the communists, than fascism must be “right” and “right-wing” politics must therefore be bad. The reality is quite different.
Hitler hated communism, not because it was the complete opposite of his fascism socialism, but because it was too similar. The fight between communism and fascism, both of which were children of socialism, was like a sibling rivalry within the same family. The important point is to note that both systems were agreed upon one thing: The government should be in total charge of all aspects of the economy and should completely control people’s decisions and their lives.
Because the Nazi’s socialist system meant that, despite private property, the government was running things, people had no choice but to go along with the program. Those who didn’t were imprisoned or killed. While there’s nothing wrong with love of country (i.e., “nationalism”), if you add nationalism to fascism, and then blend in anti-Semitism and the Nietzschean idea of a “master race,” all of which is presided over by a crazed megalomaniac . . . well, you suddenly have a government engine primed to think it’s entitled to and can achieve world domination. Additionally, because socialist governments are lousy economic managers, eventually they always have to look over their border to other people’s wealth and labor to survive.
Modern Europe has been the softest side of socialism – it’s like Nazism without the toxic master race idea and the quest for world domination. European countries have let people have their own businesses and homes but have kept tight control over services such as health care, railways, and heavy industry (coal mining, steel production). They also bury their citizens under regulations. Every single aspect of life in a modern European socialist country is regulated.
For a long time, Europeans thought they’d found the perfect solution with this “loving” socialism. Their citizens could run their own businesses and make money, so they had some economic growth. In addition, in exchange for extremely high taxes, the citizens got “free” medical care (which they’d prepaid with their taxes), low-cost train and bus fares, and good elder care. It all looked so beautiful in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. That mid- to late-20th century vision of European socialism is what so many of today’s American Democrats, Progressives, and Democratic Socialists believe they can bring to America.
What the Europeans conveniently forgot, and what Americans have never thought about is, is that after World War II, it was American money that rebuilt their infrastructure. This meant that Europeans didn’t have to repay capital investments. Their capital infrastructure was delivered to them intact and ready to go thanks to American money.
Europeans also liked to ignore that, during the entirety of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, America paid Europe’s defense costs. That allowed them to spend their own tax revenues on the “free” medical care and cheap train fare that Europeans love to boast about as a sign of their superiority. To this day, no European nation boasting about its “socialized” or “single payer” medicine will acknowledge that European countries never had “free” medical care — they had American-funded medical care.
Maggie Thatcher, who was the conservative Prime Minister in England during the 1980s, famously said “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.” In Europe, American money started vanishing when the Cold War ended. Not only did American money start drying up in the 1990s, Europe found itself with a few other problems when it came to maintaining its “friendly” socialism:
(1) Its population began to age. People in socialist countries tend to have fewer children. In Europe, fertility rates are below population replacement rates. The aging population was draining the social welfare system, because they needed medical and elder care, and there were fewer young people to create wealth to sustain that same system, a problem that continues today.
(2) The 2008 recession affected the entire world’s money supply, decreasing drastically the wealth in Europe. Europe still has not recovered economically.
(3) Europe invited in millions of immigrants who were not on board with the social compact that controlled European socialism. In the years after WWII, Europeans collectively understood that, if everyone worked when young, then everyone would be cared for when sick or old (at least as long as the Americans took care of the defense bill). The problem was/is that the new immigrants, primarily from Africa and the Middle East, didn’t sign onto this compact. They came, got welfare, and stayed on welfare, letting the Europeans work for them. Again, this is an ongoing European problem, especially given the huge influx of Middle Eastern and African refugees who started to arrive in 2015.
European socialism is in big trouble now that money is tight, the population is old, and the immigrants are continuing to pour in, taking without first having given.
By the way, the semi-socialist programs we Americans have, such as Medicare or Social Security, are also running on empty. The younger generation is just barely paying enough in taxes to keep those programs funding old people. By the time that the generation that’s paying for Medicare and Social Security now ages up to those programs, the best estimate is that there won’t be anything left for them. As Thatcher knew, government always is a remarkably poor money manager.
