Bernie Sanders

Much as Donald Trump has upended the Republican presidential nomination contest, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has upended the Democratic race. What was supposed to be a smooth path to the nomination for former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton has turned into a tight race between Clinton and Sanders [1]. This is made all the more unusual by the fact that Sanders is a self-described “democratic socialist.”

After Sanders trounced Clinton by double digits in the New Hampshire primary, the once-slim prospect of a Sanders nomination seems far more real [2]. While surprising, Sanders’s rise makes sense — liberal activists in the Democratic party have long distrusted the more centrist Clinton, and the continuing inquiries related to Clinton Foundation funds as well as the private email server Clinton used while Secretary of State have made her candidacy more vulnerable [3].

It’s also not abnormal for a presumptive Democratic nominee to face a more liberal challenger. That is, after all, how Clinton lost the nomination to then-senator Barack Obama in 2008 [4].

However, Sanders’s candidacy differs from Obama’s, and other Democrats before him in key ways. First, his message is less “hope”, and a lot more change. He offers a grim view of an economy rigged by oligarchs against the middle and working classes, and a political system too corrupted by big money to address the issues he and his supporters deem most urgent. Sanders’s solution is a “political revolution”: a mass movement where low- and middle-income voters turn out in unprecedented numbers to elect liberal candidates, most importantly Sanders, to reform the campaign finance system, reign in Wall Street and create a more equitable economy [5].

Sanders has a myriad of ambitious policy proposals to accomplish this end. He wants to replace America’s healthcare system with a medicare-for-all style single-payer system, to spend federal money to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all Americans, to break up big banks by resurrecting the New Deal-era Glass Steagall Act, to institute paid family leave, to increase taxes on capital gains, and more [6].

It is worth noting that, strictly speaking, Sanders is not a socialist — he supports a private enterprise-based economy. Some of his policies, however, such as instituting a single-payer healthcare system, could be classified as quasi-socialist or his preferred term: social democratic.

Sanders faces a tough path to the nomination, and it is questionable whether voters in a general election would approve a self-identified socialist. Nonetheless, he has already made his impact on the race by pulling Clinton to the left, and given the youth of his voters, the success of his candidacy may give important clues as to the direction of the Democratic party and the country as a whole [7].

Sam Fraser


FOR
Two pictures recently surfaced of a young Bernie Sanders while he was attending the University of Chicago. In one he is leading a sit-in for racial justice [8], and in the other he is being arrested for his involvement in a protest against school segregation [9]. At the time, Sanders was considered a radical, but today we consider Sanders’s early activism a model for what everyone should have been doing at the time. Sanders’s entire life has been a constant cycle of this sort. He has fought for justice and what he believes is right as society catches up years later. His battle against America’s growing wealth inequality and shift towards oligarchy is merely another example of how Vermont Senator Sanders is far ahead of his time.

Firstly, Sanders’s economic platform is the only one that understands the current economic conundrum the liberal wonkosphere has been worrying about. Industrial countries across the world are at a crossroads when it comes to income inequality. Thomas Piketty’s recent masterpiece, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, finally implemented centuries of economic data from several different regions of the world to provide a picture of what income inequality means. What he found is highly concerning. Due to an inability to increase productivity in industrial nations and a lack of population growth, the growth rates of countries such as the United States will never see economic growth above 1-3% consistently again. We simply do not have the means to grow at a rapid rate like we did in during the baby boom of the 50s and 60s [10]. Meanwhile, while growth is stagnated for the foreseeable future, returns on capital will continue to stay at 4-5% as they have historically. This led Piketty to prove that r > g (returns on capital greater than growth). What this means is that those who own capital (85% of capital in the U.S. is owned by the top 20% of wage earners) have a natural tendency to have their standards of living rise more so than those who rely purely on wage growth for standard of living increases [11]. Due to cumulative growth, Piketty points out that capital owners are theoretically obtaining infinite levels of inequality under the current economic structure. He also points out that inequality has grown exponentially since the conservative revolution of the 1980s in America, when taxes were cut to radical levels. The implications of such income inequality are both devastating and already present. Industrial countries, under the current economic structure, are turning oligarchic. Large donors and Super PACs make up about 90% of campaign funding in American politics [12]. The interests of those who have the means can influence our political system an absurd amount and it can only get worse as Piketty’s r > g lingers in the background.

