Bernie Sanders’ Socialist Blunder

 

Bernie Sanders' Socialist Blunder by Richard Epstein, Ricochet.comVermont Senator Bernie Sanders has received a fair amount of publicity for his recent statement that, “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.” As I note in my new column for Defining Ideas:

I doubt very much that Bernie Sanders has any familiarity with the socialist calculation debate of the 1930s, which proved that no central planner has the information to make intelligent judgments on the question of which products should be sold and at what price. There are of course many things that government has to do to maintain competitive markets, but none of them rely on the heavy-handed forms of intervention that rolled effortlessly off Bernie Sanders’ lips.

Sanders’ initial blunder is compounded by a second. Why assume our society faces a stark choice between feeding the hungry on the one hand and indulging in unnecessary consumer choices on the other hand? His basic mistake is commonly made by other egalitarians, who believe there is a zero-sum trade-off between taking care of the needy and giving useless favors to the rich. As I argued in a recent column attacking the warriors against Income Inequality, it is always wrong to act as though there is a “choice” between two social programs that are randomly connected with each other. Just as it is possible to reject both tax subsidies to the rich and the minimum wage, so it is possible to insist on a decoupling of the question of consumer choice from that of public assistance to the poor.

The key task in all cases is to make sure that both of these programs are run with maximum efficiency. One benefit, for example, of having robust consumer markets with lots of choices is that it will expand the social pie, which then increases the resources that society can devote to taking care of the poor, either through government programs or, preferably, private charitable assistance. Efficient markets will also allow the dollars of poor people, like the dollars of rich people, to go further when the array of products and their prices are not subject to government override.

The ideal here is to increase both firm income and consumer satisfaction. Once that problem is solved on its own terms, it is possible to look separately at the serious problem of hungry children. And indeed there are major flaws in agricultural markets that cry out for reform. Yet virtually all of these stem from the strong New Deal tendency to use government power to raise the price of agricultural produce above competitive levels. The hard question for people like Sanders is whether they are willing to look hard at government programs to ask whether, and if so how, they disadvantage the poor, and indeed all other classes of consumers. To reach the right conclusion on this question requires that we start from the right benchmark, which is the array of goods and services that only decentralized competitive markets are able to produce. Socialists like Sanders fail to see the harm that their interventionist programs do to the very people whom they want to help.

You can read the whole thing, including a lengthy critique of the idea that we have too much choice in consumer markets, at the above link. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Photo Credit: “Bernie Sanders” by United States Congress – http://sanders.senate.gov/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are 11 comments.

  1. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    A very thorough analysis. Bernie’s claim is not even worth mentioning in the same sentence.

    I still remain puzzled at the relationship between sneaker/deodorant choices and poverty. There are generic brands among those choices, naturally, and both inexpensive and expensive choices are present. There are even natural/organic options, which would not likely be available at a reasonable price without other choices.

    • #1
    • June 2, 2015, at 10:22 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Wordcooper Inactive

    What Bernie seems to think is that a benevolent, omniscient dictator would take all of the unnecessary creativity and zero-sum work being wasted on deodorants and focus it (like a laser beam) at solving child hunger, once and for all. I guess that, in the history of all mankind, nobody else thought of that and tried it. Let’s ask the USSR and China. Oh, they were neither benevolent or omniscient?

    • #2
    • June 2, 2015, at 1:34 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. bridget Inactive

    “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.”

    I stress-fractured my femur running track in high school because of improper footwear. Had it not healed, I would need a rod through my leg.

    Define “need” as it relates to footwear, Mr. Sanders. And please explain how Saucony’s provision of high-cushioning stability athletic apparel takes food out of a child’s mouth. (Last I checked, the expansion of choices and industries creates such economic growth that poor people in twenty-first century America are fat, not starving.)

    Really, enlighten me. Please.

    • #3
    • June 2, 2015, at 1:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. Mikescapes Member

    ridget: “….poor people in twenty-first century America are fat, not starving.) Really, enlighten me. Please.”

    You are already enlightened. That’s the first thing that jumped out at me. What hungry children problem exists in the U.S.? None. If latino kids cross over our border illegally you can bet they are fed and housed immediately, in the event they worked up and appetite from the trip north.

