Acton Institute Powerblog

Bernie Sanders Loves to Decry ‘Casino Capitalism,’ But What About Economic Freedom?

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In last Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders stayed true to his famed aversion to capitalism, proclaiming the fanciful virtues of “democratic socialism.” Yet when prodded by Anderson Cooper — who asked, “you don’t consider yourself a capitalist?” — Sanders responded not by attacking free markets, but by targeting a more popular target of discontent: Wall Street and the banks.

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?” Sanders asked. “No, I don’t.”

One could be forgiven for not understanding what Sanders means by “casino capitalism.” Is it crony capitalism, in which legislative favors are secured by the rich and powerful (which conservatives also disdain)? Is it bailouts for the big banks (which, again, conservatives also disdain)? Is it basic trade and exchange on a large, complex scale, and if so, at what size does it become problematic? Does he despise the stock exchange itself? Too loud with all its blinky lights and bells?

It probably includes a mix, but whatever his preferred Crisis of History, he brings a strong dose of zero-sum Marxian whiz-bang to whatever features might actually be facts. If the rich are getting richer (true), then obviously that’s bad for the rest of you plebeian suckers (not true). Rather than answering Cooper directly, Sanders diverts to a narrower target where (at least in his mind) everything is fixed and rigged.

This has proven to be an effective tactic for stirring up blind populist angst, and further, Sanders is also managing to tempt his competitors away from what’s really at stake: economic freedom.

Such freedom is, of course, what most conservatives think of when they hear the word “capitalism.” Even Cooper and Clinton proceeded to puzzle and prattle over the true meaning of “capitalism,” allowing Sanders to go silent on his planned raid on freedom itself.

But then one realizes this isn’t a big ploy, and Sanders really doesn’t understand what drives the success of free economies. Such ignorance is evidenced by Sanders’ admiration for nations like Denmark, which, as Kevin Williamson points out, tend to score worse than the United States on most of Sanders’ preferred metrics.

Big banks? Check. Size of government? Small. Basic economic freedom? Ew.

Alas, judging a nation’s health and prospective future is not so simple as comparing its superficial goodies to your personal grab-bag of civilizational treats.

As demonstrated in the video below, economic freedom is the constant force of prosperity across nations and cultures, and we ought not sacrifice it up so readily.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4fWQnguR1E

As Jeffrey Tucker observes:

What strikes me when looking at all this data, and the crystal clear connections here, is the strange silence on the part of the opinion class. People are flailing around for answers. Where’s the growth? Who is stealing the future? Maybe it’s the immigrants, foreign nations, and the rise of inequality. Maybe technology is taking jobs. Maybe people are just lazy and incompetent.

Or maybe we should look at the data. It’s all about freedom.

To achieve what Sanders demands, we would do well to bypass his red herrings about Wall Street cronyism and press him on one thing: what of economic freedom?

Not just as it relates to our pocketbooks and those of our grandchildren, although that’s important, too. But to what lengths are we willing to diminish or destroy networks of exchange and trade, work and service, giving and receiving? To what ends are we willing to give up one of the most incredible intangible assets of humankind?

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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