Another example of homegrown socialism’s failures is minimum wage laws. These laws mean that the government, rather than the marketplace, sets wages. Even the New York Times once understood that the minimum wage is a way to keep unskilled labor out of the job market entirely. Rather than paying every worker a living wage, minimum wage laws mean that businesses have to cut back on workers or end up shutting down entirely.
Just recently, a Progressive woman in Seattle wrote that, because of the city’s minimum wage laws, she had lost her job:
This city’s minimum wage is rising to $16.39 an hour on Jan. 1. Instead of receiving a bigger paycheck, I’m left without any pay at all due to the policy change. That’s because the restaurant where I’ve worked for six years is closing as a consequence of the city’s harmful minimum-wage experiment.
I work for Tom Douglas, one of the best-known restaurateurs in Seattle. Mr. Douglas is in many ways responsible for the city’s reputation as a foodie paradise, and he recently celebrated his 30th anniversary in business. He’s a great boss, and his employees tend to stay at the company for a long time.
But being an established chef and a good employer doesn’t save you from the burden of a sharp minimum-wage increase, up 73% from $9.47 in 2015. For large-scale employers like Mr. Douglas, there’s no separate rate for workers who earn tips. In Washington and a handful of other states, tips aren’t counted as income earned on the job. That means restaurateurs are expected to pay servers like me the full minimum wage in addition to our considerable tip income.
When rent is too high, labor costs too much, and customers don’t want to pay $40 for a roast-chicken entree, the only way for many operators to ease the pain is to close.
Things aren’t go well in California either. That state put in place another wage control law that was supposed to help people – only to have the opposite happen. People who freelance don’t belong to unions – and California has had a lot of freelancers, most notably driving for Uber and Lyft. Unions therefore put pressure on the California legislature to change things. The unions obviously didn’t crudely phrase this as a demand for more unions workers. Instead, they, and the politicians who support the union plans, assured everyone that they were doing it for altruism, to make sure that workers got paid good wages and had good benefits.
To that end, in 2019 California passed AB5, which, among other things, says that freelance writers cannot submit more than 35 pieces of writing in a year to a single publication. This was supposed to spare these writers, many of whom are women caring for children or sick people, from being exploited. But because government bows to interest groups, it seldom understands the marketplace and individual needs. The law, which goes into effect in 2020, will ruin people financially:
The bill’s pending implementation has wreaked havoc on publications that rely heavily on California freelancers. Just last week, Vox Media announced it will not be renewing the contracts of around 200 journalists who write for the sports website SB Nation. Instead, the company will replace many of those contractors with 20 part-time and full-time employees. Rev, which provides transcription services, and Scripted, which connects freelance copywriters with people who need their services, also notified their California contractors that they would no longer give them work.
“Companies can simply blacklist California writers and work with writers in other states, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Alisha Grauso, an entertainment journalist and the co-leader of California Freelance Writers United (CAFWU), tells Reason. “I don’t blame them.”
“I’ve been able to earn nearly three times the amount I did working a day job, doing what I absolutely love, and having more to volunteer and spend time with loved ones,” wrote Jackie Lam, a financial journalist. Kelly Butler, a freelance copywriter, echoed those sentiments. “Thousands of CA female freelancer writers, single moms, minorities, stand to lose their livelihood due to this bill,” she said. “I was told by a client because I live in CA they can’t use me. I made $20K from them this year.”
The Bill’s sponsor, secure in her theory and uninterested in the reality of people’s lives, has no sympathy for those who suffer because of the new law:
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the architect of AB5, has heard these stories. “I’m sure some legit freelancers lost substantial income,” she tweeted in the wake of Vox’s announcement, “and I empathize with that especially this time of year. But Vox is a vulture.”
“These were never good jobs,” Gonzalez said earlier this month. “No one has ever suggested that, even freelancers.”
When you’ve got theory on your side, who needs facts, even if those facts are real people?
Gonzalez is the face of the same socialism that Bernie is promising for America: It puts power in the hands of poor managers who too often abuse that power. A government-managed economy is a lousy system that has failed everywhere it’s been tried, whether we’re talking about the Soviet Union, China (which is now trying a weird controlled “market” economy), Cuba, North Korea, Europe, or any other failed socialist experiment in Africa and Latin America.
