Can Somebody Explain The Bernie Sanders Phenomenon To Me?

About 25 years ago the Soviet Union collapsed.  For my whole lifetime up until then they had been loudly proclaiming the successful creation of the great workers' paradise, while not letting anyone in to see it.  When it fell apart, it was revealed that the experiment had been a disastrous failure.  The economy was about 10 - 20% the size they had been claiming, with a huge percentage of that (some said close to 50%) devoted to the military.  Factories were inefficient, worn out, and making the same stuff they had made thirty and fifty years previously.  The country produced literally nothing competitive  in the world marketplace other than extracted minerals like oil and gas -- in other words, their socialism had been a one hundred percent failure in keeping up with the change and innovation going on in the world, let alone providing for the material needs of the people.  Oh, and they had killed 25 million or so people as part of imposing totalitarian control.  Hey, if you want to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs!

OK that was a long time ago, before the birth of today's college students.  But we do keep Cuba and North Korea around today to remind us of how bad it was.  Plus we have Venezuela to show us what happens when you try to impose socialism on what had been a somewhat successful (if flawed) market economy.  Sure these guys try to avoid publicizing how bad their economies are.  But there's plenty of information about them out there for anyone who's curious, and they are a little big just to completely ignore.

And then we have the Bernie Sanders phenomenon.  The guy actually proudly calls himself a "socialist."  Could it really be that after the experience of the Soviet Union, and with Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and others still out there, the concept of "socialism" is other than completely toxic?  Of course, it's the opposite.  It's not just that Bernie is drawing big crowds to make Hillary envious.  It's also that his self-proclaimed "socialism" is trendy among seemingly well-educated young recent college graduates otherwise known as "hipsters."

For example, we have Adam Gabbatt reporting in the Guardian on August 20 on "Millennials 'heart' Bernie Sanders: why the young and hip are #FeelingtheBern."   Gabbatt goes to a Bernie Sanders event in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn ("known for -- or lamented as -- being the hippest part of Brooklyn"), where some twenty-somethings have gathered to listen to a Sanders speech and make tee-shirts supporting their favorite candidate.  Gabbatt notes that the neighborhood remains "mostly Hispanic," but somehow everyone who makes it into his photograph is a white twenty-something.  Gabbatt interviews hipsters including one Nick Kowalczyk, a 29-year-old actor:

“Bernie Sanders uses socialism in the way it makes sense, which is just good, common, moral, ethical policy,” Kowalczyk says. “And I appreciate the guy’s honesty and his steadfastness to his beliefs. His consistency.”  

Well, that's certainly warm and fuzzy.  There are two possibilities here:  one is that none of these people have ever studied one word of the history of the twentieth century;  the other is that at every university in this country today the disasters of socialism are whitewashed and suppressed.

So what is this "just good, common, moral, ethical policy" that Kowalczyk is referring to?  You do have to give Sanders a little credit for at least having a web site where he lays out what he stands for.  (You'll never get that, for example, out of Hillary.)  Of course, he may be leaving a few things out.  For example, there's nothing here about nationalizing business.  Does he favor that, or is that not part of "socialism" any more?  No answer to that question here.  

A fair summary of the Sanders program is de Blasio-ism on a national scale.  There's endless railing against the injustices of the world (income inequality! racism! poverty! violence!) combined with limitless faith in government to fix these problems with programs, programs and yet more programs.  There's the usual socialist diversion of placing all the blame for the problems of the world on the speculators and hoarders, here known as "Wall Street" ("for the past 40 years, Wall Street and the billionaire class has rigged the rules to redistribute wealth and income to the wealthiest and most powerful people of this country")There's no recognition whatsoever that we already have a trillion dollars a year of government anti-poverty programs that by his own assertion have not made the slightest dent so far in the problems he identifies.  And finally, of course, there are the proposed "solutions" that for a few more gazillions of dollars into the pockets of government bureaucrats either won't address the problems at all or are highly likely to make them worse.

Number one in Sanders's list of issues is of course income inequality.  A big chart shows the increasing share of the top 1% in pre-tax income.  And the number one proposed solution?  "Demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes."  Should somebody tell the poor guy that doubling or even tripling the taxes won't change his chart in the slightest?  Other proposed solutions to income inequality include free college tuition for all (Do you believe that will have any measurable effect on the distribution of income?  I don't.) and a vast expansion of social security (Has anybody told him that it's already an unsustainable Ponzi scheme?). 

Then there's "creating decent paying jobs."  Who could be against that?  Turns out that every idea he has for "creating decent paying jobs" consists of government handout jobs programs.  ("Introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act with Rep. John Conyers. It would provide $5.5 billion in immediate funding to employ one million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24, and would provide job training to hundreds of thousands of others.")  If he has any recognition that real "decent paying jobs" have to be created by the private sector, you won't find that here.  Then of course he touts his opposition to all free trade agreements.  Does he acknowledge that the alternative to free trade is tariffs and trade preferences for the government's cronies?  Of course not.

There's a big section on "racial justice."  ("Communities of color also face the violence of economic deprivation. Let’s be frank: neighborhoods like those in west Baltimore, where Freddie Gray resided, suffer the most.")  Well, Baltimore and essentially every other city with the same types of problems in this country has been governed by left-wing Democrats peddling programs just like those touted by Sanders since beyond human memory.  When does it ever become time to take ownership of the failure of these programs?

There's more detail, but you get the gist.  Let's add another, and yet another, and then yet another government program until the world becomes perfect, without any critical examination of the vast expenditure already underway that has accomplished nothing.  And of course there is no limiting principle, no guiding star of any sort to tell us when the collection of programs has done all that it is capable of accomplishing.  We just keep going until the last bit of success has been stomped out of the economy.  But don't worry, there's a special exemption under socialism for families and cronies of the jefe to become billionaires. 

Yes, young hipsters, it's all so very inspiring.