So what does Bernie have to do with any of this? Bernie is the only candidate in the 2016 election that has any real policy prescriptions for the issue at hand. He wants to raise taxes an amount considered “radical.” What’s funny is Bernie wants raise the marginal tax rate on income over $10 million to 67%, which is far short of the top marginal tax rate under presidents such as Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, etc. that averaged 80-90%. It was only in the 1980s that the conservative revolution completely changed public perception of taxation. Since we cannot possibly maintain an average of 4-5% economic growth going forward, the only way to stop infinitely expanding income inequality is to limit the growing oligarchy through taxation. Sanders also wants to overturn Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for campaign financing by striking down laws limiting independent political expenditures by entities such as Super PACs. While limiting the growing inequality through taxation, Sanders also seeks to close the gap by raising the wages of those who have seen stagnation since the 1980s. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $15, wants to increase social security benefits, and wants to provide free public higher education so that everyone has the opportunity increase their situation.

Secondly, Sanders is essentially taking out several birds with one stone. Increases in taxation on those who have benefited from our inherently unequal economic structure can be used to solve many other major issues that America faces today. According to The Economist, a third of America’s roads are considered to be in “poor” state, while one in nine of its bridges are structurally unsound [13]. Sanders wants to spend a trillion dollars over the next decade putting people to work and fixing the problem of a rotting infrastructure problem. Sanders also wants to finally institute a single-payer healthcare system in America. This would lower healthcare costs for everyone as the private system we have now spends about 30% of profits on overhead costs while government run healthcare spends about 2% on overhead. Economists expect tens of trillions of dollars in savings for Americans that would cancel out the tax increase used to fund the program completely. America, with Sanders’s healthcare plan, could finally join the rest of the industrialized world in saying that your health is not a reflection of your material condition. No one should suffer because they cannot afford not to in the richest country the world has ever seen.

Third and finally, Bernie is the only candidate in the 2016 race that is proposing the sweeping reforms necessary for the financial sector. The 2008 financial crisis was caused in part by deregulation in 1999 and in part by Wall Street greed. Central banks across the world took radical action through quantitative easing that prevented another great depression. The problem is the central banks have failed to hit inflation targets year after year as growth has stagnated.

Chris Raguz

REBUTTAL
Mr. Raguz begins his argument with an anecdote to demonstrate Senator Sanders’s unswaying principles which have remained the same his entire career. This is true. Even the most ardent Sanders detractor will likely concede that Sanders’s principles should be admired. Even with the possibility of winning the Democratic nomination for President, Sanders hasn’t backed down from his original message. However, unbending principles are not what this country needs in the White House. The analogous Republican candidate is Ted Cruz who said he would be happy to compromise with others “if they’re shrinking the size and power of the federal government, if they’re turning around the debt, if they’re expanding liberty” [14]. This philosophy doesn’t lead to progress (or progressive policies) for constituents — It leads to stagnation. In a country yearning for real change and embracing candidates who claim they can disrupt Washington this stagnation, compromise is exactly what needs to happen.

Mr. Raguz also argues that Sanders’s tax hikes are really not that radical because they are still lower than tax levels from the post-war era. However, his argument ignores the philosophical objection to raising taxes on a specific group of society. By implementing massive tax increases only for the rich, Sanders is using the power of the federal government to systematically target a small part of the U.S. citizenry. Not only is this unfair, it’s un-American. One of the founding principles of our country is equal opportunity and freedom to pursue life, liberty, and property. A government that takes these fundamental rights away betrays the values our nation is based on.

The last argument that my opponent makes is about Sanders’s plan to reform the financial system in order to prevent another financial crisis. However, preventing another financial crisis is wishful thinking and actually one of Sanders’s biggest flaws. Given that the last three recessions have lasted an average of eight years, it’s very likely that the next president will see a recession [15]. Mr. Raguz makes a good point that the response to the recession is vital. But Sanders’s probable response to any recession is predictable: spend money. As I point out in my main argument, the national debt is one of the most pressing issues for our generation, and if Sanders’s response is to run up the tab even higher, he could hamstring the United States for decades.

Zach Wong

AGAINST
The rise of Bernie Sanders has been nothing short of remarkable. Headlines surrounding his announcement focused less on reporting that he actually was running and more on convincing us that his bid for President was serious. USA Today had to clarify for its readers that Sanders actually wanted to win [16]. The Washington Post posted a piece explaining why that even mattered [17]. Newsweek ran an opinion titled, “He Won’t Win, so Why is Bernie Sanders Running?” [18] Now, after winning five primaries as of Super Tuesday, those headlines seem overly pessimistic. Even so, Sanders’s far-left policies are unrealistic and potentially damaging for our country.

Even among liberals, and certainly among conservatives, Sanders’s policies don’t resonate. Bernie Sanders has only been endorsed by five Congressmen while Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by 198. The political website FiveThirtyEight, which weights endorsements by prominent political figures in order to predict the eventual nominee, doesn’t think the race has changed much since May 2015, with Hillary Clinton beating Senator Sanders 478-5 [19]. It’s unlikely that the radical policies that Sanders’s supporters love (free healthcare, free college, free childcare, and free paid leave) would be passed in legislation by Congress.

