Pro-1% Bernie vs. “Actual Socialist Bernie” of 1970’s

July 14, 2018

By David Flemming

For the second straight year, US Senator Bernie Sanders made over $1 million in income in 2017. Quite the contrast to the Sanders of the 1970s, who told the Burlington Free Press that “nobody should earn more than $1 million.” While Sanders might permit higher incomes, given that his own income cleared the $1 million mark recently, Sanders continues to embrace a democratic socialism that advocates for a maximum income as a way to reduce inequality. Such a policy would be catastrophic for all Americans.

Sanders received over $500,000 on an advance for his new book “Where We Go From Here” due out in November, plus nearly $400,000 on royalties from his past books like “Our Revolution.” Perhaps Sanders has upped his “max income” for reducing inequality a bit higher than in the 1970’s, or perhaps he is a capitalist-author-genius at night who plays at socialist-senator during the day. Either way, Sanders is currently making over 25% more than what the average Vermont one-percenter earns annually.

Indeed, ‘Sanders the power-challenging author’ would likely be a good deal poorer this year if he had grown up in a country with less inequality and more poverty like the Soviet Union, rather than his birthplace of New York.

All publications in the USSR needed the government’s blessing. As one Soviet put it, “our literature is not a private enterprise designed to serve various tastes of the market…we demand that our comrades may be reared in the spirit of…ideology.” Therefore, if Sanders’ “ideology” was not suitable for the entrenched USSR politicians, he would would never have had permission to print his book in the first place.

If only Sanders could see the irony. Variants of socialism share a backwardness with hunter-gatherer, agrarian, feudal and caste societies, in that none of them have ever come close to protecting freedom of the press and property rights on par with capitalism. Though to be fair, most of these societies were made up of individuals who weren’t able to accumulate wealth and thus couldn’t even imagine why copyright might be useful.

Copyright laws in free societies are the mechanism through which enormous profits are within the reach of even the poorest individuals. Say a budding author writes a book that strikes a chord with millions. Or, a brilliant doctor creates a medical invention that saves thousands of lives and decides to sell his invention. Even if the book and invention fall under copyright, the author and doctor will likely receive a mere pittance for the lives they inspired and saved. Though, if we look at the world the way Sanders does, this pittance can seem “egregiously large” when we refuse to look at the common good “corporate elitists” like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs have accomplished for society.

The counterpoint to this is that Sanders is for “democratic-socialism” (not “real” socialism) that works within capitalism and its copyright laws to ensure that no one has “too much.” However, the fact remains that Sanders made $800,000 by writing books in just a few weeks last year.

According to Sanders’ logic, wouldn’t 10 poor Vermonters in Burlington be “more deserving” of this income because Sanders benefited from the economic system that he is working within? The truth is, max incomes are merely imaginary lines in the sand that don’t mean much, even as Sanders keeps inching “his line” away from his initial maximum of $1 million.

Every dollar earned is obtained either justly or unjustly. Earning $10 million through an innovative business is just, but stealing $100 is unjust. The process for getting money can be condemned, but if we fail to establish “income by deceit,” the worker is worthy of their wages. Since we cannot establish a just income cutoff, the government ought not to set a “maximum income.”

Invention breeds inequality, despite the best efforts of redistributionists like Sanders. At the end of the day, democratic-socialism demands income cutoffs to achieve its goal of lower inequality. If Sanders were ever to impose income cutoffs on the US economy, few people would ever take the risks of building a company from the ground up, given the high probability of failure. We would all be worse off for it.

Writing books on the way to earning $800,000 is commendable. This, despite the admission that Sanders only got this money by arguing for an inequality-reducing income-cutoff, which would prevent future deserving authors from earning similar “egregious incomes” he earns now but once despised.

But free economies run best when they protect freedom of speech and the press, not just the most deserving. Over time, the worst ideas like democratic socialism will be discarded. Meanwhile, it is better to protect the corporate-busting revolutionaries like Sanders, than to use coercion to pick and choose what we don’t like being said and published. Try publishing a book condemning socialism in North Korea today, and you will see what I mean.

David Flemming is policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary F Daly July 13, 2018 at 2:33 pm

Very good David. Wonder who will believe it?


Neil Johnson July 13, 2018 at 4:39 pm

We’ve been asking on our facebook page, when is Bernie going to live up to his own tax plans? Didn’t he say millionaires should be paying 50%? Write that check to the feds, $500,000 for the last year and this year. Come on Bernie, you’ve been talking for 30 years about this, can you walk the talk? We’re waiting!!!!


Misthiocracy July 13, 2018 at 9:18 pm

“For the second straight year, US Senator Sanders made over $1 million in income in 2017. Quite the contrast to the Sanders of the 1970s, who told the Burlington Free Press that “nobody should earn more than $1 million,”…

Yabbut, that was $1 million in 1974 dollars. It’d be $5.1 million in 2018 dollars.

Sanders made $1.05 million in 2016. That’s only $216,092 in 1974 dollars.



Ted July 14, 2018 at 1:19 am

I’ve stated it before and I’ll state it again, Sander’s is ok with communism, er, socialism as long as he’s in the politbureau and not part of the prolitariat. Sanders is a fraud.


Deanne July 14, 2018 at 3:02 am

I did think that maybe Bernie would get around it by saying the $1,000,000 needed to be adjusted for inflation, but the fact remains that if he is in the 1%, he is part of “the enemy” of those who believe and agree with his writings and politics.

Does he not realize the contradiction between his words and his actions? Does he really believe what he endorses, or is it simply a political ploy to gain a following? He can’t be THAT oblivious to how his life deviates from what he tells people, can be?


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