When Bernie Sanders announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president on April 30, 2015, few people took much notice. Here was a 73-year-old US Senator from the tiny state of Vermont taking on Hillary Clinton, who seemed to have the nomination locked up.
Although Sanders had caucused with the Democrats, he had always heretofore run as an Independent. Brooklyn born, he was also the first person of Jewish faith to mount a serious campaign for president. Balding and looking like everyone’s grandfather, he was neither a brilliant speaker nor a brilliant political tactician. What he did have was conviction in his beliefs, which he frankly described as “Socialist,” and a determination to mount a “revolution” against the existing political and economic establishment.
As improbable as this campaign was, it immediately took flight. Millions of voters, especially young people, joined “Bernie’s army.” In state after state, he won Democratic voters under the age of 40 by overwhelming majorities. His fervent supporters made almost a million small gifts to the campaign, average size $31. This was unheard of.
What motivated Bernie to undertake his ground breaking campaign? First and foremost, he was appalled by the economic inequality of American society, which he felt was getting ever worse. He wanted to tax the rich and especially Wall Street much more heavily in order to finance more Social Security and Medicare for all, among other expanded government programs.
Sanders planned to jumpstart the economy by vastly increasing government investments in “infrastructure” such as roads and bridges. He would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for a start and keep raising it. He would open US borders to immigration while simultaneously cutting back on open borders for trade.
Would this program work? Would it lead to the intended outcome? Where Bernie Went Wrong considers this question and concludes that while Sanders is right in calling for a revolution against today’s political and economic elites, his proposed solutions would actually make the plight of the poor and middle class even worse.
About the Author
Hunter Lewis is co-founder and former CEO of global investment firm Cambridge Associates and author of 10 books on moral philosophy and economics, including the widely acclaimed Are the Rich Necessary? (“Highly provocative and highly pleasurable.”—New York Times) and Where Keynes Went Wrong, the first book length refutation of Keynesian theory in English in half a century. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Times of London, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic Monthly, as well as numerous websites such as Forbes.com, Fox.com, RealClearMarkets.com, and Breitbart.com. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.
Midwest Book Review (December 2016):
“Both those who oppose and those who support Sanders’ ideas would be well advised to peruse Where Bernie Went Wrong, the better to thoroughly understand the counter-arguments. Also highly recommended are author Hunter Lewis’ previous titles Are the Rich Necessary? and Where Keynes Went Wrong.”
[Complete review: MidwestBookReview.com]
David Gordon, Mises.org (November 24, 2016):
“Hunter Lewis has rendered a great service with his new book. Writing from an Austrian perspective, he has given us the definitive analysis of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon. . . . If Sanders has correctly identified a major problem, his proposed solution to it would only make matters worse; and in Lewis’s careful pressing home of this claim against Sanders lies the principal contribution of his book. . . . Hunter Lewis deserves great praise for his trenchant dissection of Sanders and for pointing the way to the truth.”
[Complete review: Mises.org]
Steven Martinovich, Enter Stage Right (October 24, 2016):
“Although Lewis occasionally sounds a little too sympathetic to Sanders, he is on the whole a good critic of the Vermont senator and does a capable job of refuting his platform – one that will undoubtedly live . . . [ on.]”
[Complete review: EnterStageRight.com]
Kevin Price, Host, The Price of Business Show, Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK
Editor in Chief, USDailyReview.com (October 13, 2016):
“Hunter Lewis is one of my favorite writers today. Very few authors take a consequential approach to public policy. They focus on what the policies are intended to do, or what they hope they will do, but often fail to look at the evidence of what will likely happen based on common sense, history, and simple human behavior. Lewis is an exception to that rule. He takes the time to look at the agenda of the utopia advocates pervasive in the world of public policy, systematically dismembers their arguments, and then offers a clear vision of what a public policy will do. In addition he offers viable alternatives that will work. I am a fan of Hunter Lewis and have recommended his books often. I wish there were more writers like him.”
Part One: Getting to Know Him
1. Where Is Bernie Coming From?
2. What Bernie Gets (Very!) Right
Part Two: What Bernie Gets Half Right
3. Bernie against “Corruption” and a “Rigged Economy”
4. Bernie against Special Interests
5. Bernie for Unions
Part Three: The Rich
6. Bernie against Billionaires
7. More on the Role of the Rich
8. Bernie for Equality
9. More on Inequality
Part Four: Corporate America and Trade
10. Bernie against Corporate Greed
11. More on the Profit System
12. Other Critiques of the Profit System
13. More on Greed
14. Bernie against Trade Agreements
Part Five: Wall Street and the Federal Reserve
15. Bernie against Wall Street (The Crash of 2008)
16. Bernie Falls Down on Fed
Part Six: Lessons from the Past
17. Bernie for Franklin Roosevelt (The Great Depression)
18. Bernie for LBJ’s Great Society
Part Seven: Fixing What’s Broken
19. Bernie for Jobs for All
20. Bernie for Workers
21. Bernie for Medicare for All
22. Bernie for College for All
23. Bernie for Open Borders
24. Bernie for Criminal Justice Reform, Marijuana Legalization, GMO Labeling, and against Global Warming and War
Part Eight: Conclusion
25. Bernie for Big New Ideas
26. Bernie’s Dilemma
Bernie Sanders won 13,618,214 votes in the Democratic primaries of 2016. Some of these votes may have reflected anti-Hillary sentiment. But many voters, even those not voting for him, seemed genuinely moved and inspired by what he had to say.
