At the Democratic debate, Mr. Sanders spent time defending himself as a democratic socialist, and opposed to what he called “casino capitalism.” Anderson Cooper of CNN asked him whether or not he was a capitalist. His response was that he was opposed to the casino capitalism that brings all the wealth to the top, and leaves the rest with nothing, and in favor of a system that makes everyone better off. As for his democratic socialism, it was simply a list containing items such as income redistribution, free health care and education, and paid family leave.

For right now I want to put aside the democratic socialism, and focus on his casino capitalism comments. With Anderson Cooper’s question, he had the perfect opporunity to say that he was not a capitalist, which he refused to answer, instead saying that he was opposed to casino capitalism, which, of course, is not an answer at all. Every classical liberal (conservatives and libertarians) is against crony capitalism, where a given system is rigged to favor certain elements of society as opposed to others. Unless you are doing the rigging, everybody was everyone to be made better off. Anderson Cooper might as well have asked him, “Senator, do you believe in hospitals?” To which Sanders would have answerd, “Do I believe in hospitals where doctors purposefully kill patients? No, I do not.”

What Anderson Cooper should have stated was “Of course nobody believes in casino capitalism. Senator, do you believe in capitalism? A free market, with a rule of law that provides a general framework that is applied equally to all, and strong property rights that provide individuals with the necessary freedom to operate in the market place?” The answer to that question would have been very enlightening. Many leftists try to get out of the free market question by asserting that there has never been a true free market anywhere, and if you want a libertarian society, go to Somalia. This question gets around that by asserting a) a free market works within an institutional framework that is not anarchic, and b) freedom does not exist in an absolute sense anywhere, it is a matter of the degree of freedom which a society has. The United States has a greater degree of freedom than Somalia does, because even though Somalia has a less centralized government, the United States has a complex set of institutions that provide a framework where liberty can have the context to succeed. (Somalia may have a very weak state, but don’t for a second think that they have no strong governments. Just ask all the war lords that are constantly battling each other, not to mention the people trapped inside of that society.)

Senator Sanders dodged the question because he is not a capitalist. I think he assumes that capitalism and “casino capitalism” are one and the same. It would have been more interesting if he had said that, because it is that attitude that is stirring his support, and makes him the candidate that he is.

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