Bernie Sanders seems to me to embody the trouble with socialism. In his cranky attitude and crabby visage he gives expressive form to the spirit driving the thing. He takes the vast wealth produced by the citizens of the United States as a given. He wants at it with no apparent attention to the destructive effects of the socialist imperative.
This week he purported to restate his manifesto (text here, video below). The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman anticipated the speech in his column “The Marx brother,” drawing on Edward-Isaac Dovere’s Atlantic preview “As Bernie Sanders leans into socialism, his rivals laugh.” The Atlantic’s Yascha Mounk offered a worthy critique in “Sanders’s Speech About Socialism Was Deeply Unserious.”
This morning’s Wall Street Journal provides the useful editorial “Defining socialism down.” The editors spot the dog(s) that didn’t bark:
Mr. Sanders pitches Medicare for All as an income transfer program. Take from “billionaires” like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and give to everyone else. But there aren’t enough Bezoses to finance government health care for everyone, so Bernie will eventually have to go after the middle class. This did not show up in his Introduction to Socialism lecture.
As striking was his failure even to mention some of the world’s leading exemplars of socialism. Venezuela and Cuba made no appearance. You’d think a candidate pitching “democratic socialism” would at least want to distance himself politically from those socialist failures—if only as self-protection.
The oversight was especially notable because Mr. Sanders went out of his way to label American capitalists like Mr. Bezos (and of course) Donald Trump as “oligarchs” and “authoritarians.” Most of Venezuela’s wealth is generated from petrodollars and skimmed off by President Nicolas Maduro, his cronies and top government brass. Why not condemn them as oligarchs who don’t represent socialism?
Mr. Sanders also left out any comparisons to the Nordic European states, which he has praised in the past. Perhaps this is because his endorsement has caused journalists and others to point out that Sweden isn’t all that socialist anymore. Sweden’s corporate tax rate is 21.4%—close to the U.S. rate of 21% that Mr. Sanders calls an abomination and wants to raise.
Sweden has no inheritance tax, while Mr. Sanders wants government to tax just about everything you have at death. Or perhaps Mr. Sanders doesn’t want voters to figure out that Sweden, like most European cradle-to-grave welfare states, imposes a 25% VAT that soaks the middle class.
Like other universal government-run health care systems, Sweden rations care. But at least people can utilize private care if they choose. Mr. Sanders recently said there would be no exceptions for Americans to his Medicare for All plan. Sweden also offers universal school vouchers, which may be why its students outperform those in the U.S. Mr. Sanders wants to ban charter schools and force kids into union-run public schools.
The Journal suggests that Sanders lacks the courage of his convictions, but we should be able to get the drift by now.