One of the untold stories of our time is the collapse of the American middle class. From the end of World War II until 1973, we saw an expanding middle class, with people’s incomes going up. Since that point, and especially since the Wall Street–driven financial crisis, you’ve seen a real collapse. Since 1999 median family income has gone down $5,000. Real unemployment, counting people who have given up looking for work or who are working part-time when they want to work full-time, is more than 14 percent. More than 14 percent! You’re seeing millions of people working longer hours for lower wages. The U.S. has 46 million people living in poverty today. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Why? Because we live in a hypercapitalist society, which means the function of every institution is not to perform a public service but to make as much money as possible.
The function of health care, in a rational world, is to make sure every person, as a right, has access to the health care they need in the most cost-effective way possible. That is not the nature of our health care system at all. The function of this health care system is for people in the system—whether it’s insurance companies, drug companies, medical specialists—to make as much money out of it as possible. In five minutes one could come up with ways to make the system simpler and more cost effective. People have lost sight of America as a society where everyone has at least a minimal standard of living and is entitled to certain basic rights, a nation in which every child has a good-quality education, has access to health care and lives in an environmentally clean community, not as an opportunity for billionaires to make even more money and avoid taxes by stashing their money in the Cayman Islands.
Can you argue that the era of unfettered capitalism should be over? Absolutely. Does this system of hypercapitalism, this incredibly unequal distribution of wealth and income, need fundamental reform? Absolutely it does. You have the entire scientific community saying we have to be very aggressive in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Yet you’re seeing the heads of coal companies and oil companies willing to sacrifice the well-being of the entire planet for their short-term profits. And these folks are funding phony organizations to try to create doubt about the reality of global warming. Big business is willing to destroy the planet for short-term profits. I regard that as just incomprehensible.
And because of their power over the political process, you hear a deafening silence in the U.S. Congress and in other bodies around the world about the severity of the problem. Global warming is a far more serious problem than Al Qaeda.
Kemo D. 7Excerpts from Playboy's interview with the senator Bernie Sanders. You can read the whole interview in the November issue of Playboy Magazine.