Why Bernie Sanders is More Electable Than People Think
by Benjamin Studebaker
A few days ago, I wrote a popular post about the ideological differences between Bernie Sanders, the egalitarian committed to shrinking the financial sector and boosting consumption by raising wages, and Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal committed to protecting the interests of finance capital. I explained the history of the Democratic Party and how it came to be captured by neoliberalism–the same economic ideology espoused by Ronald Reagan and many of his successors in the Republican Party. Many people found that this clarified the differences between Bernie and Hillary for them. However some people expressed concern that even though they think Bernie’s ideology is more desirable, he may still nonetheless be unable to beat a republican in a general election. A republican victory would be awful for the left–even a neoliberal democrat is still noticeably to the left of a neoliberal republican, especially on issues like climate change or LGBT rights. However, I think there are good reasons to think that Bernie is at least as electable as Hillary, and possibly significantly more so.
The reasons Bernie Sanders is so much more electable than most people think are all tied to the discussion of ideology we had a few days ago. If you read that post, you might remember the chart I used to illustrate the change in the economic ideology of the country that occurred in the mid to late 70’s:
A few people asked me about the source–the data comes from the World Wealth and Income Database. One of the important things to notice about this data is that when an economic ideology catches on in America, it tends to capture both major parties at once. During the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s, even republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon reduced economic inequality. Post-1976, even democrats like Carter, Clinton, and Obama raised inequality. Economic ideologies change when there is an economic disaster that is seen to discredit the prevailing ideology. The Great Depression discredited the classical economics practiced by right wingers like Calvin Coolidge, allowing for left wing policies that in the 1920’s would have sounded insane to ordinary people. The stagflation in the 70’s discredited the Keynesian egalitarianism of FDR and LBJ, allowing Ronald Reagan to implement right wing policies that would have been totally unthinkable to people living in the 1960’s. I submit to you that the 2008 economic crisis and the stagnation that has followed have discredited the neoliberal economic ideology of Reagan and Clinton not just among democrats, but for supporters of both parties, and that new policies and candidates are possible now that would have been totally unthinkable to people as recently as 10 years ago.
This has been in the cards for a while. In 2008, democrats thought they had elected someone who was going to change the economic ideology of the country in response to the crisis–Barack Obama. As it turned out, Obama was only a mildly more left wing neoliberal than the Clintons. There was no breakup of the banks, no shrinking of the financial sector, no increase in real wages for most workers. Some people argue that Obama was a committed left-winger, but was blocked by republicans in congress. This argument cannot apply to his first two years, when he had a super majority in congress. Either Obama or the democratic members of congress that comprised that super majority were unwilling to dump neoliberalism in 2009.
When the public loses confidence in the consensus economic ideology, multiple new ideological choices become possible. Ordinary Americans grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of economic ideological change, resulting in proliferation of anti-establishment movements on both sides–the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. However, there were few opportunities for either of these movements to capture the presidency. In 2012, the democrats were stuck with an incumbent President Obama for better or worse, while the republican anti-establishment candidates split the rebel vote and handed the election to Mitt Romney.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the rebellion going on within the Republican Party. This is a crucial part of the story of why Bernie is so electable. In the Republican Party, the GOP establishment that we talk about is even more committed to the neoliberal economic ideology than the democratic establishment. But the rebels in the Republican Party are not neoliberals at all–they are right wing populists committed to right nationalism. While left egalitarians like Bernie Sanders believe that economic inequality is the cause of wage and income stagnation and economic under-performance, right nationalists blame foreigners and minorities for this stagnation. Right nationalists attack neoliberalism on multiple fronts:
- They accuse neoliberals of allowing foreign countries like China to exploit and expropriate our country in bad trade deals.
- They accuse neoliberals of allowing foreigners to pour into our country, taking jobs from Americans and undercutting their wages.
- They accuse neoliberals of wasting our country’s resources on humanitarian and foreign aid and interventions that do not advance the national interest.
Who does that sound like to you? Donald Trump. Ted Cruz.
Here’s a little chart that helps illustrate some of the policy differences between left egalitarians, neoliberals, and right nationalists:
|Ideology||Left Egalitarianism||Neoliberalism||Right Nationalism|
|Examples||Sanders, Warren||Clinton, Bush, Obama, Romney||Trump, Cruz|
|Shrinking the Financial Sector||Supports||Opposes||Opposes|
|Amnesty for Undocumented Immigrants||Supports||Supports (Republican neoliberals pretend they don’t, but vote for it anyway)||Opposes|
|Humanitarian Military Intervention||Generally Opposes||Supports||Opposes|
|Explicitly Imperialist Military Intervention||Opposes||Opposes||Supports|
|Living Minimum Wage||Supports||Opposes||Opposes|
|Obamacare/Romneycare||Supports||Supports (Republican neoliberals pretend they’ll repeal it, but it’s called “Romneycare” for a reason)||Opposes|
|Tuition Free College||Supports||Opposes||Opposes|
In 2010, the Tea Party began taking over republican seats in congress. These folks were not merely more right wing than the people they replaced, they were right nationalists, people with a different ideological position. People like Ted Cruz don’t see themselves as part of the establishment, they see themselves as an altogether different political force, and to a large degree they are. Because of the 2008 crisis, these rebels have enjoyed massive support within the Republican Party, and since 2010 they have been in the process of capturing it and turning it into a right nationalist party. Over the last few years, you can probably feel the republicans moving further away from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on a lot of different issues–this is because they are gradually abandoning neoliberalism.
