Putting Bernie Sanders’ “Socialism” In Context

Let’s compare Sanders’ “socialism” to what we have now, which is “socialism for the rich”.

I’ve received a lot of comments on my previous story, Sorry, Trumpers. Bernie Sanders Is Not A Socialist. So many attacks on Sanders, but nary a whiff of context. And when I use the word “context” I mean, what we’re living with now.

The entire system, the so-called “democracy” and “free market”, that we were raised to believe in, is designed to funnel money, our money, to the top 1%. There is no other way to explain the truth in Senator Sanders’ statement when he said in a recent debate that, the top 3 wealthiest Americans own as much as the bottom 50%. What Sanders is referring to is an oligarchy, rule by the few.

Economic conditions that allow the 3 wealthiest people in any country, to own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the population do not, by any stretch of the imagination, cannot exist in a free market. Such conditions suggest at a minimum, that the wealthy have purchased the loyalty of those at the top of politics. When I look at Senator Mitch McConnell, I see a man bought by the wealthy, through and through. When I see Nancy Pelosi, I see a woman who has sold her soul to the 3 wealthiest people in America. At the top, there isn’t much difference between the two biggest parties in America. They are both transmitting a unified message from their wealthy benefactors:

We know that we’ve spent the last 40 years crafting public policy outcomes that have allowed us to accumulate enormous sums of money at your expense, 99%’ers. All we want is to be able to keep our money. We believe we earned it off of your backs, fair and square. You could have showed up at every election, but you did not. So we bought politicians to do our work for us. The American Aristocracy supports us, not you. Nobody gets hurt if we can keep things the way they are now. So long, suckers.

And off they go to New Zealand. So when people say that Bernie Sanders is socialist, I laugh. He’s not. He’s really just a messenger, talking about the same things he’s always been talking about: how the extreme wealth inequality we see today has nothing to do with free markets or how the markets actually work. American wealth inequality is more about self-dealing through the manipulation of public policy outcomes than about how the market functions. Here are a few examples.

Dean Baker is an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He has a blog I’ve been following for years, “Beat the Press”. He was one of the six economists to predict the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008. He is on record as saying that allowing the banks to collapse after spending years making bad loans would not have been a bad thing for our economy. Capitalism would have bought what remained of the failed banks and rebuilt the economy again.

But what I really like him for is the overarching theme of his writing. Baker is keen on showing the self-dealing at the top, or what Bernie Sanders calls, “socialism for the rich”. Baker has pointed out how CEOs take home giant sums upon leaving a company, even when they have been sacked by the board of directors. He points out how CEOs are paid the same giant salaries regardless of their performance. And in his books, he has demonstrated that the wealthy have used their money to gain economic protection from the government. From anti-union laws to austerity budgets, the wealthy have been keen to protect their money from the downside of the economy.

One example that he talks about frequently is how the rents collected on drug patents work out to about $400 billion a year. He says that for a fraction of that cost, we could pay for the research upfront for all drug development and do away with drug patents. But we don’t, so the costs of the royalties amount to a private tax imposed on Americans by private corporations with government blessing. When conservatives talk about government intervention in the markets, they seem to have a selective memory, because they’re not talking about patents as government intervention in the market.

Baker has tallied up the annual costs of all patents and arrived at a figure close to $1 trillion. That is a massive intervention in the market, a market that we are supposed to believe is free, but as we can see it’s not. That is roughly equivalent to the current federal budget deficit projected for this year. If the purpose of patents is to encourage inventors to share their inventions, I submit that the age of the internet has made the patent obsolete. Inventors could just rely upon the first-mover advantage to make their money rather than government assistance. Alas, government intervention in the market is very much preferred by conservatives these days. So, do you know anyone with a patent? In my circle of friends, I only know of one person with patents.

For a complete and thorough analysis of the many ways that the wealthy have set themselves up under the spigot of American’s wealth creation capacity, check out Dean Bakers’s book, Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer (it’s free, too). After reading that, you may come to believe that Bernie Sanders is not so socialist after all.

Then there is Nobel Prize economist Joe Stiglitz at the Roosevelt Institute. At the Roosevelt Institute, they are promoting a concept called, “Rewrite The Rules”, an acknowledgment that extreme inequality arises from how the rules are written. Change the rules and you can influence the outcome. Here is the summary from their website:

Inequality is a choice.

Since the 1980s, trickle-down economics has shrunk the middle class and increased the concentration of wealth at the top. But it doesn’t have to be this way: We can rewrite the rules that structure our economy and society to promote both stronger growth and shared prosperity.

More and more Americans are stuck in low-paying jobs and burdened by heavy debt loads. Corporations and financial firms rig the system in their favor and chase short-term profits instead of long-term growth. Vulnerable groups including women and people of color face continued structural discrimination.

A piecemeal response will not suffice for problems at this scale. Led by Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, Rewrite the Rules sets out a bold and comprehensive policy agenda to level the playing field for working Americans and small businesses in ways that would generate greater economic growth and rising incomes.

Bernie Sanders is one of the few politicians that understand the problem with the way the rules are written. He also understands better than any of the other candidates for president, how the mere acceptance of big money in politics would him a sense of owing something to the giver. That he has not taken big money from anyone, is why I like him. I believe he is more sincere than the other remaining candidates, and based on his actions, I believe that he is sincere in wanting to help the American worker.

In the context of Trump, Bernie Sanders is simply saying that people like Trump seek to write the rules for their own benefit, at the expense of the people who create most of the value in the American economy. When a billionaire like Trump can buy a law for the benefit of his company, at the expense of others, that’s socialism. Besides, it is not Trump who is calling out the three richest Americans who own as much as the bottom 50% of Americans. It is Bernie Sanders. Is it any wonder why that is?

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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