Recently, David Deming penned an article for NewsOK titled “OU Professor: Youth’s attraction to Sanders shows education failure.” Deming lays out his core argument against Bernie’s supporters in the first paragraph, which reads
It’s disheartening that an avowed socialist is a viable candidate for president of the United States. Socialism is a dead end. For hundreds of years, it has failed everywhere it’s been adopted. The enthusiasm of our youth for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is a symptom of our failure to educate them, not only in history, government and economics, but also basic morality.
Deming then goes onto discuss how the Soviet Union’s collapse and more recent problems in Venezuela show that socialism does not work, saying things like “there are no property rights under socialism.” He wraps up his “in depth” analysis by saying that
Socialism isn’t so much a legitimate economic system as it is a moral failing. It will always exist because ignorant people will always want something for nothing. If we want to retain our freedom and prosperity, then we must educate our children that the purpose of government is to secure liberty, not provide free lunches.
Before going into the problems with this article (which at the time of the writing had almost 140 thousand shares via social media), let’s take a brief look at the author. Deming is a University of Oklahoma associate professor of arts and sciences, who has a background in geology and geophysics and is no stranger to controversy. For example, he is a fairly vehement climate change denier (in contrast to the overwhelming evidence and scientific consensus), opposed to affirmative action policies, and has said some fairly unpleasant things about homosexuals. He has also had some difficulties in his academic position, the details of which I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, he has a fairly long record of making very public and very socially conservative statements, some of which are opinion or belief-based and some that go against an objective view of reality.
His “critique” in the above linked article would, frankly, be laughable if it didn’t reflect the misbeliefs that so many Americans have in regards to the proposed policies put forth by Bernie Sanders. First, he is trying to make a link between the highly corrupt socialist governments in the USSR and Venezuela and what is properly termed social democracy. The two are extraordinarily different, to the degree that Deming is attacking Sanders supporters for something that is not even remotely similar to what they actually support. This is a very common logical fallacy that we call “strawmanning” – misrepresenting someone’s beliefs or views in order to make them easier to attack.
Had Deming wanted to draw more accurate parallels to what the U.S. might look like under a fully-fledged social democracy (as opposed to the partial social democracy we already have in the U.S.), he would not have made comparisons to the collapsed USSR. Instead he could have pointed to those nations which have fully embraced social democracy (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) or which are much further along that side of the spectrum (most of Europe, for example). Of course, if he had done that, then Deming would have had to admit something he probably doesn’t want to: that the more socially democratic a country is, the higher quality of life the people living there have. To get an idea of how widespread the gap is between the U.S. and these countries, my colleague Peter has put together an extremely information (and graph) filled post showing what social democracy actually looks like: lower child mortality and poverty rates, more equality between genders, less financial inequality, better health care and education, and so on.
If Deming had paid attention to and learned about history, government, and economics (as he says the “youth” of today had not), he would understand that Sanders being a democratic socialist (and his aspirations for the U.S.) is far removed from the McCarthyist, red scare socialism espoused in his article. The youth of today realize this, along with realizing that the cure to many of America’s problems is not to “limit government power” (as Deming suggests), but instead to make sure that the government is actually working for the people, not against almost all of them. Sanders’ supporters are not “ignorant people” who “want something for nothing.” No one is planning on a redistribution of wealth that means everyone will all have the same amount of money. That’s a scare tactic with no basis in reality. Sanders has proposed an increase in taxes, yes…for about 1.5% of the population (those making over $231,000 a year). This will go fund public systems, such as healthcare and education, yes.
But is this a “free lunch?” Not at all. A better analogy would be that it’s the kid who has an entire backpack full of food sharing an apple with his friends, some of whom have a sandwich and some chips, some of whom have only some chips, and some that have nothing at all. The kid isn’t going to have the bag ripped from his hands, leaving him with nothing. Instead, he has more than he’ll ever be able to eat, and has even more waiting for him when he goes back home. The kid with the backpack literally loses nothing by helping out those around him, and in fact gains from doing so by helping to make the world a better place.
Calling someone “ignorant” or “uneducated” or “immoral” simply because they wish for a more equal and just world is shameful. Using an inaccurate version of someone’s beliefs to attack them is intellectually bankrupt. Deming relies on both tactics, which I’m afraid reveals more about his non-reality-based beliefs and a personal agenda than making an effective argument against Sanders’ supporters.