Bernie Sanders: Concentrated Wealth Is Concentrated Power

Yves here. This Real News Network interview with Bernie Sanders shows him in top form.

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Burlington, Vermont at the Sanders Institute Gathering. And once again, we’re joined by Senator Bernie Sanders. Thanks for joining us.

BERNIE SANDERS: My pleasure.

PAUL JAY: In one of the panels yesterday you said it’s not just about concentration of wealth and how the inequality, how unfair that is, the suffering it causes. But concentration of wealth means concentration of power. How do you challenge that power?

BERNIE SANDERS: This is not easy stuff. But we are certainly not going to deal with it if we don’t discuss it. And one of the crises that we face right now is that you’ve got a media that will not talk about this issue. And you’ve got, essentially, two parties that don’t talk about it very much. And I think one of the things that I wanted to do in my presidential campaign is kind of bust this whole thing open. Let’s talk about the real issues. You know, whether CBS likes it or not.

So what you have here is, first of all, massive income and wealth inequality. And as a nation we have got to think from a moral perspective and an economic perspective whether we think it is appropriate that three people, one, two, three, own more wealth than the bottom half of the American society. You know, that’s really quite outrageous, and it’s appropriate that we take a hard look at that. But it is not just that the one tenth of 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. They don’t put their wealth underneath their mattresses, right. They use that wealth to perpetrate, perpetuate their power. And they do that politically. So you have the Koch brothers and a handful of billionaires who pour hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, because their Supreme Court gutted the campaign finance laws that were in existence, and now allow billionaires quite openly to buy elections.

So wealth equals power, politically. Wealth means that if I own a company in the United States, I own a GE plant, where there may be hundreds or thousands of workers, and that plant may be making money, but not as much money as it could make if I took it to China or to Mexico, I have the power to do that. Because politicians are not going to stop me. Because we have disastrous trade laws. If I am a billionaire, it is likely that I will have control over media, as well. So you have a handful of media conglomerates owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country and in the world determining what the news is; what is appropriate for the American people to discuss and not to discuss.

Now what–my wife Jane, she put this thing together, I’m a guest here. But what she understood is that when we deal with climate change, when we deal with the economy, when we deal with housing, when we deal with criminal justice or immigration issues, we have got to deal with those in a holistic way, and understand why all of that is happening. Not see them as separate issues. And a lot of that has to do that we live in a nation owned and controlled by a small number of multi-billionaires whose greed, incredible greed, insatiable greed, is having an unbelievably negative impact on the fabric of our entire country.

PAUL JAY: The process of financialization that’s taken place over the whole 20th century, especially since World War II, where finance, Wall Street is so dominant in the economy. And this concentration of ownership and concentration of power is, nowhere is that more important than in the financial sector, because it permeates everything.


PAUL JAY: But every attempt to regulate finance has been without much success at best, and currently whatever there was is being dismantled. Doesn’t there needs to also be a building up of the public sector, starting with banking? Some kind of public banking? Because you can’t really reform these guys, because they all-

BERNIE SANDERS: I don’t know that you can’t reform them. And I think your point is, though, very well taken. What we need–look, let’s be clear. You have … I will never forget, Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs, came to Congress a few years ago. And this is after the taxpayers of this country bailed them out because of their greed and their illegal behavior. This is chutzpah. These guys, after being bailed out by the middle class and working families of this country, after causing incalculable harm, which–the Wall Street crash cost us millions of jobs, people lost their homes, they lost their life savings. These guys, after getting bailed out, they come to Congress. They say, you know, what we think Congress should do is you gotta cut Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid. And by the way, lower corporate tax rates and give more tax breaks to the wealthy. That’s power. That’s chutzpah. We have it all, we can do whatever we want to do. And I think the power of Wall Street.–you’ve got a half a dozen banks that own over 50 percent, equivalent to 50 percent of the assets in our GDP. And we have got to stand up to them.

Now, your point is, OK, while we try to do that, are there other alternative models? And right here in the state of Vermont I am a strong advocate of a state bank, for example, where we can use the tax revenue that comes in for the public good, to help us create jobs, deal with agriculture, deal with the environment and climate change, and so forth.

