Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders Claims to Love 'Economic Freedom'

I do not think that means what you think it means.


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) made his case for democratic socialism yesterday in a speech at George Washington University and an interview on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. Among other things, he called for a "21st Century Economic Bill of Rights" that guarantees "a decent job that pays a living wage," "quality health care," "a complete education," "affordable housing," "a clean environment," and "a secure retirement."

Sanders, who is vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, pitched his policies as the only means to "achieving political and economic freedom in every community."

Many Democrats fear the party's swing leftward will fail to resonate with large swaths of Americans. Sanders wants to change that. With an homage to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the senator said that he intends to pick up the mantle from the Depression-era New Deal. "Economic rights are human rights," he told CNN.

Sanders isn't the only socialist in the 2020 race, he added, calling President Donald Trump and other right-wing politicians "corporate socialists." He pointed to the benefits that have been bestowed upon big business by the feds, such as the Wall Street bailouts of 2008. This, he concluded, is "socialism for the very rich and unfettered individualism for the very poor," he said.

Mammoth companies do, indeed, get all kinds of subsidies and other benefits from the government. And they shouldn't. But Sanders wants to reverse the equation entirely, replacing those handouts to the rich with new handouts for the masses. Higher education, for example, would be entirely free in Sanders' America. "In many countries in Europe, Germany for one, you go to college and the cost of college is zero," he told CNN. Sanders' education goals line up with those of his closest rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), who recently released a detailed proposal to cancel college debt. Billed as a boon for the little guy, that would mostly help…the well-off and well-connected.

When CNN's Anderson Cooper pressed Sanders on how he would pay for free college—along with the remainder of his expensive policy prescriptions—the candidate pivoted to tax reform.

"I suspect that a lot of people in this country would be delighted to pay more in taxes if they had comprehensive health care as a human right," Sanders told Cooper. "There is a tradeoff, but at the end of the day, I think most people will believe they're going to be better off when their kids have educational opportunities without out-of-pocket expenses, when they have health care as a human right, when they have affordable housing, when they have decent retirement security. I think most Americans will understand that that is a good deal."

That deal, Sanders claimed, will provide the appropriate foil to "the forces of oligarchy and authoritarianism," which he says are furthered by "corporatist economics." But as Yascha Mounk, who is friendly toward certain sorts of socialism, points out in The Atlantic, Sanders' comments fail to grapple with "a different kind of oppression"—one where a smothered free market blocks its citizens from engaging in private enterprise.

Sanders' version of economic freedom is one where private insurers are barred from the health care market, where school choice is restricted in favor of zip code entitlements, and where the poor increasingly struggle to get a credit card. In other words, it isn't very free at all.