On Bernie Sanders’ self-defeating, angry populism

While Sanders continues to gain steam by winning later primary states, his momentum is a snowball effect of angry populism on the Left rather than successful arguments made with refined policy. There is a jumping on by so-called “Bernie Bros” who want a reason to be angry.  Little of the dramatic changes he proposes from global security to geo-economics are articulated in a way that satisfies critical analysis.  From anecdotal experience, when I questioned Sanders supporters with the nuts and bolts of his policy platform, they either recite papers that have eviscerated by peer review or simply revert puerile reasoning that Sanders’ candidacy is important because it brings up ‘important issues’ and shifts the primary process to the Left.  Sanders’ policy continues to be dangerous to American interests and here’s why:

Sanders’ angry populism is a mirror of the angry mob that Trump represents. While both candidates have vastly different ideology and end-goals in mind, they both follow the same track of criticizing the establishment, profess a desire to disrupt the mainstream status quo and argue mostly from a hypothetical standpoint of what America should do rather that what we could do to further our interests and prosperity. Should is a subjective point of view that reflects a specific imperative about what is the right policy. Could is a critical standpoint that outlines what capability is available. Should sounds more sexy in a political context while could seems boring and passive.  Nevertheless, I want a could-President because that type of reasoning acknowledges political reality which puts American prosperity within an attainable grasp.  There is nothing attainable about much of Sanders’ should-policies.

What most people don’t realize about what Sanders things America should do, is that it would transform our society in ways that the end result would be near-unrecognizable.  One of the main traits of the United States, for good or for ill, is that we are an outward leaning nation.  We look at the world around us and have an innate nature to want to sculpt it with our influence.  As Thomas Wright states, Sanders is a politician whom is single-mindedly inward oriented.  Wright asserts that Sanders takes a “zero sum” attitude of “either American workers’ win or other nations do.[1]”  Consequentially, Sanders is aligned against trade and is an advocate against the US’ free-trade agreements.  “Sanders has opposed all U.S. trade agreements throughout his political career, including General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).[2]”  Yet as much as it can be argued that free-trade agreements have hurt the American worker and manufacturing sectors, free trade is also a cornerstone to American success.

Free-trade has many laudable features such as helping to create a more interdependent and diversified world economy. There is no better way to create an ally than to engage in trade with a foreign nation.  Specifically for the US economy it has help diversify new sectors of industry that would not be as successful in the American market alone.  Additionally, trade helps firms expand into other markets which help domestic companies create jobs by producing goods for the export market.  Furthermore, trade helps the poor and raises standards of living.  By having competition in consumer markets, trade helps to provide goods to the consumer at lower prices.  Being able to buy at lower prices allows the consumer to stretch their dollar with the effect of an increased standard of living.  Personal electronics, for instance, would not be as affordable to the average worker if the market provided only devices that were designed and manufactured within America.  The Economist cites the economists Lawrence and Edwards as estimating that trade solely with China put $250 in the pocket of the average American in 2008.[3]  It is a point which is lost to rhetoricians like Sanders and Trump who serve up trade as a scapegoat, whipping up anger at trade as a source of lost American jobs.PPF.PNG


Sanders’ isolationism is counter from the prevailing liberal viewpoint that the world is stronger when nations work with each other for collective prosperity. Economic isolationism may work well on the campaign trail, but will put the US at a competitive disadvantage and is plain just bad economic theory.  As liberal, and Nobel Prize-winning, economist Paul Krugman stated, “If there were an Economist’s Creed, it would surely contain the affirmations ‘I understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage’ and ‘I advocate Free Trade’.[4]”  Realistically, the United States is already participating in a global economy.  Sanders’ attempts to withdraw from the global economy would hurt America more than it would help.

The problem of Sanders’ economic policy is further exacerbated by the fact that it is limited to two facets, raising taxes (audibly for the rich, but realistically for everyone) and ramping up entitlements. The tax increases are claimed to be offset by growth in the economy.  Most economists, like the previously mentioned Paul Krugman, believe that estimates of over 5% in GDP are unfathomable. [5]  In the case that Sanders really does withdraw from the global economy with overly protectionist policies, then a contraction of the GDP is much more likely.  Furthermore, Sanders has a plan to vastly inflate the federal minimum wage.  Such a large increase in costs is likely to hurt business.  The firms that survive will be the ones who are likely to push for increased productivity measures that has a two-fold effect of hurting low skilled workers by causing firms to replace workers with automation and the remaining jobs will have such low turnover that workers unemployed workers will have difficulty in finding open positions.  Without growth in revenue base, Sanders’ only solution to fund his programs will be to pile on the already staggering amount of debt or by printing money with the dangers of rapid inflation.  As far as taxes go, Ezra Klein states that Sanders’ plan would raise taxes “by more than a trillion dollars per year.[6]


Sanders’ social programs are a disaster waiting to happen for several reasons. First, the realpolitik of getting any of his signature policy platform into legislation is a fantasy.  Since the GOP took both houses of congress, bipartisanship has been halted and most of President Obama’s actions have been through executive order.  Compared to Sanders, Obama is moderate in political ideology.  What seriously makes voters think that any of the bigger items on Sanders’ agenda is going to pass through congress when a more moderate president has been hindered at every turn?  Krugman also contends that Sanders has “little chance of enacting” any of the sweeping legislation that would be needed to bring about single-payer healthcare.[7]

The second hazard of Sanders’ policy platform is that the details don’t bear fruit. Ryan Cooper of The Week rebuts Klein and Krugman, partially stating that they are Clinton minions who are harping on Sanders’ healthcare plan for a lack of detail that can be resolved when resources are available after he becomes POTUS.[8]  Cooper’s argument is ignoring that big plans, such as the ones held by Sanders, have incredible amounts of moving parts.  Sanders’ supporters are trying to drown out legitimate questions about how something is going to Underpants gnome Bernie.PNGbe done with the insistence that it should be done, and if you don’t support Bernie, you’re part of the problem.  Sanders’ supporters have slogans and anger, but not a lot of data on their side.  It is a point used by Klein to eviscerate Sanders’ plan as “puppies-an-rainbows,” meaning that Sanders’ promises are shoulds rather than coulds.[9]







[1]Wright, T. (2016) “Sanders’ great leap inward: What his rejection of Obama’s worldview means for U.S. foreign policy”http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2016/02/26-bernie-sanders-foreign-policy-wright

[2] ibid.

[3] The Economist (2016), “Trade, at what price?” http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21695855-americas-economy-benefits-hugely-trade-its-costs-have-been-amplified-policy

[4] Krugman, P. (1987), The Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Is Free Trade Passé?”

[5] Krugman, P. (2016), The New York Times, “Varieties of Voodoo” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/19/opinion/varieties-of-voodoo.html

[6] Klien, E. (2016), Vox.com, “Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all” http://www.vox.com/2016/1/17/10784528/bernie-sanders-single-payer-health-care

[7] Krugman, P. (2016), The New York Times, “Varieties of Voodoo”

[8] Cooper, R. (2016), The Week, “Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman both face-planted in their Bernie Sanders takedowns”http://theweek.com/articles/601908/ezra-klein-paul-krugman-both-faceplanted-bernie-sanders-takedowns

[9] Klein, E. (2016), VOX.com, “Why Bernie Sanders’s campaign makes me worry about how he’ll manage the White House” http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/2/22/11086292/bernie-sanders-political-revolution-wonks


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