As a Swiss citizen and voter, I cherish the privilege of open discourse on political issues and problems. Having heated political discussions and arguments is part and parcel of Switzerland’s direct democracy. However, in business, as in my contributions to this blog, I generally shy away from politics. In the increasingly polarized environment we live in, I have learned that one’s words can easily be taken out of context or misinterpreted, leading to emotionally charged arguments that offer little value in the end. And yet, given the very alarming developments we now see on the political front, I guess I’ll break my own rule and take that risk.
Bernie’s Utopian Social Democracy
Watching the Democratic Caucus circus, or listening to the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congresswoman with deeply Marxist beliefs, I genuinely worry about the growing popularity and the normalization of extreme leftist ideas in America.
Historically, the robust constitutional architecture created by its founding fathers has always succeeded in helping America find its way back to common sense, balance and good measure. However, I still see plenty of reasons to be concerned when I see Bernie Sanders trying to sell his vision of a “new and better form of socialism” in venues packed with his impressionable young followers. Somebody, please, educate the man! Even an elementary-level history lesson on the 20th century would help him - and everyone else for that matter.
Picture: Imago images / UPI Photo
It appears that Mr. Sanders, a potential candidate for the presidency of the United States of America, does indeed believe that he, of all people, will be able to finally “get socialism right” this time. At last, he is the one to realize the dream of a socialist utopia, the one we’ve heard so much about but never actually seen in real life.
He claims that his "new and improved” formula aims to emulate the successful “Scandinavian” version of socialism. One has to wonder: has Mr. Sanders ever taken the time to take even a cursory look at that Scandinavian model he wishes to copy and paste onto America? I seriously doubt it.
For one, there is no such thing as the great nation of “Scandinavia”. Their citizens might all look and sound similar, especially to a potential Bernie voter, but there are striking differences between Denmark and Norway, while there’s no sensible comparison to be drawn between the economy of Iceland and that of Sweden. Of course, there are common denominators and there is a distinct collectivist and homogenous culture in the region, which is very different from most other Western nations. Nevertheless, if one is to arrive to any sort of meaningful conclusion, each one of the Scandinavian countries needs to be analyzed in terms of its particular history, culture and societal structure.
Sweden, for instance, tried socialism in earnest until the 70s...and they failed miserably. As has been the case again and again with socialism and communism, Sweden ran out of money and into a severe and painful economic crisis. The Swedes, in an unprecedented and truly laudable way, took drastic measures to fix their country. They took a hard and decisive turn towards a capitalist economy (i.e. a no-coercion free-market system).
On the economic side, they got rid of all kinds of taxes, including inheritance tax, wealth tax and value added tax. Today, the Swedish corporate tax rate, at 22%, is comparable to the US and Switzerland, while capital gains and dividends are taxed at around 30%. The Swedes also heavily deregulated the market, getting rid of socialistic bureaucracy, and they privatized all those state-run, inefficient zombie-organizations. Today, the Swedish economy is anything but socialist. In fact, it might be considered one of the freest markets in the Western hemisphere.
When it comes to Sweden’s social security system, that too is very different from what Mr. Sanders imagines it to be. The Swedes do not rob the rich to give to the poor. Yes, taxation on salaries (i.e. income tax) is high in Sweden and yes, the wealthiest Swedes face an income tax rate of around 70%(!). However, those earning a lot less pay similarly high taxes. If you earn around $50’000 per year in Sweden, you will be in the 50% tax bracket. And EVERYONE, even those in the lowest income bracket, pays at least 30%. In other words, the Swedes all contribute to the tax income. And, for that monetary contribution, they ACQUIRE the public services. Nothing’s for free.
The collectively financed social security system has in fact worked fairly well for a few decades. However, it is increasingly being tested. Over the past two decades a growing number of immigrants have added some unfamiliar diversity to the Swedish culture. And, many of those immigrants are not integrated well or they are unemployed. Yet, they do benefit from the Swedish social security system. In other words, a growing number of non-Swedes are benefitting from the system of Swedish solidarity without contributing proportionately. Meanwhile, the quality of the public services is in decline. That is putting growing tensions on the social fabric of the country, and on it is coffers. The Swedes may need to take some drastic measures again if they don’t want to get hit by another economic disaster.
