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Bernie Sanders would be more extreme president than Trump, historian warns

Bernie Sanders’ trade policy could have been “even more extreme” than Donald Trump’s had he been elected president, according to a prominent historian who has written a new book defending capitalism.

Rainer Zitelmann is the author of In Defense of Capitalism: Debunking the Mythsdescribed as “one of the most important books in decades defending capitalism” by Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of the business magazine that bears his family name.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, ran in both 2016 and 2020 for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Whilst he lost both times, to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden respectively, his campaigns ignited a wave of enthusiasm, particularly from young progressives.

speaking to Newsweek about how a Sanders presidency could have gone, Zitelmann said: “In the trade policy he would have done similar things to [what] Donald Trump has done, but maybe even more extreme than Trump [has] done. In this way Bernie Sanders and Trump are not so different in trade policy. Of course they are different in tax policy.

“In trade policy I think they are not so different because Trump is ambivalent. In some aspects he was pro-markets, in others he was very much anti-free market.”

The German historian concluded Sanders would have “added much more state and less market,” which would have caused “a lot of bad things to happen” in the long run.

During his presidency, Trump ran a protectionist trade policy, which he argued was needed to support American manufacturing, with tariffs imposed on China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

In his 2020 campaign, Sanders pledged to make college tuition free, introduce “Medicare for all” and boost the top income marginal tax rate to 52 percent, for incomes over $10 million. The Vermont senator pledged to “eliminate the incentives” in US trade deals, encourage “multinational corporations to ship jobs overseas,” and to expand the “Buy American” scheme to boost US jobs.

Newsweek asked Sanders—who has not ruled out running for president again in 2024—for comment.

Recent polls have pointed to changing attitudes, particularly among young Americans, towards capitalism and socialism.

A Gallup poll conducted in January 2020 found 76 percent of Democratic voters said they would be happy to vote for a socialist candidate, whilst a Momentive survey from June 2021 revealed 54 percent of Generation Z Americans held negative views about capitalism.

Zitelmann seeks to address this trend in his latest book, although his research indicates support for capitalism remains higher in the United States than most comparable developed countries. The book sets out to address 10 “myths” about capitalism, including that it “leads to growing inequality,” is “responsible for environmental destruction” and “leads to monopolies.”

addressing newsweek, Zitelmann argued a misinterpretation of the 2008 financial crisis, combined with insufficient education on disasters he left to socialism, are behind this rise in hostility to capitalism.

He said: “2008 is important, but the interpretation of 2008 is important. And the mainstream interpretation is this was a crisis of capitalism, and this proves it was a result of not enough regulation. I don’t believe in this. On the contrary, it was not the result of too little regulation, but too much regulation and state intervention.”

Zitelmann also suggested rising youth support for socialism is because they hadn’t experienced its impact first hand, unlike the experiences of older generations.

He argued: “The new generation—if you know something about socialism, it’s from school or history books. Young people of course could learn about it at school, but I have doubts whether they learn something about it at school.

“I have lectures about this topic all over the world—in Asia, Latin America, whether there are hundreds or thousands of people, I always ask one question—who of you have heard about the biggest socialist experiment in history, this is Mao’s so called ‘Great Leap Forward’ from 1958 to 1962? 45 million people died, there was nothing like this before in history.

“If I ask this question only a very few raise their hand. Maybe 95 percent have never heard anything about this at school. At school they hear a lot about the evils of capitalism, but they don’t hear anything about what socialism did or that more than 100 million people died as a result of socialist experiments in history.”

Zitelmann concluded most people don’t realize how much progress humanity has made over the past few decades, which he attributes to capitalism.

The historian said: “The fact is, 200 years ago before capitalism, 90 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Today it’s less than 10 percent, and half of this reduction happened over the last decades.

“There’s a contradiction between perception and reality. If you ask people whether hunger and poverty has increased or decreased in the last decades the majority says it has increased. But the reality is absolutely the opposite.”

Bernie Sanders’ trade policy could have been “even more extreme” than Donald Trump’s had he been elected president, according to a prominent historian who has written a new book defending capitalism.

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