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Life Arts    H1'ed 3/15/20

Sanders' Real Plan: As Much Market as Possible/As Much Planning as Necessary

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Last Tuesday (March 10th), opinion columnist, Thomas Friedman published and OpEd In the New York Times. It was entitled "Joe Biden, Not Bernie Sanders Is the True Scandinavian."

There, Friedman argued that despite Mr. Sanders' frequent references to Denmark as the standard for "democratic socialism," the country is actually a hotbed of free market capitalism. Hence, Biden's more balanced views on trade, corporations and unions make him more "Scandinavian" than his rival. Hence too, Biden's free market capitalism is vastly preferable to Sanders' socialism with its proposal of a totally planned economy.

To prove his point, Friedman's crucial focus was not so much on Denmark as on three well-worn rhetorical questions addressed to the senator from Vermont:

  1. Does money grow on trees or does it come from heroic capitalist risk-takers who deserve their profits because of the jobs they provide? And shouldn't they be rewarded accordingly?
  2. Aren't at least some capitalist entrepreneurs admirable, or are they all examples, as Sanders would have it, of "corporate greed and corruption?"
  3. What's better at producing jobs and prosperity, a free enterprise economy or one based on central planning? (It was here that the question of Denmark came sharply to the fore.)

All three questions were entirely disingenuous and misleading. Let me explain.

In Praise of Risk Takers

To begin with (and to answer Friedman's first question) money obviously doesn't grow on trees and capitalist risk-takers do, of course, play an important role in the provision of jobs and prosperity. And risk deserves corresponding reward. All true.

However, what Friedman neglects to mention is that capitalists aren't alone in highly productive risk-taking. No, far from being passive beneficiaries of entrepreneurial courage and largesse, workers and the risks they take clearly confer huge benefits on their employers. Hence, if their employers' gambles deserve reward, so do their own.

By this I mean not only the obvious viz. that capitalist enterprises would never succeed without workers. I mean as well that the capitalist system actually forces employees to be more adventuresome risk-takers than their employers. While the latter typically risk only their money, workers within the system risk their very lives and the existential welfare of their families.

Think about it. In preparing themselves to enter the world of work, college students bet four years or more of their lives as well as thousands of dollars in borrowed money on the wager that their "major" (be it Economics, Business, English, Math, Science, Pre-Med, etc.) will actually someday land them a job. That's a gamble that benefits not only employers, but the rest of us as well.

Moreover, if they're fortunate enough to land a job, the graduates' work often forces them to change location to places far from their families and friends. That too involves leave-takings, courage and high-stakes risk.

And if their gamble does not pay off (unlike their employers) there's no Chapter 11 for them to invoke. Thanks to politicians like Joe Biden, they still have to pay back those college loans, and/or live far from the support of their extended families.

It's similar for those who do not go to college. Every day, countless numbers of them risk their very lives in jobs whose dangers are far more threatening than losing money in a failed business venture. So, if roofers fall from a great height, if fishermen are swept overboard, or if carpenters cut off a finger or hand, they often have no benefits to sustain them while recovering or to insure their eventual return to the workforce. All of that represents acceptance of risk that benefits employers. It contributes far more to economic prosperity than dangers involved in the process of securing loans in the comfort of a banker's office or in a simple telephone call.

So, no, Mr. Friedman, money does not grow on trees. It comes from employers risking their money. However, in at least equal measure it derives from the risks taken by their employees. The latter deserve guaranteed reward that can fittingly come from government's repaying them with as much abundance as it currently extends to their employers.

A Corrupt System

As for Friedman's question about greed and corruption. . . Is Sanders correct in saying that all capitalists are somehow consumed by avarice?

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is "The Magic (more...)
 

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8 people are discussing this page, with 18 comments


Mike Rivage-Seul

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MSM columnists like Thomas Friedman purposely confuse their readers about the meaning of "democratic socialism."

