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A Taxonomy of Conservatism

2 Sep

From Peter Lawler:

Americans today are understandably confused about what it means to be a conservative. The Republican nominee, for example, doesn’t seem to be one. And the conservative movement seems to be as fractured as our republic. After this election cycle, conservatives are going to have rethink who they are and what they’re supposed to do.

Who will be there to lead the rethinking and realigning? Here’s a list of nine conservative factions or modes of thought around today. Consider this your beginner’s guide to understanding the rivals on the right and the issues that animate them. It goes without saying that this list isn’t complete, and you might identify with more than one group. That issue of identity has become bigger than ever over the past year. The advantage of living through startling and unprecedented events is that we conservatives have no choice but to reflect deeply once again about who we are.

1. Growth Conservatives

They are associated with the Wall Street Journal and the so-called big donors. They think the main reform America needs today is to cut taxes and trim regulations that constrain “job creators.” On one hand, they think that America is on “the road to serfdom.” On the other hand, they often think this is a privileged moment in which conservative reform—such as the passing of right-to-work laws—is most likely to succeed.

2. Reform Conservatives

These conservatives think that growth is indispensable and that it’s unreasonable to believe America could return to a time when global economic dominance and lack of birth dearth made possible unions, a mixture of high taxes and unrivaled productivity, and a secure system of entitlements. So they’re for prudent entitlement reform. They’re also for a tax policy that treats Americans not only as free individuals but also as, for example, struggling parents who deserve tax credits. In our pessimistic time, reform conservatives are also characterized by a confidence that nobody should ever bet against America, that we’re up to the challenges we face. Their intellectual leader is the think-tanker Yuval Levin, and they have the ears of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio.

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Clearly, there is a sense in which men and women are not equals sociologically

29 Aug

Excerpt from Glen Stanton at First Things:

Anthropologists have long recognized that the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male. If his sexual, physical, and emotional energies are not governed and directed in a pro-social, domesticated manner, he will become the village’s most malignant cancer. Wives and children, in that order, are the only successful remedy ever found. Military service is a very distant second. Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof explains that “men settle down when they get married; if they fail to marry, they fail to settle down,” because “with marriage, men take on new identities that change their behavior.” This does not seem to work with same-sex male couples in long-term relationships.

Husbands and fathers become better, safer, more responsible and productive citizens, unrivaled by their peers in any other relational status. Husbands become better mates, treating their wives better by every important measure—physical and emotional safety, financial and material provision, personal respect, fidelity, general self-sacrifice, etc.—compared to boyfriends, whether dating or cohabiting. Husbands and fathers enjoy significantly lower health, life, and auto insurance premiums than do their single peers, for a strictly pragmatic reason. Insurance companies are not sentimental about husbands. Husbands get lower premiums because they are different creatures in terms of habits, values, behavior, and general health.

This is why Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a tale not so much about the dark nature of humanity as about the isolation of the masculine from the feminine. Had there been just a few confident girls amongst those boys, its conclusion might have been more Swiss Family Robinson

Whole thing here.

Charles Murray: Replace the Welfare State with a Guaranteed Income

3 Jun

From the WSJ:

When people learn that I want to replace the welfare state with a universal basic income, or UBI, the response I almost always get goes something like this: “But people will just use it to live off the rest of us!” “People will waste their lives!” Or, as they would have put it in a bygone age, a guaranteed income will foster idleness and vice. I see it differently. I think that a UBI is our only hope to deal with a coming labor market unlike any in human history and that it represents our best hope to revitalize American civil society.

The great free-market economist Milton Friedman originated the idea of a guaranteed income just after World War II. An experiment using a bastardized version of his “negative income tax” was tried in the 1970s, with disappointing results. But as transfer payments continued to soar while the poverty rate remained stuck at more than 10% of the population, the appeal of a guaranteed income persisted: If you want to end poverty, just give people money. As of 2016, the UBI has become a live policy option. Finland is planning a pilot project for a UBI next year, and Switzerland is voting this weekend on a referendum to install a UBI.

