Whenever I see Bernie Sanders speaking I simply picture him wearing a wizard costume with loose and floppy sleeves flapping around his wrists as he waves his arms overhand at the audience in an attempt to invoke some magical spell on them. So far, the old alchemist seems to be convincing people he can accomplish his craft. Bernie has made many people confident that he can turn dirt into gold and then throw it out on the waiting masses by the overflowing handful. It’s an effective method of electioneering. Many leaders throughout history have used the bread and circuses method, and, sadly, it appears that most of our juveniles never read Juvenal. Traditionally it has never been very difficult to get a following of people when you’re offering free stuff. Despite young people’s skepticism concerning religion, they do seem ready to believe a fiery preacher offering miracles. I don’t doubt Bernie’s good intentions, but his socialistic goals are not very feasible economically speaking.
There are two fatal issues with Sanders’ promises to Americans. The first is his offering of free education, despite the already plummeting quality and rising costs of college in the US. The second flaw is his hard-nosed approach to banks and corporate America. Bernie is very good at pointing out the problems, but his solutions only travel further down the road of impracticality, revealing a complete lack of reasonable implementation of his views. I’ll dig into both issues and try to explain what I mean.
We Don’t Need No Education
We are certainly reaching an education crisis in America. Our bloated academic systems crank out young people utterly unprepared for the job market and and who possess painfully specific degrees. At the same time they are saddled with loads of debt and essentially turned into indentured servants until they hit middle age. Bernie of course claims that the solution should be free college education for all paid for through taxes. There are a host of issues here. First off, we have definitely made some poor choices in America in our approach to education. The dream of every American having a college education, while idealistically nice, is, practically speaking, stupid. A diploma is essentially a certification allowing entry into a higher tier of jobs in the economy. Let’s face it, the old concepts of higher learning making citizens into well-rounded individuals is dead. The problem is that the quality of higher education in America does a poor job of preparing people for the workplace and also creates false expectations about life after college.
This disaster in our education system has been a long time in coming. The revolutionaries of the 1960’s (for the most part) got high on the means and not the ends. Social revolution became its own goal within the education system. Many of those 60’s social movement types stayed in the education system and became the professors who now teach the next generation of young people to throw fits when the employee cooking up the won tons in the cafeteria is not Asian, or when a white person wears a sombrero. Extended academia leads to diminished growth and arrested development. Why else do we see professors and school administrators around America caving to the petulant demands of their students? Why else do we see young people unable to enter the workforce after graduating? College has become an entertainment product, and the consumers are unhappy with their experience. Education is no longer about making the individual fit for the world, but it is trying to make a world fit for each individual. Universities have largely become expensive incubation chambers insulating young people from the hard knocks of life and the realities of the job market. Yes, anthropology may be super important to some professors who want to increase their class size, but good luck getting a job that pays well and utilizes your major. Problem is that if you ask any of these professors why you can’t get a job with that anthropology degree, then the finger is pointed at the job market and capitalism, not the out of touch priorities of an impractically idealistic ivory tower.
Bernie addresses none of this inefficiency or the massive disparity between the aims of academic institutions and the demands of the job market. He does not point out that perhaps we aren’t helping young people acquire practical skills and that lowering expectations for grades and attendance are actually harming them and merely making our graduates look smarter. He simply argues that the four year daycare that costs 5th most in the world per student and only educates students to the rank of 29th best prepared should be free. Forgive me for not ‘feeling the bern’, but a free turd is still a turd.
Another problem with the belief that everyone should have a college education is that this idea devaluates the college degree. If everyone has one, then it is the same as if nobody had one. In other words, if it is free for everyone, then why should people who don’t have a degree suffer? Is Bernie suggesting that a college degree should not net a higher income and not be considered an investment? What about the people we don’t want to go to daycare for four years and want to enter the job market right away? Why should they be forced to pay for everyone else’s college with their taxes? Will they still make less money without a degree, despite the fact that it’s suddenly free? Has Bernie thought through any of this? Colleges used to be for profit because it was an investment, and they had to keep standards high to be worth the money and to also make a profit. Subsidizing has actually lowered the quality of a college education and increased administrative waste in institutions. How is increasing the flow of government money supposed to decrease inefficiency or increase the quality of education?
Bernie is trying to take the collapsing remains of a top-heavy, overly-administrated and inefficiently-subsidized system and just slap a “free” sticker on it. What we need is a complete reformation of the higher education system in America from the ground up. We need to determine what is and is not working first before making everyone pay for it whether they like it or not. Why, when colleges have reached an insane level of waste and shameful level of quality would we then push the burden onto everyone?
More Money, More Problems
When it comes to economics I have a theory about Bernie. I think he has undergone some kind of Benjamin Button scenario in which the older he gets the less he understands about money. Bernie’s issues are various, but it boils down primarily to ignorance. When he talks about big banks, wallstreet and billionaires, it is painfully obvious that he has no clue what he is talking about. His image of a billionaire is a fat, old, white guy sitting in a marble penthouse and laughing at all the people below and occasionally ducking into his money room where his stacks of billions reach the ceiling. Come to think of it, he probably just pictures Scrooge McDuck.
This image of the billionaire is moronic. Most of a wealthy person’s net worth is tied up in assets such as investments or companies. You don’t just leave large amounts of money around to lose value in the bank. If they own investments, then this value is tied up in other corporations which borrow the money to buy equipment (from other business which hire people), hire employees, or expand in various other ways. Their money is going to work paying our wages and giving our companies resources to expand and grow. Yes, they make some money on dividends, but many other people also make money and gain employment through their investment. Yes, this is trickle-down economics.
Bernie wants to greatly increase taxes on the investor class in order to spread wealth around. The problem is that the higher the tax rates on investors, the less they will be able to invest. Yes, Bernie just got you a tax break, but he also may have kept a business from expanding and adding new jobs. The result could be better unemployment benefits at the cost of higher unemployment. The central issue is that investors are pretty good at putting their money in companies that are succeeding, and taking that money out of their hands stunts economic growth. As M.B. Drapier said in a earlier post: if you think the government can pick winners, then good luck. This is the same grossly incompetent government that can’t even audit its own finances.
There is a much deeper issue with Bernie’s economic ignorance. He is willfully ignorant. He complains about big banks and billionaires, while glossing over how the system actually works, because he fundamentally hates the system itself. He pretends that incentives don’t exist because he would prefer that they didn’t. He wants to place more economic power in the hands of government which increases spending every year, as opposed to businesses which have to stay in the black or die off. He brags about how investors and banks will hate him, despite the fact that we all have jobs thanks to them. He believes the state should allocate resources, when we have China as a glaring example that it simply doesn’t work.
This is the fatal conceit of socialism: it is the bastard child of capitalism. It is born from an anger at the unfairness of the free market. It wants the standard of living offered by capitalism without the uncertainty. This all ties back to the problems facing our colleges. No wonder Bernie is so popular with the young people who are now a part of and were recently a part of our failing higher education system. They want socialism for the same reason they want safe spaces: a desire to be protected from the hazards of free exchange whether it is goods and services or words and ideas. We have provided them a great disservice in the form of poor education and resulting uncertainty in the job market. The sum of these two failures is a defiant, radical demand that we all take care of them.