    Not that Saunders is a serious candidate, but how can the people in Vermont elect this throwback to the Senate? Years back William Buckley, scoffed at the idea that anyone could die of hunger in the U.S. In a debate he said that they’d be force-fed before permitted to die. Yet, even today, many on the left can’t get enough of this Marxist crap. Of course, Hillary Clinton might couch it in almost acceptable language like ‘lack of nutricious foods.’

    • #4
    • June 2, 2015, at 2:52 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. David Carroll Thatcher

    Anyone who would vote for Mr Sanders Ned’s either (1) to sue his or her (or its?) high school for education malpractice or (2) needs to be sent to a re-education camp. I justify the re-education camp concept as coming from the socialist’s own playbook.

    • #5
    • June 2, 2015, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Eeyore Member

    I understand Bernie is upset that he is starting to have problems getting parts for his Lada 1200

    lada-1200

    and has expressed significant disgust that many Russians have developed such an affinity for that symbol of bourgeois over-indulgence, the Mercedes-Benz.

    • #6
    • June 2, 2015, at 10:49 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Chris Campion Coolidge

    While I enjoyed the professor’s economic takedown of an economic illiterate (a purposeful illiterate, by the way), it’s a bit like watching a Godzilla vs. Bambi video. Not much of a contest.

    That’s really the point, anyway, in terms of Bernie’s exhalations. All he wants is larger government control, and an enlargement of his own power. He literally comes from what many described, back in Burlington, VT, in the late 70’s/early 80’s, as a “drifter” background. His resume’ includes such careers as “carpenter”, but that’s just cover for his not having had a real job. Which says a great deal about Burlington’s sad state of politics, and the fact that an inordinate amount of votes in that city come from college students. The city is roughly 55,000 people, and the University of Vermont is smack in the middle of it.

    So Bernie’s statements, his claims – which I see replicated and quoted by fellow economic illiterates, and friends, on Facebook – aren’t about speaking truth to power, they’re about empowering him. His wife, a fellow economic illiterate, drove the tiny Burlington College onto the economic reef, and bailed herself out with a tasty package before she caught the full brunt of it.

    Bernie is opportunism writ large. A crony capitalist would be proud of him.

    • #7
    • June 3, 2015, at 3:42 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Instugator Thatcher

    Richard Epstein:
    Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has received a fair amount of publicity for his recent statement that, “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.”

    Any children that are hungry in this country are evidence of neglect, not poverty. There is no poverty in America.

    • #8
    • June 3, 2015, at 4:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. David Carroll Thatcher

    Inspired by the HWX Podcast segment on golden age campaign songs, I have a proposed campaign song for the Bernie Sanders campaign:

    • #9
    • June 3, 2015, at 6:05 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Richard Fulmer Member

    The problem is that Bernie’s sound-bite sounds great, and takes a lot of words to refute. Dr. Epstien’s point that feeding hungry children and producing more than one brand of deodorant are not mutually exclusive and Bridget’s point that having more than one type of tennis shoe is desirable aren’t immediately obvious. Nor is it immediately obvious that some people are allergic to deodorant Brand A but not to Brand B.

    Part of the reason that there is so much ignorance about economics is that many people, companies, and institutions benefit from that ignorance and do as much as they can to increase it. Mr. Sanders is one of those spreading ignorance, either out of his own ignorance or self-interest.

    • #10
    • June 3, 2015, at 11:09 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Son of Spengler Contributor

    Richard Fulmer:The problem is that Bernie’s sound-bite sounds great, and takes a lot of words to refute. Dr. Epstien’s point that feeding hungry children and producing more than one brand of deodorant are not mutually exclusive and Bridget’s point that having more than one type of tennis shoe is desirable aren’t immediately obvious.

    But doesn’t this create an opening for a third-way candidate? Some say we should let children starve. Others say we have too many kinds of deodorant. But I say… we can do both! 

    I’m sure a real politician would be able to do it better than I.

    • #11
    • June 3, 2015, at 11:18 AM PDT
    • Like