Lamps: Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda not based on sound economics

Joseph Lamps, Columnist

It is no wonder that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has received so much support. Sanders has given America the rare chance to elect a candidate who unabashedly pushes for many positions which are uncommon in political discourse despite significant public backing. These include single payer healthcare, vigorous climate action and support for free college tuition for public schools.

I personally have been thrilled to watch the attention his campaign has received. However, I worry that Sanders does not base all his policy positions on sound economic principles.

One question mark is his proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15. Our current minimum wage is low when compared to most similar countries and to our own country prior to 1985. However, more than doubling our current $7.25 minimum wage is a reckless proposal. The economic consequences of such a large minimum wage hike are unknown, untested on such a large scale and potentially damaging. A national minimum wage also makes little sense due to differences in cost of living, which is almost three times higher in the most expensive U.S. county than in the least expensive county. Furthermore, minimum wage is not the most effective way to reduce poverty because it gives a raise to every worker who happens to work a low wage job whether they need it or not. Earned income tax credits for the poor would be a more effective way of directing benefits toward those who truly need them. Sanders appears, on this issue, to prioritize sounding progressive over proposing the best policy.

I also have to quibble with Sanders’ view on the Trans Pacific Partnership. According to the Hamburg Institute of International Economics and other sources, an effective way to help poverty-stricken countries develop is to foster international trade. The TPP has been accused of disregarding these concerns and has been criticized for a lack of transparency; however, Sanders’ objections run deeper. He opposes free trade on grounds that it will export American jobs. This is a valid concern, but it is in the best long-term interest of the United States that the rest of the world develops economically. To argue that poor countries should be held in poverty by high tariffs in order to preserve American jobs is lunacy.

Finally, Sanders insists his platform could be fully paid for by various tax changes. This may well be possible. However, estimates often range widely for potential revenue from untested new taxes. For example, Sanders says his proposed tax on Wall Street speculation will foot the $75 billion per year bill of his free college program. But the tax has actually been estimated to be capable of raising anywhere from around $30 billion to around $300 billion per year. It is irresponsible to assume it will raise $75 billion, when the real number could be much lower.

This does not necessarily mean Sanders is not the best candidate for the job. However, it is important to remember that it is possible to strongly support policies such as free college, Medicare for all and a living wage while acknowledging that a specific plan to implement them is economically unfeasible at this time. Progressives can afford to implement Sanders’ platform gradually, given that the ideas he devotes attention to receive continued publicity. Progressives cannot afford for fiscal conservatives to say in four years that they have been right the whole time — that Sanders’ plan is not well thought out and is impossible to implement without damaging the economy.

When Northwestern students make the decision about which candidate to support, it is of the utmost importance to keep in mind the economic basis for platforms and to scrutinize the plans of candidates carefully. This is especially true for Sanders because of the large scope of his proposals. There is no guarantee the economic basis is solid.

Joseph Lamps is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.