PAUL JAY: Because the blackmail that happened in ’07-’08, too big to fail, and too big to go to jail. And-

BERNIE SANDERS: That’s right. And we have–but I don’t want to give up that fight. We have legislation in that is so–commonsense legislation, that when you have a handful of banks that have such incredible control over our economy that when they agreed destroys the economy they have to be bailed out because they’re too big to fail. But it also gives them unbelievable political power. You gotta break them up. And we have legislation in there that would break up the largest banks and financial institutions in this country. And that’s what we should do.

PAUL JAY: But aren’t you concerned that, like when the telecoms were broken up, they reassemble. The capital behind the big banks are still there. And I’m not suggesting breaking up the big banks isn’t a good thing. But don’t you need a public bank at a scale that next time there’s, there’s this blackmail, you can say, you know, go speculate. If you go down, you go down.

BERNIE SANDERS: I’m not arguing with you, I agree with you. And I think right here in Vermont right now there are a number of people in our legislature, and I support this effort, that want to see a public bank. Ironically enough, you know what the oldest state public bank in the country is?

PAUL JAY: North Dakota.

BERNIE SANDERS: North Dakota. They’ve had it, I think, since the ’20s. And it’s worked pretty well for them. You know, we’re trying to strengthen credit unions, as well. And since the Wall Street crash, by the way, I think credit unions have seen a lot more capital coming in and a lot more growth.

PAUL JAY: Just finally–I know you have to run. The primary in 2016 got quite bitter. We know that whoever, whoever released these emails, and all the rest–we know the DNC was manipulating things in favor of Hillary Clinton and against you. This fight heading into 2020, whether you’re the candidate or there is a candidate that’s on the Sanders-esque kind of platform … This fight in the Democratic Party is not, in my opinion, just a difference of opinion how to get to the same place, which is sometimes framed that way. There’s a real struggle of interest here. The fight against the oligarchy–well, there’s an oligarchy in the Democratic Party. And there’s a fight there. How do you see this campaign unfolding?

BERNIE SANDERS: I’m proud that out of our campaign, I think, we have seen a significant increase–not just out of our campaign–but a great deal of grassroots activism all across this country. This new incoming freshman class in the Congress is not only going to be the most progressive freshman class in a very long time, but the most diverse. More women, more people of color, et cetera. Also, I think what is happening in this country is that to a significant degree we are winning the ideological struggle. Three years ago, as you recall, Medicare for All was seen to be a radical, fringe idea. Last polls that I saw, 70 percent of the American people support Medicare for All. And more and more Democrats are coming on board. Raising the minimum wage, 15 bucks an hour. Radical idea a few years ago; kind of mainstream today. Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, dealing with student debt, dealing in an aggressive way with the unbelievably dangerous challenge of climate change. I think more and more people understand that. Criminal justice reform. Immigration reform.

So many of the ideas that we campaigned on have now gotten broad support throughout the country and within the Democratic Party. But as, I think, your point makes, look. There is an establishment within the Democratic Party. There are Wall Street contributors in the Democratic Party, corporate contributors in the Democratic Party. And they have a very different and more conservative vision for the future of the Democratic Party than I do. My vision is pretty simple. My vision is that we have got to have the guts to take on Wall Street, take on the pharmaceutical industry, take on the insurance industry, take on the 1 percent, create an economy that works for all. And while we do that, we bring our people, and that is black, and white, and Latino, and Native American, and Asian American together. I think that’s the way you do it. And we’re beginning, beginning, beginning to see that. We’re seeing great young candidates who didn’t wait on line for 20 years to get permission to run, but kind of jumped in and beat some long-term incumbents. They’re saying, hey, I come from the community. I know what’s going on in this community, and I’m going to fight for working people, and I’m not afraid to take on big money. We’re seeing that. We got to see more of that.

So a two-part approach. Number one, we need to fight for our agenda. We need to elect candidates from the grassroots who are going to, are going to implement that agenda.

PAUL JAY: All right, thanks very much for joining us.

BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you very much.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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  1. Tyronius Maximus

    Is Bernie Sanders the next FDR? Can he effectively thwart the big money interests and get elected? What happens if he isn’t elected and we get another tepid corporate Democrat in the Clinton mold or even four more years of Trump? I certainly don’t see Americans engaging in anything like the Yellow Vest protests as seen in France. We get the government we deserve. Will we be able to look our children in the eye and truthfully say we didn’t wreck their future? I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions but I’m certain that the answers will shape the world we’ll be living in going forward in ways that profoundly affect every living thing on our planet. No pressure!

