One of the nice things about having an avowed socialist running in the American presidential campaign is that it forces the capitalist candidates, along with observers of the race, to do a better job of explaining why socialism is wrong.
This is a healthy development. Many Americans who are too young to remember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are susceptible to the appeal of "free" college and healthcare, to be funded by increased taxes on "millionaires and billionaires."
Older voters who do remember the shortages and shortcomings of Soviet communism are more wary. The Bernie Sanders campaign has reportedly issued a "Family Persuasion Guide" to help youngsters talk their parents and grandparents into supporting his candidacy.
Missing, at least so far, is a "Family Persuasion Guide" to help mature adults trying to explain to their offspring why Sanders and his policy allies are wrong.
The competing presidential candidates are getting bits and pieces of it, in a way that is constructive but stops short of being fully systematic.
At a recent fundraiser in San Francisco, for example, Joe Biden mentioned that as the longtime senator from Delaware, he "never demonized" the du Pont family, never ran a "super-populist campaign."
I took that to signal that Biden, at least on some level, understands that Sanders-style socialism shares something with the illegal-immigrant-bashing that animates some Trump Republicans — it’s a variety of demagoguery, an effort to blame America’s problems on a small, unpopular minority group.
Fomer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made the case that a capitalist economy is best at creating jobs and wealth that can fund government and private poverty-relief efforts. He’s also invoked Venezuela as a cautionary example of redistribution efforts leading to disaster.
President Trump, in remarks to the Israeli American Council, mocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s idea of a wealth tax. Such a proposal is also advanced by Sen. Sanders.
"You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax," Trump told the crowd, sarcastically, "Yeah, let’s take 100 percent of your wealth away. No, no." The word "take" helps to convey the idea that Sanders-Warren-style wealth tax involves forcing people to surrender their property involuntarily. And the word "your" underscores that the money belongs to the families who earned it, not to the government or to everyone else who might want some of it.
That doesn’t mean, as some libertarian bumper sticker might have it, that all taxation is theft. What it does mean is that as a smaller and smaller group of rich people are subject to higher and higher tax rates, the policy proposals begin to resemble a bully shaking down a small child for school-lunch money.
When hundreds of millions of people who aren’t subject to the wealth tax vote to impose it a much smaller group of people who would be subject to it, the scheme begins to resemble Parliament imposing taxes on the colonists — taxation without representation, precisely the unjust revenue-generating scheme our nation was founded to oppose.
David Brooks had a smart column the other day defending capitalism on the grounds that it leads to prosperity, while socialism leads to misery. Yet there’s plenty of misery in capitalist societies, and the high Communist Party officials were prosperous enough, too, with their Black Sea dachas and Volga limousines.
These are all useful points for any family persuasion guide. Any such guide would have to take into account the specifics of the particular family, and what arguments might work best. And they’d have to define the difference between outright socialism and mere capitalism with slightly higher tax rates and a more robust welfare safety net than we have now.
There are at least some additional arguments that I haven’t yet heard articulated much.
One is that capitalism, by encouraging hard work and industry, cultivates a virtuous citizenry and provides a disincentive to the vice of laziness.
The idea of capitalism as a system that rewards virtue may be a hard sell in a world of companies that make money selling Big Macs, Coca-Cola or worse, but the guy choosing to get up early to open that McDonald’s and maybe saving some money for college or a home is practicing useful habits. Second is that capitalism is consistent with the biblical ethic as outlined in the Ten Commandments — don’t steal, don’t covet your neighbor’s belongings.
Anyway, keep an eye out for some presidential campaign’s "Pro-Capitalist Family Persuasion Guide" to counter the pro-socialist one from the Sanders campaign. Until then, you may want to keep this column handy if you expect to see any young family members during the upcoming holiday break.
Ira Stoll is author of "J.F.K. Conservative," and "Samuel Adams: A Life." Read more reports from Ira Stoll — Click Here Now.
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