Trump Is the Worst Kind of Socialist

His policies coddle fellow oligarchs while leaving ordinary people at the mercy of the free market.

“America will never be a socialist country,” President Trump said as he launched his bid for re-election last week.

That declaration was an effort to frighten Americans and undermine growing support for expanding Medicare and Social Security—two popular programs that have long been derided as “socialist.” Mr. Trump’s declaration hypocritically ignores that he and his Republican colleagues are the nation’s leading purveyors of an insidious form of corporate socialism, which uses government power and taxpayer resources to enrich Mr. Trump and his billionaire friends.

When we defeat Mr. Trump in this election, we are going to end his corporate socialism and use those resources to create a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights that benefits all people.

Consider the corporate socialism we’ve seen on Wall Street, where the high priests of unfettered capitalism reign. As you will recall, Wall Street’s deification of “free markets” went out the window in 2008 as they watched the financial crisis caused by their own greed and illegal behavior threaten the existence of some of the largest financial institutions in the country. Suddenly, Wall Street became strong supporters of big-government socialism.

They begged the federal government for unprecedented taxpayer assistance, and Congress provided them with the largest bailout in history. The major banks received some $700 billion from the Treasury and trillions in low-interest loans from the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, working people all across the country lost their jobs, their homes and their life savings. The most vulnerable were hit the hardest, with the African-American community losing half its wealth.

That was not an aberration. The norm across the corporate world is what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “socialism for the rich, and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor.”

If you are a fossil-fuel company, whose carbon emissions are destroying the planet, Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans offer billions in government subsidies, including special tax breaks, royalty relief and funding for research and development. But if you are struggling to pay your utility bill, you get the free market—higher and higher electric bills.

If you are a pharmaceutical company, you make huge profits on patent rights for medicines that were developed with taxpayer-funded research. But if you are a taxpayer, you get the free market and pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs—and in some cases you die because you cannot afford the medication you need.

If you are a monopoly like Amazon, owned by the wealthiest person in the U.S., you get hundreds of millions of dollars in economic incentives from taxpayers to build warehouses, yet you end up paying not one penny in federal income taxes. But if you are a small business that falls behind on your store’s rent, you get the free market—which means you get an eviction notice.

If you are the billionaire Walton family, state and local governments grant you free land and subsidies and build infrastructure for your stores, even as Walmart ’s tax-avoidance schemes drain local towns of public revenues. But if you are a Walmart worker, you get the free market—which means starvation wages.

If you are the Trump family, you got $885 million worth of tax breaks and subsidies for your family’s housing empire, which was built on racial discrimination. But if you are a homeowner struggling to pay your mortgage, you get the free market—which means foreclosure.

The time is long overdue for the U.S. to end corporate socialism for Mr. Trump and the rest of the billionaire class. Instead, those resources should be put to work to ensure shared prosperity by enhancing Social Security and Medicare and investing in roads and bridges, public schools, clean water and clean air.

Mr. Trump believes in corporate socialism to protect the wealth and power of the rich. I believe the U.S. must end corporate socialism and instead fulfill President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vision of enshrining basic economic rights for all Americans. These include the rights to health care, a living wage, a decent job, a quality education, a secure retirement, affordable housing and a clean environment. We can make this 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights a reality with initiatives like Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, a Green New Deal, student-debt cancellation and legislation to expand Social Security.

I recognize that this agenda will face enormous opposition from corporate America and the 1%. They have a vested interest in protecting the corporate socialism that has enriched and empowered them. The wealthiest three families now own more wealth than the bottom half of the country, and they will do everything they can to block our agenda.

But more Americans are noticing the contradiction between coddled socialism for the rich and the destruction of opportunity for everyone else. I am confident that we will be able to build a grass-roots movement that will not only defeat Donald Trump in this election but finally create a government that works for all people, not just the billionaire class.

Mr. Sanders, an independent, is a U.S. senator from Vermont and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bernie Sanders and the Myth of the 1 Percent

The very rich are richer than people imagine.

A peculiar chapter in the 2020 presidential race ended Monday, when Bernie Sanders, after months of foot-dragging, finally released his tax returns. The odd thing was that the returns appear to be perfectly innocuous. So what was all that about?

The answer seems to be that Sanders got a lot of book royalties after the 2016 campaign, and was afraid that revealing this fact would produce headlines mocking him for now being part of the 1 Percent. Indeed, some journalists did try to make his income an issue.

This line of attack is, however, deeply stupid. Politicians who support policies that would raise their own taxes and strengthen a social safety net they’re unlikely to need aren’t being hypocrites; if anything, they’re demonstrating their civic virtue.

But failure to understand what hypocrisy means isn’t the only way our discourse about politics and inequality goes off the rails. The catchphrase “the 1 Percent” has also become a problem, obscuring the nature of class in 21st-century America.

