Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bernie Sanders Is No Good Guy

The election is over, but I feel I need to say something about Bernie Sanders. I want to push back on something I kept hearing during the presidential campaign. I repeatedly heard comments along the lines of “All the candidates are wicked, except for Bernie Sanders. He’s a good guy!” I don’t agree. I saw him as fomenting class resentments that aren’t based on legitimate grievances. I saw him as supporting economic policies that would be incredibly harmful (big tax hikes on capital, high marginal tax rates on income, labor market restrictions and other regulations). I saw him as fanning the flames of mob outrage; part of his platform was a promise to imprison some people from Wall Street for the ’08 recession. Not specific people for specific crimes, just some human sacrifice so the angry mob could watch and cheer. I saw his anti-trade rhetoric as being viciously anti-China and anti-Mexico, as if it were sinister that the very poor factory workers in those countries are trying to make a living. As if Chinese and Mexican workers are less worthy of our consideration than the American factory workers he was trying to coddle (and coddle at the expense of other Americans who buy those cheap imports.) (“Workers of the world…let’s have a huge trade war! They tuk yur job!”) He’s trying to tell his base: Your problems are caused by rich people hoarding all the money. Sinister Chinese and Mexicans are taking your jobs away! Your problems are caused by people with cynical motives doing evil things to you! I find his brand of populist scapegoating to be highly dubious, and it’s not what economically suffering people need to hear. His inequality-mongering badly misses the mark. It's a mistake to look at the salary differential between a doctor and a teacher (or an executive and a mid-level employee) and say, “The problem is income inequality!” As if people are randomly assigned a career and salary at birth. Telling the lower-paid group that their problems are the fault of the higher paid group is not just wrong in a factual sense, it’s also hurtful. It’s downright mean-spirited.

 I kept hearing something like: “Clinton and Trump are cynical politicians, but Bernie really cares.” Apparently he didn’t care enough to crack an economics textbook. He didn’t care enough to do a basic intellectual vetting of his worldview. At some point I think you have to drop the “good intentions” excuse for someone who proposes really terrible policies and uses hurtful scapegoating rhetoric. He may be a true believer. He might actually believe his own rhetoric. But someone who holds that much power has no excuse for being so wrong. Perhaps he truly doesn’t know better, but he fucking well ought to.

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