Full article

Making sense of the gender wage gap

29 Mar

New Study from Glassdoor:

This study examines the gender pay gap using a unique data set of hundreds of thousands of Glassdoor salaries shared anonymously by employees online. Unlike most studies, we include detailed statistical controls for job titles and company names. We estimate the gender pay gap in five countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France.

  • The gender pay gap is real, both in the U.S. and around the world. Men earn more than women on average in every country we examined, both before and after adding statistical controls for personal characteristics, job title, company, industry and other factors, designed to make an apples-to-apples comparison between workers.
  • Based on more than 505,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees on Glassdoor, men earn 24.1 percent higher base pay than women on average. In other words, women earn about 76 cents per dollar men earn. However, comparing workers with similar age, education and years of experience shrinks that gap to 19.2 percent. Further, comparing workers with the same job title, employer and location, the gender pay gap in the U.S. falls to 5.4 percent (94.6 cents per dollar).
  • We find a similar pattern in all five countries we examined: a large overall or “unadjusted” gender pay gap, which shrinks to a smaller “adjusted” pay gap once statistical controls are added.

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  • To drill down further into what’s causing the gender pay gap, we divide the overall gap into an “explained” part due to differences between workers, and an “unexplained” part due either to workplace discrimination—whether intentional or not—or unobserved worker characteristics. In all countries, most of the gender pay gap is explained. The “unexplained” part is only 33 percent in the U.S. and is less than half in every country.

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  • The single biggest cause of the gender pay gap is occupation and industry sorting of men and women into jobs that pay differently throughout the economy. In the U.S., occupation and industry sorting explains 54 percent of the overall pay gap—by far the largest factor.
  • Workplace fairness and anti-discrimination remain important issues. But the data show that while overt forms of discrimination may be a partial cause of the gender pay gap, they are not likely themain cause. Instead, occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs is the main cause.
  • Research shows that employer policies that embrace salary transparency can help eliminate hard-to-justify gender pay gaps, and can play an important role in helping achieve balance in male-female pay in the workplace.

Read more about this study on the Glassdoor Economic Research blog.

The Vision of Wilhelm Roepke

12 Feb

From the Imaginative Conservative:


June 20th, 1998, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the German “economic miracle.” Of course, there was nothing miraculous about it. Germany’s success was not due to the hard-working character of her people, or to foreign aid, or to any other special reason. It was the natural outcome of a market economy and currency reform. And yet it was originally intended as something more than that by the men who helped shape this policy, not least of whom was the outstanding economist, Wilhelm Roepke. Instead of a return to nineteenth-century capitalism and its laissez-faire ideology, he wanted a socially responsible economy which avoided and corrected past abuses. His ideas had been well­ articulated in his earlier books which, though banned by the Nazis, were read surreptitiously, even by the later finance minister, Ludwig Erhard, whose contents he said he “devoured like the desert the life-giving water.”[1]

But it is for more than his influence on policy-makers and German recovery that Roepke commands our attention today. His writings deal with the deeper issues that continue to afflict the West and his policy prescriptions are correspondingly rich and complex—a situation in which it is easy to misunderstand him. For example, his view of the good economy was at once conservative and radical. It combined liberal (in the older, honorable sense) elements of free markets, private property, and limited government with radical proposals to jettison those developments and trends of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that had been undermining the traditional family, local communities, and basic values, clearly an approach confounding classification by those who insist that the world has only two pigeonholes, laissez-faire or communism. It is an approach that assumes the market system can have more than one form which we are free to shape within certain limits indicated by economic science. Roepke’s question is: What form is most congenial to the flowering of human personality but which still yields needed material benefits? It was a delicate problem of balance and integration, and yet it is precisely this aspect that is often overlooked—or denied—by some “conservative” writers today who choose to emphasize other aspects of his thought, or who dismiss his social concerns as mere sentimentalism. To avoid the same mistake as well as to grasp the real, the essential, Wilhelm Roepke without analyzing his over 800 articles and books,[2] it is helpful not merely to sample his representative work but to divide it into two sections and consider Roepke first as a technical and then as a social economist; naturally, both aspects overlap in his writings.


