The Volokh Conspiracy

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Is there a libertarian case for Bernie Sanders?


Andrew Kirell at the Daily Beast poses the question. The Niskanen Center's Will Wilkinson provides an answer:

The libertarian case for Bernie Sanders is simply that Bernie Sanders wants to make America more like Denmark, Canada, or Sweden . . . and the citizens of those countries enjoy more liberty than Americans do. No other candidate specifically aims to make the United States more closely resemble a freer country. That's it. That's the case.

Of course, it's not that simple. As Wilkinson adds:

The biggest problem with my particularist, data-first libertarian argument for Bernie Sanders is that Bernie Sanders doesn't seem to actually understand that Denmark-style social democracy is funded by a free-market capitalist system that is in many ways less regulated than American capitalism.

Or as Wilkinson wrote a few months ago:

The lesson Bernie Sanders needs to learn is that you cannot finance a Danish-style welfare state without free markets and large tax increases on the middle class. If you want Danish levels of social spending, you need Danish middle-class tax rates and a relatively unfettered capitalist economy. The fact that he's unwilling to come out in favor of either half of the Danish formula for a viable social-democratic welfare state is the best evidence that Bernie Sanders is not actually very interested in what it takes to make social democracy work. The great irony of post-1989 political economy is that capitalism has proven itself the most reliable means to socialist ends. Bernie seems not to have gotten the memo.

In other words, "democratic socialism, according to Bernie Sanders' superannuated understanding of it, may have a dash too much Venezuela in it." Yup.

Chicago's John Cochrane comments:

Yes, Denmark scores much above the US on ease of doing business indices. An interesting case. A welfare state is not necessarily a politicized regulatory state, with strong two-way political-industry capture. The latter may be more dangerous economically. Those who wish to eat golden eggs have an incentive to let the Goose grow fat.