And what about the “Democratic” part in that phrase “Democratic Socialism”? Doesn’t that mean we’ll get only as much socialism as people allow, and that America will never have a government continuously hungry for more control over people’s lives? Well, here’s the sad truth — that word is meaningless.
“Democratic” means that citizens get to vote for their leadership, but it doesn’t say anything about the political system itself. China styles itself the “People’s Democratic Republic of China,” but no one looks at it and thinks “Wow, that’s a free country because it’s got the word ‘Democratic’ in its name.”
North Korea, the most repressive country in the world, has as its official name “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Again, as in China, people in North Korea don’t have a right to vote, meaning that it’s a voluntary activity; instead, they are required to vote, or else, and they’d better vote for the people their government has already handpicked as the winners.
During the Soviet Union’s heyday, that nation always liked to boast that it was more “democratic” than America because it had a higher voter turnout on election day. Somehow it never mentioned that a person who failed to vote could end up in prison or that, when voters showed up, they had about the same number of candidate choices as they had food choices as the grocery store . . . which is to say, none.
Here’s one other thing you ought to know: Up until 2016, Bernie had never been shy about being called a just a plain, hard-core socialist. After all, this is a man who happily honeymooned in the Soviet Union, when it was one of the most repressive countries in the world. It was only in 2015, when he started succeeding in the Democrat primaries that he and his supporters began to try to whitewash that “socialist” label.
Never forget, though, that any type of socialist, no matter how they try to dress up their socialism, ends up on the Left side of that line I showed you above – the authoritarian side, the side on which the government gets to control everything and the individual citizens find that they have fewer and fewer rights and experience greater and greater fears about their own government.
But what about the other side of that line . . . the Right side? Isn’t that evil too? No. Just no.
Young people are constantly told that the “right” is bad, but that’s just something communists made up. After World War II, when the Nazis were the most evil thing on earth, Communists in Western countries went around teaching that, because they’re good and they’re Left, any ideology that stands against them, whether its Nazism (itself a form of socialism) or a true liberal democracy, must therefore be bad and therefore “Right.”
Here’s the truth: On the right side of that political line in the chart at the top of this post, as long as you don’t stray too far into anarchy, you’re safe from authoritarianism. That is, you’re safe from a system in which a government, or a government working with powerful private interests, controls you. Instead, you have small government and individual liberty.
In a government on the right side of the spectrum, people get to decide what they want to do with their lives. They get to try to invent, build, serve, work, play, and anything else they please as long as they don’t harm others. They get to buy and sell what they like when they want to. Because they are allowed to own their own homes and cars and businesses, they have a stake in the success of each of those endeavors, and they work hard to achieve that success.
A free marketplace isn’t controlled by a government that calls all the shots. It’s controlled by every person, with all these people organically combining their skills, knowledge, desires, energy, and ambition to create the most prosperous economic engine in the world. And if you think that’s a bad thing, think again. Thanks to market-driven First World capitalist energy, people live longer, healthier lives than ever before. Even poor people in America are rich and successful compared to poor people anywhere else in the world.
Here’s a good summation of America’s virtues, for rich and poor alike, back from the 1960s, when the hippies thought they knew it all:
Oh! One other thing: For those concerned about wealth inequality, totalitarian societies have no social mobility and extraordinary wealth inequality. Whether the society is a monarchy, aristocracy, military junta, or a socialist “paradise,” people are either in the ruling party/class or they’re not. Those with power and wealth hold on to it tightly and scatter just enough food, money, and medical care to the masses to prevent a bloody uprising.
In a market economy, though, not only does a rising tide lift all boats, wealth constantly moves around. Yesterday’s immigrant may be today’s innovator. And that rich grandfather might have seen his son waste all the money and his grandchildren become quite poor.
If you figure out how to use the internet well, you may get rich. On the other hand, if you decide to spend your time smoking pot and playing computer games, you’ll probably be poor (and burn through whatever money Mom and Dad left you in their wills).
People who make smart choices can rise up; those who don’t . . . well, life can be hard. But I’d rather live in a world that offers the possibility of success as opposed to a world that keeps everyone firmly down in the mud.
I don’t like Bernie because he is a socialist and that’s a bad thing in all places, at all times.
Image credit: Detail of Bernie Sanders by Matt Johnson.