Senator Bernie Sanders is giving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the race for the nomination for the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket. The Vermont senator, an Independent who became a Democrat so that he could run for president, was never predicted to make any significant traction in the race. However, the man who told congress when he was first elected to the House of Representatives, “I am a socialist and everyone knows that,” has proven that there clearly is an audience for his non-establishment outsider message in terms of his ability to generate huge crowds at campaign rallies, cultivate individual donor contributions and win primary races.
While Real Clear Politics has Clinton polling at 52.7% with a 13.8 point advantage over Sanders at 38.9%, in the critical upcoming April 19 New York primary, Sanders a New York native who has walked away with the last seven primaries still has the opportunity to cut into Clinton’s lead in the Empire State. Even though pragmatists would say that Sanders, who has 1,069 delegates to Clinton’s 1758, does not have a realistic chance against Clinton to earn the nomination, his recent primary wins and the current buzz about a Democratic brokered convention show that you cannot write him off just yet.
The “feel the Bern” momentum begs the reiteration of a key point. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. While there are some who applaud Sanders because he consistently beats Clinton on the trustworthiness and truthfulness quotient, we cannot lose sight of the definition of socialism. According to Merriam Webster, socialism is “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property” and “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.” Socialism eradicates the concept of individual wealth.
Bernie Sanders is clearly resonating with certain population segments despite the fact that recent studies have demonstrated that the broader population has not embraced socialism. According to a survey conducted by YouGov in January 2016, “48% of all Americans have an unfavorable opinion of socialism.” This statistic represents little movement from May 2015 when 49% of Americans viewed socialism unfavorably. Moreover, the views of Democrats regarding socialism have actually gotten worse. In January 2016, 34% of Democrats viewed socialism from a negative lens vs. 29% in May 2015. These statistics seem to be conveying that even though the majority of Democrats have a negative view of socialism in the aggregate, they are willing to consider the prospect of a socialist as president. They are willing to consider a socialist president because they see Sanders as a more palatable alternative than Clinton who appears untrustworthy due to her various scandals including Benghazi, Email Gate and the Clinton Foundation’s finances.
Millennials are more receptive to socialism than other population segments. According to the YouGov/Survey, 43% of those between the ages of 18-29 have a positive view of socialism. This number drops to 27% for those between 30-44 and those between 45-64 and 23% for those above 65. One can argue that millennials have a positive view of socialism because they do not understand what it means. They associate socialism with free products and services, including free college, free healthcare etc. but they do not have a fundamental understanding of how these “freebies” are funded. This lack of understanding can largely be attributed to inadequate education. Many of those embracing Bernie’s smorgasbord of freebies do not realize that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone has to pony up. In this case, it is the tax payer.
We are also talking about the failure of our secondary schools and universities to properly educate our students about the history of socialism. According to a recent article in The Hill entitled “Sanders supporters blind to the reality of socialism”, written by Judd Gregg, the former governor and three term senator from the state of New Hampshire, you only need to look to history for examples of societies which crumbled under a socialist government including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Nazism, and Maoist China. In all of these instances, these societies were worse off from both an economic and a humanitarian perspective following the establishment of a socialist regime.
At its most basic level, the love affair with Bernie Sanders comes down to a lack of awareness of his proposed economic policies, particularly as it pertains to taxes. According to the Tax Policy Center, Sanders’s Tax Policy “would increase federal revenues by $15.3 trillion between 2016 and 2026 or about 6.4% of the GDP.” However, the inherent problem is that while Sanders’s plan would raise enough revenue to reduce national debt and interest rates, the plan includes explicit earmarks for specific spending priorities which will essentially blunt any efforts to chip away at the national debt. Despite what you may be hearing about freebies, under Bernie’s plan, we will all be paying more. While Sanders’s tax increases are primarily focused on the top tax brackets, they are also modestly increasing taxes for middle income households.
Moreover, there are basic mathematical problems with some of Sanders’s “golden egg” proposals. For instance, he has been touting his proposed financial transaction tax as the vehicle to raise the $75 billion which he needs to fund the free college and the relief of student debt initiatives. According to the Tax Policy Center, it is not obvious that the tax could be set at the optimum rate to raise the $75 billion. For if the rate is set too high, there is a greater likelihood that investors will either deploy their transactions to foreign markets or modify the structure of the asset to avoid a tax event. Furthermore, if the financial transaction test was actually set at the level Sanders and his surrogates are proposing, trading would be completely discouraged. And if Sanders’s programs do not generate their forecasted revenue, he will have to create new taxes to fill in the gaps.
A similar situation is in play for Sanders’s “Medicare for All” program because the program as it is designed covers almost every form of health care including inpatient, outpatient, long-term care, home care, dental and vision. The plan would cover 98% of all national health expenditures. Once again, the issue is what if his assumptions and formulas are wrong and the program costs more than his experts estimated? Where is the money going to come from to cover the shortfall?
At the risk of being over simplistic, this is the fundamental problem with Sanders’s financial proposals. While he may be proposing a plan which ostensibly is supposed to raise $15.3 trillion in incremental federal revenue, he has established such a large basket of new programs for that funding that it will be impossible to fund these programs and other programs which are currently in the public purview Once again, there is only so much taxing of the rich you can do. Sooner or later you are going to have a funding gap. Or as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”