For his technical economic work, we may identify such books as Crises and Cycles (1936), Economics of the Free Society (1937), International Economic Disintegration (1942), and International Order and Economic Integration (1959), plus numerous professional papers. In these volumes, Roepke affirms the importance of maintaining private property, the free operation of prices, and economic competition, and he vigorously defends multilateral trade as opposed to systematic protectionism and various forms of collectivism.

But of these, perhaps his most interesting, if not also his most important book, is his Crises and Cycles,published in 1936, the same year as John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory, and within a year of Hayek’s Prices and Production (1935). It deals with the problem of business cycles, the boom-and-bust tendency in an industrialized economy. His key contribution which distinguishes him from both Hayek and Keynes is his over­ capitalization/monetary model of the business cycle. The issue is not a disparity, says Roepke, between the relative rates of saving and investment, the former stable and the latter volatile, the way Keynes thought. Nor is it a problem of undersaving relative to investments the way Hayek thought. Nor is it a strictly monetary problem the way some Austrian economists such as Mises were inclined to think. Most fundamentally, it is the nature of the industrialized economy itself. The same specialization and division of labor that powers a modern economy and economic growth is also the property that causes economic booms and depressions. The problem originates in the difficulties of coordination that such a division of labor brings about.[3] A slight increase in demand at the retail level, say, for shoes, will become accelerated as the demand signal extends upstream to the foreproducts of production in something of a geometric proportion. Ultimately, such production will be out of proportion to the original demand. Inevitably, the boom must turn into a recession or depression. Of course, this expansion is financed through loose credit policies as Austrians, including Hayek, emphasize and with which Roepke basically agrees, but adds: “In our view, it is the steep rise of the absolute amount of investments which matters, not the fact that our economic system must rely on credit expansion to make this rise possible.”[4] This is important not only because it is essential for understanding Roepke’s technical contribution, but also because it leads to an understanding of Roepke as social economist, and his corresponding policy recommendations.

Roepke also explained that in the instant case, the Great Depression had gone beyond the economy’s ability to initiate a functionally corrective downswing that would restore a healthy balance. Instead, it had turned into a “secondary depression” where economic activity stalled out at the bottom more or less permanently, and the usual “self­-correcting” market forces were not operative. The problem, then, was a lack of confidence, a failure to spend, a pervasive pessimism so that demand was simply too low. In such an extreme case, Roepke reluctantly recommended, as did many other economists at the time, including Keynes, the need for the famous pump-priming, the need for government to run a deficit to stimulate demand. But he was painfully aware that this was a dangerous course, and he spent some time elaborating its pitfalls.[5]

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What has Augustine to do with Neoclassical Economics?

3 Feb

From John Mueller (full article):

I’m grateful to my old friends at the Tocqueville Forum and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, Patrick Deneen and Steven Brust, and pleased to join John Médaille and Barry Lynn for this discussion of “Economics at the Crossroads.” Though also disconcerted to find myself on this side of the podium. I’ve attended the Tocqueville Forum so often that Tara Jackson said she was surprised I had never submitted an IRS W-9 form. Yet, as Walker Percy warned in Lost in the Cosmos, “a charade was being played” with “William Faulkner, doing a morning’s work, then strolling in the town square to talk to the farmers and have a Coke at Reed’s drugstore…. Though Faulkner went to great lengths to pass himself off as a farmer among farmers, farmer he was not.” Or take “Søren Kierkegaard, who, every hour, would jump up from his desk, rush out into the streets of Copenhagen, and pass the time with shopkeepers. . . ..[B]y his own admission, he was playing the game of being taken for an idler at the very time he was writing ten books a year.” Now I too must admit, every month, by jumping up from my desk, rushing out into the streets of Washington, and passing the time at the Tocqueville Forum, to have been playing the game of being taken for an idler, at the very time I was churning out a book every ten years!

The thesis of my book is straightforward: The most important element in economics is missing, and its rediscovery is priming a revolution the likes of which has occurred just three times in more than 750 years.

I must begin with a simple but widely overlooked fact: the logical and mathematical structures of scholastic, classical and neoclassical economics differ fundamentally. Yet few economists today are aware of the differences because American university economics departments, led by the University of Chicago in 1972, abolished the previous requirement that students of economics master its history before being granted a degree. This calls for a brief, structural history of economics.

