No Silk for You!

Do the Bernie Bros understand the shortages that socialism causes?

Once in a while, we learn of a movie that sharply addresses a contemporary issue.  In this vein, National Review wrote about the movie Balloon.

It could not be more timely, given the surging Presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, an old-time Communist who seems to have forgotten that many desperate people risked their lives to flee the "workers' paradise" of East Germany after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.

The Communist East German government built the Wall to keep their citizens from defecting to the West.  Before the Wall went up, 3.5 million mostly young and well-educated East Germans defected by crossing into West Berlin, from which they could easily make their way to West Germany.  The population of East Germany was around 16 million at the time.  Close to a quarter of the population fled.

For comparison, the population of Mexico is around 129 million.  If we assume that all of the 11 million illegals who're estimated to be in the US came from Mexico, which is an exaggeration, Mexico has lost less than 10% of its population to the US.  What's more, instead of losing their best-educated as the East Germans did, departing Mexicans appear to be relatively ill-educated.

No nation can sustain a brain drain equivalent to the educated 25% of the population.  Given a choice between reforming their policies to provide better conditions so their people would choose to stay, or walling them in, the communist rulers chose the latter.

By the time the Wall came down in 1989, more than 100,000 people had attempted to flee across it or the barbed-wire barrier between East and West Germany.  More than 5,000 succeeded in escaping, and it's estimated that as many as 200 were killed in attempts on the Wall alone, with more if you include the entire Iron Curtain.  Most of the rest were caught and imprisoned.

Our Academic Love Affair with Communism

It never ceases to amaze Scragged how American intellectuals can idolize Socialism, which is now known to be the final stage before the necessity of overcoming resistance brings about the total control of everyone's lives as found under Communism.  Our "intellectuals" including the New York Times staunchly defended Stalin's Communist government even as millions were deliberately starved.  They also lionized Fidel Castro for "improving literacy" in Cuba even as he murdered and imprisoned thousands.

Bernie Sanders, the leading candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination, continues to praise Castro's efforts at improving literacy regardless of the facts.  The Foundation for Economic Education argues that Mr. Sanders is exaggerating:

But Castro did not give Cubans literacy. Cuba already had one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America by 1950, nearly a decade before Castro took power, according to United Nations data (statistics from UNESCO). In 2016, the Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler debunked a politician's claim that Castro's rule significantly improved Cuban healthcare and education. ...  [emphasis added]

According to UNESCO, Cuba had about the same literacy rate as Costa Rica and Chile in 1950 (close to 80 percent). And it has almost the same literacy rate as they do today (close to 100 percent).

What's worse, Mr. Sanders tends to give tyrannical regimes credit they don't deserve.  The New York Post reminds us that in addition to praising Castro's literacy programs, Mr. Sanders has stated that there are things about China he likes, too.

"China is another example," Sanders said. "China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian. But can anyone deny - I mean, the facts are clear - that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history? Do I get criticized because I say that? That's the truth. So that is the fact. End of discussion."

Well, no. And by the way, saying "end of discussion" is kind of an authoritarian way to debate.

Authoritarianism is so old that it existed as the natural way of life before there was a word for it.  Although the Magna Carta Libertatum, known as "the Great Charter of the Liberties" because it limited the power of the king of England, was signed in 1215, none of the nobles who forced King John to respect their rights had any notion that the peasants below them had any rights at all.

It was only in the last 300 years that the idea that just about all individuals ought to be able to make their own decisions started to gain traction.  The Post states that although Mr. Sanders says he is opposed to authoritarian regimes,

Sanders has a strange habit of praising authoritarian countries when they do stuff he likes but not crediting free countries for doing the same thing, but better. That's bad enough, but he also has a tendency to credit authoritarianism for stuff it didn't do. ...

