One Last Update On Bernie Sanders

The Wall Street Journal weighs in this morning with a front page article headlined "Price Tag of Sanders Proposals: $18 Trillion."  They've gone through the various proposals of the Sanders campaign and put a ten-year price tag on each.  The big number is a $15 trillion ten-year price tag that they attach to Sanders's proposal to extend the Medicare-style "single-payer" healthcare system to all.  (That number comes from a study by economist Gerald Friedman of UMass Amherst of a similar proposal by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan; but the article quotes a Sanders spokesperson as agreeing that the $15 trillion is a "fair estimate" of the cost of Sanders's universal single-payer plan.)

Other than the single-payer healthcare proposal, here are the sources of the other amounts:

  • Social Security benefit increases -- $1.2 trillion
  • Infrastructure program -- $1.0 trillion
  • College affordability (free tuition for all!) -- $750 billion
  • New paid leave fund -- $319 billion
  • Bolster private pension funds -- $29 billion
  • Youth jobs initiative -- $5.5 billion

Do you notice anything a little odd about the $18 trillion?  That's right, not a dime goes for the poor, or for doing anything about poverty.  Not that I'd be in favor of more government spending on the failed anti-poverty efforts.  But, after all, this is a guy who pretends to "care about the poor," and who advocates that we show how much we "care about the poor" by spending government money on them.  Oh, and none of this proposed new spending addresses income inequality either.  (Do you think that government spending on healthcare or education counts in anyone's income?  It doesn't.)

Actually, it's much worse than that.  $15 trillion for single-payer health care -- wait a minute, don't the poor and the elderly already have near-complete single-payer health-care through Medicaid and Medicare?  That means that essentially all of the $15 trillion is to be spent on the non-elderly middle class and affluent.  And this is someone's idea of how to use government coercive redistribution to improve social justice?

Keep going through that list and see if you can spot any of the spending that might arguably improve the poverty or income inequality statistics even a little.  How about "college affordability," you ask?  Highly unlikely.  Bernie's program calls for the free tuition to be at state colleges and universities.  Sure a few low-income kids go there, but far and away these are semi-elite schools that cater to the top half of the income distribution.  The post-secondary schools that cater to the bottom half of the income distribution are predominantly the trade schools and for-profit schools.  Nothing in Bernie's program for them!  OK, so how about the "youth jobs initiative" -- surely some of that would go to poor kids?  Well, at $5.5 billion it's all of 0.03% of Bernie's proposed incremental spending, and if I know anything about government jobs programs, the well-connected will somehow figure out how to claim most of that money.  And not many of the well-connected are poor.

Meanwhile, to support this additional spending, the federal government's share of GDP goes from about 20% to about 30% (WSJ estimate).  That means that everybody's ability to spend on anything other than healthcare goes down by much more than 10%.  Here's the calculation:  Federal, state and local governments already take about 40% of GDP.  Adding 10% to the federal share of GDP raises the total government share to 50%, and shrinks the private share of GDP from 60% to 50%, which is a drop of 16.7%.  So if the question is, how much of your current disposable income would the Sanders plan cost you, the answer is, about 16.7%.  And that's without proposing anything to address the issues of poverty or income inequality.  

Do you think that an incremental 10% of GDP can be extracted from just the top 1% by income?  The entire adjusted gross income (base for federal income tax) of the top 1% is less than 10% of GDP.  And by the way, they are already sending about 35% of that (and in some cases 50% and more) off the top to federal, state and local governments.  So taking 100 cents on the dollar of everything that the top 1% currently has left nets you at most 5% of GDP -- and that's assuming that everybody in the top 1% is so stupid that they will continue to declare all that income when it is completely confiscated by the government.

Yes, socialism is just so inspiring!  But at least this is not as bad as North Korea!