A sort-of-positive Bernie post

I normally love Ron Brownstein.  He normally does a lot of interesting political analysis based on demographics.  It’s a real strength.  But when he strays into elite consensus (oh, no, spending!) I think he’s not so great.  Like this column arguing that the high cost of all of Bernie’s plans could be his downfall: “The Sixty Trillion Dollar Man: The price of Bernie Sanders’s agenda could be his biggest general-election weakness. But his rivals haven’t yet forced him to explain how he’d cover the full cost.”

This is such an elite journalist, inside-the-beltway, take.  There’s just no evidence at all that ordinary American voters give a damn at all about how politicians will pay for things– whether it’s the military, tax cuts, or expansive health care.  Now, there’s evidence that Republicans say they care about these things, but the much better evidence is that Republicans just like to complain about Democrats spending money on government programs (remember, Obama bent over backwards to make sure the ACA was “paid for” as if that would somehow give credit with Republicans).

Brownstein’s case:

Bernie Sanders faced more pointed attacks last night over his potential vulnerabilities than he ever has at a debate. But the blustery and disorderly session once again failed to fully explore what could be the Vermont senator’s greatest general-election weakness: the massive size and scope of his spending and tax proposals, which, depending on the estimate, would cost $50 trillion to $60 trillion over the next 10 years. That would roughly double the size of the federal government, an unprecedented increase outside of wartime…

Still, the debate’s most lasting effect may be the seeds it laid down for a deeper discussion to come about the cumulative cost of Sanders’s agenda, an issue that’s received remarkably little attention until recently

“You would need even more revenue than he is proposing to fully offset those costs,” says Jared Bernstein, an economist and senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who is generally sympathetic to Sanders’s agenda. “It is not realistic to believe you can get all those revenues from the top 1, 5, or 10 percent [of households]. You would have to go down further than that. The rest of it has to come from a broader base of taxpayers or it has to go on the deficit.”…

If Sanders’s tax plans were to raise as much money as he claims, they would increase federal taxes as a share of GDP by as much as 11 percentage points. “I think it is fair to say that the tax increase—assuming it is as big as Senator Sanders projects—is about as large as the [13-point] tax increases enacted to finance World War II,” as measured as a share of GDP, says Leonard Burman, a former senior Treasury Department tax official under Clinton and an institute fellow at the Tax Policy Center, which is operated by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. “It is more than five times as large as any tax increase enacted since. And even if it falls short of the campaign’s projections, it would be the largest peacetime tax increase in American history.”

Sorry, but this all just strikes me as off-base.  Republicans (and many journalists) just loved Paul Ryan despite most all his budget “plans” being absolutely as fantastical and unrealistic as what Bernie is proposing.  Clearly, Republicans never paid any real price for their fantastical economics and there’s no reason to think Bernie will for his either.  The average American voter probably has no meaningful conceptual distinction between a government program that cost one billion and one trillion.  It’s all just “a lot” or “too much.”  Now, Brownstein and Jared Bernstein and you and me do, but we are not remotely your typical voter.

Now, Bernie may well pay an electoral penalty for being a “socialist” and wanting “new taxes,” but the idea that he will actually suffer for having his plans based on largely fantastical math or spending $60 trillion on something versus $2 trillion just does not hold up to historical scrutiny.

Uh, oh, but looks like I disagree with Ezra.  Massive cognitive dissonance:

But here’s the thing, Brownstein was largely focused on the huge levels of spending, not so much the taxes.  That’s where, I think, Brownstein is wrong.  As for Ezra, the key here is, “It’s the tax increases implied by his plans.”  Bernie is really vague on all these numbers and you damn well he’s going to say almost all these taxes are on “rich people.”

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to A sort-of-positive Bernie post

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Yes, Bernie’s plans will cost a lot of money, but instead of saying “$60 trillion” and flinging that number out there alone is just an attempt to stir people up to oppose Bernie’s plans.
    Instead we might ask what the costs are now under our present system.
    Besides the actual costs, can we deduct what other things cost now? Can we assign a monetary value to each life lost due to lack of medical care? Can we deduct the cost of each bankruptcy caused by medical bills and the future costs to those families involved? Can we deduct the loss pf productivity of workers who stay with jobs to have health care coverage when they might choose a job of more value to the economy if they could afford to leave the old one? How much is less anxiety among the population worth? How much is it worth for our population to believe that their elites actually care about their lives?
    I think Bernie has a good argument to make. Elizabeth Warren has it too.

  2. itchy says:

    The other possibility is that Bernie isn’t actually going to do what he says he’s going to do. I mean, if he wins, he’ll try to do as much as he can. But … the guy has been in Congress for 30 years. It’s not like he’s new to this. And it’s not like he doesn’t know Congress controls the purse. He’ll try to push for what he wants, and he’ll settle for what he can get.

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