Are Economists “Feeling the Bern”?

Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has taken America by storm, and for good reason. A year ago few could have predicted the relatively little known junior Senator from Vermont would be entrenched in what has become a very interesting race with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

His charisma, willingness to seemingly always speak his mind, and socialist views have attracted Democratic voters, particularly younger ones, looking for something other than the malaise that has followed Hillary Clinton since her days as Secretary of State.

Though the exact reason for Sanders’ success is difficult to pin down, as a student I can attest that his unconventional style is popular among my peers who are generally disillusioned by the political system. Either way it’s safe to say many people are “Feeling the Bern.” Unfortunately, an increasing amount of economists are not.

Recently, four notable Democrats joined a growing list of economists who are dousing the fire of Sanders’ campaign. A letter written by Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, Alan Krueger of Princeton, and Christina Romer and Laura D’Andrea Tyson of the University of California Berkeley criticized the Sanders campaign for embracing unrealistic claims about his economic proposal, including the effects of his well-known national health plan and other programs on economic growth and median household income. Acording to these economists, there is “no credible research” that can support these assertions.

The claims come from University of Massachusetts at Amherst Professor Gerald Friedman’s 53 page report detailing the supposed economic effects of Sander’s plan (the report is not directly cited for privacy reasons, but it’s easy to find with a quick google search).

Though Friedman is not affiliated with Sander’s campaign and actually donates to Hillary Clinton, the economists criticize Sanders for the way he has hitched his wagon to these numbers which some say are misleading voters, particularly young voters who know very little about the economy and have little perspective regarding economic issues.

Now, Sanders would not be the first presidential candidate to make bold promises regarding economic policies or other issues, but what makes Sander’s claims note-worthy is their particular optimism. Without getting into much detail, one such claim is that his national health plan would generate enough national saving to make the cost of the plan only 13.8 trillion, when, according to economist Kenneth Thorpe, it will be almost twice that.

Two other claims, that GDP will grow at a rate of 5.3% (compared to the current 2.4%) and that median household income will increase by 37.5%, also raise more than a few eyebrows in economic circles, to put it mildly.

Having said this, it would be prudent to turn toward the vast majority of economists before you believe the next number that is championed by the Sander’s campaign. After all, no one likes to get Berned.

One Reply to “Are Economists “Feeling the Bern”?”

  1. No politician can be trusted 100%, and although this may be an obvious statement to most students studying economics, politics, etc/whatever it is easy to overlook due to the political campaign/marketing strategies. Politicians must convince and their audience, the United States of America, that they will lead the country in the right direction. ‘The right direction’ depends on what that politician wants though, and I believe that the biggest hindrance, nuisance, to politics would be the manipulation of economic information. There is only such a select group of individuals with the privileged of understanding the real implications of political statements like, “GDP will increase by 5%”. To a typical voter that sounds wonderful: if GDP is more production, and more production is good, then let’s do it! Yeah!

    Trump, Sanders, Hilary, whoever, not only sell their political ideals but also their personalities. By laying a convincing narrative down as the foundation for an economic statement these politicians can easily manipulate audiences without the academic privilege of understanding economic jargon. The loss of credibility in an otherwise respectable politician bothers me the most. Misleading information might as well equate to false promises, and if people believe false promises that never get actualized the only citizens hurt but the aftermath are the bystanders, voters, we the people. False political statements are harmful to the voting atmosphere; who to trust and who to distrust determined at the polls with much less certainty. Within the political atmosphere it seems as though self-interest runs rampant, thankfully there are also some websites (like to help distinguish true from false. However, we must also be aware that the authors of these articles and websites are victim to their own subjective opinions as well.

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