Bernie Sanders Is Wrong About the American ‘Oligarchs’
“Anyone who thinks we do not have an oligarchy right here in America is sorely mistaken,” ranted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) in a speech to Congress. “Today in America, multi-billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson are off taking joyrides on their rocket ships to outer space. They are buying $500 million superyachts.”
“The yachts that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s friends have? Well guess what, they have them too, here in this country. [These people are] living in mansions with 25 bathrooms,” continued Sanders.
“The president has proposed a 20 percent minimum tax on those who are worth at least $100 million dollars,” said Sanders, referring to President Joe Biden’s “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax,” proposed this week, which the administration has tried to delicately portray as mere prepayment of future capital gains owed, instead of a wealth tax similar to those proposed by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.). “We should go further, though,” he finished.
Sanders’ point is a bad one. We do not have oligarchs in the U.S. the way countries like Russia do. Our millionaires and billionaires are prevented from pulling political puppet strings both by custom and by campaign finance laws which cap their financial contributions to some degree and require disclosures. Though companies do sometimes successfully lobby for government contracts and subsidies—Musk’s hypocrisy has been widely documented on this front—we don’t have widespread, unchecked corporatism where the government always serves to further companies’ bottom lines, or where companies become exempt from government scrutiny for having curried favor with the right people. And free marketeers tend to believe that the existing patchwork of subsidies and handouts ought to be stopped since they serve as market distortions, artificially propping up companies that wouldn’t succeed or be competitive on their own merits.
If Sanders’ point is not merely that wealthy people exercise undue influence on the political process (as oligarch implies) but rather that wealth accumulation always and everywhere ought to be prevented, as he insinuates when he mentions their superyachts, that’s an even weaker critique. People accumulate extreme wealth in this country mos
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