Bernie Sanders And The Resurgence Of Socialist Sentiment In America

From:                                                                                        By Ralph Benko

Quite a few articles have been written lately on the receptivity of Millennials to socialism and even (7% of them) communism.  What’s up with that? U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, that’s what. In a speech delivered at Georgetown University, “Democratic Socialism in the United States“ he said:

So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.

Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.

It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan.

He goes on.

Sound good? Sounds wonderful!

Pity it doesn’t work.

Yet it resonates. As reported by

For starters, as of this year, more Millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country (44%) than in a capitalist one (42%). Some even said they would prefer to live in a communist country (7%). The percentage of Millennials who would prefer socialism to capitalism is a full ten points higher than that of the general population.

I find the rising tide of socialist sentiment more quaint than alarming.

What the Millennials are expressing is a dissatisfaction with how so-called capitalism has been, and is, failing them. “Free markets” are not a dogma. They are a law of nature. They should never be, although often are, used as a beard for oligarchy.

We will know if free markets are at work, rather than merely being invoked, by whether there is, to quote JFK, a “rising tide that lifts all boats” for the economy and the ecology.

No rising tide? No free markets.

For a full generation — the Millennials’ generation — the American economy has been somewhere between sluggish and stagnant. It has been this way under both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is a sure sign that, whatever lip service may have been paid to them, free markets have been choked (by Democrats) or subverted (by Republicans).

No wonder the Millennials are disgruntled. They ask for bread. We give them a stone.

The kids are on to something. But as the Victims of Communism Foundation demurely points out, “despite Millennials’ enthusiasm for socialism and communism, they do not, in fact, know what those terms mean.”

Memo to the Millennials: Communism and socialism suffered repeated Epic Fails at creating a Socialist Workers Paradise.

Note, in passing, that the Scandinavian versions, Social Democrats and Christian Democrats (among those who Sen. Sanders extolled, in his speech, for universal health coverage, a Hayekian principle) have been far more successful and consistently show up as the happiest countries in the world. As I wrote here:

The perennially happiest countries in the world, after all, such as Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden all were, last time this columnist looked, social democracies.

One might infer, however, that they are socialist because they are happy rather than happy because they are socialist. And their socialism, argues Corey Iacono, at turns out to be more mythic than real.

In response to Americans frequently referring to his country as socialist, the prime minister of Denmark recently remarked in a lecture at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government,

“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

Sorry, Sen. Sanders.

Let me confess to some bias here. During the Cold War I was passionately, if lyrically, anti-communist. Yes, my old anticommunist slip is showing. That said, my opposition to the Soviet Union did not include a hostility to Russia, or the Russians, who were themselves victims of Communism.

During the waning days of the Cold War, when President Gorbachev was liberalizing things via Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (economic liberalization) I assembled the Prosperity Caucus— a group of free market economists which I founded around 30 years ago which meets monthly to this day — at the Soviet Embassy. We were hospitably, if a bit warily, received.

To break the ice I opened the gathering with a joke.

“I have discovered that communism and capitalism might be closer than it superficially appears. I prove it thusly:

How many Marxist economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?  None!  The light bulb contains within itself the seeds of its own revolution!

How many Austrian economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?  None! If the government would just leave it alone, the lightbulb would unscrew itself!

This witty foray, such as it was, elicited gazes of incomprehension from our host, an official of the Soviet foreign service, and the entire assembly of supply-side economists. In short, I bombed. (Fortunately, only metaphorically.) When an FBI agent phoned me up some months later to politely inquire what the heck I was doing in there, she too didn’t find my recounting of the joke hilarious. This cut short my already unpromising career in Stand-Up Comedy.

There is very likely a recording somewhere in the archives of the KGB — and the FBI — if you wish to audit my failed attempt at humor. There is a reason why Carlyle, shamefully arguing for the reintroduction of slavery into the West Indies and referencing that great (and discredited) pessimist Thomas Malthus, called economics “the dismal science.” There is a reason why that epithet stuck.  Lesson learned!