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 10:00:02 AM

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Nels Wight

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amen, my friend

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 1:30:57 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Nels Wight:   New Content

Thanks, Nels.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 8:22:59 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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One thing I do respect about Bernie is that, unlike Warren, he didn't try to hide the fact that programs like "Medicare For All" will require middle class tax hikes. It's one thing to argue that the savings will outweigh the tax hikes, it's another thing to hem and haw and keep trying to avoid the fact that the tax hikes will be necessary to do it. The Scandinavian states provide a lot of benefits to regular citizens -- and tax the living bejeezus out of them for those benefits (IIRC, Denmark has lower corporate tax than the US, but an average per capita tax burden of 65%). Whether that's a good deal for those citizens is a reasonable question. Apparently they think it is or they wouldn't vote for the politicians who keep the taxes, and the programs, in place. As for markets versus planning, there's not really a comparison to be made, any more than between ice cream vs. dog feces or a box of Cheerios and a box of D-Con.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 5:13:05 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Thomas Knapp:   New Content

The point you make about taxes vs. annual insurance costs, deductibles and co-payments is worth discussing for sure. However, I'm not clear about your final comment concerning market and planning. I thought that was the heart of the capitalism vs. socialism debate.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 8:26:28 PM

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Chuck Nafziger

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Friedman and the NYT are parts of the Ministry of Truth, trying to convince the 99% that it is noble and just to get screwed by the rich. I relegated them to the bottom of the bird cage back in the old days when I still had a pet bird.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 5:17:13 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Chuck Nafziger:   New Content

Chomsky and Edward Herman wrote so eloquently of the point you make here -- in Manufacturing Consent.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 8:22:17 PM

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Don Smith

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Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman, Cornel West and Professor Frances Fox Piven (the honorary chairperson of the official Democratic Socialists of America coalition) all agree that Bernie Sanders is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. This is Bernie's HUUUUUUUUUUUGE mistake.

Bernie Sanders, please stop calling yourself a socialist. You're a social democrat!

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 7:11:22 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Don Smith:   New Content

I agree, Don. I so wish he wouldn't insist on using the Democratic Socialist identification. Regardless of its accuracy, it's too inflammatory. Paul Krugman and Richard Wolff had an interesting debate about this on Democracy Now.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 8:19:46 PM

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John Lawrence Ré

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Hate to say this Mike, but I've never believed BS's BS ever since 2016 when he began to praise a war monger like Clinton - not just endorse her. I sense that he is finessing his followers into a dead end. He doesn't really want to win. I know it sounds paranoid, but think about what he is doing: he avoids a strong Gabbard-like take on foreign policy, states that Biden can beat Trump (which is false, btw), continues to propogate Russiagate, will not defend Manning and Assange and most importantly has yet to demand that Tulsi be allowed to debate after she basically altered her life to campaign for him last time.

Once again, he's not putting up the knid of fight that his rank and file funders deserve, and he will not go third party when it is clear that the only way forward from his internment in the filthy Democratic Party is a jailbreak. He's a coward and just as bad, if not worse, than the rest because I believe he knows better or should know better. Tired of hearing excuses for him. He and his effete campaign is the primary reason Gabbard is not gaining the visibility and national support that would have propelled her into a independent win.

So it's not about whether he calls himself a socialist or a canary, he's a constructive tool of the democratic party: a classic red herring.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 15, 2020 at 8:52:00 PM

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Michael Dewey

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What really gets me ticked off is hearing Trump (And media people) saying it's either him or the USSR? Sanders sounds mostly out to get affordable HC and education, which if DC had been promoting the general welfare the people would already have. But they been sold out to the corporations somewhere over the course of my 62 years on planet. I recall hearing of a time when DC had a balance between the corporations and "society." The older IBEW Wirenut brothers aw that drifting away with 12 years of GOP appointed judges would do to the working man. After Clinton went even more right, corporations are now people.

Am a big fan of the worker ownership of the $20 Billion a year Mondragon Cooperative of the Basque in Spain, which owns its own bank and has a collage which trains its workers. How that model could help local city economies is just plain common sense to me that local Unions could work out the details of setting up.

Wanting out of this top down system looking for local empowerment, brings me to our currant cable-internet ripoff of out times. Me always talking around town of turning them into a public city utility run through a public bank at the post office.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 3:00:32 AM

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Lee Beacham

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I'm 65 and had health Care and insurance since age 17. Wife the same. We've had plenty of "care" including major and minor surgeries. I can't complain about the care or the cost (except my Obamacare experience) We've always been insured, sometimes by employers, other time er paid our own policy expense. We're middle class, now retired. I retired at 60 and had to enlist the A.C.A. Good god what a joke. The fees, the high co-pays, the ridiculous customer service from the bureaucracy. Medicare advantage is a dream come true. The only thing the Federal bureaucracy does well is tax and spend.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 6:17:53 PM