Mitt Romney, however, was a neoliberal. How did he win the nomination? Romney struggled to attract the support of more than 30% to 40% of GOP voters in 2012, but the right nationalists ran too many candidates, splitting the vote and allowing Romney to eventually get the nomination. In 2012, only Romney, Giuliani, and Huntsman ran as traditional neoliberals. Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, and Santorum ran to varying degrees on nationalist platforms. The neoliberals were consistently at a disadvantage, but Romney was able to take advantage of the nationalist split to eventually win:
In 2016, Bush, Rubio, Christie, and Kasich are running as neoliberals while Trump, Cruz, and Carson run as nationalists:
This time, the neoliberals have failed to coalesce around a single candidate and are fighting among themselves. Rubio finished 3rd in Iowa, but 5th in New Hampshire. Kasich finished 2nd in New Hampshire, but 8th in Iowa. Bush finished 3rd in New Hampshire, but 6th in Iowa. The winners of these states were Cruz in Iowa and Trump in New Hampshire, both nationalists. Because Rubio, Kasich, and Bush were each top three finishers in at least one of these states, all three will stay in. The establishment will remain unable to unite, and this will finally let a nationalist take the republican nomination. If you’re a neoliberal republican, you want to lock Rubio, Kasich, and Bush up in a room together until two of them agree to drop out. If you can’t do this between now and Super Tuesday, your ideology is going to lose control of the Republican Party for decades.
The world is different post-2008. Neoliberalism, which was in ascendance in the 70’s and 80’s and peaked in the 90’s, has been in decline since the stock bubble burst at the dawn of the new millennium. The neoliberals have been frantically trying to keep things together ever since. First they created a housing bubble, then when that popped and 2008 hit, they created bubbles in commodities and emerging markets. Those have now popped, and excess investment capital has now piled back into the US stock market, which is again overheated.
Analysts are deeply concerned about a new round of recession this year, though opinions vary widely about how severe this recession might be. The excess investment created by neoliberal economic policies around the world has led to a Chinese stock bubble, an American student debt bubble, and continued weakness in Europe due to austerity. Many of the traditional indicators of impending recession are lighting up–retail sales are dropping, factory orders are dropping, inflation-adjusted growth is in bad shape, even corporate profits are less robust than they were. If this recession does materialize this year, neoliberalism and the political establishment that advocates for it will be even more likely to lose further ground in both parties. All of this is making it increasingly difficult for neoliberalism to retain its grip on the two political parties. The public will not tolerate indefinite stagnation and decline in median household incomes–sooner or later any dominant economic ideology that produces figures like this will, rightly or wrongly, be discredited:
Neoliberalism’s time may already be up in 2016. It’s finished in the Republican Party, and Hillary Clinton is all that stands between the left egalitarians and control over the Democratic Party. The imminent collapse of the dominant economic ideology is not yet widely recognized. Right now, the affluent people who have benefited from neoliberalism are completely confused. They don’t understand why so many people, particularly young people, are flocking to candidates they consider totally insane. You can see this all around you on the internet and in the media–there are columnists, pundits, and TV personalities constantly acting incredulous that the public is not jumping up and down to vote for Clinton, Kasich, Bush, or Rubio. Michael Bloomberg is so confused and disturbed by the possibility that the public is about to pick someone who isn’t a neoliberal that he’s considering an independent run. Like most affluent people, he thinks the only reason the neoliberals are failing is that they are running ineffective campaigns. Bloomberg and the American neoliberal political establishment live in a bubble–they are insulated from the real-world consequences of stagnant median incomes. They don’t understand the extent to which the public, especially young people, have totally lost confidence in them to run this system effectively and fairly.
What this means is that if this is the year when the voting public decides that it’s done with neoliberalism, the party that nominates a neoliberal candidate will likely lose. If democrats don’t nominate and support the left egalitarian political movement, if they instead continue to nominate neoliberals who continue to allow incomes to stagnate, they are ensuring that sooner or later (and probably sooner) disaffected poor and working Americans will choose right nationalism as the next dominant economic ideology for potentially decades to come.
The public increasingly does not believe in neoliberalism anymore. For democrats to win, we need to show people that we have an ideology that is not neoliberalism and that is more attractive than right nationalism. The only viable ideology for the Democratic Party is left egalitarianism, and the only left egalitarian candidate is Bernie Sanders.
People who expect Bernie to lose still think that neoliberalism is ascendant or dominant, and that the left has to play defense against the right. That may have been the situation in the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s but today neoliberalism is on its last legs. The republicans can see it. They’re moving on. Will we defend the now-decrepit monster they gave us until they inflict a new and more terrible monster upon us, or will we stick up for our own ideology and put up a real fight against Trump and Cruz?
For all of these reasons, Bernie Sanders polls better against Trump than Hillary Clinton does:
When the dominant ideology is no longer dominant and the public is looking for something new, you don’t win with more of the same. For the first time in a long time, the public is ready to change the dominant economic ideology. Are we going to do it, or are we going to let Donald Trump do it?
I can’t promise you that left egalitarianism is going to win this fight. But I can promise you that even if neoliberalism can hold on another round or two and Hillary can win this time, sooner or later, if we keep nominating neoliberals, allowing incomes to stagnate, and letting people lose hope in the system, we will lose to a right nationalist and that right nationalist will take our country to a place you don’t want to see. If left egalitarianism is going to be the next dominant ideology instead, we have to fight to make that happen. The country isn’t ready for Hillary or Jeb, it’s ready for a new paradigm. Will we provide that paradigm, or will they? The primaries are still ongoing. It’s our choice–fight for Bernie’s brave new world, or waste our strength in an alliance with an ideology that is not only morally repugnant, but that is politically decrepit and eventually doomed to fail.
