U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) published a book outlining his vision for America and critiques of capitalism and capitalist politicians earlier this year. It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism isn't so much a democratic socialist manifesto rather than a broad-ranging book that encompasses many thoughts Sanders has, including his perspectives on various bills and actions over the past few years. I didn’t finish it. It’s repetitive, and if you’re familiar with Sanders, you know what the book will say. He supports a higher minimum wage, Medicare for All, and other social spending programs that have no chance of becoming law.
One of the problems with modern books, especially from politicians, is that they have about 25 pages of interesting stuff to say and elongate it so they can make a full-length book. Sanders doesn’t have to make the case for single-payer healthcare again. He’s done that hundreds of times, it’s not close to becoming a reality in the United States. Sanders can pitch a $17 an-hour minimum wage all he wants, upgrading from $15 an hour, but that doesn’t change the fact that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour as it has been since 2009, that inflation has decreased that purchasing power, and that there were only 42 votes in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2021 in a Democratic-controlled Senate. While I support universal healthcare and a higher minimum wage, reading Sanders’ talking points when most Democrats in the Senate even oppose his unworkable Medicare for all proposal is a waste of time.
I’ve long disliked the victim politics of the left wing. It’s frustrating to see politicians like Sanders and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson talk only about what the government should give people—even if I agree with some of the programs—and not much about jobs and economic opportunity.
That is why books like The Servile State by Hilaire Belloc and What's Wrong With the World by G.K. Chesterton are worth visiting. Belloc expresses frustration about how the industrial revolution has effected British workers. They were poor and couldn’t compete with big businesses since they couldn’t afford factories and new technologies. Belloc looked fondly upon the guild system. He disliked capitalism but not markets. Belloc, and like-minded writers, understood, unlike many right-wingers today, that inequality matters for the social stability of a society. He recognized that society would be better off if more people felt as though they had a stake in society, and had a decent-paying job with an opportunity to grow. Instead of the government putting its thumb on the scale for big business, why can’t it do that for small businesses and independent contractors trying to make a living?
Similarly, Chesterton had no beef with private ownership or wealth creation. He merely wanted men to realize their true potential and, like Belloc, thought they should have the resources necessary to do it. These include land and tools. I find this more appealing because my maternal grandparents came to this country after growing up broke on potato farms in Ireland and were able to make good lives for themselves.
Today, progressives look for Washington, D.C., to solve problems, but in recent decades, we’ve seen they’re not doing it. Yet, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will cruise to re-election in Massachusetts next year thanks to her support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. As a Massachusetts resident, that doesn’t appeal to me because I have far more power locally. I can file a bill by petition in the Massachusetts legislature and then work to get more lawmakers to support my proposal as a citizen. Or, I can get 10 signatures and submit a bill at town meeting, and if people like it, they can vote to pass it. Additionally, the state has a cumbersome referenda process that people could use to change laws if they have a large enough apparatus.
While the works of Chesterton and Belloc have little influence over American politicians today, they do, at least, make for worthwhile reading. They present a perspective outside our traditional left-right paradigm, giving people on both sides of the aisle something to consider.