Sanders says that China's authoritarianism has "taken" millions out of extreme poverty. Not quite. After the Communists under Mao Zedong took over in 1949, they didn't take many people out of poverty, but they took plenty of people to their graves. Under the Great Leap Forward, an estimated 45 million died from a man-made famine.

Only after killing millions of their own people without much to show for it did the Communists implement economic reforms in the late 1970s of the sort that Sanders tends to despise.

The political system was still authoritarian (though less than it was under Mao), but the economic system became more liberal. The economy took off. Since then, hundreds of millions of people have escaped poverty. They weren't "taken" out of it; they climbed out of it thanks to the ladder of the market.

Capitalism's numbers speak for themselves!

Mr. Sanders didn't praise Cuban health care as lavishly as Mr. Moore did in his phony 2008 "documentary," Sicko, but that's just another lie Bernie told.  Investor's Business Daily reported in 2013 that Cuba's low Castrocare medical standards killed Mr. Chavez, the author of Venezuelan "progressive" misery.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is dying of cancer in Havana, in a live demonstration of Cuba's vaunted socialized medical care. He went there instead of Brazil because he wanted to make a political statement. What irony.

Chavez received the wrong cancer treatment and the Cubans couldn't correct it after they discovered the error. That doomed Chavez, a victim of the Castrocare he touted, just as does Bernie Sanders, as the solution to all of Venezuela's ills.

As for imprisoning opponents, an outrage which Mr. Sanders glosses over, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of the Gulag Archipelago which documented the atrocities of Soviet prison camps, was roundly booed at Harvard when he warned the graduates of atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses... a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil ... evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature...

In order for men to commit great evil, they must first be convinced that they are doing good.

The Balloon Goes Up

According to the Review,

The German film Balloon explores the Iron Curtain from an unusual angle: Two ordinary families living a routine existence in Poessneck, a small East German town in 1979, yearn to escape by making their own hot-air balloon and soaring south over the border into West Germany. Some 75,000 East Germans were imprisoned for trying to make their way into the West, and about 800 were outright murdered by their own security forces in such attempts.

The most vivid part of the story is showing how "two ordinary families" took the life-threatening risk to escape from the banality and oppression of East Germany.  The story doesn't exaggerate their suffering - most people just keep their heads down and muddle through.  They'll even enjoy something recognizable as a sort of acceptable standard of living.  There is a joke:

A lady seeks directions to Principle's, the department store. Principles? There is no such store, she is told. Not true, says the lady: Chairman Honecker tells us everything can be bought . . . in principle.

The movie shows glum women lining up to buy groceries, concerned that the coffee will all be gone by the time they get to the head of the line.  YouTube quotes Mr. Sanders:

It's funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don't line up for food: the rich get the food and the poor starve to death.

That's a real howler considering that America's primary health problem is obesity, brought about because Americans have so much food available to them.  The New York Post reminds us:

Perhaps even worse [than his bogus claims about literacy], in 1989 Sanders wrote that Cuba had "no hunger," even though it was "widespread" at the time. Once again, Sanders was peddling a "myth."

He's just another liberal American who covers up for suffering brought about by authoritarian regimes.  There was a time when most Americans fearfully appreciated the glum privation of the Soviet Union and its like-minded satellites, but we seem to have forgotten this reality that is inherent to socilaism, central control, and a lack of individual liberty.  Every time we have to re-learn a lesson, the price goes up.


In a way never before seen in this country, Americans are experiencing the poisonous atmosphere of "cancel culture" where people are hounded off Twitter, Facebook, and lecture platforms because their beliefs are insufficiently "woke."  Even the liberal magazine The Atlantic reports "Evidence That Conservative Students Really Do Self-Censor."  The movie makes it clear where progressive culture warriors and Mr. Sanders' economic ideas will take us:

Yet the unstated subtext of every waking moment in everybody's life is: Watch what you say. Be careful who you talk to. Don't make trouble. The authorities are watching, everything and everywhere. The poison of authoritarianism is as pervasive as the cloud of sulfur dioxide that befouled the air in East Germany. A kindergartner who is being taught to be honest has to also be taught that it's sometimes gravely important to be dishonest. The little boy might give the game away when he reveals to a teacher that his father spends most of his time in the basement sewing - he's making the giant balloon using small scraps of cloth bought in shops all over the area so as not to arouse suspicion. When a prison is a country, the smallest children can be unwitting informers and the most prosaic acts can be treasonous. It's this restrained, matter-of-fact quality that makes Balloon such a vivid, credible, and damning portrait[emphasis added]

Do we want to go through life in fear that we'll annoy the all-powerful censors?  In a limited way, we already do: there's a reason Scragged authors generally employ pseudonyms.  Who can say whether we, ourselves, would still be employed if we hadn't?

And this once-paranoid precaution looks more foresightful all the time: current Democratic presidential candidate Mike Blomberg was known as the "nanny mayor" for wanting to control what people could eat and drink in New York City.  The Boston Globe reports that Mr. Sanders is cut from the same authoritarian cloth as Mini-Mayor Mike:

"You don't necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country," Sanders lamented. He didn't explain exactly how the profusion of toiletries and athletic footwear leads to childhood hunger, but for the only self-described socialist in Congress, it is no doubt a matter of faith that the abundance of capitalism must generate poverty and undernourishment.  [emphasis added]

It's gratifying, and somewhat shocking, that even the Globe understands the "abundance of capitalism." Perhaps seeing the increasing force of Sen. Sander's candidacy may force them to come face to face with reconciling this truth, with their longstanding and strident support of those who wish to destroy it.

Fortunately, another truism of socialist tyranny is that it eats its own.  Mr. Sanders' Bernie Bros Brownshirts are already harassing Democrat party officials.  They want to control what we can say, what we can earn, what products can be manufactured, and what we're permitted to buy with whatever pittance they decide we are permitted to keep.  Some naive Democrats may assume this applies only to the deplorables on the other side of the aisle; Bernie's brigades are already demonstrating that there will be no immunity, just as Lenin had his erstwhile ally Trotsky brutally executed.

As they used to say in the Soviet Union, "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us."  Of course, if they ever heard you saying that, nobody would hear from you ever again.  Is that really where Americans want to go?

A Destiny that Ends Our Shapes

The review notes that the father spent his time sewing in the basement - "he's making the giant balloon using small scraps of cloth bought in shops all over the area so as not to arouse suspicion."

Balloon-quality garment silk is not a particularly common commodity in a communist country.  Buying yards of it would arouse curiosity which could lead to bad outcomes "when a prison is a country."  Buying too much all at once could lead to an unplanned silk shortage which might be noticed.

America had a silk shortage during WWII, when silk was commandeered to make parachutes for aviators and paratroopers.  Before the war, the largest use of silk was for women's shapewear.  With the supply cut off, women re-purposed William Shakespeare's meme "There's a destiny that shapes our ends" [Hamlet, Act Five, Scene Two] to the lament, "There's a destiny that ends our shapes."

The silk shortage during the war was a major reason why DuPont put so much energy into inventing nylon - the demand was well known.  Today, valuable silk stockings have been replaced by disposable nylons that cost pennies, and work much better at their intended shape-structural purpose.

We know from history that people always seek to escape from the economic catastrophes brought about by authoritarian governments in North Korea, Venezuela, East Germany, Mexico, Cuba, and too many Middle Eastern and African nations to count.  It didn't take very long for the Venezuelan socialist government of Mr. Chavez to take Venezuela from being the wealthiest nation in South America to being one of the poorest.  The exodus isn't as severe as East Germany's in that "only" one eighth of the population has left the country, but those remaining have become hungry enough that they're eating zoo animalsElephant-ear sandwiches, anyone?

