Nothing summarizes the Bernie Sanders platform better than this since deleted tweet that contains exactly zero adjectives. Even the word adjective is a noun.
His heart is in the right place, but the details are a mess.
Sanders has captured America’s attention with a similar elevator pitch to Donald Trump: The political and economic elites write their own rules, and have been screwing over the rest of us for years.
The reason this message has been so successful for both candidates is that it is largely true.
Nothing encapsulates the separate set of rules the rich and powerful have written for themselves better than the fact that no major executives went to jail in 2008 for nearly liquidating the entire global economy in a decades long campaign of fraud and abuse.
However, just because someone can identify a problem doesn’t mean they have the solutions to fix it, and in the past week, many liberal economists who probably agree with Sanders’ fundamental premise have said his math might as well be made of unicorns. I encourage all Bernie Sanders supporters to read this sober evaluation of his economic forecasts.
Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman’s position on his economic plan is particularly brutal because he has been making Bernie Sanders’ central argument every week in Fortune, Slate, The Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, The Economist, Harper’s, Washington Monthly, and the New York Times for the last two decades.
Here’s a bit from his recent New York Times piece on the matter:
“This controversy is an indication of a campaign, and perhaps a candidate, not ready for prime time. These claims for the Sanders program aren’t just implausible, they’re embarrassing to anyone remotely familiar with economic history (which says that raising long-run growth is very hard) and changing demography.”
Sanders should be commended for pointing out the obvious problem at the heart of our economy, but he has been much more dishonest than his backers would tell you.
The Republican Party has blocked nearly every proposal President Obama has put forward, deriding him as a Socialist, even though he’s been arguably the most conservative Democrat in the Oval Office in nearly a century.
There is no way in hell that Sanders is going to get an actual Socialist agenda passed through the obstructionist era Republican Congress, and yet he almost never addresses this vital factor in the equation, instead vaguely referencing the need for America to have a political revolution.
Kenneth Thorpe, a public-health expert at Emory University recently criticized Sanders’ healthcare plan to help the poor as in fact, doing the exact opposite, and instead of refuting his math, the Bernie team said his healthcare plan is tied to a $15/hour minimum wage in order to make it work.
This is another prime example of his dishonesty on his ability to accomplish his agenda. He wants to fight two gigantic political battles at the same time, yet refuses to address the political realities of that situation.
Barack Obama was elected in 2008 with as big of a mandate from the people as you could imagine (for modern times at least) and he was only able to get one ambitiously big bill (the Affordable Care Act) through a Senate controlled by his own party.
Sanders loves to talk about the will of the people, yet he fails to acknowledge that the will of the people has installed many members of Congress who don’t agree with him.
For years, Republicans have been rightfully criticized for their one size fits all economic policy of “throw more capitalism on it.” Sanders is basically making the same argument, but with “revolution.”
Bernie is depicted as a paragon of virtue and honesty, and he has been incredibly consistent with many of his views, but to paint him as some sort of continual political outsider is absurd.
Anyone who has been in Congress for 25 years is a politician through and through, and Sanders has pulled the same ploy that many have seen Republicans pull on The Daily Show for years.
One week before he voted for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which applied the death penalty to drug trafficking and introduced a Federal “three strikes” law with a mandatory life sentence – it didn’t pass) and the Ominibus Crime Bill of 1994, (this one did pass, and contained many of the same measures but with the addition of reducing the age for minors to be tried as adults) Bernie Sanders said:
“We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails.”
A career Washington politician saying one thing and then doing the opposite, isn’t that what Bernie is running against?
Bernie Sanders is an avowed Democratic Socialist, which he will say is an important distinction from the Socialism of Lenin and Marx. However, as it pertains to the economy, the only real difference between the two is specificity.
Socialism leaves room for market and non-market collectivism, but Democratic Socialism is just the combination of a Democratic political system and a Socialist economy. Both involve central planning, which is a dirty phrase in politics (because it’s a terrible idea); so candidates like Sanders sell it as if they are using government to humanize economics.
