Bernie Sanders Will Make the Economy Great Again

Liberal critics like Paul Krugman argue that Sanders’s economic platform is unrealistic. They are dead wrong.

 Bernie Sanders attends a rally in Upper Senate Park with striking workers to call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, November 10, 2015. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
 Bernie Sanders attends a rally in Upper Senate Park with striking workers to call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, November 10, 2015. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

By Robert Pollin

Does Bernie Sanders’s economic program amount to pie-in-the-sky nonsense? The short answer is no. All of his major proposals are grounded in solid economic reasoning and evidence.

But that hasn’t stopped a major swath of leading liberal economists and commentators to insist otherwise. Paul Krugman has led these attacks from his New York Times perch, charging repeatedly that Sanders makes “outlandish economic claims,” embraces “deep voodoo” economics, is “not ready for prime time,” and so forth. A recent Washington Post article by columnist Steven Pearlstein cites several other liberal economists criticizing Sanders’s support for Scandinavian-style social democratic policies, concluding that his program “promises all the good parts of the Scandinavian model without any of the bad parts.”

Sanders’s economic agenda certainly represents a dramatic departure from what has come out of mainstream Democratic Party circles for a generation, to say nothing, of course, of the Republicans. The key elements of Sanders’s program include a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer healthcare system; an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour; free tuition at public colleges and universities, to be financed by taxing Wall Street transactions; opposition to trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that have weakened the wage-bargaining power of US workers; large-scale public investments to build a clean-energy economy and rebuild the crumbling US infrastructure; and strong Wall Street regulations to promote productive investments and job creation over casino capitalism.

By contrast, the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton embraced an only moderately less aggressive pro-business agenda than the Republicans. Clintonomics featured Wall Street deregulation, NAFTA, and only tepid support for policies benefitting working people and the poor. This is how, over the full eight years of the Clinton presidency, average wages ended up being 2 percent lower than the average under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and nearly 10 percent less than under Jimmy Carter’s “years of malaise.”

The Nation

Addicted to the Apocalypse

Once upon a time, walking around shouting “The end is nigh” got you labeled a kook, someone not to be taken seriously. These days, however, all the best people go around warning of looming disaster. In fact, you more or less have to subscribe to fantasies of fiscal apocalypse to be considered respectable.

Paul Krugman

And I do mean fantasies. Washington has spent the past three-plus years in terror of a debt crisis that keeps not happening, and, in fact, can’t happen to a country like the United States, which has its own currency and borrows in that currency. Yet the scaremongers can’t bring themselves to let go.

Consider, for example, Stanley Druckenmiller, the billionaire investor, who has lately made a splash with warnings about the burden of our entitlement programs. (Gee, why hasn’t anyone else thought of making that point?) He could talk about the problems we may face a decade or two down the road. But, no. He seems to feel that he must warn about the looming threat of a financial crisis worse than 2008.

Or consider the deficit-scold organization Fix the Debt, led by the omnipresent Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. It was, I suppose, predictable that Fix the Debt would respond to the latest budget deal with a press release trying to shift the focus to its favorite subject. But the organization wasn’t content with declaring that America’s long-run budget issues remain unresolved, which is true. It had to warn that “continuing to delay confronting our debt is letting a fire burn that could get out of control at any moment.”

As I’ve already suggested, there are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again — perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect. The other is that as far as I can tell nobody, and I mean nobody, in the looming-apocalypse camp has tried to explain exactly how the predicted disaster would actually work.