The Huffington Post has honored me by sharing a repost of this with their large audience.
If you think Bernie is electable in general election…than you are bow down to the GOP media machine and it is really working for extreme right people!
You are giving away White House to GOP including you are giving away Supreme Court majority due to several position is going to vacant next year or two. As a real Democrate Party members, we should not support Mr. Sanders. He was never Democrate and he is taking advantage of the party.
Wake up young generation…are you ready to lose Presidency and court majority?
It would be nice if you would engage with the argument rather than just assert the contrary position. I did put some effort into it, you know.
I am absolutely gobsmacked with your two blogs on this, and have been distributing them widely. I think you have outlined the real issue here.
Thank you so much.
Again, Ben, you’ve put it altogether very logically, and beautifully! I’d love to start printing this for distribution before our caucus.
Thanks–you’re welcome to share it for non-profit caucus purposes. Just make sure my name is on it.
🙂 excellent articke
Geez. I can spell! Excellent article. You make compelling points.
Thank you for writing this article! It so articulately describes what I have been feeling for months!
Perhaps instead of spewing the “party” line of DWS and HRC take a look at ACTUAL POLLS? BERNIE DEFEATS ALL the Republicans and HRC LOSES TO ALL THE REPUBLICANS(or is in margin of error against Trump.) IF you are truly Progressive, you’ll stop labeling Bernie as outside your tent and get with the true Progressive who not only can actually win the General–Bernie Sanders–but the one Candidate who actually cares about the Middle Class…at least what’s left of it…;) 12742289_10153630306299690_9174369621550947562_n.jpg
I agree. Bernie has a better chance to win the general election.
Not so. I believe Bernie Sanders can beat Donald Trump in a general election. I will not vote for Clinton if she is the Dem nominee. I’ll vote for Trump. He may be a barbarian but at least he’s not an establishment lackey. Dem’s don’t have the guts to run a non-establishment candidate and Clinton will lose.
Oh but he is an establishment lackey. A different establishment – business without the mask. An establishment of anger & fear. A terrifying establishment.
The Democratic establishment is self destructing by not recognizing Sanders as a valid candidate. All they are doing by that is alienating his base and ensuring they will stay home in November. If they were waging a fair war then people may not end up so bitter, but Hillary Clinton is not about fair. She is not even about telling the truth. Like it or not, the dirty tactics on the part of the DNC and the Clinton campaign is what will hard the presidency to the GOP. That is what is happening, so we all better hope Bernie Sanders wins the primary.
The Hillarites are giving away the White House because they refuse to see the writing on the wall. Both parties are broken. They refuse to serve the people. I have most often supported the Democratic candidates but think of myself as an independent. My husband and I are educated baby boomers. We are not part of the naïve youth you refer to. Many of the youth that are Sander’s supporters are well informed. I can’t say that I was as well versed in the politics of my time as they are in theirs. Get off your high horse and try to understand what is going on. We are rejecting the special interest elite and all of those who support it. This will not go away because we get it. Enough is Enough. Tell you what, just give us all an invitation to leave the party and all of us who are supporting Bernie will vote for him as an independent. Those of you who refuse to acknowledge the state of affairs will get a rude awakening. It won’t be our fault!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s funny to read this more than a year and a half later and see how wrong you were. Bernie would have won the Rust Belt states that Hillary blew off and lost. Yet, the party establishment is still trying to foist neoliberal candidates on us and expecting we’ll vote for them.
I like the thinking. And I can buy it “except”. Its broad in its consideration of the electorates CHANGING BELIEFS. It rightly explains that the old paradigm may in terms of the way voter think may not apply. But theres hardly been an election I can remember where the same argument hasn’t been asserted – but for different reasons that suit the time. Its ALWAYS a “watershed election” and we are ALWAYS “at a crossroads”. The author doesn’t use these terms but in someways its the same.
But these invariably well reasoned articles too often leave out or minimize the fundamental structural problems that are built into the Amercan Primary system and which have been reinforced and revalidated every 4 years. Its less and less about the polls and Americas changing electorate and more and more about the mechanics of an archaic and increasingly rigged system bolstered by a horrendous SCOTUS decision 5 years ago.
Change the Law and you change the system…
Open up the election to Independent voters and you change the system…
Nothing encourages me that either of these reforms are imminent.
Even back in the days when candidates were nominated in smoke-filled rooms without much public input, ideological shifts were still possible when it became clear that the status quo ideology was not working. If anything, these ideological shifts can happen more easily in the era of primaries, where the party establishment can potentially be disrupted by grassroots efforts. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s easier than it used to be. What distinguishes a real “watershed” election from any other is a real ideological distinction among the options. In this election we have three different ideological options still available. In most US elections we are choosing between two candidates from different sides of the same ideology.
Thanks Benjamin for your great work. I agree with many of your points. I agree that if we can get Bernie the nomination, he wins in a landslide. Many disenfranchised and demoralized voters will turn out to support this candidate. Coat tail affects will spell a NIGHTMARE election for the Republican party.
I agree that neoliberal fiscal policy has begun to run its course. But are we at the end? I would like to hope so, but as your own charts and historical analysis show, the American electorate tends to shift economic paradigms only when in the midst of a crisis, not before. But hey, hope is awesome, so I’m with you.
