The reason Bernie Sanders is not winning, he recently explained, is because “the poor don’t vote.” Evidently, if the poor would make it to the polls, they would surely vote for Sanders.
Thus, the non-poor apparently vote for Bernie’s opponent. Bernie’s opponent, consequently, has every reason to keep the poor to be poor. Otherwise, they would vote for Sanders. Yet, the poor, if they knew how not to be poor, would vote for a system that makes them not poor.
But it is a sensible form of capitalism that provides a way for the poor to be not poor. So the best way for Sanders to garner more votes for himself is to choose socialism as it has a good track record in keeping the poor to be poor.
Let’s suppose, however, that Sanders is right. The poor don’t vote — even though there may be many other reasons besides poverty why they do not vote. If they are carted to the polls like the Democrats in Chicago are famously said to be, with such great success, would they really vote for Bernie?
The poor do not vote. But if they vote for Sanders, he should want to make them richer. Surely he does not want to keep them in the dregs of poverty even if they cannot then vote for him. Mostly, socialism has the effect of making people poorer, in addition to subjecting them to state bureaucratic control.
Let us suppose by some miracle that the poor do become richer; and, even more miraculously, suppose they are still free to vote. Suddenly, the poor are now richer. So they no longer vote for Sanders because it is the poor who vote for him and, thanks to Bernie, they are no longer poor.
Maybe the poor do not vote because they see no sense in voting for any of the candidates. Solution: Make voting mandatory, like they do in some states, especially one-party states. Would the poor now under coercion vote for Sanders? Maybe they would resent being told who to vote for or that they had to vote at all. Is there not a liberty not to vote if none of the candidates seems to know much about poverty?
Let’s take another tack. Are the “poor” poor because the rich are rich? What if the only way for the poor to become less poor is for everyone to become richer? Would this result be unfair to the poor?
Or let’s take Sanders’ proposed taxing the 1 percent that controls a big chunk of the wealth. If we confiscate this presumably excessive wealth and distribute it equitably to the poor, would it make everyone content? Or would it disappear like lottery winnings only to undermine the incentives necessary to produce anything in the first place?
Sanders wants the poor to vote for him, or at least he thinks that they will if they do vote. Do we want the poor to be poor so that they will support our cause? Or even better, so that we will have someone to take care of?
The poor ironically justify many causes. Not every idea of how not to be poor works to help the poor. In fact, many proposals are positively harmful. Is it a noble thing to vote for a system to help the poor that does not really help them? This is Sanders’ dilemma.
The Rev. James Schall, S.J., author of “On Christians and Prosperity,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University.