The Uncharitable Bernie Sanders
In many ways Bernie Sanders has been given a “Get Out of Jail” card by the media. His views have not received the scrutiny they deserve. While the media has focused on the extremist hate messages from Donald Trump — something deserving exposure — they tend to ignore radical messages from the other side.
This minor article from the New York Times, Sept 19, 1981, illustrates precisely how extreme Sanders can be, and how dangerous his views would be — even from a liberal perspective. By that I mean even by modern liberal perspectives, not just classical liberal ones.
The incident was the launch of the United Way annual fund raising drive for various charities. Sanders, who was the mayor of Burlington, along with Vermont Governor Richard Snelling were invited as guests to speak to the audience. Sanders used his slot to lecture the audience as to why private charity is evil and only charities run by government should exist. The Times reported:
‘’’I don’t believe in charities,’ said Mayor Sanders, bringing a shocked silence to a packed hotel banquet room. The Mayor, who is a Socialist, went on to question the ‘fundamental concepts on which charities are based’ and contended that government, rather than charity organizations, should take over responsibility for social programs.
Governor Snelling sought to counter Mr. Sanders’ remarks, saying: ‘Charity is not a dirty word. We have discovered that you can’t buy caring.’’’
Sanders is going well beyond the concept of a welfare state, or a “safety-net” for those in dire straits. His position is, or at the very least was, private charity should be abolished and replaced with state programs. That is not merely concern for the poor — concern for the poor does not require disdain for charity.
This takes us to the crux of the matter when it comes into the dangers posed to civil liberties and liberal concerns from state socialism. This sort of “charitable” system is not just the state running things, in reality it is politicians running them. And, if not the politicians directly, it requires the approval of their appointed bureaucrats. In his book Bureaucracy, Ludwig Mises warned, “the first step [in bureaucratic management] is to obtain the consent of old men accustomed to doing things in prescribed ways, and no longer open to new ideas. No progress and no reforms can be expected in a state of affairs where the first step is to obtain the consent of old men.”
Bureaucracy tends to be slow to change, if not hostile to change. It was so in the Soviet Politburo as much as it is in the Vatican. Hostility to change is the central emotional state of conservatism. The British socialist Evan Luard, in Socialism Without the State warned that “collective power” is:
“conservative because within the democratic system, political parties and leaders are obliged to converge to a point near the average views of the majority. Parties no longer seek to represent totally separate groups of divergent interests among the population. All aim to attract the votes of all. All compete in representing the same views; especially those of the middle, floating section which ultimately determines elections. …Because the majority are rarely in favour of important or imaginative changes, this inhibits any radical challenge to the status quo.” (p. 23)
Milton Friedman mad a similar point when he said, “The characteristic feature of action through political channels is that it tends to require or enforce substantial conformity. The great advantage of the market, on the other hand, is that it permits wide diversity.”
We have diversity in the marketplace for the same reason we have diversity in charity. Political action encourages conformity, it requires the permission of the “old men” in charge of the system.
Gordon Tullock, in his Politics of Bureaucracy, showed bureaucratic systems do not meet human needs for two reasons. First, the structure is centralized with the older superiors having control over their subordinates and secondly, most subordinates are self-interested and thus unwilling to challenge their superiors. Since profits play no part in this system there is no counterforce encouraging these individuals to promote new ideas. Thus the same force, self-interest, encourages diversity in a market economy but discourages it in a bureaucratic one. In the market economy the self-interested individual wants to profit and can only do so by meeting the needs and wants of consumers. In the bureaucratic system advancement comes only by meeting the expectations of Mises’ “old men.”
Had this view of charity and government prevailed throughout American history the results would be quite different from what we see. For instance, imagine having to secure the permission of politicians in order to educate African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. Charities did what politicians were refusing to do. To cycle charitable funds through the same politicians is simply to send even more money to the causes they embrace, while harming the causes they do not embrace.
