Excerpted from 50-Year Wall Street Veteran Joe Rosenberg’s Op-Ed via The Wall Street Journal,
It takes an immigrant like me to parse the poison that Bernie Sanders is peddling to the ignorant, naive youth of this country. It takes someone who has experienced socialism’s failures firsthand—as I did, initially as a small child, later as a young adult—to see why Sen. Sanders is succeeding: We elders, immigrants and native-born alike, have failed to teach our children and grandchildren about the economic history and false promises of the myriad forms of socialism that infest our world.
More than 75 years ago, I landed at Ellis Island as a 6-year-old child. My family had fled the despotism of National Socialism that had been foisted onto the gullible (albeit literate) German people. We were far from the only victims of collectivism. As all of us know but some refuse to admit, collectivism destroyed the economies of places like China, Russia and Cuba, and ruined the lives of millions of people.
Nine years after I arrived in America, the new state of Israel came into existence, making Jews like me both proud and curious. When I was 18, imbued with idealistic fervor, I decided to help the young nation grow and prosper by working the soil. Off I went to further the goals of social justice by joining a kibbutz, or communal farm. There the painful reality of the maxim Karl Marx popularized, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” hit home.
As an example of kibbutz ideology: Does it make sense for a person running the washing machines in the laundry to be receiving exactly the same pay and living benefits as someone who might be the community doctor after going to medical school? That may sound like an extreme example, but the same principles apply throughout the economic structure of a collectivist economy. Unlike Chinese or Russian collectivism, Israel’s was voluntary—but totally insane nonetheless.
I left Israel three years later, in 1954, because I was an American citizen and the time had come for me to serve my country. I was drafted and inducted into the U.S. Army. After two years of active duty, stationed back in my native Germany, I realized that my future lay in the capitalist U.S., not in Israel.
I came to see that I needed a college degree to get ahead in the competitive society of my home country. Because I had to work during the day to support myself and my family, I attended classes in the evening, taking eight years to get a bachelor’s degree in finance and an M.B.A. While going to night school, I got my first Wall Street job.
My Wall Street is the real Wall Street—not the imaginary one that Bernie Sanders demonizes daily. My Wall Street is a place filled with opportunities to succeed, even for an immigrant like me without any connections or relatives in the business. Here, I could reach the pinnacle of my profession based on merit.
Unlike a certain politically ambitious Brooklynite-turned-Vermonter, I did not have to denigrate others to advance my career. To the contrary, I found wonderful mentors who were happy to reward me for hard work. Much of the job was difficult and far from fun. But I rose—and occasionally fell a bit—based on what I produced, not how many people I could get to toe some party line.
My experience is far from unique. I have many colleagues who left supposed paradises, socialist countries like China, Russia and Greece, and now strive to succeed on Wall Street. They’re seeking not a handout but a piece of the American Dream, just as I did. When I entered the business Wall Street was a far clubbier place than today. It has increasingly become a meritocracy open to people of every background.
Sen. Sanders ought to ask some of the immigrants who work on Wall Street what they think about the opportunities that this country affords, rather than going to college campuses and attacking the financial industry to further his own political ends. He should ask some recent immigrants from India and the emerging world what the true meaning of income inequality is.
Bernie Sanders and I are poster children for what poor Jews from Brooklyn or Germany can accomplish in this great land of opportunity. So I ask him: Please stop tearing down the country that has been so good to both of us.