Bernienomics Is a Mix of Fairytales and Populism


During this period of political and economic change in America, it is worth examining how the how the rise of populism and angst is shaping the political landscape on both sides of the aisle. Part of Bernie Sanders' genius is his ability to capitalize positively on the angst and uncertainty that marks the political landscape. For some reason -- significant or otherwise -- Clinton hasn't been able to rise above this angst and turn it to her advantage. This is heavily reflected in the strides Sanders has made in the past few weeks in the primaries.

In contrast to Sanders, the Democratic establishment -- with Clinton at its helm -- claims that there is no (and should not be) angst or uncertainty. To admit there is would be to impugn the legacy of the Obama Administration. This would have been a good strategy, had Obama's favorable ratings not risen upwards of 54% in recent months.

Enter Bernie: a man so adept at capitalizing on uncertainty and angst that he attracts birds and people alike. He has wagered himself as a fighter for the masses in a war between the "one percent" and regular people. Fully embracing a democratic socialist vision for America, Sanders has made numerous (and very expensive) promises to voters. As a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Sanders views the world in black and white terms, often without much consideration for potential repercussions.

The balance between capitalism and socialism (democratic or otherwise) is complex; the smaller the geographic area to which it applies and the more coherent the cultural convictions within it, the easier it is to distill a workable consensus. In a country as diverse and divided as America, both the policies and ideals that Sanders stands for would be hard (read: impossible) to enforce.

Over the last century, socialism has transformed the dusky shale of Scandinavia with rigor and vitality. While socialist policies have worked in wealthy small nations, when applied to a country with as individualistic as America, they stand at odds with American values. To quote Margaret Thatcher: the problem with socialism is that you "eventually run out of other people's money." In a country where people take great pride in their earnings, imposing Sanders' socialist policies would be a recipe for chaos -- however well-intentioned they might be.

For instance, his plan to replace the nation's health care financing mechanisms with a government-run single-payer system would require a 14.3% raise in payroll taxes -- more than double what he said he would impose. An open letter penned by the former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers states that Sanders' economic plan posits promises that "cannot be supported by economic evidence."

On another front, while promising free education for all makes for great slogans and catchy bumper stickers, it does nothing to deal with the numerous inefficiencies that the higher-ed institutions are facing. "More college graduates are working in second jobs that don't require college degrees," writes Hannah Seligson in the New York Times, "part of a phenomenon called 'mal-employment.' In short, many baby-sitters, sales clerks, telemarketers and bartenders are overqualified for their jobs." That is as true today as it was in 2011. Sanders tries to deal with this problem by conjuring hundreds of billions worth of imaginary tax revenue out of thin air, but alas, the actual president will have to find real money, taken from some other use.

The notion that one person -- a career politician -- can transform the U.S into an isolationist, highly regulated nation is based on miscalculations and a wild imagination. Much of the economic policies that Sanders has proposed are dangerous in their anti-trade sentiment. Ian Bremmer notes that such policies largely ignore the "urgent need to retrain workers for the (very different) jobs of the 21st century," and merely impose artificial stability through anti-trade policies.

The U.S needs a forward-thinking, pragmatic leader to catapult its economy into the future. Sanders' economic protectionism and proposed political isolation would do the opposite. However generous his promises are, the details of his proposals are simply too good to be true. The last thing the U.S needs is another burning (read: Berning).