However, while neoliberalism as a fiscal policy (or philosophy) may be exhausting itself, I fear that neoliberal social policies can and will live on for quite some time, especially in education. The general public may no longer be swayed by top down and supply side arguments, but I fear the notion of education-as-job-training will continue to gain momentum, and as it does we will continue to see the DeVry model of curriculum design make gains within both higher education and secondary education.
I wonder what your thoughts are here?
Lastly, and this is just a minor thing, I’m sure that you are well aware that what you call “right nationalism” has had its “moment in the sun.” All we need to do is look to Europe during the 1920’s and Germany circa 1932. What’s interesting to me (and I would need some time to really develop this for myself) is that the present version of right nationalism that has taken hold amongst certain segments of the American right lacks the intellectual muscle that right nationalism had during the 1920’s. I don’t see a Yeats, or Pound, or Celine out there – then again, maybe I’m not looking. Hell, maybe I just don’t want to look.
Yeah, right nationalism is repositioning itself as a credible alternative by substituting explicit racism for implicit and by seeming to have reconciled itself to democracy. Communism has not managed to recover in the same way (even now people associate right nationalist regimes with an efficiency they deny to communist regimes). So that leaves us with left egalitarianism–effectively the legacy of Keynes and Polanyi–as the most robust remaining standard bearer on the left.
Agreed with you that the neoliberal turn in education is troubling, and we see it in both parties in the US today. However Sanders continues to resist with his push for tuition free, which would alleviate financial pressures on students and diminish the salience of this “return on investment” discourse.
An interesting question here is whether we view 2008 as the start of a long period of crisis (in which case we are still open to further revision) or as a resolved blip (in which case a new round of crisis is necessary for revision). It’s also quite likely this year that we may see a new recession in 2016–if that happens, will that be another blip, a continuation of a chronic crisis, or itself the crisis that 2008 was not? You might take the view that while 2008 was a blip, the recession that is likely for this year is likely to be a crisis, such that as the year progresses, Clinton becomes less electable than she is now.
Well said!! Thank you so much for your articles. I’ve been emailing them & tweeting, etc. Thank you
Thanks to Robert Gross for posting on FB:Why Bernie vs Hillary Matters More Than People Think & discovered the other link & made the following comment
This is a great look back & strongly confirms my contention that we(Helen, 75 & I, 79) were fortunate to have participated in the growing middle class post WWII until the late 70’/early 80’s. Only Bernie offers hope for our posterity along with a progressive majority in the Senate & House. Ron This is a later post by Studebaker that is great also: https://benjaminstudebaker.com/…/why-bernie-sanders-is
I appreciate your articles (Bernie vs. Hillary Matters, and this one) and think you are on to something. However, I also believed that Obama was on to something big, a visionary, and he desired to take this country much farther than he was able to do given an obstructionist Congress and an inherited financial meltdown. Yes, Obama did have a majority in congress for his first two years, but we all know he did not have the 60 votes he needed to pass the huge agenda he wished to unveil and his attempts to push that agenda through angered voters who turned on him and sent him a “just say no” Congress. We are still seeing that attitude, “delay, delay, delay,” as an opening for the Supreme Court has now occurred. My problem with your assessment is that it takes more than a visionary president to get things changed in this country. If We the People do not send a strong majority to Congress to support the measures he wishes to implement, then we are likely to see the same kind of stalemate politics with which we have grown very frustrated. How are we going to change this climate if we see, and vote in, a president with vision, but send our same-ol’ representatives back to Congress? The ideological battles over abortion, gay rights, immigration reform, tax reform, and the like will be decided by representatives that we send back to Washington and those ideologies are what give us our red and blue state divides. We are not necessarily polarized over fiscal matters, we all want a better, more equitable, and middle class favoring system, but red and blue are far more about social ideology rather than fiscal. I fear we are likely to face more stagnation regardless of who becomes president because we do not have the courage and/or willingness to create a middle ground where compromise over social issues can create the goodwill needed to move the fiscal agenda forward.
The hope is that Bernie Sanders (or someone like him) can eventually bring likeminded people into congress and into the governorships (if not this year, then perhaps somewhere down the line). This may not happen right away. We have to be prepared for a long-term ideological confrontation that may not be wholly resolved this election cycle. At least initially, I expect the republicans to retain congress.
In the short term, I wrote this post about what happens in that scenario:
In the long-term, by putting people like Bernie in charge of the party (Bernie opposes the establishment in a way that Obama never did), we can begin to reshape it and turn it into an instrument for change down the road. Indeed, if you want to be charitable to Obama, he has created conditions under which it is now possible to seriously consider nominating Sanders, who would have been totally unfeasible a decade ago. But you’re right that it’s likely that policy will initially get stymied and more stagnation will follow in the short term–the misery this causes will increase hostility toward the establishment, especially if the president is able to effectively blame that establishment for blocking his/her agenda.
It’s that gerrymandering thing. Until we can force the duopoly to stop gerrymandering — for any reason — the people do not have a voice in who goes to Congress. At the last reapportionment, my left-leaning city was split in half by our right-of-center legislature’s commission. So our new Congressman is a right-of-center Democrat, a *bit* better than his oponent.
The flaw that I see in your argument against Obama is that he didn’t have a cooperative House or Senate that could have passed legislation for him to sign. This is why my primary objection to a Sanders candidacy begins, and frankly, where it ends.