Focusing on the top percentile of the income distribution was originally intended as a corrective to the comforting but false notion that growing inequality was mainly about a rising payoff to education. The reality is that over the past few decades the typical college graduate has seen only modest gains, with the big money going to a small group at the top. Talking about “the 1 Percent” was shorthand for acknowledging this reality, and tying that reality to readily available data.

[For an even deeper look at what’s on Paul Krugman’s mind, sign up for his weekly newsletter.]

But putting Bernie Sanders and the Koch brothers in the same class is obviously getting things wrong in a different way.

True, there’s a huge difference between being affluent enough that you don’t have to worry much about money and living with the financial insecurity that afflicts many Americans who consider themselves middle class. According to the Federal Reserve, 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t have enough cash to meet a $400 emergency expense; a much larger number of Americans would be severely strained by the kinds of costs that routinely arise when, say, illness strikes, even for those who have health insurance.

So if you have an income high enough that you can

  • easily afford health care and good housing,
  • have plenty of liquid assets and
  • find it hard to imagine ever needing food stamps,

you’re part of a privileged minority.

But there’s also a big difference between being affluent, even very affluent, and having the kind of wealth that puts you in a completely separate social universe. It’s a difference summed up three decades ago in the movie “Wall Street,” when Gordon Gekko mocks the limited ambitions of someone who just wants to be “a $400,000-a-year working Wall Street stiff flying first class and being comfortable.”

Even now, most Americans don’t seem to realize just how rich today’s rich are. At a recent event, my CUNY colleague Janet Gornick was greeted with disbelief when she mentioned in passing that the top 25 hedge fund managers make an average of $850 million a year. But her number was correct.

One survey found that Americans, on average, think that corporate C.E.O.s are paid about 30 times as much as ordinary workers, which hasn’t been true since the 1970s. These days the ratio is more like 300 to 1.

Why should we care about the very rich? It’s not about envy, it’s about oligarchy.

With great wealth comes both great power and a separation from the concerns of ordinary citizens. What the very rich want, they often get; but what they want is often harmful to the rest of the nation. There are some public-spirited billionaires, some very wealthy liberals. But they aren’t typical of their class.

The very rich

  • don’t need Medicare or
  • Social Security; they don’t use
  • public education or
  • public transit; they
  • may not even be that reliant on public roads (there are helicopters, after all).

Meanwhile, they don’t want to pay taxes.

Sure enough, and contrary to popular belief, billionaires mostly (although often stealthily) wield their political power on behalf of tax cuts at the top, a weaker safety net and deregulation. And financial support from the very rich is the most important force sustaining the extremist right-wing politics that now dominates the Republican Party.

That’s why it’s important to understand who we mean when we talk about the very rich. It’s not doctors, lawyers or, yes, authors, some of whom make it into “the 1 Percent.” It’s a much more rarefied social stratum.

The Sidney Awards, Part I

“The more online shame cycles you observe,” Andrews writes, “the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window.”

Most of us have certain stereotypes about the European far right — that it’s just a bunch of blood-and-soil racists. But in an essay in The New York Review of Books, “Two Roads for the New French Right,”Mark Lilla shows that there’s a lot more going on. He found a group of Catholic conservative intellectuals who argue that social conservatism is the only viable alternative to neoliberal cosmopolitanism and who are all fans of Bernie Sanders.

They believe that both the European superstate and global capitalism undermine the cultural-religious foundations of European civilization. They are strongly environmentalist, feel that economic growth should be subordinated to social needs, believe in strong social support for the poor and limited immigration. As Lilla notes, they have a very coherent, communitarian worldview. I found the essay uplifting because it shows that in times of political transition, ideas get shuffled and reassembled in new and impressive ways.

.. In a post called “How This All Happened” for the Collaborative Fund blog, Morgan Housel walks us through 73 years of American economic history. He shows us how many economic phases there have been. And how each phase led to something unexpected.

.. In “How Did Larry Nassar Deceive So Many for So Long?” in The Cut, Kerry Howley blows up the conventional telling of the American gymnastics sex abuse scandal. The story is generally told as a large group of victims finding their voice and “breaking their silence.” But Howley shows that they were telling their stories all along, to every relevant authority. It’s because the abuser, Nassar, had built up an edifice of trust that people couldn’t see the monstrosity that was taking place literally in front of their eyes. Nassar abused many of these young girls while their parents were in the room. He just told them he was doing a medical procedure he called a “sacrotuberous-ligament release.” He might still be doing it today if a police officer hadn’t discovered his hard drives, with 37,000 child porn images on them. It was the hard drives that finally persuaded the world, not the women and their repeated warnings.

Andrew Sullivan has forced me to do something I really don’t want to do — award two separate Sidney awards to the same writer in the same year. But his work for New York magazine this year has really defined the era. His two masterpieces are “The Poison We Pick,” on the opioid crisis, and “America’s New Religions,” on political fundamentalism. If you want to understand America in 2018, those essays are a good place to start.

