Culture

Bernie Sanders and the Myth of the Capitalist Hypocrite

A few publications have jumped on a recent report identifying Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as a hypocrite. The discrepancy emerges between his rhetoric and action when it comes to the Uber ride-sharing service. Truth in Media leads the charge:

Just a couple months ago, Bernie Sanders lambasted Uber as an “unregulated” company with “serious problems,” but financial disclosures by the Democratic presidential candidate reveal that whenever his campaign requires a taxi, they literally always turn to Uber.

According to research done by National Journal, 100 percent of Sanders’ spending on taxi and ride-sharing services was spent on Uber.

Psychotherapist and author Dr. Michael J. Hurd marvels at how such blatant hypocrisy goes unrecognized in the mainstream. He writes:

…think of the people who oppose homosexuality, sex outside of traditional marriage, or birth control, including abortion.

Whether you agree with their views or not, what would you think if these anti-abortion advocates practiced abortion, openly and without any recognition that there’s any hypocrisy or inconsistency involved?

Of course, that would never happen. If an anti-gay marriage or anti-gay candidate for office turned out to be involved in gay relationships, then it would properly be a news item, if not a scandal. It would properly be labeled outrageous hypocrisy, and condemned as such…

… Yet when those who denounce any aspect of business – or even all of capitalism itself, as Bernie Sanders does – it’s not of any relevance when they blatantly practice just the opposite.

Some may counter that pro-capitalist politicians have been hypocrites too. For example, critics of Ayn Rand accused the author of hypocrisy because she decried entitlement programs while accepting payments from social security. However, that fails as an apples to apples comparison with Bernie Sander’s use of Uber.

To understand why, consider the rationalization for anti-capitalist hypocrisy encountered by Hurd:

The only kind of defense I ever hear from apologists for these anti-capitalist hypocrites is something along the lines of, “Well, what are they supposed to do?” The implication seems to be that we’re all forced into participating in a society run by private property, money, fossil fuels, and all those things anti-capitalists and socialists seem to hate.

It’s kind of a conspiratorial paranoia. “Big business is making me do things against my nature and my values; we’re all victims,” seems to be the underlying attitude.

While I appreciate such emotions (to a point) when we’re talking about big business getting subsidies or pull from the government, there’s no such thing as a fully private business doing anything to force people to do anything.

Government is the one with the force and pull; not business, and certainly not business in a totally free market, the thing that politicians like Sanders oppose most of all.

That distinction between force and non-force helps distinguishes between hypocrisy and non-hypocrisy. Ayn Rand cashed her social security checks for the same reason that a prisoner eats what the guards provide, not as a moral sanction of force, but as acquiescence to an imposed reality.

Next: Slaves to reality…

Plenty of people who send their children to public schools object to the administration of public education. Certain libertarians say we shouldn’t have public roads, but still drive on them. That does not make them hypocrites. It makes them intelligent self-interested consumers acting rationally in their given environment.

Ironically, by using Uber for all his campaign travel, Bernie Sanders also demonstrates rational self-interest. The difference, of course, is that Sanders is not forced to use a market service. He’s not eating what the prison guards provide. He’s free to do as he pleases and could patronize the taxi services he claims to champion, but instead chooses to use Uber. That makes him a hypocrite.

When it comes to economics, hypocrisy only flows one way. Anti-capitalists can act like capitalists, and thus prove themselves hypocrites. But a capitalist always acts like a capitalist. What may appear like hypocrisy, collecting social security, attending public schools, driving on public roads, etc, is merely a rational response to an anti-capitalist environment. The “what are they supposed to do” defense which Hurd cites proves effective when applied to capitalists in an anti-capitalist environment, because they truly are forced into their circumstances. One cannot somehow be more capitalist than legally permitted.

Here’s the critical insight. An underlying reason explains why both capitalists and anti-capitalists behave as capitalists in any given environment. Capitalism agrees with the laws of nature and the facts of reality.

Human life requires rational self-interested action. Otherwise, it ends. If Bernie Sanders and other anti-capitalists lived consistent with their economic and moral professions, they would die. If you want to live, you have to behave as a capitalist at some point. From this we may rightly conclude that those who resent the necessity act as capitalists actually resent life itself.

Of this quality among anti-capitalists, Hurd observes:

In a therapy room, a psychology seminar, a family unit or a self-help book we’d call this neurosis, psychopathology, or mental/behavioral dysfunction. In the context of people we elect to run our lives (not just Sanders, but any politician), we take it as a matter of course…

Our ongoing debate about economic and social systems is a struggle between the sane, who recognize and deal with reality, and the insane who don’t. Unfortunately, many of the latter wear suits and hold high office.