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Michael Dewey

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After 1.5 years+ of babble on DC and ending with ACA, an insurance company written bill, was soon married in Belgium with a 150 euro a year not for profit health system working fine since after WW 2. Did not realize ACA did work in the states that funded the Medicaid part. Massachusetts has Masshealth for their Medicaid. Mitt and GW Bush had screwed up Masshealth when their health plans went into effect. All Mitt had to do was expand Masshealth (A great plan for the low income.) and offer it as a public option, and Bush screwed all up with his Medicare Part D drug plan: meds once with no copays, started costing me 100 bucks a month. Belgium did hate the idea of insurance companies running health care here. Your support of that form of capitalism gives even more of a license to steal to what us IBEW Wirenuts always knew insurance companies always had.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 7:27:47 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Michael Dewey:   New Content

I agree with you, Michael. Richard Wolff is the clearest and most vigorous proponent and explainer of the worker co-ops your comment describes. Are you familiar with his Democracy at Work podcast and radio program?

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 9:48:04 PM

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Lee Beacham

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FDR didn't revolutionize or save Americas economy. Americans did. They reacted in their own best interest, many moving to where jobs were. In the end, America;s role in WWII changed our economy and saved the world from the future "Bernies" ascending. In short, Capitalism is imperfect but better than any other system of now. Socialism is'has been proven evil every time, everywhere it's been implemented, wholly or in part. Economic guarantees make humans lazy and rob them of potential success on their own terms. Most people don't work to get rich. I have seen from the beginning how welfare et-al has corrupted and hogtied generations as "poor". We make a big mistake when we categorize people as poor or rich. Every soul yearns to be free and productive. Guarantees beyond "normal limits" corrupt people. "Normal limits" demand small changes. My opinion is we need to begin slowly reversing the encroaching dependence on financial guarantees for all in the economy. Fairness is a better goal and that means some lose and some win. That's human nature.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 3:18:49 PM

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Michael Dewey

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The worker ownership of the $20 Billion a year Mondragon Cooperative of the Basque in Spain is a working example of how to get better jobs, and Unions could work out the details of setting up at local levels. Mondragon owns its own bank which reinvests in itself, and had a collage which trains its worker owners. How that could benefit society here on local levels is evident for anyone with eyes to be able to see.

This predator death form of capitalism, enslaving the third world can be switched towards a green life form. You would have to read some John Perkins and his Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to hear the facts of damage done.

One thing I see that could really help empower cities and towns to be able to take care of themselves, for the most part, would be turning the cable-internet ripoff of today into Public Utilities run through Public Banks at the Post Office paying for local needs.

Removing the whole SS cap (Only way to ever get back the Trillions they lie about borrowing.) could fund many social needs of those who have fallen through the cracks of this dog eat dog form of capitalism. Belgium pays for many social needs through higher SS tax and the Flemish still call it the promised land. Their main problems now come from the 5-1 hit they took when euro was forced down their throats, but we still doing fine my time there from 2011-17. But the international banksters are out to break Europe's social programs, Why they after that can't be answered, unless saying they just selfish people. US Federal Reserve is giving Americans a major screwing also.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 7:38:04 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Clearly said, Lee. I used to believe this too. But then studying in the Global South showed me how hard capitalists and their bought politicians work to ensure that economies mixed in favor of the poor (i.e. the world's majority) fail miserably.

Also, I'm not sure you got my point about mixed economies -- those mixed in favor of the rich vs. those mixed in favor of the poor. The choice between them is the one facing the world as capitalism-as-we-know-it destroys the planet.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 16, 2020 at 9:53:44 PM

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Lee Beacham

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Reply to Mike Rivage-Seul:   New Content

We all have valid opinions. Sometime opinions don't jive with facts and visa-versa. In a free society, opinions are powerful. Facts can then catch up with opinions. Rich vs. poor arguments bother me. How do we define rich or poor? Only by wealth? Rich to me has always been "can I be where and when I want to be. Can I have options to choose from? Can I keep my wife in love with me? I've always been "rich" by my definition. Now at 65, I'm richer than ever. God is my banker. I have unlimited resources. ( I have a investment portfolio also and it's down 30% as of yesterday. If it goes down by half from here, I'm still satisfied).

Rich vs poor is used as a weapon against Capitalism. Without Capitalism I would be gravely "poor". With Socialism, I would have been a "prisoner" of the rich government.

Submitted on Monday, Mar 23, 2020 at 6:54:19 PM

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