All hail Bernie Sanders. Not, as Republicans claim, because he is about to convert the Democratic Party to Socialism, with the government owning the means of production and distribution. He knows that he can accomplish his goal of having government control the commanding heights of the economy without going through the bothersome process of buying those assets and compensating their owners. And not because you agree with where he wants to take the country. Rather, because the avuncular Bernie, as Sanders is known to his supporters, is the grown-up among President Biden’s policymakers. And the likely winner in the battle to shape America’s economy and its society.
He has a clear vision of what he wants New America to look like, knowledge of what must be done to affect that transformation, and a powerful enough position – chairman of the Senate budget committee with the ear of the President – to make his long-held dream a reality. He also has what Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of now”. He knows that the Democrats’ control of the House and Senate hangs by a thread, that Republican congressional candidates ran well ahead of Donald Trump, who will not be on the ballot in 2022, and that open borders, restrictions on police and other Progressive policies are polling poorly.
Some Battles Are Best Left to Others
Sanders, who styles himself a Social Democrat, as good a label as any, wants nothing to do with those cultural issues. Nor, directly, with racial disparities or shrinking union-membership, both of which he believes will be solved if we get the economy fixed. Concentration on racial disparities is seen by many socialists as diversion from the real issue, which they believe are class differences. That cost him black votes in the primaries.
As for unions’ problems in reversing the decline in membership, an issue of great importance to the President, Sanders and the unions see each other as natural rivals for control of the distribution of the nation’s income. Unions quite naturally want more for union members, Sanders for the working class as whole, which is a very different thing. As a result of this enmity, Biden’s trade union supporters shot down Sanders’ bid for a cabinet post, Secretary of Labor.
Then there are Progressives who are pressing for a Green New Deal. Sanders wishes them luck -- so long as they don’t divert resources from expanding the welfare state, or political energy and Biden’s attention from what really matters – reconstructing the American economy to pass responsibility for its outcomes from individuals to the federal government.
A Focused Politician
Sanders remains focused on what has animated his public life since his election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont (by ten votes, his website notes) in 1981 – expanding the role of government in the lives of the American people. He is now on the brink of realizing his dream, a cradle-to-grave entitlement system that would result from the passage of his President’s foray into the American economy. Some components are already incorporated in Biden’s proposed budget, others are giant steps towards the final goal that Sanders has in mind.
A Confused Biden Deals, Reneges, Reverses
Unlike Sanders, who knows where he is going, The President is whipsawed by his team. He first proudly announced that he has reached a bipartisan deal with a gaggle of Republican senators to spend $1.2 trillion on bridges, pot holes, clean water, internet and other traditional infrastructure items. Republicans celebrated the deal on Thursday and woke up with a hangover on Friday after Biden announced he would sign a law embodying the deal only if it the Senate also passed a separate $4 trillion bill to expand the welfare state. “If only one comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem,” he announced. “Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the President took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it. It almost makes your head spin,” commented Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Earlier, when announcing the infrastructure deal, Biden told the press, “Where I come from … the single greatest currency you have is your word – keeping your word.” Having debased his currency the President then sought to re-infuse it with value by reversing course once again by announcing that it was not his intent “to create the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to.” So cancel the threat and the accompanying “impression”. Unless some other faction of his team wins the ongoing battle to bend the President to its will, he will indeed sign an infrastructure bill, and proceed to fight for passage of what can properly called the Sanders vision, which Republicans will unite in opposing, requiring Biden to hold all 50 Democrats in line so that the Vice President can cast a tying vote. That means satisfying Senator Manchin that whatever spending level the broader American Family Plan costs is paid for, without raising corporate and capital gains taxes to the levels envisioned by the President, while also assuring congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not to jump ship in the House by satisfying her and her followers that the plans allocate sufficient cash to meet her requirements for fighting climate change.
Sanders Gets His Wish For Education
Sanders now has assurance that Democrats will seek to create his cradle-to-grave welfare state using reconciliation, which does not require any Republican votes if Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can deliver 50 Democratic votes, setting the stage for Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaker.
Start with the cradle, and Medicare that covers maternity (“perinatal” to the woke) costs. On to pre-school, which will be provided “free”, the word used to describe costs borne by taxpayers, with the tots tended by staff paid teachers’ salaries, and their parents receiving $300 monthly stipends for every child. The children will be passed from pre-school day care to a government-run school system, which in Sanders’ world will not have to face competition from 7,000 charter schools “bankrolled … by billionaires … private equity and hedge funds … unregulated charter school growth must be stopped.”
Next stop on the road to a complete education would be Sanders’ “College For All Plan” – free community colleges and tuition-free public four-year colleges and universities for families earning less than $125,000 annually, financed largely by his “Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act”.
And For Health Care
Then comes health care, to be provided by a government-run, single-payer system, created either by passage of Sanders’ Medicare For All Act, or by a systematic lowering of the age for Medicare eligibility and an innocuous-sounding government option, by which government will offer health care coverage at subsidized premiums with which private-sector providers cannot compete. All to be financed, in part, by a new tax on “extreme wealth” and borrowing that would take the government debt to well above 100% of GDP.
When the government cared-for, educated, healthy citizen inevitably heads for the grave, there are social security benefits for survivors, and even a modest burial supplement.
Sander’s view is not necessarily evil; it is, after all, shared by many European and other countries. It is, in a sense, anti-American, not in the sense of traitorous, but because it is so at variance with America’s evolving view of the proper balance between the government and the individual.
The Cost To America of Sandersism
The dollar cost of the welfare extension -- $4 trillion, and the associated tax increases – in a sense are the least of the cost of this change in how the American economy works. In addition, imposes two costs he has not publicly addressed, although he undoubtedly has considered them. The first is the cost of making America more like the welfare states of Europe’s social democratic countries. The unemployment rate in the US runs at about half that in the EU, and per capita GDP is about 50% higher than in leading European social democracies, those in the EU as well as Brexited Britain.
The second is the cost of transferring responsibility for individuals’ material well-being from themselves to the government, and the rewards for work and risk-taking from the market to the stat. That will certainly reduce Americans’ famed work ethic, often noted with amazed disapproval by foreign visitors. That drive – a quick sandwich instead of a leisurely lunch, fewer vacations – has produced an economy productive enough to provide the typical poor household with a car, air conditioning, cable or satellite TV and other appliances, and more living space than the average non-poor European has, according to studies by The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank.
Why Work Hard
That does not mean that millions do not face daily hardships, or that inequality is not a problem. Or that those and other flaws in the American system, including a market that misprices many goods, and executive compensation arrangements difficult to defend, should be ignored. But when childcare is a right, when healthcare is a right, when a college education is a right, when comfortable housing is a right, surely the incentive to work to earn these things is reduced, and the size of the pie available for slicing shrinks.
Sanders undoubtedly has considered that. Change has costs. Democratic primary voters found them scary. They preferred a candidate who represented himself as a moderate, and promised to address directly the concerns of the Black Americans and trade unions, rather than restructure the entire economic system. But they are getting more than they bargained for. In the end Sanders, elected to the senate in 2018 by a mere 183,529 voters in Vermont, is shaping the American nation in his image. Not a minor achievement.