Many of Sanders’s biggest fans argue that his radical policies are exactly his appeal [20]. They believe he is a true liberal who will remain principled no matter what. However, even if his policies were enacted in full, they would most likely be harmful to the country.

The total cost of all of Sanders’s policies? Eighteen trillion dollars [21]. For an idea of scale, TARP, the stimulus package designed to boost the economy in 2008, cost about 800 billion dollars. Sanders’s plan would represent a spending increase larger than the New Deal. And it would come at a time of economic boom, with the stock market seeing record highs and unemployment at 5.5%.

Senator Sanders proposes to fund his massive increase with a universal increase in taxes, especially on the richest citizens and corporations. He also plans to tax some financial transactions. While, on paper, Sanders claims to be able to fund all of his policies, independent analyses find flaws in his proposal [22]. The Tax Foundation, a non-partisan thinktank on fiscal policy, used a dynamic model when calculating projected tax revenue and found that Sanders would raise about 3.5 trillion dollars less than he predicts. This comes from an economic contraction of 9.5% and a reduction in capital investment of 18.6% and a loss of nearly six million jobs [23].

Right now, the national debt is one of the biggest issues unaddressed Congress. What’s most interesting about Sanders’s campaign is that it gains its support largely from Millennials, those born between 1982 and 2002. However, it’s exactly those voters who will the brunt of the fallout from Sanders’s policies, if enacted. The debt is set to increase to precipitous amounts after 2020 as the Baby Boomer generation retires and begins to collect entitlements like Social Security and Medicare [24]. In a decade where fiscal discipline should be vitally important, Senator Sanders hopes to spend as much money as the buildup into World War II [25].

There’s little avenue to critique Bernie Sanders’s foreign policy because he’s staunchly refused to make it a part of his campaign aside from vague statements about “coalitions.” This, in itself, is a bad thing. When Senator Sanders neglects to put forward a stance on foreign affairs, even in order to focus his campaign around a different, very important issue, he does voters a disservice. The few words he says about foreign affairs on his campaign webpage are lacking in specificity. This is unsurprising; Sanders simply lacks the experience and know-how to address foreign policy issues in any legitimate way. American security and America’s position in the world post-Obama are critical issues for many people, who may turn to Secretary Clinton simply out of necessity.

Zach Wong

REBUTTAL
Mr. Wong starts his argument against Senator Sanders by making a blanket statement that lacks resonation with liberals. He cites the delegate count, the opinions of the media, and endorsement count between Sanders and Secretary Clinton as his evidence. There are a few problems with this opening argument. First off, why should any of this matter? Why is who in the establishment, media, or even the current electorate supports at all indicative of the intrinsic value of a Sanders presidency? We should be debating how beneficial a Sanders presidency would or would not be rather than using current support as some sort of twisted feasibility argument. By Mr. Wong’s logic, an Abraham Lincoln presidency in 1860 would be advised against since the public, media, and establishment support was already behind Stephen A. Douglas cite. Moving past this twisted logic, Mr. Wong fails to see what the Sanders campaign is and what it has already achieved. Just nine months ago, Senator Sanders was polling at about 3% nationally. Now he is within 10 points of Clinton with the gap closing fast [26]. The momentum of the Sanders campaign is showing that the more people hear about the Senator, the more likely they are to support him over Secretary Clinton, who of course has establishment endorsements in her pocket over an outsider like Sanders. Mr. Wong is providing a static picture of where the Sanders campaign is, but he fails to see the dynamic picture of where he could be.

Mr. Wong goes on to attack Senator Sander’s policies by calling them too expensive. He then provides a rather disingenuous figure of “18 trillion dollars” for all of the Senator’s policies if they were to be implemented. The most expensive policy Senator Sanders has proposed is his plan for a single-payer health care system. This plan would cost the federal government about 15 trillion dollars over the course of a decade. However, due to reduced costs for both the federal government and consumers of health care, the total savings from switching over to a single-payer system would be about 19.8 trillion dollars over the next decade [27]. This comes with the added benefit of everyone, regardless of material condition, having access to quality healthcare. The biggest cost of Sanders’ various policy prescriptions is something that would end up saving us money, thus making that 18 trillion number an overstatement on the scale of several trillion dollars.