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I disagree. Macron was openly naked about what he is doing. Bill Clinton and Reagan by comparison relied on devolution to the states to increase the tax burden on the lower 99% while they cut taxes on the wealthy. Attacking our inner cities helped too because they picked on easily isolated minorities obscured much of the decay. HRC’s attack on deplorables was a bit more tone deaf, but I guess she invested in being “woke” after Obama beat her.

      Occupy was a little too disunited, but it came after Obama and the Dems (with help many well meaning people, sheepishly raises hand) swindled people. Obama and blue city Democrats engaged in a coordinated crack down of peaceful protesters with storm troopers.

      Sanders has had an effect on diluting potential protests, but he’s also offered an alternative path forward. Unlike Obama, his record is real, not imaginary.

  2. Amfortas the hippie

    This: “There are Wall Street contributors in the Democratic Party, corporate contributors in the Democratic Party. And they have a very different and more conservative vision for the future of the Democratic Party than I do”
    I see nothing “conservative” about any of the hyperpseudocapitalist neoliberal New Feudalism.
    and I’ll say again…when I talk about Medicare for All, Free College, etc…my actually conservative neighbors roll their eyes, make the sign of the cross.
    But when I talk about FDR and the New Deal…well…they understand this.
    and when I ask “what, exactly, are Ted Cruz and his ilk, “Conserving”?”…there is silence, and a reluctant ruminating.
    They know, it turns out, when they stop the frothing for a moment and think about it.
    The Faux Newts veil is growing thin…in spite of trump…he is like a talisman they whisper to when they realise that it’s falling apart and that the banksters and “Producers” are actually the true enemies.
    They ain’t just clinging to their bibles and guns…but to the Idea….and Idea that bears little resemblance to the lived experience.
    Bernie was a great boon to people like me…vox clamatis in deserto…finally, something I could point to, and say, There! That’s where we ought to go!
    In my part of the world, if Bernie had been allowed to be on the ballot, Trump would have only had the support of the die hard goptea elite…a minority in this place, of comfortable fossils, with a too narrow worldview.
    (the “Republican Women” club is who the politicians come to speak to. I like to go sometimes, and stand at the back, making them nervous. To a woman, they are over 65, rich(by local standards) and more overtly racist and hateful than anyone else. That’s the true base of the gop…and they are in ill health and on their way out)

    1. Lynne

      Excellent question about ted Cruz and his ilk. The hard right crowd are as far from conservatives (or Christians) as one can get. I have a huge problem in talking to people about politics because most have bought into the Republican Democrat tribalism. Will try your question.

  3. JEHR

    Unless the billionaire money is dealt with, Bernie will get nowhere even when he is elected. The majority of the Congress will not be pro-Bernie and any bills that try to bring in universal health care or top up medicare and medicaid will die before they are even born. There is a far larger overhaul needed and I believe Bernie knows that. If the young become activated and knowledgeable about the possibilities then they may eventually become the new Congress and that will get rid of the influence of the billionaires and squillionaires. That is, if the revolution doesn’t intervene before that happens.

    1. MichaelSF

      I guess I’m less optimistic that “the young” will be significantly different in their desire to be a part of the oligarchic power structure than has been the case for millennia. The “young” have always been growing up and joining political society, and there seems no dearth of oligarchs and corruption (but I repeat myself).

      Perhaps if all children were raised in state creches and indoctrinated into whatever it is they really ought to be thinking about society there’d be a sea change when all those thinking the old way shuffle off their mortal coil. I don’t see that happening.

      Meet the new boss(es), same as the old boss(es). Won’t get fooled again? I doubt that.

    2. aliteralmind

      A President Bernie would be a transformational president even if he had a moderately hostile Congress and Supreme Court. Appointments alone would change the world and jazz the electorate in preparation for 2022. Military, Treasury, Justice, Education, Housing, Supreme Court, Energy, State, UN, EPA, …

  4. Unna

    Bernie has identified the central issue which is that great private wealth equals great public power through the oligarchs’ control of the political process through money. In any state the question in the first instance is always who has power and who rules. Those who have the power will always vote themselves nice things. If the American people had power they’d vote themselves nice things like Medicare for All which 70% of the people support. That the American people don’t have MfA is only one indication that someone other than the American people holds power in America.

