(Henry Holt & Co., Godwin Books, New York: 2017)
"I want to dedicate this book to the younger generation. You are, in many ways, the most progressive generation in the history of our country. You have opposed racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and oligarchy. You understand that greed and the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we experience is not what the United States is supposed to be about. You know that climate change is real, and that we have a moral responsibility to take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system…
“What this book is about is converting that idealism and generosity of spirit into political activity.” --Bernie Sanders (Dedication)
Reading this, I feared for a moment that I’d slipped through a time-warp into 1968 and was back in college, listening to the same old jazz we used to hear from just about every guest speaker who visited the campus—to say nothing of our professors, from whom we heard it every day. Just stroke the students’ already overfed self-esteem, tell them how smart they are, thanks to their fantastic education, how good they are, how selfless and courageous—and then turn them loose to set fire to the ROTC building.
We once got a whole week off, with no reduction in tuition, ostensibly to work for the election of liberal Democrats throughout the country. Most of us invested that time in partying, playing, or lazing around. When we returned, they praised us some more.
So much manipulation: and while I patted myself on the back for seeing through it, I still came out of there convinced that I was vastly wiser and more righteous than my parents, and, by virtue of my education, entitled to the good life. Several years of job hunting, armed only with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, beat down that illusion.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who was almost the Democrat nominee for president in 2016, wishes to lead the college population of America in the same kind of “revolution” they were shooting for in 1968. One wonders what price a country has to pay, not to go through this again.
Growing His Base
America now has millions more college students than we had in 1968 and more and bigger colleges. This is Bernie’s base, upon which he pins his hopes for revolution. And he wants to grow that base.
“If we are to succeed in the highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world, public colleges and universities must become tuition-free” (p. 103).
He admits that Americans “now owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loans,” five times what it was in 2004 (p. 104). How a student loan debt is to be paid off by some poor devil with a B.A. in Gender Studies serving up slurpees at the 7-Eleven, he fails to make quite clear.
Free tuition, though—won’t that result in virtually everyone going to college, regardless of intellectual ability and aptitude? Existing schools will have to be expanded. Hire, and provide nice pensions for, an army of new professors and administrators. That $1.3 trillion debt, which has to be paid somehow, by someone—the taxpayer, of course—is only the start of new expenses. Nor does it address the consummate uselessness of more than a few degree programs. How does having ten thousand more young people with degrees in Hip-Hop Studies benefit America in any way?
Expanding “higher education” to take on millions more students—removing them, incidentally, from the labor market—will also require more janitors, security guards, cafeterias and cafeteria staff, clerks, librarians, etc., as well as more buildings, parking space, computer systems, and so on. We are talking about a truly massive undertaking—with a massive cost.
But Wait, There’s More
Bernie wants more workers joining more labor unions (pp. 16–17), a $15/hour minimum wage nationwide (Chapter 1)—he claims that increasing the cost of labor everywhere will mean more jobs: tell that to any small business owner—paid family and medical leave (pp. 17–20), paid vacations for all (p. 21), “a path to citizenship” for millions of illegal aliens (Chapter 8)—and on and on, a regular cornucopia of goodies.
At the same time, again and again, he insists “the rich” are too rich and there needs to be found some way for wealth to be distributed more equally—by the government. By “the rich” he means business CEOs, not politicians, entertainers, or athletes.
How does he propose to pay for what looks like a kind of potlatch on a nationwide scale? Not counting, I mean, his blind faith that with everybody holding college degrees and making at least $15 per hour, the economy will take off like a rocket.
“If we taxed the wealthy in a progressive manner” (p. 32), got rid of all their loopholes (p. 33), raised the corporate tax which was already the highest in the world (p. 34), raised taxes on households making over $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 (p. 41), raised the estate tax (p. 42), raised taxes on capital gains (p. 43), and “reformed Wall Street” (Chapter 3) so that more of its money flowed into the government’s coffers, and really cracked down on all kinds of financial hanky-panky (pp. 56–68)—excuse me, but I think I see a pattern here.
