The One Important Part Of Bernie Sanders' 'Daily News' Interview That Got Buried Under All The Criticism
On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders sat down with the editorial board of New York Daily News for an interview. Several media outlets, including The Atlantic, Talking Points Memo, and Mediaite have honed in on the fact that Sanders fumbled when asked about particular statutes that would enable his administration to break up big banks — a key component of his campaign — and imprison Wall Street executives responsible for the 2008 financial collapse. Their criticisms are worth considering, since a President Sanders would need not only ideas, but methods for achieving them (whether or not his interview fumble means he doesn't have those methods is a topic for debate). But the pile-on risks obscuring other aspects of the interview that are important as well. One such aspect was Sanders' idea of a moral economy, which represents a concrete application of the senator's spiritual principles. What does it look like for workers in the United States and abroad?
During the interview, Sanders attributed the idea of a "moral economy" to Pope Francis, and described it thus:
To me, what moral is, I've got to be concerned about you. You've got to be concerned about my wife. That's moral to me. That's what I believe in. And if the only thing that matters to you is making an extra buck, you don't care about my family, I think that's immoral.
Sanders believes that people should matter more to one another than money, and that this concern for one another should manifest in corporations' economic activities. So far, this description is in line with how the senator has spoken in town halls and debates about his experience of spirituality, with an emphasis on inherent connections between people and invested concern in our fellow human beings. But he puts it in more concrete economic terms in the interview:
Let's just give an example of a corporation that's making money in America, today, but desiring to move to China or to Mexico to make even more money. That is destroying the moral fabric of this country. That is saying that "I don't care that the workers, here have worked for decades. It doesn't matter to me. The only thing that matters is that I can make a little bit more money.
Sanders' emphasis is generally on the American people when he discusses economic suffering, but during the interview, he also acknowledged the suffering of workers abroad as well:
No, I don't think it is appropriate for trade policies to say that you can move to a country where wages are abysmal, where there are no environmental regulations, where workers can't form unions. That's not the kind of trade agreement that I will support.
These remarks, however, were made in the context of describing why American workers can't compete against low-wage workers in other countries. An interesting question emerges: Where do workers abroad fit into Sanders' vision of a moral economy? His spiritual emphasis on concern for human beings generally raises the question of how his administration would work to improve not only the lives of U.S. workers, but workers abroad as well.
Writing for Jacobin, Lance Selfa suggested in March that Sanders should shift his focus from the unfair competition between American workers and low-wage workers abroad to a platform of solidarity with low-wage workers around the world, rallying together against American corporate policies that create widespread suffering. Unless Sanders does so, we only have a concrete idea about what his moral economy would look like for American workers.