Many of his ideas are absolutely fantastic, in the abstract. Abstract ideas are great things, but turning an abstract idea into an actual piece of legislation is so very much harder. Sanders has been asked for concrete details for several debates now and still doesn’t have concrete details. A President needs to have more than an idea, they have to have a way of turning that idea into a reality, and I see no evidence that any of Sanders’ ideas can be turned into reality.
Obama never proposed economic policies that were significantly to the left of Clinton’s in 2008. When he controlled the congress from 2009-2010, he did not break up the banks, institute a financial transaction tax, implement a public option, or correctly size the stimulus package. All of these mistakes were made freely by the president without outside coercion. Then in 2011 he cut an unnecessarily bad deal with the republicans (the Budget Control Act), which forced his administration into austerity for the remainder of his presidency.
As far as concrete details go, people say he doesn’t have them, but this isn’t true–his website is very detailed. What specific information do you want? I’ll look it up for you.
Now, it’s entirely possible that Sanders won’t get a cooperative congress, but even then he’s going to be a much better bet than Clinton (who will also be unable to implement any of her plans)–I explain that here:
1. Fact: Presidents do NOT ‘control’ Congress.
2. Fact: Democrats actually only ‘controlled’ Congress for about 1 month in 2009.
So perhaps a superman like Sanders could have done it, but expecting a mere mortal like Obama to pass the ACA, plus break up the banks, institute a financial transaction tax, implement a public option, or correctly size the stimulus package during that one month period is wildly un-realistic.
Walter, the ACA, ARRA, and DF did not pass the senate in the same month. ARRA was February 2009, ACA was December 2009, DF was May 2010.
The GOP hate Hillary more than Obama. They will oppose her at every turn no matter what she does. They have over 300 scandals on her to try and resurrect and impeach her with. Sanders has helped pass $15.00 an hour min wage and he’s not even president.. yet. Sanders has more concrete details than Hillary. We already pay for college. Increasing Pell Grants and increasing state spending on public colleges would pay for public colleges in full. Making public college tuition free would force private colleges to lower tuition. That would end up being close to a wash in total spending. Obama only had an idea for overhauling the health care system. He had no concrete plan. He still got it done.
No evidence for Single Payer? Every other industrialized country has some form of single payer system. It works better than what we currently have and costs at least 1/3 as much as we currently spend. There is no reason we can’t make it work. He’s brought out his tax plan. Odds are taxes don’t need to be as high on the wealthy as his plan indicates as economic growth would be expected to grow at about 5% a year for the few years under his proposals. That is according to a top economist with no ties to Sanders. Sanders has more top economists backing him than any other candidate. Bernie has strong grassroots support. If he gets elected president, his proposals will be enacted sooner. If not, the grassroots support to get his proposals enacted will still happen.
People like simple solutions to complex problems, and the solution that Bernie is proposing is nothing if not simple. Whether or not it will actually be effective if implemented is another question, but people make decisions based on feelings, not facts.
The post-crisis perception appears to be one of Americans being held down by Wall Street, by big companies in the private sector, and by the wealthy. Capitalism is on trial.
I see it a little differently. If a lender offers me free money, I do not have to take it. And if I take it, I better understand all the terms, because there is no such thing as free money. That is just basic personal responsibility and common sense. The enablers for this crisis were varied, and it starts not with the bank but with decisions by individuals to borrow to finance a better life, and that is one very loaded decision. This crisis was such a bona fide 100-year flood that the entire world is still trying to dig out of the mud seven years later.
Yet so few took responsibility for having any part in it, and the reason is simple: All these people found others to blame, and to that extent, an unhelpful narrative was created. Whether it’s the one percent or hedge funds or Wall Street, I do not think society is well served by failing to encourage every last American to look within. This crisis truly took a village, and most of the villagers themselves are not without some personal responsibility for the circumstances in which they found themselves. It is neither healthy nor accurate to make a scapegoat out of the most productive members of society, but it sure is a lot easier.
Bernie is furthering this narrative for his own purposes. And why shouldn’t he? It’s not hard to argue something that others already want to believe.
Furthermore, I find his ‘us vs them’ mentality quite nefarious. Troubling things occur when large groups of people buy into this mentality. For most of history, success meant success at zero-sum games. I don’t think this is the case any more. Increasingly the games that matter are not zero-sum. Increasingly you win not by fighting to get control of a scarce resource, but by having new ideas and building new things. If the entire pie is growing, everyone benefits. We should work together to create wealth, rather than thinking about new ways to take wealth from each other, and Bernie’s philosophy is not only unrealistic, but detrimental to social progress.
While individual people who took on seemingly too good to be true loans obviously share some part of the blame, attempting to saddle them with all the responsibility ignores the fact that for so many people to end up in such a situation required a systemic effort on the part of the banks. It’s not like millions of people just up and decided to demand loans they couldn’t repay – they were aggressively sold to people who had no business taking on so much debt. The behavior of the banks was borderline malicious, but it’s the system as a whole that allowed and rewarded such behavior that is to blame. While it would be nice to imagine a world in which businesses turned down unethical opportunities to make money, this is unrealistic, and you can’t blame organizations whose sole purpose is to make money for making money. This is why regulation is necessary, as free and open markets with all relevant economic information available to the consumer is a neoliberal pipe dream. It’d be nice if the markets could regulate themselves and if bad behavior was punished econonically, but history has shown that expecting capitalism to arrive at the most ethical outcome is naive. Capitalism is a system of producing capital, not a system of ethics, and without appropriate limits it invariably spins out of control.
