Back in September I wrote a four-part series about trying to understand the support for Bernie Sanders, particularly among those who seem to be upscale and well-educated. The first article in the series was titled "Can Somebody Explain The Bernie Sanders Phenomenon To Me?" Nobody succeeded, although a few took on the challenge. More recently Bernie seems to be fading in the face of the Hillary! juggernaut. But in places where I hang out, which include Manhattan's West Village and, at times, New Haven, Connecticut, a vote taken today would very likely give Bernie the edge.
Recently I have reviewed statements by and about Sanders, looking for overarching themes in Bernie's message. One recurring theme stands out above all others: loathing of the successful. The theme is so strong in Bernie's messaging that one has to believe that his followers overwhelmingly share the loathing. Given that the followers are largely an upscale bunch, this raises an interesting question: Is the loathing of the successful a reflection of the phenomenon often noted here of the intense jealously felt by percents 2, 3 and 4 of the income distribution against percent 1? Or is the loathing a reflection of self-loathing and guilt by many at the very top? Or is it a combination of both?
Consider for a moment a list of the most successful cities in the world. New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo. What do they have in common? The answer is that these are the homes of the world's financial markets. Pay in the financial industry in New York is far higher than in other industries. (A report from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in October put the average pay in the securities industry in New York at $404,800.) The same premium pay phenomenon applies in the other major centers of finance. Major cities that lack large financial markets (in the U.S. these include the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) would dearly love to have them.
But to Sanders and others on the Left (another example is Elizabeth Warren), the financial business is the embodiment of evil. Here is the Washington Post yesterday, quoting a Sanders campaign speech:
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders took aim at the nation’s financial sector in a fiery speech Tuesday, declaring that “fraud is the business model of Wall Street” and calling for regulatory reforms to address “a lot more illegal behavior than we know of." Speaking just blocks from Wall Street, Sanders vowed to break up banks that are “too big to fail,” jail unscrupulous Wall Street executives and provide an array of new protections for consumers.
"Fraud is the business model of Wall Street" -- where does he come up with that? He is accusing multiple hundreds of thousands of people of systematic illegal conduct. Does he have any evidence to point to? What I know is that the Justice Department and U.S. Attorneys spent billions in the aftermath of the 2008/9 financial crisis in a lawless political quest to pin the crisis on Wall Street scapegoats, and they came up almost entirely empty handed. Yes there was a series of shakedowns of the big banks, in which those banks seriatim paid a billion or two or five to settle some endless phony investigation, in almost every case without any actual individual getting charged with wrongdoing. And there was Preet Bharara's insider trading jihad, which substantially fell apart when the Second Circuit finally ruled that a huge part of it did not represent a violation of the law at all.
And how about that business about "a lot more illegal behavior than we know of"? It's an explicit allegation of systematic illegal behavior immediately coupled with an admission that he doesn't have any evidence to back it up. This, from a man running for President of the United States.
So even though he has no evidence whatsoever to support his charges, Bernie just knows that these guys are evil because they make too much money and he loathes them so much. And he has just the answer for how to put the evil guys in their place -- lots more laws and regulations:
During his 48-minute speech, Sanders suggested sweeping reforms would be necessary to curtail “the greed of Wall Street and corporate America.” “We will no longer tolerate an economy and a political system that has been rigged by Wall Street to benefit the wealthiest Americans in this country at the expense of everyone else,” Sanders told a crowd of about 1,300 in a packed theater in Manhattan, where enthusiastic supporters repeatedly interrupted him with applause and even finished some lines of his speech before he spoke them.
"Sweeping reforms"? Pray tell, what would those be? As far as I know, in 2010 -- the aftermath of the financial crisis and with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency -- we got the Dodd-Frank law, otherwise known as a gigantic multi-thousand page grab bag of every good, bad and terrible idea for incremental regulation of the financial industry that anyone on the Left had ever thought of. The whole idea was to rein in the evil Wall Street guys once and for all. For years I kept a copy of this monstrosity on my desk just to remind me of how enormous it was -- it weighed about 10 pounds. Is it really possible that in that gigantic mishmash they forgot all of the important stuff? In the speech, Sanders gave next-to-no specification as to what additional reforms he had in mind, beyond limitations on credit card interest rates and ATM fees.
And I should have mentioned that this Sanders speech was in none other than Manhattan, in a "packed theater." This is the Manhattan where wealth generated in the financial industry is fundamentally what supports the theater, the universities, the museums, the opera and symphony, and other cultural institutions of all kinds. But the official position is that we loathe these "Wall Street" guys and the whole financial system, and they should be regulated to death if not prosecuted and put in jail (except of course for the few I know personally, who are really pretty nice guys, and by the way will you kindly give me some money for my charity?).
Meanwhile, down in Greenwich Village, with its stock of beautiful historic buildings, you will find literally every third such building undergoing some kind of renovation or restoration, again largely paid for with wealth generated in the financial business. But again the official position is that we loathe the upgrading of our neighborhood and the people behind it, and we support Bernie for President. The current issue of our local paper West View News has a big article supporting Bernie on the front page. The author is Arthur Z. Schwartz, who is New York counsel to the Sander campaign. Yes, it's the Arthur Schwartz who was once General Counsel of the disgraced ACORN.
Do Bernie's supporters ever stop to think of whether it would really be a good idea to stomp out the prospects for outsize success in our society? They have accomplished that in places like Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, but it didn't work out too well for the citizenry.