Are we not tending toward the notion that all wealth, ultimately, belongs by right to the government, to be disposed of as seems best to them?
It’s not that Sanders actually says this. It wouldn’t be good politics. But until he became a candidate for president, he proudly labeled himself a socialist. And what is that?
Bernie’s Civics Lesson
“Socialism—a central government controls the production and distribution of goods to establish an equitable distribution of labor and property” (p. 202).
In an afterword entitled “What Is Government, Anyway?”, Sanders briefly defines the most common forms of government, a list which includes “Democracy” but omits “Republic.” The United States is, by definition in the Constitution, a republic—which makes its absence from Bernie’s list all the more conspicuous. If elected president, how could he take the oath of office, when he doesn’t grant that America’s lawful form of government exists? He says the United States is “a democracy” (p. 203)—which, legally, it isn’t.
But most college students wouldn’t know that.
Socialism is the theory of government which Sanders has espoused throughout his whole career. He wants a central government “to control the production and distribution of goods to establish an equitable distribution of labor and property.” To do that, government must assert its ownership of all labor and all property, because only the rightful owner of a thing has the right to give it to someone else.
How is wealth created? By people working, and producing goods and services that other people want and are willing to pay for.
People work, and work hard, in hope of a reward. It shouldn’t be necessary to make this argument, but given how many people voted for Sanders in the Democrat primary, it seems it is.
It’s Not in the Bible
What’s wrong with a central government having “control” over the production of goods and the distribution of wealth—besides the implication that the government, to control all that, must own it?
Biblical law, given by God through Moses, strives to protect and preserve private, not government, ownership of property. Leviticus 25, for example, establishes the Jubilee Year: after every forty-nine years, “ye shall return every man unto his possession” (v. 13). This was necessary because sometimes debt or other hardship would force a family to sell its land, or an individual to sell himself or a family member into bondage. But the law provided for both liberty and property to be recovered: the creditor had to release property or persons he had acquired as payment for debt.
Nothing could be farther from the spirit of the law than to make government, not families, the de facto, or even the de jure, owner of all property. The Bible is full of laws respecting and protecting private property. Remember what happened to Jezebel and Ahab when they used a false prosecution and judicial murder to appropriate Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). “The dogs shall eat Jezebel” (v. 23). And they did.
In the New Testament, God specifies the needful and proper role of the civil government, in Romans 13: to keep order in a society by being a terror to evil-doers, “the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (v. 4). Nowhere in the Bible does God assign to government any authority to control the production and distribution of goods, services, or wealth.
But if the clear intent of God’s law is not enough for us, recent history provides some horrifying examples of what can happen when the central government, given such power, abuses it.
When Stalin collectivized the farms, the Ukraine was transformed from the food surplus-exporting breadbasket of Europe into a massive famine spot.
In China, Mao Tse-tung’s “Great Leap Forward” drove at least 40 million people to death by starvation, overwork, exposure, and murder by government officials.
If history will not suffice to make the point, compare South Korea, where a free market prevails, to North Korea, where it’s government control with a vengeance: privation, violence, and terror. And closer to home, consider Venezuela, where a thriving national economy has crashed and burned under socialism.
Sanders would insist that none of those terrible things is the result of socialism, and that socialism works wonderfully well in Western Europe. Does it really? Shall we ignore the chamber of horrors created by socialism elsewhere, and put our trust in an unlimited government that owns and controls … everything?
If men and women who become government officials were angels, perhaps we could. But they aren’t, and we can’t.
A Socialist for President
Sanders loads his book with numbers and statistics that are ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that in him we have a presidential hopeful whose strength is in the ignorance of his followers, the massive deficiencies in their college educations, resentment and envy of “the rich,” and the torpor, the venality, and the increasingly bad reputation of a political establishment that has been doing many things wrong for a long time. It was no accident that another perceived “outsider,” Donald Trump, is now our president.
In Bernie Sanders we have a presidential candidate who has long advocated central government control of our nation’s economy, in defiance of God’s law, American tradition and experience, the Constitution, the lessons of world history, and just plain common sense.
That he is as popular as he is gives cause for grave concern.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.