A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article that basically held a gun to my own head and performed a thought experiment on which of the remaining 2016 candidates I thought could still represent a move in the right direction – “right direction” meaning against Washington and toward the American people’s voices actually making an impact. Under those restrictions, and in light of Rand Paul’s dropping out, I ended up postulating Sanders as the more preferable candidate – in his own party and possibly even against the remaining Republicans that could feasibly hit the main stage.
The response from the readers of the publication which printed this opinion – the same publication I’m speaking from at this very moment – was almost entirely dissenting and even antagonistic. Admittedly, the intended demographic for Being Libertarian is, who knew, libertarians. And I’ve made it pretty loudly known in as many venues as possible the love-hate relationship I have with that philosophy’s most recent strain. But let me just briefly sum up my thoughts on the matter while it’s relevant in order that the rest of this article make sense.
As a philosophy, and a manifestation of the most logical reading of the observed facts, I find myself absolutely at home with libertarianism; as a political activist movement, however, I find it’s a haven for pseudo-intellectual types with far too broad ideas that are far too sloppily applied to the real world issues, complete with a dwindling number of actually brilliant people still among its numbers. It is dogmatic, puristic, and gullible; a faction so confused as to what its philosophical precursor was actually supposed to promulgate that it now holds up someone who hated libertarians in life as a posthumous example of supposed libertarian ideals (but for more coherent thoughts on that particular embarrassment, stay tuned for my upcoming article on the cult of Ayn Rand). In short, I respect libertarianism far more than I do libertarians, and as a result I am sometimes going to say things that ruffle the feathers of the latter while not necessarily contradicting the base level axioms of the former.
Having said all of that, it means that when I get pushback on an article from this particular crowd, I typically don’t lose any sleep over it. Worrying about the opinion of the typical libertarian today would be like giving scientific credentials to flat-Earthers – it is a misapplied effort for a plethora of reasons, and makes little sense to any sensible person outside the immediate exchange.
But one person in particular who took umbrage with what has already been wrongly labelled as my “pro-Sanders” article was a bit tougher to write off as anything but legitimate – my friend and colleague in the written word, Yuri Maltsev. A brilliant economist who has seen firsthand the negative effects of applied market socialism, Dr. Maltsev understandably has little time for any literature that might be construed as promulgating such nonsense on the shores of his new home. Nevertheless, in an unfettered conversation of ours after its publication, Yuri charged my article with rather broad accusations that seemed to attack the perception of what it was saying rather that what it actually said. Among other diatribes hurled toward the piece from Dr. Maltsev was the accusation that I was directly promoting socialism and, as a result, making libertarians look like “laughing stocks.” But most curiously, he postulated the notion that “communism” was somehow illusory and that socialism is just socialism, regardless what form it claims to take.
I like Dr. Maltsev, and consider him a friend (albeit one I’ve yet to meet in person), but surely he must have realized how hyperbolic the remark about communism must have sounded to me. While it can be argued, I suppose, that the hypothetical “communism” of Marx and Engels ended up resembling almost no part of the state-enforced communism of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao (the last of which is still arguably the most prolific mass murderer in history), the fact of honest historical scholarship is that communism is now identified as being that very manifestation of hard socialism that marks Zedong and co.’s legacy. In fact, there are scads of respected scholarly institutes exclusively dedicated to the subject (most highly recommended among them the brilliant Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation). So we can hopefully use this information to make short work Maltsev’s argument and chalk it up to one of semantics and not of the critical scholarship he clearly exudes elsewhere.
That just leaves the comments that I was somehow promoting a socialist system in America by simply pointing out that Sanders is a legitimate grass roots candidate and Hillary is a crony and government shill (seriously, that’s literally the only thing I said. Read the original article). So I feel I should clarify that I am perfectly capable of viewing any number of topics with appropriate nuance, and the Sanders campaign is no exception to that. As a grassroots candidate with no love for the establishment, Sanders definitely has the most integrity and youth voter appeal. There is no escaping this fact. In addition, it is arguable that Bernie’s civil views are significantly libertarian in themselves – and as I argued in my previous article, his economics (which we will get to momentarily) has absolutely no chance of being implemented as real, manifested policy as long as sane people still sit in Congress and financial advisor positions.
So if incremental change is the only way to fly (and history seems to show that it is), then are libertarians honestly so short-sighted and dogmatic that they might risk the win of a true government crony in place of an honest candidate like Sanders who, at the very least, truly seems to believe his ideas will help people? His social views are mainstream enough to garner enough political and public favor, and his ideas on how markets work are so batty that even the Keynesian economists are starting to cry foul. All the signs point to a Sanders presidency therefore that would be very, very good for civil liberties (aside from a few small hiccups, which all candidates, even the good ones, have) and at the very worst indifferent toward fiscal policy. I ask again, of the most rational among you, do you not see how much more preferable that outcome would be to the war-hungry, flip-floppy, deal-making ways we are almost certain to endure from a Hillary Clinton-occupied White House?
So what of Sanders’ specific economic views, anyway? Despite my continued espousal of their almost certain demise the moment old Bernie’s proposals would hit the real world, it’s apparently still necessary for me to make clear that (and why) I do not support them. After all, when your respected economist friend makes it a point to criticize your work based almost solely on economic arguments, you had better be prepared to respond. So, with the groundwork for my overall perspective on Bernie as a holistic candidate out of the way, it is to my stances on his aforementioned most contentious platform we now turn.