So, while Mr. Sanders might have a Scandinavian name, I wouldn’t be surprised if the man has never set foot on the homeland of his forefathers. Perhaps the factual deficit in his rhetoric would be greatly decreased if he did. But then, reason and truth seem of little interest in our current day and age.
Antifa in the German Bundestag
Now, as you can probably tell, I am certainly not a fan of Bernie’s “vision”. I think it is either extremely naïve and uninformed or just an outright intellectually fraudulent, vote-grabbing strategy. Either way it is doomed to fail. But at least Bernie is still using words to convince people and, as far as I know, he has not been disposed to violence – although he should know that socialism, Marxism or communism all lead to precisely that, every single time and with mathematical precision.
What really caused a spike in my adrenaline levels was a recent report (and the accompanying video below) from Germany’s Bundestag. Leftist politicians in the Bundestag openly endorsed and passionately praised the activities of Antifa, an organization that has a long and well-documented record of violent attacks, assaults, vandalism and destruction of private and public property. One of them even thanked Antifa for their “righteous battle”, in particular against the AfD, a right-wing party that propagates a conservative and nationalist agenda (i.e. in favor of protecting Germany’s borders and democratic self-regulation and opposing EU centralization and globalist tendencies).
German leftist politicians proudly endorse violence in the Bundestag.
Antifa justifies its hate-fueled acts of violence by claiming they are squarely targeted against detestable fascists and neo-Nazis. Of course, in a civilized, democratic society, vigilantism and violence are never to be endorsed, under no circumstances. But let’s be honest: it’s hard to feel pity for a Nazi, right? Well, this is precisely what the likes of Antifa are banking on. Their definition of a Nazi has been expanded to include pretty much anybody they disagree with, while their “righteous battle” against the right is waged by destroying public buildings and private businesses, including setting fire to mom-and-pop shops.
Germans, in particular, should really heed the warnings of their own history. Once violence starts replacing dialogue, once those with opposing opinions are being “branded” as evil and attacked with impunity, and once ideological extremism is shamelessly endorsed in the house of democracy and at the heart of government, what happens next shouldn’t surprise anyone.
It is important to note here that the term “Nazi” stems from the German term “National-Sozialismus”. Today’s socialists and leftists would do well to remember the full name and real political "DNA” of Hitler’s party!
The more moderate liberals and moderate conservatives really need to stand up and speak out against this nonsense. The left is becoming increasingly radical, and unless we want all this to end up the same way it did all the many other times, now is the time to course-correct.
The first line of defense
The first line of defense, in my view, is free speech: the right to say what you think, without the limitations we are increasingly imposing on ourselves out of fear of hurting somebody’s feelings. Sure, if you engage in open and honest discourse, there’s a risk someone might get offended. But is that really a good enough reason for mass self-censorship, for us to think one thing and say another and for suppressing opposing views? Open dialogue is the only bloodless way we have of effectively settling our differences and of finding common ground. History has shown us, time and time again, that when we can no longer use words to solve our problems, a lot more than people’s feelings get hurt.
If those still capable of independent and logical thought allow the screaming matches and the tribalism of radicals, right or left, to intimidate us, then we will have lost the chance to turn things around. I really think we all have to start chipping in, even if it breaks the unwritten law never to talk about politics over dinner…
Otherwise, the propaganda machinery in the media and the education system will be in full control running the show, and they will brainwash those that have never taken the time to read, argue and figure things out for themselves.
We are facing all kinds of complex issues that require real solutions. Slow-moving political, economic and demographic trends are reshaping most Western economies. This will test our social fabric, our values and the fundamental principles that formed the very basis of our civilization and the not-so-bad circumstances we live in. The media feeds on negative news. But things are not nearly as bad as they want to make us all believe.
We do need to be a little more courageous and outspoken, even if it might be uncomfortable. If we don’t take the time to educate and learn from each other, we might lose what was given to us by our forefathers and all that we’ve taken for granted for so long.