Socialists are quick to preach benevolence towards the poor and lecture capitalists on greed. Avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is among capitalism’s most vehement critics, once stating that “ruthless capitalism is not an economic model that we should be embracing.” It’s a strange attack coming from someone who has unabashedly benefited from that system.
Sanders made over $2.75 million over the past three years in great part because he wrote a best-selling book. He provided consumers with something they wanted. As he lives in a capitalist economy, he was rewarded and joined the ranks of the successful millionaires he so often disparages.
Asked about this in his recent Fox News Town Hall, Sanders responded: “If anyone thinks I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I’m sorry, I’m not going to do it.” Nor should he. Just as President Trump was unapologetic about his wealth when running for president, Sanders is rightly proud of his.
Sanders has even commented that “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.” Sounds like he’s touting the very American capitalist system he so vehemently criticizes. Seems ironic – if not overtly inconsistent. If would-be, best-selling authors wonder how politically charged anti-establishment books would benefit them in a socialist economy, they might want to consider the life of author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent years imprisoned in a former Socialist mecca Sanders held in high esteem – the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.
The results for Sanders were far different because he lives in a nation with both political and economic freedom. A capitalist economy where consumers, not government elites, determine who succeeds and who fails by voting with every dollar they spend. Capitalism takes our natural desire to improve our lives and directs that desire outward towards meeting the needs of others – consumers. Knowing what consumers want and offering it to them at an affordable price is the key to success in a capitalist economy. In fact, it’s the key to survival. This striving to improve our lives by meeting the needs of others consistently results in widespread abundance and prosperity.
In a socialist economy, motivation is quite different. Rather than focusing on the needs of others, socialism compels people to shift their focus inward, to their own needs. In a socialist society you succeed by getting more for yourself from a limited supply of goods, services, or benefits the government chooses to make available. Whether you can get more for yourself depends on how well you please the political elites. The political elites who control the economy do very well. The rest of the population, not so much. The result is equality of poverty and despair.
To be sure, there is economic inequality in capitalist economies. But, that inequality results from the extent to which an individual or company meets the needs of others. The more you benefit others, the more you benefit. Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos didn’t become incredibly wealthy because they stole from us or because they benefited some group of political elites. They have disproportionate wealth because they disproportionally benefitted all of us.
Similarly, Sanders met consumers’ needs by publishing a book they wanted to read, it became a best seller and he disproportionally benefitted, becoming a millionaire. This economic reality doesn’t seem to cause him the least bit of pain or regret. I say, good for him.
Sanders certainly isn’t remorseful about keeping as much of his disproportionately large income as he can. While his gross income qualified him for the highest tax bracket, Sanders took advantage of deductions to lower his taxable income and then took full advantage of the lower tax rates available because of the Republican tax cuts – despite having voted against them. His explanation: “Come on. I am – I pay the taxes that I owe.” Well, “come on” Senator, so do Amazon, Netflix, and every other corporation and billionaire you so vehemently criticize for paying too little in taxes.
Perhaps we could at least expect the quintessential defender of socialist benevolence to make substantial charitable contributions to help the poor and disadvantaged, voluntarily redistributing some of his disproportionately large – income inequality enhancing – income. That’s the kind of benevolence socialists are really talking about, right? Well, over the last three years, Sanders’ charitable donations averaged 2.4 percent of his income – or 2.4 cents for each of the over $2.75 million dollars he earned.
Are we experiencing some “do as I say, not as I do” moralizing? Perhaps. It is at least curious that Sanders continues to criticize the very economic system that made him successful while advocating a socialist system that would deny others – even aspiring young authors – that same opportunity. But, Sanders has at least shown us that, on a personal level, capitalism’s virtues – and benefits – can reach into the hearts of even the most outwardly devote socialists. Now, if it could just reach into their minds.