We’re in the middle of election season, and that means the nation’s economists get to come out of the woodwork yet again to weigh in on the candidates’ economic proposals. Detailed policy vetting might not feel like the most electrifying type of political commentary, but it’s absolutely essential.
The United States is still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, and it could be years before things finally feel as though they’re back on track. However, we’re picking a President this year, and that means economic policy should be at the top of everybody’s list of priorities.
Let’s see what the leading Presidential candidates will — and will not — do to prevent another financial disaster.
A Democratic Economy
Let’s turn first to Senator Bernie Sanders, fresh off his decisive 13-point win in Wisconsin. As he’s a Democratic Socialist, Sanders’ economic policies have been subjected to more scrutiny than any other candidate. And why shouldn’t they? They sound like such new ideas.
But are they really? Famed economist Paul Krugman has made a point of calling Sanders’ proposals pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking and even “voodoo,” asking in a recent column when in U.S. history has demanding radical change actually brought it about.
Mr. Krugman has apparently, through the force of will, chosen to forget the entire Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, without whose “wishful thinking” we would never have built Social Security.
Cooler heads have prevailed over at The Nation, where they have pointed out that Sanders Economics follow the very same path to success that Krugman himself has made a career of preaching: strong regulation, strong unions and a deep commitment to the middle class.
In other words, Sanders wants to stave off the next Great Recession by shifting the tax burden up the economic ladder, ensuring that medical expenses don’t bankrupt sick American citizens, and ensuring that unions continue to provide a voice to the besieged American working class.
Hillary Clinton has also paid quite a bit of lip service to the middle class over the last few months. She has staked out her customary position in the dead-center of the political spectrum: Raise wages, but not too much. Improve healthcare but don’t make it truly universal. Double-down on bad trade agreements because of the “global economy.”
More troubling than her tepid progressiveness, however, is Secretary Clinton’s staunch refusal to support a modern Glass-Steagall Act. This act became law in 1933 — at the height of the Great Depression — and effectively told Wall Street that they had to gamble with their own money — not with the American people’s money. Even John McCain supports a modern Glass-Steagall, but Mrs. Clinton does not.
Nevertheless, the former Secretary does talk a big game about bringing Wall Street to heel and “tackling excessive risk” — and a Clinton Presidency would be far and away better for America than would a Republican one.
A Republican Economy
Although they will probably end up sounding like something out of dystopian teen fiction, Republicans are also running for President, and they, too, have economic proposals. Before we go any further, let’s be clear about what these plans will actually cost us:
- Donald Trump’s economic plan will worsen the national deficit by $24.5 trillion over the next 20 years.
- Ted Cruz’s economic plan will reduce US tax revenue by $8.6 trillion by providing tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
What no Republican seems to understand is that increasing the size of our military, getting chummier with Israel, and reducing the tax bills of the wealthiest Americans is not the way to ensure that economic prosperity is possible for those who choose to work for it. All this comes from the party of “fiscal responsibility.” The truth is, you cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy middle class — that is, the class of people most likely to be driven into bankruptcy by an economic downturn. But Republican agendas no longer even pretend to have the interests of working Americans in mind.
At the end of the day, the differences between Sanders’ and Clinton’s economic proposals are a matter of degrees. Yes, Clinton takes money from Wall Street, and yes, she continues to claim she’ll reign them in. Even modest reform would be a welcome alternative to what the Republicans are peddling.
Trump says wages are too high. He also says he wants to cut down on unemployment. Coming from him, without the burden of facts or anything resembling a plan, these talking points are pure Reaganomics fantasy — no more useful or realistic today than they were 40 years ago.
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