If socialism is so great, then why is Paul Krugman so insistent that Bernie is not a socialist? What is the difference between a social democrat and a socialist? Why is Bernie so comfortable with a label that his Democratic supporters are trying to avoid?
For those who think Paul Krugman is credible because he won a Nobel Prize in economics, he has long since traded any legitimacy from that recognition in his pursuit of bitter partisan punditry. Recognition of his work in international trade does not translate into competence in every other field or justify his demonization and intolerance of any economist who disagrees with him. Many respected economists reject his inability to separate his blinding political partisanship from respectable economic debate, particularly John Cochrane.
I understand many dislike Trump intensely and that nothing would persuade them otherwise, but I urge a few words of caution. First, rage makes you stupid; it blinds you to realities and makes you willing to believe anything that supports your narrative. You will read and listen for confirmation, not information. You will rationalize arguments that he is supremely evil and only a savior like Bernie is the answer. Rationalization, however, is almost the opposite of rational. This is as true for Bernie supporters as Trump supporters.
Second, there is always an ample supply of incompetence, ignorance, and hubris that can make any problem worse. Socialists, communists, and fascists share two common traits. They believe that moral leadership and economic competence should be centrally located and not dependent on the whims of voters, consumers and producers. They contend that they support a true democracy, but that is the first thing to go under their rule. It is the nature of a democratic government to promise benefits in exchange for votes and political power without paying for them. They hide the true costs in cross subsidies, mandates, proxies, regulations, and the creation of new positive rights. Positive rights are entitlements guaranteed by the government, negative rights (the ones in the original Constitution) are the rights to be left alone and to be free from government interference in your life.
A government that respects individual rights is a natural home for capitalism because both understand that knowledge is dispersed. The division and dispersal of political power is as fruitful to progress as the dispersal of economic power. Some have become very successful and enormously wealthy, usually providing enormous benefits to others. These benefits we all enjoy came from a very small minority; progress requires protecting that minority.
Socialism mutes this minority. This is why the centralization of economic power has resulted in economic stagnation or devastating political oppression. Socialism hinges on a belief in a general or unified will that is a myth. We are a nation with diverse and competing interests and our Constitution is the most advanced political system ever devised for respecting and adjudicating these various interests. The belief in a unified will becomes a justification for imposing one group’s interests on another. This is the essence of Hayek’s noted Road to Serfdom.
The second trait these collectivist schools share is the need for an enemy. It may be the one percent, the wealthy, the capitalists, a religious or an ethnic group. Defeating the enemy requires the power of the state and a savior who often appears as a demagogue. The founders understood that demagogue and democracy shared a common root. The enemy is faceless and thus easy to demonize; it is a form of lazy intellectual bigotry. It is much easier to demonize an enemy and wear a shield of victimhood than accept that our world is complex, that reality requires tradeoffs, and that it is unlikely for one person to have the answers. Objective analysis is hard work; it is easier to blame a demon.
The promises of Bernie are removed from reality; it is delusional to believe that his grand expensive schemes can be paid for with a tax on the wealthy, the one percent, Wall Street or the corporations. Not only does the math not work it drives away the productive capacity we need to fund the welfare state. The European welfare state requires a much higher income tax on the middle class than we have PLUS a very high sales tax (VAT) often over 20%. Bernie is being either intentionally dishonest or incredibly ignorant with his supporters.
It is easy to focus on our shortcomings and underestimate our incredible progress, regardless if it is because of or in spite of Donald Trump. Our media understands that outrage boosts click throughs and ad revenues. They are selling outrage and business is booming. There are failures in any social system and real problems need to be addressed, but one has to be incredibly ignorant of history and economics to believe that socialism is the best answer to these problems. John Muravchik’s Heaven on Earth examines the history of socialist movements and their consistent failures. Putting the ‘democratic’ in front of the word does not change the outcome; it may even make it worse.
When you try to apply a simple solution to a complex system, you end up with an avalanche of unintended consequences that not only fail to solve your problems but cause damage to the institutions that are working well.
Trump may be problematic, but Sanders is disastrous. I hoped that the dismay with Trump’s election would create an awakening and appreciation of interest in the Constitution and its restraint on executive power, the genius of checks and balances and divided and dispersed power. If you think the answer to our problems is a Bernie Sanders presidency then you have learned nothing from the election of 2016.