Bernie Sanders v. Pope Leo XIII

bernie sanders freeMolly McNulty P6

As children, we would get rewards for the simplest things. If our mothers wanted us to be quiet, she would give us a piece of candy in exchange for our silence. If our parents wanted us to do chores around the house, they would give us allowances in exchange for our help. This reward system does not go away when we age; it just evolves. Now, when we work and exercise our labor, we are rewarded with some sort of wage or salary, which is higher than our childhood allowances. In time, we use this reward and change it into a different form, known as private property. According to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, private property is in line with our nature, so therefore, should be seen as a human right. In American history, when the Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution, they explicitly stated that the only people who could vote during that time period were white males with property. They emphasized property ownership because it showed that they had established themselves as part of society. The American way of life depended on private property then and continues to depend on private property now. So, when Bernie Sanders proposes ways to take from the rich and give to the poor, playing with the idea of public property, this should be a red flag because it contradicts the ideas that the United States was founded upon.

What does private property include? The obvious answer is real estate, but it stretches beyond that as well. Private property contains anything that is not completely controlled by the government. In addition to money, tangible items such as clothing and furniture are considered private property, as well as more abstract things, such as ideas and songs that musicians create. Private property basically consists of anything that can be sold to another person.

With Bernie Sanders’s new tax plans, he ultimately wishes to make college free. As a high school senior this sounds especially appealing because, with Sanders’s help, I would not need to worry about getting the money to go to a fifty thousand dollar school for four years. But, where do we, emerging college freshmen, expect the money to come from? The government would be the ones to actually pay the colleges the tuition of each student, but they must first get the money from taxes. How are they going to get enough money from taxpayers to pay for every college student to go to every college in the United States? Taxes are ultimately based on a person’s income, which means that the rich pay more taxes than the middle and poorer classes as it is. However, Sanders wishes to impose a 64.2% tax rate on capital gains and drive up financial transaction taxes.[1] There would be taxes on both gains and losses because, after all, if the government plans on paying for everyone’s college tuition, they need as much money as they can get.

Pope Leo XIII would argue that the biggest problem with Bernie Sanders’s proposal is that it does not take into consideration the hard earned wages of the upper class. Although it seems as if the rich are more privileged than the poor, most wealthy people still use their labor in exchange for their salaries, and the government has no right to take this money away from them. Additionally, the upper class does not owe other classes money, including college students. While Pope Leo XIII believes that giving to those in need becomes an obligation, Sanders turns philanthropy into a mandatory duty. There are also many people who are perfectly capable of paying for college, so, does Bernie Sanders believe that the United States should make college free for the students who have enough money to go to college without the added help?

In Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, he plays with the idea that the family is its own society. When the government decides to intervene in this society, such as taking a significant portion of their private property away from them in the form of taxes, they “destroy the structure of the home.”[2] Citizens who believe it is their duty to help their fellow citizens when they are in need have the obligation to participate in “public aid”.[3] However, this obligation is where it stops. The government was not established to make sure that every single citizen honors this obligation. Pope Leo XIII establishes the views of the Catholic Church in this encyclical when he says that people should not be forced to give when they do not want to or feel that it is unnecessary to give. The bottom line is that it should not be mandatory to share, and the citizens of the United States should not share everything, or else the entire concept of private property vanishes, taking away part of our human nature along with it.

Let’s go back to Bernie Sanders’s big tax plan that will allow every citizen to attend college for “free.” Because college will be free and affordable for every student, a college degree will not look as impressive to a future employer. If everyone has a college degree, then it takes away the incentive to stop going to school and look for a job straight out of college. With this tax plan and affordable college for all, Bernie Sanders has actually hurt those he meant to help because now, college graduates will need to go to graduate school in order to stand out to future employers, and he never proposed to pay for schooling beyond college. So, now, citizens who paid taxes for students to go to college with their hard earned wages are stuck because they were forced to pay for a degree that does not mean much. Additionally, citizens who went to college and earned this worthless degree are stuck because, in order to actually make money, they will need to go on to graduate school. However, if they could not afford college, they probably cannot afford graduate school. Essentially, if Bernie Sanders wants to make college free, he believes that high school degrees are worthless. But, if he makes college free, then he will eventually make college degrees worthless, hurting the citizens he intended to help.

Because Pope Leo XIII believes that citizens should only give when they believe it is their duty to help a fellow citizen in need, funding college would not fall under this category. College is not considered a basic necessity that requires immediate attention. The obligation to give to someone in need usually consists of giving food or clothing—basic things we need to survive, not a person’s entire college tuition.

It sounds like Pope Leo XIII and Bernie Sanders would butt heads if they could talk to each other. Pope Leo XIII believes that private property is a necessary right of citizens and that they should be given the choice of whether or not to give to their fellow citizens in need. On the contrary, Bernie Sanders believes that the country would be better off if more power was allocated to the central government, especially regarding health care and college tuition. However, the problem with Sanders’s approach is that he fails to consider the idea of private property and how the wealthy came to acquire their luxuries. With the exception of celebrities like Donald Trump, who was handed one million dollars by his dad, making it easy for him to become a millionaire, there are plenty of wealthy people who had to work hard for their money. For example, Mark Zuckerberg used the knowledge and experiences he gained in college, which he paid for, to create what we now know as Facebook. He spent hours of coding creating the website and was rewarded with his wealth when the website took off. Like I said, the reward system does not go away; it just evolves when we grow up. If we are rewarded with wealth, then it becomes our incentive. The government should not be able to take away what is rightfully ours and use it for programs, such as free college tuition for every student against our wills because it takes away our incentive to work.

[1] Starr, Paul. “Why Democrats Should Beware Sanders’ Socialism.” POLITICO Magazine. February 22, 2016. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[2]Leo, XIII. “Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891) | LEO XIII.” Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891) | LEO XIII. May 15, 1891. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[3] Ibid.


Granlund, Dave. “Bernie Sanders and Free Stuff.” Digital image. Herald Democrat. February 19, 2016. Accessed May 3, 2016.


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