I was totally uplifted by reading your article and then totally deflated by this one. Would love to hear your rebuttal.
while I do by no means want to get in Benjamin’s way, allow me to offer a couple of points regarding the article you have linked to. I hope this is ok.
I’ll keep it brief. For a longer version, the fact that there are many different ways to approach an economy – depending on how we reduce its complexity for the sake of analyses – will have to be considered. The FEE, judging by a cursory reading of other material on their site, promotes an Austrian view, it would appear (think v. Mises, v. Hayek, Rothbard, Hazlitt, or, to a good degree, Friedman). For the baseline scenarios to consider the impact of changes in policies, this is a very important, and very restrictive, factor. All the points raised in the article referring to a displacement or reduction of economic activity rely on this very restrictive analytical framework for their formulation, for instance. The numbers referred to in the article can be argued with from a rather solid foundation, already.
More in general, though, regarding the article, the principal point is certainly that it neglects to mention that higher tax payments are only one side of the coin, as the overall approach would simultaneously result in an elimination of private health care costs.
For instance, a study that the Wall Street Journal commissioned estimates overall costs of the whole Sanders program (beyond health care only) at 15 trillion dollars, with simultaneous savings of 19 trillion dollars (which the WSJ conveniently left out of their article). Tax increases on the highest incomes and taxes on financial market activities cover part of the bill due from his proposals, the rest is probably better seen not so much as a bill but a redirection of funds. Quite a bit would be left to direct to other programs. On average, households outside the highest income brackets can expect to see net savings, even in the narrow confines of costs and benefits directly related to his proposals.
These numbers refer to estimated 10 year impacts.
The point raised with the help of the Laffer curve – eventually, higher taxes lead to a reduction in effort and thus a reduction of the tax base and tax revenue – is difficult to substantiate in actual observation already when we concern ourselves with labor efforts only, as it limits its attention to a very narrow aspect of labor markets. In the context of the article, why such a curve should hold for capital gains, is entirely unclear. To construct a direct line of causation between personal effort and capital gains requires a tremendous stretch of the imagination, and very imaginative interpretations of capital market theories even under Austrian or neoclassical perspectives.
The more or less implicit point that measures supporting a better educated and healthier workforce would bring on a collapse of economic activity is a little difficult to wrap the mind around.
Beyond costs more or less directly related to the proposed measures, one point that is related to higher taxes is a larger share of public sector activity in an economy. When silly balanced-budget requirements are not in place, such a more pronounced presence translates into a more stable economic environment, as the demand-side in the economy faces fewer fluctuations. While the booms may be less pronounced so are the busts. To focus on the side of busts, future hardship for lower and middle income households will likely be substantially reduced relative to scenarios where public sector activity plays less of a role, even if that is an effect that is difficult to quantify. A number of other advantageous effects that can be expected from healthier and more educated workforce, and a more level playing field for the individuals in the economy, can likewise be expected, but equally not really be quantified at the moment.
Finally, for higher tax rates, arguing with headline rates can be misleading as realities may look rather different. Not wanting to dispute higher taxes in other countries per se, but the differences are not necessarily as pronounced as may be suggested. More importantly, to some degree they reflect an approach to societies, in which less risk is borne by the individual alone, and more by the community. Which risks are perceived as acceptable can certainly differ between societies and shift over time. From my European perspective (I have only recently become a US resident), reducing the risk an individual has to face, allows some breathing space and to adopt a longer term perspective, whereas the rather pronounced risks a US citizen has to face alone seem rather suffocating, at times. And what can be gained from, for instance, shifting pensions from a defined benefits to a defined contributions scheme, letting the individual figure it out on their own if stock market developments did not live up to earlier promises, eludes me; on a social level, not on the level of those who administer retirement funds.
Like most pieces that only calculate the tax increases and/or the costs of Bernie’s plan, this article excludes the savings on private healthcare/education/etc. Once you take savings into account, most poor and middle class families come out significantly ahead:
I’m missing any mention of the fear factor. Americans are frightened by the inflated idea and the real threat of terrorism. That fear has been inflated mostly, I think, by the military and the arms industry. The arms industry has built an economic support system in many — if not most — congressional districts. The prospect of reducing the war economy throws fear into the hearts of the millions whose financial security rests in that sphere. I don’t hear Bernie challenging that reality, but it has to be challenged to free up some of the wealth that is held in the arms trade. The right nationalists who are among the primary saber-rattlers are in the position of fearing terrorism, and hating the prospect of “weakening” the military.
I believe that’s countered by the infrastructure part of Bernie’s packages. I live in Big Washington, formerly the home of Boeing and still the home of many of its plants and suppliers. One of the reasons Boeing said it left for the Midwest was the crumbling infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave this state’s roads, bridges, etc., a D or D- grade last year. Even replacing the crumbling bridge over the mouth of the Columbia River has been a struggle in our Republican-controlled legislature.
No, that won’t match all of the dislocation in places like
Pascagoula, MS, but each area of the country will get a chance to fashion its own replacement for the war economy — just as the post-World War II economy was bolstered by all of the benefits to the returning soldiers.
I recently read an open letter to Sanders from former Obama and Clinton economic advisors about his proposed policies. I was wondering if you were going to/are currently writing a response to it
I probably should include the link: https://lettertosanders.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/open-letter-to-senator-sanders-and-professor-gerald-friedman-from-past-cea-chairs/
They’re disagreeing with Gerald Friedman’s prediction of 5% GDP growth. Personally, I don’t expect Sanders to do 5%, but I think he’ll do better than Clinton or the GOP. Sanders has lots of economists who think he’s the best bet for growth (though many of them probably don’t agree with Friedman’s 5% figure either). Piketty, Reich, Galbraith, etc.
