Bernie Sanders Deserves Our Thanks
by Jacob G. Hornberger
For 26 years The Future of Freedom Foundation has been warning Americans about how socialism was leading America to economic impoverishment, national bankruptcy, moral debauchery, and the destruction of liberty.
Consider, for example, this excerpt from my article entitled “A Message from FFF’s Founder and President,” that appeared in the very first issue — January 1990 — of our monthly journal Future of Freedom, which at that time was called Freedom Daily:
Socialism is morally and intellectually bankrupt. Under the guise of “order” and “security,” millions of innocent people have been murdered or enslaved. Under the guise of “taxation” and social justice, untold amounts of income and savings have been plundered and redistributed to the politically privileged. Having gripped the hearts and minds of the people of the world in the 20th century, socialism has left in its wake death, enslavement poverty, desperation, hopelessness, and despair.
I have organized The Future of Freedom Foundation not only to show the bankruptcy of the socialist ideal but more importantly, to develop and promote the moral and intellectual foundations of the opposite ideal: freedom….
It is to the protection of these rights – economic liberty – that The Future of Freedom Foundation is dedicated.
In that same issue, Richard Ebeling, who was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College and who was also serving as vice president of academic affairs for FFF, wrote an article with a similar title, “A Message from FFF’s Vice-President,” in which he stated in part:
In the early decades of the 20th century, the political ideal on every one’s lips was socialism, and the economic vision before every one’s eyes was that of the planned economy. The capitalist system, with its institutions of private property and free enterprise, would soon be a thing of the past In the future, the State would guide the economy, direct the use of resources, and produce a material bounty that would leave poverty and want nothing more than the bad memories of a bygone era.
Now at the threshold of the 21st century, it is socialism and the planned economy that are the relics of a disastrous experiment in State-managed “social engineering.” Whether in the Soviet Union, China, eastern Europe, Cuba, or Vietnam, socialism has brought nothing but political tyranny, economic stagnation, and social decay. Even the high priests of Marxist ideology admit the obvious: political and economic collectivism have been absolute failures that have given the world nothing but death and destruction….
The collectivist horrors of the 20th century may be coming to a close. But what will replace the socialist nightmare is still uncertain. I hope you will join us at The Future of Freedom Foundation in rediscovering the meaning and heritage of human liberty.
As I have repeatedly emphasized over the years, however, the biggest obstacle we have faced since 1990 and before in opposing socialism in America has been denial on the part of the American people. From the first grade in the government-approved schools their parents were forced to send them to, Americans have been indoctrinated with notion that they live in a free-enterprise system, one characterized by such welfare-state programs as income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, farm subsidies, education grants, public housing, food stamps, corporate bailouts, the Federal Reserve, immigration controls, and many more. I should mention that all of these programs were absent from America’s political and economic system for more than a hundred years after the founding of the republic.
Thus, Americans have never wanted to hear that they favored a socialism. They had been convinced since they were children that they were free-enterprise kind of people. Anyway, what patriotic American would ever want to be a socialist? Wasn’t the Cold War fought against socialists? Weren’t Cubans, North Koreans, and North Vietnamese socialists? Who wanted to be like them?
And so it was that Americans just continued living the life of the lie, a life that entailed coercive confiscation of income and wealth by the government in order to give the loot to others. Or as the communist economist Karl Marx put it, from each according to ability, to each according to need. And all in the name of free enterprise.
It has also been a life that involves socialist central planning in such areas as education and immigration, which have produced the same series of disasters, chaos, and crises that central planning produced in the Soviet Union and continues to produce in socialist countries today.
I have long maintained that we must first make people face reality. As long as people are living the life of the lie — as long as they believe that all this is freedom and free enterprise — we libertarians cannot succeed in restoring economic liberty, free enterprise, and free markets to our land. Of all the quotes I have encountered since I became a libertarian, my overall favorite is the one by Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” That’s because the slave who doesn’t realize he’s a slave has no incentive to break his chains and instead is grateful for his condition.
That’s why self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders deserves our thanks. He has brought the issue of American socialism to the forefront and is making Americans come to the realization that the programs that they have long embraced and supported are not free enterprise at all. Instead, they are socialism to the core.
