‘Bernie Sanders, Capitalist’
“It’s OK to be angry about capitalism,” declares “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders in a new book. “The older I get, the angrier I become about the uber-capitalist system under which we live.” This, from a man whose net worth in 2020 was estimated by “Forbes Magazine” to be $2.5 million. He’s since written two more books from which he gladly accepts all proceeds. He also owns three homes and will receive a significant retirement package from the taxpayers when he finally leaves office.
Sanders has never signed a paycheck, created a job, or started a business. An “activist” all of his life, he was a perennial candidate for tiny radical parties in Vermont until he finally landed the mayoralty of Burlington in 1981. As to his wealth, the foundation of elective office and the stature it has given him have enabled him to earn a lot of money in, yes, our capitalist economy.
So: Do we live in an “uber-capitalist” society? Consider these data points:
- There are now nearly 450 federal agencies in which about 2.7 million people work.
- In 2013, the Code of Federal Regulations was now 175,496 pages long (235 volumes total). As of 2022, it had added five new volumes.
- What does all of this cost? According to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Federal regulations alone are estimated to cost the American economy as much as $1.9 trillion a year in direct costs, lost productivity, and higher prices. The costs to smaller businesses with 50 employees or fewer are nearly 20% higher than the average for all firms.” This does not include the costs of local and state rules and mandates.
As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a dissenting opinion in 2013, “The Framers could hardly have envisioned today’s ‘vast and varied federal bureaucracy,’ and the authority administrative agencies now hold over our economic, social, and political activities.” That was 10 years ago; much bureaucracy has been imposed on our market-based economy since then.
Are there problems with our economy? Of course! We are a fallen people living in a world pulsating with the effects of sin. Greed, predation, materialism, consumerism, and unfairness can be found as far as the curse itself. The power of mega-corporations, especially in the tech world, is disturbing.
Yet, as the late philosopher Michael Novak wrote in his classic book, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,” “Of all the systems of political economy which have shaped (human) history, none has so revolutionized ordinary expectations of human life — lengthened life span, made the elimination of poverty and famine thinkable, enlarged the range of human choice — as democratic capitalism.”
By “democratic capitalism,” he meant an economy in which participation was open to all and controlled by the people through the free election of the representatives they choose.
Was Novak right? Without question. In 1990, roughly 36% of the world’s population lived in abject poverty. If current trends continue, that number will fall to seven percent by 2030. And the research points to a single overriding factor: The introduction of market-based economies in places like China, India, and other Asian and Pacific nations.
In sub-Saharan Africa, however, poverty is increasing. Why? Because of corruption, religious, and often tribal oppression, and, in some countries, chronic warfare. In other words, the lack of ordered liberty, opportunity, stability, justice, and incentives to thrive. Without religious, political, and economic freedom, people languish.
In our own country, Sanders and the other prophets of envy and foment are truly retrograde. They wish to take a flourishing if imperfect economic system and venture into command-and-control schemes that debase human dignity, treating persons with ideas and initiative into cogs in a vast state-run wheel. Unconcerned with what works, they fantasize about an economic system — socialism in some form or another — that has proven utterly incapable of providing for the essential needs of those living under it.
This is bosh. As Mikhail Gorbachev said of the now-defunct Soviet Union, “Imagine a country that flies into space, launches Sputniks, creates such a defense system, and it can’t resolve the problem of women’s pantyhose. There’s no toothpaste, no soap powder, not the basic necessities of life. It was incredible and humiliating to work in such a government.” It would seem that to Bernie Sanders and his confederates, such a country is a paradise.
“Capitalism is the only social system that rewards merit, ability and achievement, regardless of one’s birth or station in life,” according to Clemson University’s C. Bradley Thompson. Yes, some people start ahead of others. If you’re born into a family of limited means and live in a community where education is sub-standard and jobs are scarce, your climb will be harder.
Harder, but not impossible. In his first annual message to Congress in 1861, President Lincoln wrote that the “leading object” of government is to “lift artificial weights from all shoulders … to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life.” He was referring to enslaved persons laboring under cruel injustice, to immigrants who knew the sad shock of discrimination, to poor farmers who scrabbled for their existence. People who were, in a profound sense, just like he had been as a young man.
I’ll take an uber-capitalist over an uber-politician any day. At least the former understands the value of risk-taking in the open market, the dignity of personal achievement, and the worthiness of honest toil, in contrast to the art of talking endlessly and bitterly about things one little understands.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.