You’ve got to give joke candidate Bernie “That Loopy Old Guy From Vermont” Sanders credit for one thing – he, at least, is open and unabashed about being a socialist. That doesn’t make his economic plans any less daffy. Excerpts and my comments:
He (Sanders) objects to “the dizzying (and socially useless) number of products in the deodorant category. … (C)utting poverty and inequality is worth a reduction in innovation, and oh by the way, the kinds of things we call ‘innovation’ are often little more than new marketing gimmicks with dubious social value.” And that, friends and neighbors, is why “we should distribute the national income more evenly.”
Here is Illustration Number One of Sander’s economic illiteracy. There is no such thing as “national income.” Only people – individuals – have income. And that income is not distributed, it is earned. It is the property of those who earned it, not the property of politicians to be confiscated to purchase votes.
This is superficially appealing. We can all think of products that strike us as stupid and useless (Uggs? Pickle-flavored potato chips? Country music?). And we can all think of better recipients for the money spent on them: Starving children. Endangered elephants. Cancer research. In what kind of universe does Kanye West deserve millions in income while homeless veterans are eating out of garbage cans?
Much as I despise Kanye West, he deserves his millions in income because he produced a product (I hesitate to use the term “music,” but lack a suitable synonym) that millions are willing to pay him for – in a free, voluntary exchange of value. West’s product is of no interest to me, but then, I don’t buy it, and nobody is forcing me to – nor is anyone forcing West’s fans from buying his work. It’s all about free choice. Leftists are supposed to be “pro-choice,” right?
But the superficial appeal quickly fades in the face of two competing considerations—one practical, the other principled.
For a peek at the practical argument, avail yourself of a fine little vignette from The Washington Post: “In an Online World, Cuba Remains a Stand-in-Line Society.” At Havana’s state-run retail hubs, reports Nick Miroff, “Customers with long shopping lists face no fewer than seven places to stand in line. One for butter. Another for cooking oil. A third for toothpaste. And so on.” The caption to a dismal accompanying photograph shows people waiting “hours for their government ration of chicken.”
Those of us old enough to remember the old Soviet Union will remember similar examples – long-faced people in the typically shabby, ill-fitting clothing of the Soviet Union waiting in long lines for potatoes or toilet paper. This is, and always has been, the end result of economic policies like those promoted by Sanders.
Which brings us to the principled objection: socially useless to whom? In a world of hungry children, Jones might think it’s idiocy to spend a single cent on one more song by Kanye or Taylor Swift (and Jones would be right!). But that isn’t Jones’ choice to make for anybody except Jones. If Smith wants to waste his money on a pop singer’s latest release, he has every right to do so, and nobody else has the right to force him to do otherwise. After all: If Smith has no right to decide how he will spend his own money, then by what means does Jones, whose money it isn’t, acquire such a right?
Granted, this can lead to great inequalities. But that is not synonymous with injustice, as Robert Nozick explained in his Wilt Chamberlain hypothetical. (Wilt Chamberlain was a famous basketball star.) If everyone entering the arena freely agrees to pay Chamberlain a dollar for the pleasure of watching him play, then at the end of the season he will be much richer than anyone else. But since the spectators actually wanted to participate in the exchange, then no harm has been done.
This is the greater argument, this one of principle; that is the argument of property rights. My income is my property, to dispose of as I please, whether I choose to buy concert tickets, guns, beef jerky or a different brand of deodorant for every day of the week. Nobody – no politician, no bureaucrat, no government functionary – has the right to tell me how I am or am not allowed to spend the fruits of my own labor. (I am obliged to recognize my own dear Mrs. Animal as an exception to that rule.)
Liberty and Property!
That’s the problem with pols like Sanders – and Clinton, and Obama, and many others. While I know the fruits of my labors are my property to be disposed as I choose, they see my income as belonging to government first, and that I should be humbly grateful for whatever crumbs they deign to leave me.
Granted Sanders is a joke candidate, in an election cycle that seems to be full of them (although daffy old Uncle Joe Biden has yet to announce, leaving the Daffy Crown up for grabs.) But there are too many who share his economic delusions. One of them sits in the Imperial Mansion even now.