Bernie Sanders seems to be the only US presidential candidate who is willing to talk about the world that everyone else sees.
But during that time, in a socialist nation, economist Thomas Piketty was working methodically to collect hundreds of years of economic data. The result, his monumental work Capital in the Twenty-First Century, was a surprise best-seller in the United States after being hailed in Europe as the most profound study of economics since Karl Marx invented the field.
Piketty’s theories describe basic economic forces that are, in a sense, “natural laws” of economics. And the only candidate in the 2016 US President Election addressing himself to Piketty’s findings is the deeply resonant Bernie Sanders.
The general thrust of Piketty’s theory is straightforward. Wealth naturally aggregates toward itself. It’s the economics version of “like attracts like.” In the context of democratic economies, which come with banks as a means to pool resources and grow, this means the rich will get richer. Piketty has given this truism the weight of a law by proving, in an exhaustive study, that the interest rates banks pay to those who have amassed fortunes—because they allow the holding bank to exercise lending power and influence—will always outpace the growth of the overall economy.
In describing these forces the way he has, Piketty has isolated a single, attainable charge that should be the bellwether for democratic capitalist economies: Their stability can be directly attributed to their effectiveness at curbing these forces. Moreover, his foundational work explains why Aristotle said, in alluding to unnamed governmental experiments that preceded classical Greece, “democracies always end in oligarchies.” It was the philosopher’s description of the same law. And it is why, in every religious tradition of the Western world, there is a history of moral imprecations against usury.
But the rhetoric of American politics obfuscates this all-important task. The Republican candidates would rather talk about moral issues, even though their field is morally bankrupt. The Democratic candidates want to emphasize that “it’s the economy, stupid,” but not go so far as to alienate their big donors.
The Right Candidate?
Enter Bernie Sanders, the only candidate speaking to this issue. Right now, the mainstream media is referring to his success as “populism.” But that label has never applied to a winning candidate (see William Jennings Bryan). The political class focus on “the resonance of his message,” as if the substance of what he is saying were secondary. But that is the analysis of an elite who fail to recognize that their job is one of stewardship.
Americans “might be dumb, but they ain’t stupid.” Sanders’ campaign has been catching fire because he is speaking plainly and directly. But mostly, his success is owed to what he is saying, not how he saying it. And whether it is by intuition or common sense—Aristotle also said the simplest explanation is usually the best—Americans are well-aware of two things: First, that the rug has been pulled over their eyes, and second, that there is great risk in continuing down the same path.
And this is why Sanders as a candidate matters to the world right now. The consequences the US not addressing itself directly to Piketty’s law are incredibly bleak. Everyone now knows how interconnected the world is, especially in the economic sense. No one can deny Apple is able to amass its wealth on the backs of China’s workforce. And, in keeping with Piketty’s law, no one without interested backers can deny the dramatic risk the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) bill poses to both the “even playing field” of international trade (in its severely lop-sided intellectual property provisions), and the sovereignty of nations itself (in its grant of Fast-Track authority to corporate-appointed arbitrators).
Again, people may not understand the finer points of these debates, but they understand that if the allocation of resources continue to be decided by men who have no check on their authority—and they have the power to disallow advancements in green technology and carbon emissions, for example—then governments are basically shell corporations. People know that even if it doesn’t look like Mad Max, it feels like it somehow.
The American people know they are living an experiment. They know, whether by Piketty’s law or just a feeling in their gut, that there is a force at work threatening the very fiber of the experiment. And the world-over knows that Americans have a responsibility, as the only remaining superpower, to curb the abuses of its warlords and put its power to use for good. Bernie Sanders seems to be the only candidate who is willing to talk about the world that everyone else sees.
Where the rest of the candidates have all kinds of motives for entering the race—from naked ambition (Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal) to the desire to serve their constituencies (Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley)—the only candidate who has distinguished himself by addressing these fundamental economic issues is Bernie Sanders.
The Sanders campaign is not inevitable—far from it. He is simply the only candidate speaking to these issues. Eventually, the rest will catch on and attempt to ride lay claim to Sanders’ “populism.” There is probably someone out there who can do it better, and Hillary Clinton will certainly make the most careful and calculated attempt to take up that position.
But no matter who tries, until they show a willingness to confront the very power they seek to hold, they are, by Piketty’s law, necessarily working against the interests of all of us and cannot “right the ship” in the sense the American people—and the world—want to see it righted.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.