In a rare moment of clarity during the Democratic debate in Nevada, Michael Bloomberg summarized Bernie Sanders’ “Democratic Socialist” policies in a dozen simple words. “Other countries tried that, it’s called communism, and it just didn’t work,” Bloomberg said.
Sanders, who has served in the U.S. Senate as an independent and describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, was actively involved with and endorsed communist members of the Socialist Workers Party over Democratic candidates during the Cold War, despite those candidates having no chance of success.
In the years since, his brand of socialism has gained currency, especially among America’s youth.
In February, a panel of Marquette University students praised socialism on UpFront on WISN-TV. They said the Sanders’ brand of “Democratic Socialism” they’re attracted to is focused on helping people, as opposed to their perception of other forms of socialism.
The chairman of the Marquette University College Democrats said he appreciated hearing Bernie Sanders “champion using the powers of the state and do these things that seemed radical at the time,” like Medicare for All and imposing a $15 per hour minimum wage. “To me, what Democratic Socialism means is bringing the United States into the standard of living that honestly every other industrialized nation in the world experiences right now,” he said.
However, evidence suggests that socialist policies, even the ones implemented with good intentions, backfire on those they’re supposed to help.
That brings me to this month’s RightWisconsin book of the month. In 2012, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson published Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. By making complex economic arguments easy to understand, the authors describe how far-left policies have ruined nations.
At the expense of connecting with the common man, economics has become overly quantitative and difficult to follow. But this book is one of the clear exceptions. The authors simply make the world their laboratory, asking why portions of our globe have so much wealth and much less poverty than other parts of the world.
The obvious variables from one nation to the next can be attributed to culture, weather, and geography. So the authors strip that all away and focus on parts of the world where these variables are largely the same and where there is generally only one big difference: public policy.
The areas examined by the authors include Korea (North versus South), Nogales (U.S. Side versus Mexico side), Berlin (East versus West) and several other examples. The results are clear—the big difference in a nation’s wealth is attributable to democracy, free markets, transparent systems, and an accountable government.
Communism and Bernie’s far-left Democratic Socialist ideas have proven to create less wealth and more poverty. It’s not just wealth, though. It’s also health. South Koreans, who have the same genetic makeup as their North Korean counterparts, are 2-3 inches taller due to the scarcity of nutritious food in the Communist North.
Why Nations Fail was initially published in 2012, and ample new evidence has accumulated to reinforce Acemoglu and Robinson’s claims since then. One is Venezuela, which was the wealthiest country in South America not long ago. The New York Times describes its collapse as one of the worst implosions of a country outside of wartime in decades. It is now among the poorest countries in South America as a result of Sanders-like policies of highly centralized government, lavish social welfare programs, and forced wealth distribution to fund them.
We can also look around our own country. States that have been embracing more limited government policies are experiencing better economic opportunities for those climbing the economic ladder. For example, Vermont ranks #46 for overall freedom in the Cato Institute’s “Freedom in the 50 States” index, while its neighbor New Hampshire ranks #2. Consequently, New Hampshire’s economic strength ranks #13 but Vermont ranks #29, according to U.S. News.
Meanwhile, Illinois (#35 on the Cato index), New York (#50), and California (#48) have lost a net 3.2 million people over the past decade to other states as people flee to places with lower taxes and more opportunity such as Florida (#1), according to a Bloomberg analysis.
If I was teaching economics at a university today, I would assign the following: Choose a place with similar cultures, weather, people, and geography but two different forms of government. Then identify what political and economic structures are in place. Where does each rank in terms of economic freedom, taxation, regulation, transparency, and so on?
Then, how are those respective systems working for the poor and middle class?
Unfortunately, assignments like these are not being assigned on most college campuses. That’s why we are seeing the romantic embrace of Sanders and his Democratic Socialism despite empirical evidence and many examples now and in the past that those policies backfire on those they’re supposed to help—the poor and the powerless.
Fortunately, Why Nations Fail has summarized the results of 20th century experiments in varying brands of socialism and offers great examples conservatives should have handy during the election season and beyond—now more than ever.
Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) represents the 5th Senate District. RightBooks with Dale Kooyenga is a monthly feature at RightWisconsin. The next RightBooks column will appear April 3.