What is economics about? Jesus once noted — I interpret this as an astute empirical observation, not divine revelation — since the days of Noah and Lot, people have been doing, and until the end of the world presumably will be doing, four kinds of things. He gave these examples: “planting and building,” “buying and selling,” ‘marrying and being given in marriage,” and “eating and drinking” (Luke 18:27-28). In other words, we produce, exchange, give, and use (or consume) our human and nonhuman goods.

That’s the usual order in our action. But as St. Augustine first explained, the order is different in our planning. First we choose For Whom we intend to provide; next What to provide as means for those persons. Finally, Thomas Aquinas latter added, we choose How to provide the chosen means, through production (always) and exchange (almost always), both of which Aristotle had described.

So, economics is essentially a theory of providence: it describes how we provide for ourselves and the other persons we love, using scarce means that have alternate uses. Human providence is a synonym for the cardinal virtue of prudence. Aristotle had divided moral philosophy into ethics and politics. But he also aptly described humans as “rational,” “matrimonial,” and “political animals.” So Aquinas redivided moral philosophy into three, distinguishing personal, domestic, and political prudence — or equivalently, “economy” — according to the social unit described.

Scholastic ‘AAA’ economics (c.1250-1776) began when Aquinas first integrated these four elements (production, exchange, distribution, and consumption) into an outline of personal, domestic, and political economy, both positive and normative, organizing Aristotle’s contributions according to Augustine’s framework. The scholastic economic theory was taught at the highest university level for more than five centuries by every major Catholic and (after the Reformation) Protestant economic thinker before Adam Smith — notably Lutheran Samuel Pufendorf, whose work was used by Adam Smith’s own teacher to teach Smith economics, and also highly recommended by Alexander Hamilton.

Classical economics (1776-1871) began when Adam Smith cut these four elements to two, trying to explain what he called “division of labor” (specialized production) by production and exchange alone. Smith was addressing the main drawback of scholastic economics, which lay not in the theory itself, but the routine assumption that the economy did not grow in the long run — which had been true on average for about two millennia. To explain growth, Smith and classical followers like David Ricardo undoubtedly advanced the two elements Smith retained. But it was on oversimplification.

Neoclassical economics (1871-c.2000) began when three economists dissatisfied with the practical failure of Smith’s classical outline independently but almost simultaneously reinvented Augustine’s theory of utility, starting its reintegration with the theories of production and exchange.

Thus Adam Smith’s chief significance is not what he added to, but rathersubtracted from economics. As Joseph Schumpeter noted in his History of Economic Analysis, “The fact is that the Wealth of Nations does not contain a single analytic idea, principle or method that was entirely new in 1776.”

Neoscholastic economics (c.2000-). I argue that Neoscholastic economics is already and will continue to revolutionize economics in coming decades, by replacing its lost cornerstone, the theory of distribution.

This historical analysis offers a framework for analyzing other schools of economics. But I will not pursue these lesser differences unless someone asks.

Since Smith essentially “de-Augustinized” economic theory, a re-evaluation is overdue and quite likely for Adam Smith but especially Augustine. So I’ll consider Augustine’s contribution to both scholastic and today’s neoclassical economics, then give an example of the problems in today’s neoclassical economics caused by the failure to restore them, and close with a word about the world views implicit in each theory.