It is unlikely that Bernie ran hoping to win. It is more likely that he ran because it gave him a platform, and he wanted to use that platform to explain and propagate his views, especially among young people.
If Bernie’s campaign was primarily an exercise in moving public opinion, it was wildly successful. He carried young people by wide margins. He shifted the Democratic Party and eventually its platform in his direction. It also resulted in Hillary Clinton eventually adopting virtually all of his major proposals. It had a tremendous impact on the election of 2016 and beyond.
Looking back on his campaign and its influence on American voters, especially young voters, we need to ask: how sound are Bernie’s views? To what degree are they sound? To what degree are they backed by evidence, logic, and above all common sense? Trying to sort out these questions is the task of this short book.
Like any such effort, it will reflect the biases of the author. But with luck the factual evidence and at least some of the logic will speak for itself.
From Chapter 1: Where Is Bernie Coming From?
Bernie is easy to like, even admire. Dressed in rumpled clothes, with wisps of tussled white hair, the septuagenarian appears to be the grandfather we all wish we had. He is not an eloquent or powerful speaker, but exudes sincerity.
Very few politicians are willing to tell us what they really believe or what they will actually do in office, but this man does. No one need fear being deceived. By contrast, Hillary Clinton, his primary opponent, gets her lowest ratings from voters for “honesty” and “trustworthiness.”
At various times, he has referred to himself as a “socialist,” a “democratic socialist,” and a “progressive.” He seems to use these terms more or less interchangeably. Both his accent and his ideas reveal a working class origin in Brooklyn long ago, further shaped by long residence in Burlington, Vermont.
Bernie lives in a modest home. He does not vacation on Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons with the rich and famous. It is clear that he has not enriched himself by public service.
This is not only in sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton, but also to other leading Democratic leaders such as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Vice President Joe Biden, all of whom have become very wealthy through real estate and other deals supplied by political friends and backers. Biden refers to himself as “middle class Joe,” but would seem to be anything but. Sanders truly is middle class in outlook, income, and assets, and has never sought to be anything else.
When Sanders describes himself as a “socialist,” he clarifies that government should not abolish private property, but should take the principal role in leading and governing the economy. For most of his political life, he has run as an “independent,” but in the US Senate has “caucused” with the Democrats and in effect acted as one of them. He eventually chose to run for President as a Democrat.
From Chapter 4: Bernie against Special Interests
As noted in the prior chapter, there are two sides of the crony capitalist coin: predatory special interests and pliant government officials who are willing to be bought or at least rented. More often than not, rented is the correct word, because as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin once explained in a television interview, “in politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.” Bernie conveniently ignores all this, but agrees that special interest political power must be curbed:
Democratic socialism . . . means that we create a government that works for all of us, not just powerful special interests.
On Democratic Socialism in the United States, November 19, 2015
Sanders further says that the way to beat special interests is to mobilize the “grassroots”:
The powers that be, that is corporate America, Wall Street, the insurance companies, the drug companies, the military industrial complex, these guys are enormously powerful. And the only way that we can defeat them, the only way we can transform America, the only way we can have a government which begins to work for working people rather than the wealthiest people in this country is by putting together an unprecedentedly strong grassroots movement, and what I call a political revolution.
July 29 Organizing Kickoff Event, July 29, 2015
This sounds reasonable, but again something is missing. Bernie only names special interests that have either contributed to the other party, the Republicans, or, more commonly, have contributed to both parties. He omits any mention of special interests that traditionally provide massive funding for, or mostly for, the Democratic Party, notably trade unions and trial lawyers.
This is not an inadvertent slip. In Bernie’s world view, the special interests that support him cannot be called special interests, no matter how much they seek to influence or win favors from government. This position is more or less taken for granted by Bernie. He neither acknowledges nor tries to defend it.
Despite his taking it for granted, Bernie’s position does not seem to pass any kind of logical test. If one opposes crony capitalism, and if, as part of that, one opposes special interests getting access to and favors from government, then it seems that one should oppose all special interests operating this way, not just some, not just those that do not contribute to your campaign, and exempt those which do.
I am a proud progressive, prepared to stand with the working families of this country; prepared to take on powerful special interests which wield enormous power over the economic and political life of this country.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention, September 19, 2015
Based on his remarks and record, however, Bernie will not stand with working Americans against corrupt unions, even when they are stealing from their members or trying to get control of government. Nor will he stand against parasitical trial lawyers intent on threatening and demanding protection money from every industry and thereby raising prices on almost everything for everyone.