Would you care to cite how many is ‘a lot’ of economists? Do you have a list? And please don’t use that debunked 170 list.
The 170 economists Sanders keeps citing actually consists of non-economists, grad students, and community college professors (not exactly ‘prominent’ economists). Also, Robert Reich is not generally accepted as an real economist, either.
So out of the thousands of professional economists out there, how many have stated that Sanders is the best bet for growth?
Do I have a list? No. Reich is trained as a political economist and was Secretary of Labor. Krugman takes him seriously, though they don’t always agree:
I can throw a few more names at you if you want–James K. Galbraith, Dean Baker, Thomas Piketty. Galbraith and Baker were on the 170 list, and many of the folks on that list are not just economists but quite influential economists. Did you look them all up, or did you just see a name or two you didn’t care for and dismiss the whole list?
I find the contrasting political-economic positions you have outlined very enlightening–and so helpful in articulating the differences between Clinton and Sanders. I am, however, wondering about the environmental impact of a focus on “growth”–not matter which class is doing it. What do you think would be the environmental impact of Sander’s positions? Thank you for your insights.
Sanders is pretty strong on climate change–he wants 65 mpg maximum on all cars and trucks by 2025, a carbon tax, a ban on fracking, and 80% clean energy generation by 2050. He also wants to make large investments in electric car infrastructure and high speed rail. Climate change and environmental policy is one of the biggest differences between Sanders and Clinton, but it gets very little attention. None of the policies I just mentioned are in Clinton’s plan at the moment.
Bravo on a well reasoned and documented argument.
The question I have is not about Bernie’s electability so much as whether or not he can bring enough house and senate democratic candidates along with him. A big concern all Democrats should have is gaining congressional control in order get effective legislation passed. I can see a powerless Sanders presidency with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, and nothing happens – to the benefit of the Republican Party. The general public gets fed up and then votes in a right nationalist.
I’m beginning to wonder (but shudder to think) if this nation will have to go right national first, suffer terrible stagnation in order to finally realize that it needs to embrace the left-egalitarian ideal. After all, it took the Great Depression for this nation to realize what we needed to do and a war to help us do it. I know it is a horrible thought, but it would seem that we don’t make change with calamity first.
The Post has an article by Dana Millbank on the Sanders/party disconnect that touches on Sander’s lack of fundraising (as well as the President’s) which is very troubling. Here is the link:
So a big question in my mind is whether or not the Democratic Party can get behind, and coordinate with, the Sanders campaign in order make a Sanders presidency effect should he win the nomination. After all most of the congressional Democrats are neoliberals. Can the Democratic Party make a seismic shift eight short months?
The hope is that if Sanders wins, enough neolib dems will prefer him to Trump/Cruz that they’ll do what they need to do. But we’ll see…in any case, I don’t think the dems will take the house in 2016. But even if not, they might in 2018 or 2020…
[…] 3) The Butch-Queen speaks about electability, but no doubt remains blithely ignorant of the growing number of rather well informed scholars who are challenging the claim that Sanders is unelectable, and in ways I find persuasive. Here’s two: (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/karp-bernie-sanders-electability-clinton-republicans-trump-election/); (https://benjaminstudebaker.com/2016/02/10/why-bernie-sanders-is-more-electable-than-people-think/). […]
[…] Clinton will probably beat him in the primary, because too many democrats don’t understand how electable Sanders is and don’t understand how much this primary matters. But it is far too early to give up hope. […]
[…] Clinton will probably beat him in the primary, because too many Democrats don’t understand how electable Sanders is and don’t understand how much this primary matters. But it is far too early to give up hope. […]
I wish the chart listing the policy differences were in a jpeg-type format where I could repost the chart with a link to this article. That chart alone spells it out very nicely. Thank you.
One of the best “political” books of the 2016 election year is “Queen of Chaos: Hillary Clinton’s Misadventures” by Diana Johnstone, the American journalist based in Paris. She has written a highly regarded book on the breakup of Yugoslavia by NATO and President Bill Clinton.
Ralph! Yugoslavia was the old geographical area of Balkan states run by Marshal Tito, but that was long before Bill Clinton!! Tito´s Yugoslavia ended in the mid1970s
Dear Benjamin! Thanks for great article(s) lately on BS and HC. With my background in Psychology and Psychotherapy, I want to add that it is essential to look at Hilary´s very obvious low self esteem, meaning a vulnerable self relation, the me-to-myself relation, which is the basis for how I relate to the world outside of myself! She has, and I am sure about that, always lived in a shadow world of others, playing the second fiddle, so to speak, resulting in self-assertive arguments and all meant to give an image of being more than what I really am. The person directly loses contact with the real reality, staying in an imaginary world. So, if you forget all political arguments here and only focus the result of this behaviour from a psychological point of view, you can easily understand how risky it is to have a power maker making decisions in an imaginary world that more or less only exists within the person herself, all in order to be seen and avoid being rejected, not being good-enough! It all goes back to childhood days, of course. All works well for the person when there is no or little “resistance”, but when someone points out another direction, then anger and loss of credibility becomes very obvious, followed by unpredictable actions and that can be the beginning of the end. I think that this is what we see now in the situation between BS and HC. Having lost Michigan, will become much more of a disaster for her, than the actual result. We will see how it ends up!!!! email@example.com
I agree with everything in this and the previous article, except that I think there were other things at play under the Jimmy Carter presidency. Things largely outside of his control like the blow back from consecutive wars, the oil embargos a hostile and newly reorganized extreme right lead by the Koch brothers, attacks from the CIA for downsizing them, etc, etc. Jimmy Carter raised the minimum wage, increased the benefits for veterans, increased regulation on industry. Inflation was at an all time high, but that was largely outside of his control. Things would have been very different if he would have had a second turn instead of Reagan steeling the election with the October surprise…with or without the conspiracy aspects, it how Reagan won. I really don’t think Jimmy Carter was a neoliberal.