A. Positive scholastic theory. To explain the Two Great Commandments, Augustine had started from Aristotle’s insight that “every agent acts for an end” and his definition of love — willing some good to some person. But Augustine drew an implication that Aristotle had not: every personalways acts for the sake of some person(s). For example, when I say, “I love vanilla ice cream,” I really mean that I love myself and use (consume) vanilla ice cream to express that love (in preference, say, to strawberry ice cream or Brussels sprouts, which reflects my separate scale of utility). Augustine also introduced the important distinction between “private” goods like bread, which inherently only one person at a time can consume, and “public” goods (like a theater performance, national defense, or enforcement of justice) which, at least within certain limits, many people can simultaneously enjoy, because they are not “diminished by being
In other words, Augustine’s crucial insight is that we humans always act on two scales of preference — one for persons as ends and the other for other things as means: personal love and utility, respectively. Moreover, we express our preferences for persons with two kinds of external acts. Since man is a social creature, Augustine noted, “human society is knit together by transactions of giving and receiving.” But these outwardly similar transactions may be of two essentially different kinds, he added: “sale or gift.” Generally speaking, we give our wealth without compensation to people we particularly love, and sell it to people we don’t, in order to provide for those we do love. Since it’s always possible to avoid depriving others of their own goods, this is the bare minimum of love expressed as benevolence or goodwill and the measure of what Aristotle called justice in exchange. But our positive self-love is expressed by the utility of the goods we provide ourselves, and our positive love of others with beneficence: gifts. Hate or malevolence is expressed by the opposite of a gift: maleficence or crime.

The social analog to personal gifts is what Aristotle called distributive justice, which amounts to a collective gift: it’s the formula social communities like a family or nation under a single government necessarily use to distribute their common (jointly owned) goods. Both a personal gift and distributive justice are a kind of “transfer payment”; both are determined by the geometric proportion that matches distributive shares with the relative significance of persons sharing in the distribution; and both are practically limited by the fact of scarcity.

That’s “positive” scholastic economics in a nutshell: describing what is, not necessarily what ought to be.

B. Normative” scholastic theory. We naturally love ourselves, Augustine pointed out. All other moral rules are derived from the Two Great Commandments because these measure the degree to which our love is “ordinate”: rightly ordered. If a good were sufficiently abundant we could and should share it equally with everyone else. But with such goods as time and money, which are “diminished by being shared” (i.e., scarce), this is impossible. Therefore “loving your neighbor as yourself” can’t always mean equally with yourself: “All men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all,” Augustine concluded, “you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”

The (neo-) scholastic model is a powerful tool of analysis. In the book I suggest several important applications, which I’m willing to discuss at the drop of a question. In view of our severe time limits, though, I will focus here on one simple and striking example: the inverse tradeoff between fatherhood and crime.
In a famous paper co-authored with John J. Donohue and later featured in his book (and now movie) Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt argued that after abortion was legalized by several states starting in the late 1960s and nationwide by Roe v. Wade in 1973, millions of fetuses were killed who, when old enough, would have been disproportionately likely to commit crimes. Abortion’s culling of them should therefore have lowered crime rates. To prove this, Levitt and Donohue looked at crime rates 15-18 years after Roe and claimed to have found the drop they had predicted.

However, Levitt and Donohue actually found their results indistinguishable whether they used 1970s or 1990s abortion rates to try to explain overall ’90s crime rates. When both were included the models went statistically haywire (“standard errors explode due to multicollinearity”). Failing to uncover any statistically valid evidence for either a 20-year lag or for no lag, Levitt and Donohue replaced the missing facts with an arbitrary assumption: “Consequently, it must be recognized that our interpretation of the results relies on the assumption that there will be a fifteen-to-twenty year lag before abortion materially affects crime.”
They justified their assumption by quipping that “infants commit little crime.” But nearly all violent crime is committed by men (women are equal only in nonviolent crime) precisely the ages of the fathers of aborted children. In short, the missing variable is “economic fatherhood.” (“Economic” fatherhood is defined not by biological paternity nor residency with but provision for one’s children.) The relationship between economic fatherhood and crime is a straightforward application of Augustine’s personal “distribution function” to the most valuable scarce resource of mortal humans: our time.

