Sanders' Surge Marks Public Outrage With Rigged System

His successful grassroots insurgency demonstrates popular revulsion with corrupt U.S. political establishment

Bernie Sanders' campaign is something that we have never seen: a candidate for president who is relying on small contributions from millions of supporters rather than corporate money, and successfully challenging someone who has all the power and money of the Democratic Party establishment. It is powered by a grassroots movement of mostly young activists using social media. The Hillary Clinton campaign is in panic mode; no more are they looking ahead to the general election, the focus is on Sanders approaching in the rear-view mirror. Clinton's policy positions and speech become more calibrated for the progressive primary voter. She declares, after some pressure, that she "won't cut Social Security" -- an upgrade from the previous, equivocal, "no plans to cut Social Security."

Yet Sanders is gaining on Clinton every day. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Saturday shows Clinton and Sanders in a dead heat nationally, with Clinton at 48 percent and Sanders at 45 percent. And that was before his landslide victory in New Hampshire last night, by more than 20 percent, in which Sanders won nearly every demographic.

Why is Sanders' challenge succeeding now? Today's mass movement arises not only from nearly four decades of upward redistribution of income and wealth -- which Sanders denounces tirelessly -- but also from the increasing awareness of the "rigged rules" by which it has come about. My colleague Dean Baker has written several books and he and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, where we both work, have published numerous papers about this problem. This research shows that what are generally perceived as market outcomes are really a result of the rich using institutional and legislative changes (including misnamed "free trade" agreements, patents and copyrights and other monopolies, bankruptcy and labor law) to yes, rig the rules in their favor and against everyone else. But the conventional wisdom even on the liberal side has been that these were market outcomes, driven by changes in "technology," "skills," and "the global economy" and the only way to deal with them was to use the government to change the post-tax, post-transfer income distribution. This, of course, became increasingly difficult as income and wealth grew more concentrated, giving the rich even more power to rig rules in their favor. Only recently have more liberals and economists begun to talk about the deck being stacked before the hands are dealt.

This op-ed was originally published by Al Jazeera America. Read the rest here.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., and the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of CEPR.