First of all, let’s establish something about socialism that I think gets missed not just by laypeople, but sometimes economists as well. Socialism is, first and foremost, a political ideology that formed, primarily and most tangibly in the 1800s, out of the express desire to promote anti-capitalistic views. Period. It is not in and of itself a school of economic thought or market mechanism. While there was an attempt in the past to make it so, Marxist “economics” hasn’t been taken seriously by any respected working economist for decades. Beyond that, there have been many different branches of socialism that have tried multiple different ways to succeed outside of the capitalistic social model. Unfortunately, as we have seen time and again, anytime strict, hard socialism has become practically applied at the government level, it has devolved into communism or some other horribly inefficient and bloody affair. But to be fair to the socialists, among which I do have some friends, communism is still just one strain of the ideology applied. And there are other forms of socialism that claim to be much more friendly toward capitalistic mechanisms. It is this murky area of hybrid socialism in which Bernie Sanders’ alleged “democratic socialism” claims to exist. However, as we will learn in a moment, even that claim is a bit of a misfire.
The Democratic Socialists of America concede a very important detail on their website: “no country has fully instituted democratic socialism.” That’s a problem, especially when Sanders is out on the campaign trail peddling democratic socialism as a real, tangible thing that already exists and can therefore be emulated. Well, what does Sanders think counts as a democratic socialist country, then? Well, places like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, of course. He’s said it himself many times, that these countries are the best examples of the kind of socialism he wants to implement.
But what of the reality?
It’s one thing to claim that you are a democratic socialist as Sanders does. It’s quite another to say that this model already works in other places when in fact such a model doesn’t even coherently exist. It’s true that these supposed “socialist utopias” are functioning, thriving, successful places in their own right (as the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s latest World Happiness Report can prove), but if we look closer at the economic systems upon which they operate, it becomes clear under even the slightest bit of scrutiny that these “socialist democracies” are actually just democracies, sans the truly “socialist” part. Various experts from multiple political perspectives, even my own, acknowledge that the aforementioned countries Sanders is so proud of promoting are in many cases even more capitalistic and economically free than the United States. So it’s not fair to call them “socialist” democracies of any kind (in fact, the Danish Prime Minister has even made it a point to publicly call out Bernie Sanders for making this claim about Denmark in the past). Why is this? Because democracies, by their very nature, innately embrace capitalism. And what is capitalism? Merely private ownership of means of production.
Capitalism is actually in many ways a misnomer in that it’s really difficult to not be a capitalist if one is not under an imposed political system of any other kind. That is to say, even if one were not to consciously call oneself a “capitalist,” he would still be operating upon what we ubiquitously identify as capitalistic market mechanisms. It’s not so much an “ism” as it is simply the natural state of things in the absence of governmental force.
So what Sanders really seems to want is a very different kind of system of which whose terminology he seems to be woefully ignorant. Allow me to clear that matter up right now by stating that, in the face of all the evidence, Bernie Sanders is in fact merely a social democrat. Social democracies can reflect the more hybrid approach we’ve seen in states, and the Denmarks of the world without throwing that misapplied and confusing label of “socialist” onto their political constructs at all.
But what if the “socialist” label is just becoming more colloquial? Stanford economist Thomas Sowell has written a brilliant article lately that both lays out the case for how actual socialist countries are still collapsing, as well as makes the claim that many young people today simply don’t really know what socialism actually is (a claim that a recent public opinion survey has backed up). Since this seems to be the case, I feel the need is even greater now to separate socialism as a government construct from certain economic mechanisms that happen to align with it but are not, in fact, exclusive to it. In this way, we can criticize the claims and propositions Sanders is making without getting caught in the now-proven mess of his personal political ideology.
So let’s do just that – Sanders claims that “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” That has been shown numerous times to be false, most recently by the National Center for Policy Analysis, as all Americans over the past 35 years, rich and poor alike, have gotten significantly and consistently richer. And what of wages? And employment? Aren’t those things dropping? Well, the Federal Reserve Economic Research (FRED) group, a trusted source of market analysts for nearly three decades, has shown that claim to be false, as well. All of these areas the Sanders campaign claims are dropping (and blaming runaway capitalism for) are in fact not. And so, as stated earlier, even the most gonzo of economists out there would not (and do not) buy Sander’s economic perspective because it does much more than simply align with a certain political ideology; it directly contradicts observable facts. We are in no danger of any real economic thinker of any stripe working in Washington allowing something as unlettered as Bernienomics to ever become implemented policy.
But what does this say about Bernie’s supposed integrity and honesty I was gushing about earlier? Well, I argue it is still intact, as it is much more likely to be ignorance that fuels Bernie’s market outlook than malicious intent. His record is so consistently good and anti-status quo in virtually every other aspect of his voting record that allowing for one weak point in his political platform to be judged as an honest miscalculation is the very least any objective political commentator can hope to do.
And with all these things now laid out before you, dear reader, I hope at the very least one thing has been made clear: I’m not about to let the charge of libertarianism’s public branding issue fall on me without a fair case made to the contrary. I am not a socialist, nor am I ignorant of the Sanders campaign’s socialism espousal; I’m simply not buying it. And now, armed with the facts, neither should you.
Now go forth and vote for the one you truly think will give D.C. the most hell; personal politics be damned.
This post was written by Micah J. Fleck.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.