Consider the state of education for black Americans in the South, when blacks lacked political representation. They were shafted by the governments because the governments were entirely white-run. Booker T. Washington, of the Tuskegee Institute got together with Chicago philantropist Julius Rosenwal which built over 5,000 schools for black children in the South. In a paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Daniel Aaronson and Bhashkar Mazumder concluded:
At the turn of the twentieth century, the education infrastructure available to American Southern Blacks, particularly those living in rural areas, resembled the conditions faced by some rural communities in developing nations today. For example, rates of literacy and school enrollment in some developing countries are as low or even lower today than they were among rural Blacks in 1910. But over a moderately short period between the World Wars, the Southern racial education gap declined markedly. While no single explanation likely accounts for this rapid convergence, we show that the Rosenwald Rural Schools Initiative is a significant contributor, explaining about 40 percent of the narrowing of the racial education gap among the cohorts that we study.
Where would charitable organizations that catered to the LGBT community be in such a system? The Gay Community Center in Los Angeles, now known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center, began in 1969, the same year as Stonewall. It was private charity at work, while the Stonewall Riots were the result of political action at work. It was the politicians and government bureaucrats who were behind the raids on Stonewall.
When the community center in Los Angeles was founded it was still considered criminal for gay people to have sex. In the world of Bernie Sanders private charity should be abolished in favor of political charity. Yet, in 1969 Los Angeles the political system was arresting people for being gay, while private charity was creating the gay community center. Diversity is the result of freedom, not of centralization. It took another seven years, after the founding of community center, before California’s political leaders got around to decriminalizing gay sex.
And, even if they embrace legalization, that doesn’t mean the political process would have been willing to channel charitable funding towards LGBT needs or causes. In fact, the AIDS crisis showed governments everywhere to be reluctant to fund such measure and when they got around to it, it was too little too late.
We also can’t forget that what changes we have seen in the United States for blacks, women and gays, were often due to the political pressure that built up because of charitable, non-profit organizations helping those communities BEFORE it was politically savvy to do so. Decriminalization of homosexuality and government help for the gay community came about after the private community provided services. What change has taken place would have been slowed down were the Sanders system of state control been in place at the time.
Even today, many of the services Planned Parenthood offers women exist ONLY because they are privately funded. Where Planned Parenthood is shackled is where they spend funding available via various government programs. Tax monies may be used to fund some of their programs, but the diversity of programs they have exists ONLY because private charitable given exists.
The second error of the socialist, especially “democratic socialists” such as Bernie Sanders, is the assumption that once these centers of power and control are created it is only men or women likes themselves who will be in control. That fantasy is not confirmed in hard reality, at least not in democratic nations. Government sex education programs for schools were a good idea, but they didn’t always remain science-based and educational. When Republicans got control of government, they used the same bureaucracy to push faith-based programs, instead of science-based, and instead of educating they pushed the theologically-based morality of abstinence.
Of course, one way socialists in places such as China, Cuba and Venezuela solve the problem of changing political leadership is by eradicating democracy and establishing one party states. And when it came to “gay rights” the most any of those three countries did was when Cuba allowed LGBT people to flee the country in the Muriel boat lift. That at least allowed gay people to escape the concentration/work camps Castro established to incarcerate them.
Today teenage girls can get accurate information from Planned Parenthood because it’s ability to disseminate information is NOT under the control of the same politicians and bureaucrats who run sex ed programs in the schools. Had the system followed the Sanders theory that would not be the case. When Republicans got control of sex education and gutted it, under the Sanders theory, they would have also gained control of Planned Parenthood or whatever state system was created in place of it.
The anti-private charity views of Sanders are fundamentally conservative. They place power in the hands of the political class and their bureaucratic lackeys. Charity will be doled out according to political convenience, which means as a means of gaining votes. Charity that now exists to help people in need, would be diverted to help politicians get re-elected.
Diversity exists because people are free, to subject it to political control is to push conformity and destroy diversity.