Why I Am Not Afraid of Bernie Sanders’ so-called “Socialism”

Revised and updated for the 2020 campaign season

(c) 2015, 2019 Brenda Grantland

Centrist and right-wing television news commentators often attack Bernie Sanders by labeling him a “socialist” — thinking their audience will remember 1950s red-scare propaganda and fear Sanders’ ideas without examining them.  How is that working for them?

Is what Bernie advocates really Socialism?

I first heard of Bernie Sanders several years ago. I saw him on t.v., speaking out on an issue I cared about.  I looked up his website and found that I agreed with him on almost everything.  I was surprised to hear people call him a socialist. I had read his political views and didn’t see how his positions could be called “socialist.”

Detractors labeled Bernie a socialist as an insult.  Rather than argue with them Bernie clarifies that he is not a “socialist” in a Marxian sense but a “democratic socialist.” These labels don’t mean much to people who are not political science majors.

Political science professors who have studied Bernie’s policies say Bernie is not really a socialist, nor a democratic socialist, but a social democrat.

Socialism, according to Dictionary.com, means “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”

Bernie Sanders’ political views certainly don’t fit that definition. At his November 19, 2015,  Georgetown University speech he said

“I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down. I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad.”

Clearly what Bernie is advocating is a more balanced form of capitalism, instead of the oligarchy our country has, unfortunately, become. As former President Jimmy Carter has recognized the U.S. is an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”

As Bernie points out,

“Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think that that is the kind of economy this country should have? Do we think it’s moral?”

However you label them, most of Bernie Sanders’ policies are opinions held by mainstream Americans.

Income inequality

“What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels. This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans … You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.”

The Guardian (April 2015).

63% of Americans agree that the distribution of wealth today is unfair.

Raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations

Very little gets the 1% riled more than Bernie’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy and major corporations, and they will no doubt throw a lot of money into fighting his election for that reason. I expect them to accuse Bernie of trying to “redistribute the wealth.” Although that may be true, what Reaganomics and the tax cuts for the wealthy has done over the past 35 years was redistribution of the wealth too.

Reagan’s reduction of taxes on the wealthy and major corporations, who called themselves the “job creators” and claimed the tax cuts would trickle down to the lower and middle classes. Instead, history taught us that the money trickled up to the 1%, fattening their coffers so they could pay lobbyists to deregulate their industries and lower their taxes some more. In the 35 years since Reagan’s election the trickle up of wealth to the top 1% has continued unabated as the tax cuts were extended time after time.

No president since Reagan has tried to rein in income inequality by raising taxes on the rich. Of course raising taxes would require the cooperation of Congress, which has to pass tax reform legislation, so the US would need progressives elected in both houses of Congress to achieve this.

I am in favor of redistributing wealth, since it just means taking back the money the richest Americans and corporations took from the rest of us with their unfair tax advantages over the past 30 years. In the latest Gallup Poll, 52% of Americans agree that taxes should be raised on the rich, though members of the middle and working classes don’t want to see their own taxes raised. And that’s understandable because they’ve already been squeezed out of most of their disposable income by the recession, which shunted more wealth to the 1%.

Bernie’s tax plan would raise the top marginal rate so that the rich pay a higher proportional share of taxes, eliminate tax loopholes that allow major corporations to get away with paying no taxes at all, raise estate tax, raise capital gains tax rates and regulate tax havens and other loopholes.

This explains his tax plan in more detail.

Relief for the working class

The middle class and working class never got bailed out after the recession wiped out their disposable income, and many of them lost their jobs and ended up finding work at lesser wages if at all. Bernie Sanders’ plan for restoring the working and middle classes resembles Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal – public works programs to put people back to work rebuilding our long-neglected infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work so that women and minorities make the same wages as white men doing the same jobs, strengthening and expanding Social Security and other social safety net programs, affordable housing to address homelessness, etc.

Polls taken this year show 75% support a raise in the minimum wage.

I couldn’t find recent statistics on the support for raising Social Security benefits, but a 2014 survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance found:

“Large majorities of Americans say they don’t mind paying Social Security taxes because of the security and stability the benefits provide to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and children and widowed spouses of deceased workers. These findings hold true across party lines (those agreeing include 87% of Democrats, 81% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans). Americans are also willing to pay for Social Security because they value it for themselves (73%) and their families (73%).”

Breaking up the big banks that were too big to fail

The problem that caused the recession is still a problem today. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, during the Bill Clinton administration, allowed banks to engage in speculation with depositors’ money. If they take your money and gamble with it, sometimes they make a lot of money and sometimes they lose. And when they lose, who pays the bill?  When the banks gambled on mortgage derivatives and would have bankrupted themselves, had the George W. Bush administration not bailed them out with our tax money. They were bailed out because they were “too big to fail” but they were not busted up in smaller pieces, as the phone company was in the 1980s, ending AT&T’s monopoly on telephone services. After the bailout the banks went back to their risky investments.

Bernie Sanders voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and in his 1999 speech against the repeal, he predicted what would happen as a result.

“This legislation will lead to fewer banks and financial service providers, increased charges and fees for individual consumers and small businesses, diminished credit for rural America and taxpayer exposure to potential losses should a financial conglomerate fail. It will lead to more mega-mergers, a small number of corporations dominating the financial service industry and further concentration of power in our country.”

Bernie favors reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act to separate banks into investment banks which can speculate from depositor banks which are not allowed to speculate with depositors money. He also advocates breaking up the big banks and taxing Wall Street’s short term speculation, to encourage them to invest long term instead of gambling on the rise and fall of the stock market.

In a January 2015 poll, a Wall Street Journal blog reports,

“The 58% support to ‘break up big banks like Citigroup’ included 71% support from Democrats and 51% support from Republicans. The poll also found 50% support for taxing “Wall Street transactions” such as trading stocks and bonds.”

Campaign finance reform

The transfer of the wealth to the 1% was followed by the transfer of disproportionate power, especially after the Citizens United decision, which overturned the limits on political donations by corporations.

According to the New York Times,

“The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history…. In the last presidential election, the Republican National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million.”

The Koch brothers, who bankrolled the Tea Party in the last election, have an agenda that would further skew money and power in favor of major corporations and the wealthiest citizens: further reducing corporate taxes, and eliminating regulation of corporations particularly on environmental issues (many of the industries they own are in the oil and natural gas industry, and they are well-known frackers.)  See more here.

How do we know Bernie Sanders is sincere?  Will he stick to these policies if elected? During his decades in Congress, Bernie Sanders left a long track record of his actions on progressive issues. He has always consistently supported the positions he advocates today.

Bernie Sanders has many other social and political positions that I agree with, but today I am only covering his economic issues. This should be enough to convince most people that whether you call Sanders a socialist or not, there is nothing scary about his economic policies.