Angus Deaton, Bernie Sanders, Chelsea German, Dierdre McCloskey, Fixed Pie Fallacy, Free Stuff, Gary Burtless, Hillary Clinton, HumanProgress.org, Scandinavia, Socialism, Student Loans, The Brookings Institution, The Great Escape
Bernie Sanders is very sincere in his beliefs, and yet he is profoundly ignorant regarding economic growth in the U.S. and the futility of socialism as form of economic organization. Chelsea German, at the HumanProgress blog, presents some simple facts that contradict a few of the Senator’s favorite assertions. In “Senator Sanders and the Fixed Pie Fallacy“, German quotes a line that Sanders has been using for at least 41 years: “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” Granted, his first utterance of that expression might have been in a recession, but aside from those relatively brief episodes, he’s been wrong for the duration. Apparently, Sanders cannot fathom the widespread gains made possible by capitalism and economic growth. Only a “fixed pie” (or worse) would necessarily imply that gains must come at the expense of others, as he seems to believe. (H.T. to Ken DeVaughn on the brilliant gif above.)
One chart in German’s post shows that after-tax income grew in every quintile of the U.S. income distribution from 1979 (pre-recession) to 2010 (post-recession). The chart is taken from CBO data used by Gary Burtless in a piece published by Brookings. Sanders should have a look. However, it’s also important to note that people generally don’t remain in the same strata of the distribution over time. A second chart, from Angus Deaton’s “The Great Escape“, shows that U.S. poverty rates have generally declined over time. Finally, German shows that with a few interruption, GDP has grown over time. All of these facts might be something of a surprise to Sanders. German quotes the great Deirdre McCloskey:
“The rich got richer, true. But millions more have gas heating, cars, smallpox vaccinations, indoor plumbing, cheap travel, rights for women, lower child mortality, adequate nutrition, taller bodies, doubled life expectancy, schooling for their kids, newspapers, a vote, a shot at university, and respect.“
Sanders showcases his lack of familiarity with economic principles almost every time he opens his mouth, or his Twitter account. He recently opined that rates of interest on student loans should be lower than rates on loans for autos and mortgages. Of course, both auto loans and mortgages are secured by valuable collateral and have much lower default rates. It’s a good thing for Sanders that he didn’t pursue a career in lending.
Recently, Hillary Clinton has been unable to restrain herself from chasing Sanders off the rhetorical cliff. Clinton is offering the public lots of “free stuff“, like Sanders, in a transparent attempt to buy votes with promises of future largess. Neither candidate has offered a credible plan for funding their promises. Higher taxes on “Wall Street” and other top earners are the supposed answer, but those measures would be woefully inadequate. Look out, middle class!
By the way, another recent Brookings study shows that increasing the top marginal income tax rate, a policy of which Sanders would approve, would do little to reduce the degree of income inequality.
Of course, Sanders seems just as unfamiliar with the great failures of socialism over the past century as he is with the successes of capitalism in eliminating poverty. He thinks the U.S. should adopt the socialist policies in Scandanavia, but the truth is that socialism has served to inhibit the continued success of capitalism in those countries (also see here). Perhaps that’s why Denmark is scaling back its redistributionist policies.
The Left, including Bernie Sanders, are burdened by a naive utopianism so powerful that they can rationalize the confiscation of private property to support their personal preferences and those of the political class. The aristocratic Left, like Hillary, differ only in the power they hold to influence policy. Perhaps a few suffer from a strong sense of guilt regarding their own circumstances. No, not Hillary. But both Bernie and Hillary are guilty of gross social and economic misdiagnosis. Politicians, heal thyselves!