Iowa Democrats Say They Want Generational Change

A Wall Street Journal survey of Iowa Democratic county leaders also found support for a contender with appeal to ethnically diverse voters

Democratic leaders in Iowa, the starting line for the party’s wide-open 2020 presidential contest, are hungry for a young standard-bearer who will usher in generational change, which is erecting a potential roadblock for the three best-known prospective contenders for the nomination.

.. Of the 76 Democratic county party leaders who responded to the survey, 43 said they would prefer a young candidate. They said they want a fresh face and expressed interest in potential candidates who haven’t run for president before. They yearn for a nominee with the energizing charisma of President Barack Obama to counter President Donald Trump’s rowdy base. Most said gender wouldn’t be a determining factor.

.. Those are hurdles that could trip up three of the best-known potential candidates, former Vice President

  • Joe Biden, and Sens.
  • Bernie Sanders of Vermont and
  • Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts,

each of whom will be at least 70 years old when Iowa Democrats caucus in February 2020.

“They’re all too old,” said Chris Henning, the 71-year-old Democratic chairwoman in Greene County. “It’s not white bread America any more, we’ve got to get with the program.”

.. “We have to look for the Barack Obama scenario for the party,” said Bryce Smith, the 26-year-old Democratic chairman in Dallas County, a booming Des Moines suburb that is the fifth-fastest growing county in the nation, with a 32% population increase from 2010 to 2017. “I can’t see how my generation, 18- to 34-year-olds, can get excited about a 70-year-old candidate ever again.”
.. He said he is intrigued by Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who narrowly lost a Senate race to Republican Ted Cruz. “Beto, he sounds and talks like he’d be Barack Kennedy,” Mr. Smith said, suggesting that Mr. O’Rourke had charisma akin to Mr. Obama or the Kennedys.
.. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
.. When Ms. Harris, 54 years old, appeared recently in Cedar Rapids, “I got calls from people in counties 100 miles away” hoping to attend
.. The clamor for a generational change may take its harshest toll on the 77-year-old Mr. Sanders if he decides to run again.
..Ms. Warren, who will turn 70 in June, declined to run for president in 2016 despite a high-profile effort to draft her into the race. The delay may wind up hurting her chances in 2020.
.. Some said they might make an exception for Mr. Biden, a 76-year-old who was still in demand as a campaign surrogate during this year’s midterms. One person defined “young” as “less than mid-70s.”

The Price of BernieCare

Democrats object that Republicans are telling voters the truth about single payer.

Mr. Trump noted in his op-ed that the plan would cost the federal government $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

That figure is from an analysis by the Mercatus Center’s Charles Blahous, a respected researcher and a former Social Security and Medicare trustee who sometimes writes for us. His findings are in the ballpark of every serious analysis.

.. That spending figure amounts to 10.7% of GDP in 2022

.. National defense—routinely derided as too expensive and wasteful—is a mere 3% of GDP today.

.. As in every socialist system, the real “savings” would come from price controls and wait lists for many health-care services. Have a cold? Come on in. A hip replacement or breast reconstruction? Get in line.

.. Maybe Democrats should have looked at the results in Vermont when Bernie’s home state tried to set up single payer. A Democratic Governor abandoned the idea in 2014 once he was looking at an 11.5% payroll tax, plus a 9.5% income tax, and more increases to come.

.. Progressives couldn’t even get single payer up and running for about 625,000 people in a state with a decent health profile. In 2016 nearly 80% of voters rejected a referendum to set up single payer in Colorado.

.. The GOP ideas that would cover pre-existing conditions include high-risk pools that subsidize tough-to-insure patients directly.

Medicare for All comes with a price tag — and hard choices

Under certain assumptions, the report found, Medicare for All would reduce total U.S. health expenditures by about $2 trillion over a 10-year period.

.. Blahous shows with his study how hard the choices are, even when making generous allowances for the M4A plan. Leftists can mock him all they want for trying to meet them on their own turf, but if Democrats at some point actually try to pass Medicare for All, the Congressional Budget Office would perform much the same calculations, with much the same results. And laughter won’t make the hard numbers, or the hard choices, go away.

.. Having stacked the deck in favor of “M4A,” as Sanders calls his proposal, Blahous then comes up with a price tag: By 2031, the federal government would be spending an additional $4.2 trillion a year.

.. Medicare for All advocates will protest: Think of all the money that people wouldn’t need to spend on premiums! But the advocates already face an uphill battle persuading people to give up their current insurance — which 70 percent of Americans say they’re quite happy with, according to Gallup — for a massive Medicare expansion that might not suit them as well. The climb would be stiff indeed after people found out that their taxes were being doubled to pay for it.

.. And that’s if you make generous assumptions about costs — assumptions that are not very realistic, as Blahous notes. Particularly the assumption that health-care providers can be forced to accept Medicare reimbursement rates that are, according to the author, an average of 40 percent below the rates paid by private insurers.