    The form of any government is important, but it’s more important to identify who actually wields power through that government. The most “perfect” form of democratic local government must surely be New England Town Meeting government. But what good would that form of government be if 90% of all the land and wealth in the town were owned by just three families? The government would still operate through the forms of town meeting government but all the actions taken by the government would be oligarchic because of the economic power of those three families over everyone else.

    So breaking up the banks is important but as Paul Jay hinted maybe not enough because the private wealth would still remain. Maybe time to bring back 90% marginal rates on very top incomes and confiscatory inheritance taxes with the rates geared towards targeting amounts of wealth deemed to represent unacceptable levels of inherited political power and as such threats to orderly democratic constitutional government itself. Along with vigorously enforcing anti trust laws and the criminal laws as pertains to Wall Street instead of ignoring them, and so on.

    1. Dana Reay

      “Maybe time to bring back 90% marginal rates on very top incomes and confiscatory inheritance taxes with the rates geared towards targeting amounts of wealth deemed to represent unacceptable levels of inherited political power and as such threats to orderly democratic constitutional government itself. Along with vigorously enforcing anti trust laws and the criminal laws as pertains to Wall Street instead of ignoring them.”

      You, and Picketty, are correct.

  5. rob

    I too think that while some people may want change, most do not. Even if they think they do. People who supported obama, wanted change, people who support hillary want change. people who support trump want change. But the devil in the detail is that they can’t agree on what that change is and reallly don’t agree on how to make it. even on blogs such as this, here where we could rightly be considered ” the choir” that those of the progressive ilk, tend to preach to.
    All of these issues, all of these past and present insults and threats to our lives,liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for us and our posterity .our worlds are at stake. But we are all f*&ked, because we can’t even begin to get behind any change of a monumental enough quality to attack the whole ball of wax , all at once.
    We need to address the onion, that is aligned(by considerable foresight and a long train of abuses) against us.
    All the issues where the choir might agree to teach our children to be better stewards of the earth, and each other can only be moved forward with money. That is what aligns all the industrial complexes against us. that is what the wealthy have used as power to create the machines that trod over our bones daily.
    While we cannot take away “their” money, through taxation, or even by theft. the next boss will reign just like the current bosses. What we can do is start “creating” our own money. I Happen to think that with right thought, and right action, a consensus can be achieved to bring into existence these things that can make the american promise (of myth); a reality. These things that bernie sanders and others are talking about;like universal healthcare,universal free education(pre-k through post grad),a functioning political system are things that can be what we choose to use the power of money creation for.
    By adhering to the US constitution, the american people can benefit by the power of the congress to create its own money. We need to be progressive and conservative about the real onion that this is. I say onion, because like the saying goes, under every layer, there is another.
    What is needed is monetary reform. And not just in theory, that we can choose to make the current system( which is run and benefits those who must by our respective aims, be aligned against us)
    Bernie and anyone who really wants to promote a just change, needs to adopt the best version of monetary reform i have ever heard of, the “chicago plan” of old. or make a new “NEED act”. A chicago plan, for a modern day.
    If all the progressive causes must compete for funding from those in control, its obvious real change won’t ever happen. I for one think people need to get serious.Rather than try to take their money. We should make our own. And with well taught children, maybe better choices will lead to better outcomes. America could lead the world, in a good direction, rather than the highway to hell we are on now.
    It is daunting, but not impossible.

  6. Glen

    Maybe it was just me, but this was so obvious in 2008/2009. Even if we had to bail out the banks (and I still don’t believe we had to do that), Obama could have fired every bank CEO, board member, etc of every bailed out company. This would have gone a long way to shake up the existing political power structure. Instead, to use a phrase from Obama, he gave the keys to the car back to the banksters after they drove the world into the ditch.

    Obama should not be remembered as the “lost opportunity”, one could easily argue that his handling of the economic crash did more to harm the U.S. than Bush’s illegal wars.

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