Consider the crown jewels of American socialism: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidies, and public (i.e., government) schooling. Those are the programs that Americans have long believed form the backbone of America’s free-enterprise system. Those are the programs that Sanders (and Clinton and all of the Republican presidential candidates) ardently support (and which FFF ardently opposes).
Guess what: Every one of those programs is a core element of the socialist system in Cuba, which has been a bastion of socialism since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. But while Cubans were taught (correctly) that all these programs were part and parcel of the Cuban revolution, Americans were taught (falsely) that they were actually free enterprise, at least when they were run by U.S. politicians and bureaucrats.
As I have pointed out so many times in the past 26 years, President Franklin Roosevelt truly did revolutionize America’s economic system. Sure, the seeds had been planted by the progressive movement (which brought us the infamous eugenics, forced-sterilization program). But it all culminated in Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was based on the socialist notion of taking money from one group of people to give it to another group. That’s what Social Security is all about.
Under FDR, the primary purpose of the federal government became to take care of people by putting them on the dole. Roosevelt knew that if he could just get people on the dole, the government would own them. From that point on, people would live their lives as dependent wards of the state, frightened to death that their dole might be terminated at any point. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid recipients come to mind.
But whatever else might be said of Roosevelt, the fact was that he was a political genius. He knew that he couldn’t sell Social Security to the American people as a socialist program, notwithstanding that it had originated among socialists in Germany. He knew that Americans generally did not like socialism. So, he convinced them that he was “saving” free enterprise through welfare and regulation. People readily accepted the myth, and the life of the lie was on.
Would you like to see where the road to socialism ends up? Read this article from yesterday’s New York Times: “Traveling Through Venezuela, a Country on the Brink.” You will get a big dose of reality about the economic destructiveness of socialism. Here are a few excerpts:
In the capital, water is so expensive and scarce that residents wait for hours with bottles at the side of a mountain where it trickles out onto the highway.
In the countryside, sugar cane fields rot, and milk factories stand idle, even as people carry bags of money around to buy food on the black market in every city and town.
And here in this port that once fed a nation, everything looks bare. Where a dozen ships once waited to enter, only four could be seen from a hilltop fort built long ago to guard against raids from the sea.
No one would pillage Puerto Cabello today. There is nothing to take anymore.
And it is all about to get much worse.
In case anyone isn’t familiar with Venezuela, it is a near perfect model of a socialist economy. I suppose you could do better by traveling to Cuba, where people have long been on the verge of starvation. Or better yet, North Korea.
Oh, I know what American socialists are saying: “We’re not going to take our socialist principles all the way, like they’ve done in Venezuela and like they did in the Soviet Union. We’re going to just have more socialism, but not 100 percent socialism.”
But what everyone should understand is that to the extent that there is any socialism, to that extent there is less economic prosperity in the country. A little cancer might not be as deadly as a lot of cancer but it is highly destructive nonetheless.
The welfare state not only has had bad economic consequences, especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, it has also converted America into a land of conflict and discord. Multitudes of people are trying to get into everyone else’s pocketbook, while at the same time doing everything they can to protect their own income and wealth from being plundered by the government. To paraphrase Bastiat and Mises, the federal government is now the organized means of coercion and compulsion by which people are trying to live at the expense of everyone else.
The welfare state has also destroyed people’s faith in the power of freedom and private charity. How many times do we hear American socialists exclaim, “Who would take care of the elderly with retirement and healthcare if the government doesn’t?” That’s what decades of socialism have done to people.
Do I need to remind anyone about out-of-control federal spending and debt? President Obama just sent Congress a record $4.1 trillion spending plan for 2017. All that money will taken out of the pockets of the American people and given to others, including foreign dictatorships that are beneficiaries of American socialist largess. The military dictatorship in Egypt comes to mind. It also brings us closer to the brink of national bankruptcy, like in Greece and Puerto Rico.
The adoption of the welfare state was the second-worst mistake Americans ever made. (The worst was their adoption of the national-security state, which is really just a form of military socialism.) But at least today, thanks to Bernie Sanders, the American people are finally coming to grips with their longtime embrace of socialism. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they are prepared to give it up but as any recovering drug addict will tell you, recognizing reality is the first step in one’s recovery.