Including “economic fatherhood” as a variable not only invalidates Levitt’s claim but reverses it. As far back as data exist, rates of economic fatherhood and homicide have been strongly, inversely “cointegrated” — a stringent statistical test characterizing inherently related events, like the number of cars entering and leaving the Lincoln Tunnel. Donohue and Levitt’s correlation is thus shown to be a “spurious regression,” which was misspecified by omitting a crucial variable: the one describing Augustine’s personal “distribution function.” Legalizing abortion didn’t lower homicide rates 15-20 years later by eliminating infants who might, if they survived, have become murderers: it raised the homicide rate almost at once by turning their fathers back into men without dependent children-a small but steady share of whom do murder. The homicide rate rose sharply in the 1960s and ’70s when expanding welfare and legal abortion sharply reduced economic fatherhood, and it dropped sharply in the ’90s partly due to a recovering birth rate, but mostly because welfare reform and incarceration raised the share of men outside prison who were supporting children. [This scenario didn’t occur to Levitt not because of a lack of ingenuity or data but because of the inherent weakness of the theory he was trying to apply, which Nobel Prize-winning economists George J. Stigler and Gary S. Becker, Levitt’s mentor, called the “economic approach to human behavior.” Levitt was unable to see the true correlation between abortion and crime because he was among the first victims of the epic change in the teaching of economics orchestrated by Stigler with Becker’s support].

The choice of 1776. What I call “Smythology” (with two y’s) is the myth that Adam Smith invented or is somehow indispensable to understanding economics. By far the most influential piece of “Smythology” was Milton Friedman’s linking in Free to Choose of “two sets of ideas — both, by a curious coincidence published in the same year, 1776…. the economic principles of Adam Smith…and the political principles expressed by Thomas Jefferson.”Like many others, I found Friedman’s argument persuasive and incorporated it into my own views, until I discovered that the “choice of 1776” was actually a divergence, not a convergence, and of three, not two world views. The third event of 1776 was the death of Smith’s dear friend, the Epicurean skeptic David Hume.

When the Apostle Paul preached in the marketplace of Athens (probably in 51 A.D.), he prefaced the Gospel with a Biblically orthodox adaptation of Greco-Roman natural law. The evangelist Luke tells us that “some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him” (Acts 17:18). The same dispute has continued ever since, particularly among scholastic, classical, neoclassical, and now neoscholastic e

In (neo-) scholastic natural law, economics is a theory of rational providence, describing how we choose both persons as “ends” (expressed by our personal and collective gifts) and the scarce means used (consumed) by or for those persons, which we make real through production and exchange. By dropping both distribution and consumption, Smith expressed the Stoic pantheism that viewed the universe “to be itself a Divinity, an Animal” (as he put it in an early but posthumously published essay), with God conceived as its immanent soul, so that sentimental humans choose neither ends nor means rationally; instead, “every individual…intends only his own gain…and is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” By restoring consumption but not distribution, neoclassical economics expresses the Epicurean materialism that claims humans somehow evolved in an uncreated world as merely clever animals — highly adept at calculating means but not ends, since “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions,” as Hume put it. The three theories provide three views of both human and divine nature, but only the anthropology and theology of the scholastic theory are compatible with Christian orthodoxy.

As historian of economics Henry William Spiegel noted of the “marginal revolution” that ended classical and launched neoclassical economics in the 1870s, “Outsiders ranked prominently among the pioneers of marginal analysis because its discovery required a perspective that the experts did not necessarily possess.” I don’t underestimate the time or effort it will take. But I confidently predict that in coming decades, neoclassical economists now advocating the “economic approach to human behavior” will either become or else be supplanted by “neoscholastic” economists — who will find full employment rewriting neoclassical theory because they understand the original “human approach to economic behavior” of Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.

John Mueller is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Samuel Gregg on Tocqueville on Bernie

30 Dec


Since a self-described democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is a major contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, and polls suggest one-third of American millennials and over 40 percent of self-described Democrats view socialism favorably, perhaps it’s time to be attentive to great nineteenth-century French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville’s highly critical opinion of socialism.

Most Americans who express positive opinions of socialism, I expect, have some type of European social democracy in mind. Generally speaking, that seems to be what Sanders proposed in his November 19 speech at Georgetown University, in which he defined what he means by democratic socialism.

Sanders made clear that he did not favor government control of the means of production à la Marxism-Leninism. Sanders also specified that he supported private businesses (as long as they don’t shift assets and jobs off-shore) and thinks innovation and entrepreneurship should be rewarded. Picking up on widespread and legitimate frustration with crony capitalism, Sanders underscored his opposition to bailouts and corporate welfare more generally.

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