Putting aside the fact that neither government nor economics is “human” in nature, at some point, this all comes back to the same problem: the state is not just the referee of the market, but the coach and the general manager as well. That is the essence of Socialism, and the Soviet Union provided us with a perfect example of why it is incredibly difficult to work with at a large-scale.
Sanders is also dishonest about what Socialism actually means:
“You go to your public library, or you call your fire department or police department, what do you think you are calling? These are socialist institutions.”
The presence of regulation and public goods doesn’t equal Socialism. Nearly all forms of governance believe in providing basic public services for the populace. Police and fire departments exist in Syria, yet no one would say Bashar al-Assad has been anything but a Fascist dictator.
Just because a handful of powerful people are going 100 mph in a 75 doesn’t mean you drop the speed limit down to 30, you just enact methods to stop those people from going that fast, or even better, enforce the laws already on the books to stop the activity in the first place.
Almost all of our major economic markets have become horribly corrupt due in large part to their lax regulation. The cruel irony of our political corruption is that America is simultaneously overtaxed and undertaxed.
We have one of the highest effective business tax rates in the world, but that’s only true for those who cannot afford armies of lawyers and accountants to locate the seemingly infinite amount of loopholes that politicians have blasted into the US tax code.
Whenever a Berniebro lectures me about how we should simply emulate the Nordic countries, I can’t help but laugh.
Here’s why it is such a ridiculous argument:
The combined GDP of Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway is $1.7 trillion.
US GDP: $16.77 trillion.
This is like comparing the physics of driving a sports car to an oil tanker. What works at less than 3% the scale of us up near Santa’s workshop doesn’t necessarily compare to the greatest economic engine the world has ever produced. We need our own model.
The irony when Bernie Sanders says things like ”If you read what [Eugene] Debs said about the goals of socialism, it’s no different from what I’ve been saying — that all socialism is about is democracy” is that he’s also advocating for a pretty awesome form of governance that we already have in place: Liberal Democracy.
Many of the exact same programs Bernie Sanders endorses can be attained in a Liberal Democracy. Want proof? Look around. Socialist policies like Medicare and Social Security were accomplished along with the presence of a free(ish) market for healthcare.
Both ideologies agree on a strong central authority acting on behalf of the public, the key difference is that Socialism entails government ownership of at least parts of the economy; whereas Liberal Democracy is about using the Federal Government to ensure that the free market does not act against the interests of the people. In one model, the government picks winners and losers, in the other, the market does.
Socialism isn’t all bad.
For example, abolishing the right of private property on certain lands (also known as Eminent Domain) can be hugely beneficial, as the interstate highway system proves.
However, what separates America from all the other economic powers are the rewards that exceptional individuals can extract from the free market by providing something superbly beneficial to the masses: like the phone many of you are reading this on.
Socialism is opposed to providing proportional compensation to visionaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk.
Ultimately, Socialism is an offensive ideology to so many because it is antithetical to our most fundamental understanding of the world.
Everyone is not equal, that’s not how evolution works. Certain traits and characteristics win out to keep the species alive today and help build a better future while others simply fade into obscurity.
The free market reflects this reality, and that is why it is the greatest weapon against poverty in the history of this planet.
All of this is not to say that the inspiration for Sanders’ campaign is bunk, people should be pissed off at 2016 America.
Our Democracy has been hijacked by somewhere around 300,000 oligarchs to create oligopolies as far as the eye can see (or as the great George Carlin called it “the illusion of choice”).
Every country that embraces free market principles is better off for it; competition makes everyone better. Look at what China has done in this century as the ultimate proof. Markets should be regulated, some more than others, but the economy should not be centrally planned, which is at the heart of any Socialist ideology.
When Bernie Sanders says that he espouses a Socialist philosophy that doesn’t involve central planning, he’s really just describing the Liberal Democracy we used to have. We don’t need to completely upend the political system simply because we fell asleep at the wheel for a half century, we just need to modernize it and get back to doing the things that made our governance the crown jewel of mankind.
Cover Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)