What lessons have the events of the last half century taught Bernie Sanders? Are they why Sanders no longer talks about nationalizing industry? He’s certainly seen a lot that would seem to have direct bearing on his ideology, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China. Did two of the most significant events of the 20th century give Sanders occasion to question his priors? Was he “very distressed” at the failure of the centrally planned Soviet economy? He certainly should have been, but only offers a condemnation of the authoritarian political system. Despite vast natural resources and a highly educated population, the USSR ended up as a dingy economic basket case. As one 2017 analysis concluded, “During its lifetime, many other countries made similar or greater social and economic gains with more consent and less violence. On its centenary, the Soviet economy should be remembered but not mourned.”
Likewise, was Sanders puzzled by how even a bit of economic freedom spurred warp-speed growth in China? It’s unclear. Last September, he praised China and its leaders for having “made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization.” But those gains didn’t come from socialism done right. The economic consensus, as recently summed by the Congressional Research Service, is that it was “foreign trade and investment and implementing free-market reforms” that sparked China’s rapid economic ascent.