Favorably Cites “War Time” Mobilization of the Economy
By Robert Maynard
BURLINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to a standing room only overflow crowd at the Community Center in Jericho on Saturday February 4th. The discussion covered the now familiar litany of topics typical of his speeches. Among his first topics were the debt and the notion that we could fix this problem by taxing the rich and not cutting social spending. (He did favor cutting spending on the military, which he pointed out is higher now than it was during the cold war.)
The problem with the “rich needs to pay their fair share” argument is that they are already paying more than their fair share. The percent of total taxes paid by the top 1% of wage owners has consistently ranged in the high 30’s to 40%. See this piece from the Tax Foundation. The higher income brackets have been paying a significantly higher percentage of the total tax burden for quite some time, with the bottom 50% paying between 2 to 4% of the total tax burden. Furthermore, as Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute recently pointed out, if you added up the total assets possessed by all of the nation’s millionaires and billionaires, it would total barely more than 10% of the combined debt and unfunded liabilities. In other words, you could confiscate 100% of the assets of all those worth more than $1 million and it would hardly put a dent in our fiscal crisis. It would, however, totally ruin our economy even if was even possible in an age of rapid and global mobilization of capital.
Among the other topics discussed were the subject of Citizens United and the matter of corporate money in politics. The five Supreme Court Justices who sided with Citizens United were derided as the only five people in America who thought that corporations were people. Both he and those who addressed the matter in the question and answer period neglected to note that the ACLU sided with Citizens United in the case, which they saw as a free speech issue. The ACLU could hardly be considered a pawn of corporate interests.
One matter that Bernie brought up really shed some light on his basic political philosophy. He noted that we began World War II unprepared, yet in a few short years we defeated both Japan and Germany. This was an example of what we could accomplish when we put the “economy on a wartime footing”. Senator Sanders made it clear that he did not favor going to war as an excuse to centralize the economy, but did see the mobilization of people and resources in our economy that happened then as a model for how to tackle such large concerns as global warming. The argument rang a familiar bell with me, as I noted the left’s tendency to admire economic models that operated on the basis of central planning in this article. In his haste to celebrate the World War II era as an example of how we should centrally manage the economy, perhaps he should take time to reflect on the fact that the central management of the economy during the period resulted in large scale rationing. As the American Historical Society has pointed out:
“During the Second World War, you couldn’t just walk into a shop and buy as much sugar or butter or meat as you wanted, nor could you fill up your car with gasoline whenever you liked. All these things were rationed, which meant you were only allowed to buy a small amount (even if you could afford more). The government introduced rationing because certain things were in short supply during the war, and rationing was the only way to make sure everyone got their fair share.“
In addition, the conditions of World War II caused Americans to sacrifice a considerable amount freedom at the hands of our government. Policies ranged from the formation of the Office of Censorship in 1941 to the most extreme measure of imprisoning over 100,000 Japanese Americans for no reason other than their race in internment camps. During the War, the government implemented wage and price controls, dictated to farmers what they could and could not grow, and made sure Hollywood knew exactly what kind of movies it could and could not make. The lesson being that whenever government takes on such extreme power, the potential for abuse is just as great (or greater) as the potential for good.
Talk to a survivor of the WWII home front about what life in America from 1942 -1945, and you will hear tales of just how miserable it was during those years. Central mobilization of personnel and resources may be a necessary way to destroy an enemy, but it certainly is no way to create a prosperous economy or a happy people.
It is interesting that Senator Sanders used the issue of global warming as an excuse to put the economy on a wartime footing. Christine Stewart, then Canadian Minister of the Environment, had this to say about global warming to the editors and reporters of the Calgary Herald in 1998: “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony … climate change [provides] the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.”
It looks like neither the consequences of the central mobilization of the economy, nor the factual accuracy of the case put forward as an excuse to do so, matter to the advocates of central planning. Once again “the ends justify the means.”