It will take a bit longer for Mr. Sanders' economic snake-oil nostrums to destroy our economy.  To help him bring about economic calamity, however, he's promised to tear down our border wall and supply free health care to anyone who walks in.  Once his disastrous economic policies bite and health care falls apart, permanent border flow will go the other way.

It won't take him long to rebuild the wall to keep people in once he finds so many taxpayers are fleeing - particularly as he's already announced plans to demand a record of everything everyone owns, the better to tax it away from them.

At that point, we'll need balloons to escape over the Bernie Wall.  Among every other commodity, Mr. Sanders' policies will doubtless lead to a shortage of nylon, leaving women once again to lament, "there's a destiny that ends our shapes."  Of course, with the inevitable shortages of food that socialism always generates, their shapes may improve of their own accord - until they keel over from starvation as have countless millions of Communist victims of yesterday, and Venzeuelans today.

And if anyone is allergic to the one brand of deodorant Mr. Sanders will permit, too bad.  A Bernie Sanders America would truly stink, but other Democrat-run locales are already famous for that - yet local residents keep re-electing them.  In a democracy, you get the government you deserve, which is why our Founders attempted explicitly to not give us one.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments

A great book along the lines of how autocratic governments function and survive is "The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics" by de Mesquito et. al. The authors point out that providing a basic education to the populace is vital to keep the dictator's factories going, but allowing too much education can be dangerous.

Another important concept they examine are the three group levels in the country--the inner circle, the "replaceables" in the relatively small upper echelon, and the vast base of everyone else. What's important is to keep the upper levels well paid to keep them loyal. Sander's supporters would want to be in the middle group. That's where the comfortable living is, and the daily corruption that keeps the wheels of the dictatorship going.

March 2, 2020 5:42 PM

If an average Sanders supporter were to actually read this excellent piece, (it might have to be a gunpoint) they would smile knowlingly and state that they were very well aware of all of the above history and facts, but that they bore absolutely no relevance to the current situation in modern America. Their confidence in their rectitude, intelligence and inate sense of fairness, not to mention Bernie's wisdom, virtually guarantee a better planet for all.
There is nothing to debate, the verdict is in, we can have what we want and there's plenty left to share.
Sadly, it simply isn't a correctable mindset.

March 2, 2020 6:19 PM

Great piece about one of the most insidious political systems that ever existed. Look at China, N. Korea, The Soviets, East Germany, Venezuela,Cuba, etc . The core message is " if you don't die , you get a lot for free stuff". Unfortunately the productive folks are slaughtered or exiled leaving their wealth for the rest... mostly the party elite.
My sense is that Bernie's message isn't really tied to the nearly 180 year old failure of communism and socialism. Basically he has persuaded various voter groups with specific messages " vote for me and we'll pay your student loans", " vote for me and you and your family can get free food, smokes, and meds when you sneak across the border ", " vote for me and your gov't pension will be fatter" etc. Not real complicated and very salable with a ton of class warfare patter. And with social media, he says he can shame the productive voters to hand over the funds for these give aways.
It seems that in the battle between Bernie and Warren, Bernie won by not confusing the voters with facts. Warren tried to explain in her school marm style how she'd pay for the give $33 trillion away....boring. Bernie just promised everything and shook his fist at the folks who would pay. Real crowd pleaser.

March 2, 2020 8:33 PM

There are typos/spelling errors in the following paragraph which you may want to correct:

Authoritanism is so old that it existed as the natural way of life before there was a word for it. Although the Magna Carta Libertatum, known as "the Great Charter of the Liberties" becuase it limited the power of the king of England was signed in 1215, none of the nobles who forced King John to respect their rights had any notion that the pesants below them had any rights at all. It was only in the last 300 years that the idea that just about all individuals ought to be able to make their own decisions started to gain traction. The Post states that although Mr. Sanders says he is opposed to authoritarian regimes,

March 3, 2020 1:59 PM

Thanks, that paragraph must have been overlooked by the editor. Fixed.

March 4, 2020 8:51 AM
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