Next, Mr. Wong attacks Bernie Sanders for his plan of increased taxation, especially on the rich. For the sake of brevity, I will refer you to prior arguments I made in the “For Bernie” section to understand why he is wrong. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in the 2016 race who has his head in the game at all when it comes to income inequality. He is the only one advocating taxation that would limit Piketty’s law of R > G and would finally begin to reverse the damage done by the conservative revolution of the 1980s [28]. To claim that increased taxation will harm the economy is to fail to see where the new revenue will be spent. Mr. Wong cites statistics from the conservative Tax Foundation, but the growth lost to increased taxation will be outweighed by the benefits of Sanders’s policies. For instance, Healthcare expenditures constitute about 18% of the U.S. economy [29]. Single-payer healthcare will lower the input costs for much of the country, putting an extra $5,000 in the pockets of middle class families to spend in the economy. Increased college education would make our economy more efficient as we would finally be able to fill the 23 million jobs that will be needed over the next decade that require a education levels the current system could not meet [30]. Infrastructure spending would add even more growth to the economy and create millions of jobs. In short, Sanders plan would create economic growth without sacrificing dealing with structurally infinite income inequality.

Lastly, when it comes to Mr. Wong’s critique of Senator Sanders’s foreign policy, it is important to remember that Bernie is the only candidate to vote against the war in Iraq. His foreign policy sense has always been on the morally right side of history. He has been involved in veterans affairs since he stepped foot in Congress decades ago. To claim that Sanders lacks foreign policy depth is to fail to see the benefits of a Sanders foreign policy. He is the only candidate with a true sense of morality when it comes to foreign policy. The details of implementing policy is often left to foreign policy advisors and the massive bureaucracies within the Department of State, Defense, the CIA, etc. Having Bernie in office would guarantee a moral safeguard against the hawkish nature American foreign policy has taken on over the years. Between the Republicans threatening to wage war with ISIS and Hillary Clinton’s historically hawkish foreign policy, Bernie’s morality seems like a godsend for an America sick of getting involved in various quagmires around the world.

Chris Raguz

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Sources:
[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-sanders-caught-fire-in-iowa-and-turned-the-clinton-coronation-into-a-real-race/2016/02/02/83b08d22-c79a-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html
[2] http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/02/14/editorial-bernie-sanders-nh-win-changes-race/80297162/
[3] http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/25/politics/clinton-liberals-trust/
[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/09/why-hillary-clinton-shouldnt-get-a-pass-on-a-new-hampshire-loss/
[5] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/bernie-sanders-believe-candidate-stands-10-issues/
[6] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/bernie-sanders-believe-candidate-stands-10-issues/
[7] http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2015/11/21/whatever-the-heck-bernie-sanders-is-talking-about-its-not-socialism/#434aa9bc2dc2
[8] http://www.dailynewsbin.com/news/bernie-sanders-caught-promoting-a-photo-of-himself-at-1962-civil-rights-rally-isnt-really-him/23815/
[9] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/02/images-emerge-of-sanders-segregation-arrest.html
[10] Piketty, Thomas, and Arthur Goldhammer. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Print. ISBN 978-0674430006
[11] Hurst, Charles E. (2007), Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences, Pearson Education, Inc., p. 31, ISBN 0-205-69829-8
[12] http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/wherefrom.php?cycle=2010
[13] http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21693205-policymakers-rich-economies-need-consider-some-radical-approaches-tackling-next
[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbbtvS5-kpg
[15] http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21612168-weighing-evidence-how-long-will-expansion-last
[16] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2015/04/29/bernie-sanders-interview-democratic-presidential-race/26576639/
[17] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/04/30/bernie-sanders-presidential-run-really-matters-heres-why/
[18] http://www.newsweek.com/why-bernie-sanders-running-328526
[19] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-endorsement-primary/
[20] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/01/18/bernie-sanderss-idealism-and-hillary-clintons-pragmatism-clash-in-debate/
[21] http://www.wsj.com/articles/price-tag-of-bernie-sanders-proposals-18-trillion-1442271511?cb=logged0.8617555715609342
[22] https://berniesanders.com/issues/how-bernie-pays-for-his-proposals/
[23] http://taxfoundation.org/article/details-and-analysis-senator-bernie-sanders-s-tax-plan
[24] https://www.cbo.gov/publication/50250
[25] http://taxfoundation.org/article/details-and-analysis-senator-bernie-sanders-s-tax-plan
[26] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_democratic_presidential_nomination-3824.html
[27] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/9/16/1421895/-Hey-WSJ-Bernie-s-Plan-SAVES-the-US-5-081-Trillion-on-Health-Care
[28] Piketty, Thomas, and Arthur Goldhammer. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Print.
[29] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/why-the-critics-of-bernienomics-are-wrong_b_9376610.html
[30] https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/fullreport.pdf

image: “Bernie Sanders for President” by Phil Roeder — Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr Creative Commons — https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/712/21581179719_571bb5a7ab_b.jpg

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