We definitely need to take take back the party. It really pissed me off when people say we need to start a new party. The math is simple, if one side divides their votes, they lose every time. That would make another good article;)
[…] Hillary Clinton. I don’t think enough democrats recognize how much this primary matters or how electable Sanders is. But there are so many people who are happy to tell you that Sanders is finished, that he has no […]
Thanks so much for this article! I would love to see a continuation of your ideological chart, to include today’s Libertarian movement, in particular.
[…] the 2008 Financial Crisis really does usher out Neoliberal Economics, then it will have had a bigger effect on American history than 9/11. Not sure Left Egalitarianism […]
[…] that gave rise to Trump, creating new opportunities for new Caesars down the line. Sanders offered a way out, but the Democrats didn’t take it, and they might not get another […]
[…] Why Bernie Sanders is More Electable Than People Think (February 10, 2016, 67,588 hits) […]
Wow this looks downright clairvoyant now
Bernie, his supporters, and the American people (notably those in the Rust Belt where Hillary ultimately fell Nov. 8th) could see this glaring truth a long time coming.
It’s tragic that smart people like President Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, even Elizabeth Warren couldn’t understand this & all fell in line for Hillary. Clearing the path for Hillary (over the much louder voice of the ppl, who clearly wanted Bernie) is the most boneheaded move in modern political history. Trump has Hillary and all establishment democrats to thank. Hillary + the dem establishment brought about their own end… & brought liberals, the Left, the entire country, & the future of the planet down with her.
[…] should continue to support him even if he’s like to lose (a few argued that Sanders might be more electable than these Clinton supporters alleged, but that’s neither here nor there). Many of those […]
PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VOTING:
We need to stand together, Democrats and Republicans:
Are you a Democrat or a Republican struggling to make ends meet?
HERE IS WHY,
AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT:
In a capitalistic society, the top 1% own large corporations, like, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, Amazon; Google; Facebook; Wal-mart; Trump, Chase; Wall Street businesses and other large corporations, (for example).
The Owners, CEOs and Board Of Directors hold most of the stock in these corporations, CEOs and Board Of Directors, run these companies and decide how the company will operate, what they produce and were the corporation operates. They may decide to close operations in The USA and operate in China, abandoning the American workers for cheaper labor abroad. The CEO and Board Members control how the profits are spent. Dividends are paid to the stock holders, and of course they own most of the stock in the company, therefore they get most of the profits and large incentive bonuses, not the employees.
Most Billionaires that own these companies have a vested interests in making the government work in their favor. Because the Corporate Media is owned by six very wealthy people, they manipulated and deceived the American people to vote for a policy that would keep the power of the government in their favor, and they got a law passed, called, ( CITIZENS UNITED) that allows them to spend millions of dollars donating to campaigns to buy candidates into office, who stack the votes in favor of their life styles and to keep taxes in their pockets. Trump for instance, gave himself and all of them a trillion dollar tax break. Most of these and other large corporations, do not pay taxes. The poorest of the American people pay more taxes than and carry these billionaires.
There is no way, under a capitalistic society, for the American people to have a chance to gain a foot hold in the American dream, it’s just an allusion. The relative wealth of the middle class and poor in this country, has not increased in approximately forty years. To deflect the rise in the costs of living in the seventies, the Wife, Mother or woman joined the workforce and brought an extra paycheck to the family and things felt fine, however, over the years, inequality has increased as did the coast of living, at a greater rate than the average American income, putting the America dream out of reach for many. The availability of credit cards seemed to carry that dream, however for a short time, and now personal debt as well as the American Government debt has strangled our growth.
Rising prices for goods, health and housing are increasingly causing Despair and even death. These large corporations and billionaires have bought our elections to allow them to keep the power of government in their favor so they can avoid paying taxes and contributing to the country’s debt, repairing infrastructure and more , leaving that task to the 99% of Americans to pay while they hide their wealth off shore. Donald Trump bought the election in 2016 and screwed many of you who voted for him, and Michael Bloomberg is one of those billionaires trying to buy the election this year and trying to snuff out the American’s hope and dreams for a better future, A FUTURE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN. The Corporate Media say, “THE STOCK MARKET IS DOING GREAT, THAT THE ECONOMY IS THE BEST EVER”, but the majority of people in America do not own stocks, (at least not like the wealthy 1%), and are living paycheck to paycheck, some working two or three jobs and are still living in poverty worrying how to provide for their families.
For things to change, It will take ALL OF US, TO STAND UP AGAINST CAPITALISM to change the direction of our country and demand that large corporations and Billionaires, pay their share of taxes and stop buying our government. We need to stop CITIZENS UNITED and finally break that cycle of the capitalistic democracy.
Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobushar all believe in a capitalistic society, keeping the power in the hands of the rich.
Bernie Sanders is the only one who will change the status quo.
SUPPORT BERNIE SANDERS AT: berniesanders.com