In a recent op-ed for Philly Mag, Bernie Sanders criticized a proposed soft drink tax that would provide revenue for a citywide public pre-kindergarten program. In his words, the tax would “disproportionately affect low-income and middle-class Americans.”
Well, duh, Bernie. That Sanders hails the program but not the means to support it demonstrates he has a limited understanding of how socialism works. Or he is not capable of understanding that. Perhaps both.
Sanders constantly points to Europe as an example of what America could achieve, if it would just cut its military spending and increase taxes on the wealthy. (Never mind that European countries were able to cut their spending because of America’s military might. Or that our corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world.)
In Socialism, Nothing Is Free
He fails to recognize — or simply isn’t admitting to voters — that the system he desires doesn’t actually exist. In Europe, it’s not just the wealthy who pay more in taxes. The working and middle classes foot a larger share of the bill as well.
Unlike the cruel, predatory, uncaring U.S. government, which levies minimal federal sales taxes, European governments rake in revenue through “value added” sales taxes on most consumer goods, ranging from 10 to 27 percent. As anyone who took high school economics knows, this “regressive” form of taxation hurts the lower and middle classes more than it does the wealthy.
This considerable tax burden is why, despite what many people here and in Europe believe, Europeans don’t get anything for free from their governments. You know why a European doesn’t get a bill from the doctor following an appointment? Because he or she has already paid, that’s why. Those complimentary college educations they’re handing out? You already locked that in by the age of 12, with what your parents paid in taxes to raise you.
Socialist governments are like shrewd hookers: They get the money up front for services they may or may not render. There’s no guarantee you will get the medical care you feel you need or the college education you think you deserve. The threshold for these services is considerably higher.
‘Free’ Means Good Luck Getting It
Government-sponsored medical care in most European countries is pretty bare bones compared to what Americans receive. (The preschool refrain, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” comes to mind. Except Europeans are constantly getting upset over what they’re not getting, as cross-eyed as they are from looking down on the “barbaric” U.S. system.)
Those American kids protesting their outrageous tuition bills fail to realize that, under the European system, they might not have qualified to attend college at all. You have to do pretty damn well in high school to get a “free-but-not-really-free” ride to a European university, and that’s even if you qualify for high school in the first place.
“Higher education” in Europe is just that: any degree you earn after completing your basic schooling. If hipsters knew they were lobbying for the right to attend plumbing and electrical school without being handed a bill, the ones shouting the loudest would probably be the first to lose interest. (Especially when they find out that college cafeterias in Europe don’t have fro-yo bars.)
I sometimes feel like Sanders and his supporters are more outraged by the fact that some people are rich than they are moved by the plight of the poor. He fails to realize that life in Europe is still rigged in the favor of the upper classes.
The wealthy get private medical care so as not to be at the mercy of government bean counters. (Kate Middleton would have looked considerably less radiant had she emerged from a public hospital six hours after delivering, which is the U.K. National Health Service standard.) Rich people shell out tens of thousands to prestigious prep schools to guarantee their children a spot at college, meaning the working and middle classes are subsidizing tuition for the rich, not the other way around.
Sanders needs to understand there is no Utopia where the rich foot the bill and receive no more than anyone else. Inequality is a fact of life. Any policy that helps the poor in one way will likely hurt them in another. It’s disturbing he didn’t figure this out sooner—say, in fifth grade—but perhaps he could learn it now, before he convinces anyone else he is peddling more than smoke and mirrors.
Mirrors that cost 20 percent more with a value-added tax, that is.