Issues & Insights

Ben & Jerry’s Tried Bernie-nomics in Russia and Hilariously Failed

Ben & Jerry’s, the spectacularly successful Burlington, Vermont, ice cream makers, are as famed for their psychedelic flavors – like “Cherry Garcia,” named in collaboration with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia – as they are for their support of left-wing causes. But they once actually put their rubles where their raspberry ripple is and decided the collapsing 1980s Soviet economy would be a good business environment for a manufacturing plant – after their ideological confrere, then-Burlington Mayor Bernie Sanders, suggested it.

Michael Kranish’s fascinating piece of reporting on Sanders’ 1988 honeymoon in Cold War Russia recounts how Vermont’s socialist senator, now running a second time for the Democratic presidential nomination, held a press conference when he returned and pushed the notion that the Soviet Union was the place for one of the Green Mountain State’s most famous companies.

“Part of Sanders’ mission was to encourage U.S. investment in Russia,” Kranish noted. “Concluding the news conference, Sanders said, ‘I think we are all here to make a strong prediction: The people in the Soviet Union love ice cream and that Ben & Jerry’s is going to make a fortune.’”

Ben Cohen, the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s and co-chairman of the Sanders presidential campaign, told Kranish the disappointing result of opening the facility – an idea he said was the ice cream makers’, not Sanders’.

“Cohen said it was not possible to make money from the venture,” Kranish reported, “he said he was paid at one point with Russian nesting dolls — and that it was eventually transferred to a local partner.”

But as with a sizeable portion of what his company does, Cohen said profit was not the motive in the venture. It was, rather, “to foster better relations between the two countries.”

Nesting Dolls For All

Russian nesting dolls may be all that’s left to pay American health care providers with if Sanders is elected President and allowed to inflict Bernie-nomics on the medical sector of the economy.

He markets his $32 trillion socialized medicine proposal using the focus group-tested euphemism “Medicare For All.” Sanders would have the federal government setting the prices of all procedures, services and medicines, and it would be the same government paying those prices to hospitals, surgeons, doctors, and nurses.

Socialists like Sanders sell this as the perfect way to lower the cost of health care. But it’s an ironclad law of supply and demand – as true as the law of gravity – that when a price is set below the real price the market sets, the result is: shortages.

As government entitlement scholar Charles Blahous of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center warned last year in an analysis of Sanders’ plan, “M4A would markedly increase the demand for healthcare services while simultaneously cutting payments to provid­ers by more than 40 percent relative to private insurance rates, reducing payments to levels that are lower on average than providers’ current costs of providing care. It cannot be known how much providers will react to these losses by reducing the availabil­ity of existing health services, the quality of such services, or both.”

Sanders and the Command Economy

Sanders and the fellow Vermonters with him “toured factories, hospitals and schools,” the Washington Post’s Kranish found. He even interviewed a city mayor for radio and asked about housing and health care costs.

Meanwhile, “Throughout the trip, local officials took aside members of Sanders’ entourage, telling them that the Soviet system was near collapse. At one point, officials of an engine factory that employed thousands of people told Howard Seaver, an official with a Burlington business group, that orders from Moscow had fallen, and they asked whether he could help arrange business with the United States.”

According to Seaver, Sanders, then 46, and the rest of them realized the defects of Russian communism. “Yes, they may have had low-cost apartments, but things were very out of whack, there were food shortages, no political freedom,” Seaver told Kranish, adding that the visit is probably why Sanders “is not anti-free-enterprise or capitalism but he wants to have a safety net and give a fair shake to all, but certainly not to have a command economy we saw in the Soviet Union.”

The Burlington businessman might want to have another look at Bernie’s health plan; “a command economy” is exactly what it would impose. Burlington’s favorite son saw such a system fail to work in the Soviet Union with his own eyes. Ben and Jerry learned the hard way that it doesn’t work, with their own capital. But somehow he believes it is going to work in America, because in Bernie Sanders’ mind and heart the collectivist honeymoon still isn’t over.

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Thomas McArdle

Tom McArdle @MacArdghail, longtime Senior Writer for Investor's Business Daily, was a White House Speechwriter for President George W. Bush, National Political Reporter for Washington political columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Managing Editor of Human Events, and has worked as a writer for CNN and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His work has appeared in National Review, the American Spectator, The Hill, the Washington Examiner, Newsmax, and the National Catholic Register. He has appeared on Fox News and numerous talk radio programs. He is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, M. Stanton Evans' National Journalism Center in Washington, Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, and at 17 was one of Curtis Sliwa's original "Magnificent 13" Guardian Angels.

1 comment

  • Medicare is projected to become insolvent in about seven years. Is opening it to everyone likely to push that off?

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