Like Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Carter and Steve Jobs before him, Sen. Bernie Sanders sat down for a Playboy Interview. Out on Thursday, the topics raised by noted economics writer Jonathan Tasini ranged from health care to the gaping wealth and income gap in America.
The American Middle Class
SANDERS: [O]ne 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.
SANDERS: 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.
Income Inequality in America
SANDERS: One family, the Waltons, who own Walmart, has more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. The top one percent today owns 38 percent of all wealth. Take a wild and crazy guess as to what the bottom 60 percent own.
PLAYBOY: Probably five percent.
SANDERS: No, 2.3 percent.
SANDERS: 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.
PLAYBOY: Aren’t they just taking care of their shareholders?
SANDERS: Big business is willing to destroy the planet for short-term profits. I regard that as just incomprehensible. Incomprehensible.
SANDERS: Of course we must defend ourselves against terrorism, but I am not convinced [CIA Director John] Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security.
SANDERS: 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. There’s an effort to privatize water, for God’s sake. I suppose somebody will figure out how to charge you for the oxygen you breathe.