Your theory of politics is wrong

I support Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. I don’t support Sanders because I think he is brilliant in some academic way. I don’t support Sanders because I am particularly impressed with the details of his policy proposals, although they are not nearly as hopeless as some self-proclaimed technocrats make them out to be. A democracy is not a graduate seminar.

It is not that I am for Bernie Sanders, but that Bernie Sanders is for me. Bernie Sanders, more than any politician who has ever had a serious shot at the office of United States President, represents my interests and values. By that I don’t mean my interests in a narrow, self-interested sense, but in his vision for what kind of country my country can and should be.

A democratic polity does not elect a technocrat-in-chief, but politicians whose role is to define priorities that must later be translated into well-crafted policy details. Paul Ryan’s various budgets haven’t been wrong because they require giant magic asterices to make the numbers add up. They have been wrong because the interests and values Paul Ryan represents are wrong. The magic asterices don’t reflect dumb mistakes, but smart politics. The problems of our polity do not arise because one faction or another is too stupid to do high quality science. If your interests are the interests of the fossil fuel industry, and you are unwilling or unable to transcend the narrowness of those interests, then confusing the public about the science of climate change is a mark of intelligence, not stupidity. Being smart is great. You may be proud of your GRE scores, your PhD, your Nobel Prize even. And deservedly! But raw intellect is not scarce, and no faction holds anywhere near a monopoly.

In a democratic polity, wonks are the help. The role of the democratic process is to adjudicate interests and values. Wonks get a vote just like everyone else, but expertise on technocratic matters ought not translate to any deference on interests and values. If your theory of democracy is that informed citizens ought to cast votes based on the best social science, you have no theory of democracy at all. If you are honest, you will follow your own theory where it leads, as Bryan Caplan has, and work to limit democracy. But Caplan, whom I love, is mistaken, because he begins with a mistaken theory of politics. If you want to see how that theory of politics works in the real world, look no farther than the European Union, which is a real-time experiment in demoting democratic adjudication of values in favor of technocratic adjudication of facts. I know, you don’t agree with their science. Their economists haven’t died quickly enough to realize that a decades-old consensus has been discredited. Technocracy, like communism, like capitalism, has never been tried. Elevating technocracy above democracy is similar to, and as insidious as, letting military power escape civilian control. The problem with life under military rule is not that the army lacks patriotism, or that it doesn’t mean well. But the interests of the military are not the interests of the polity, and we invented democracy because human beings have a tendency to confuse their own interests with the public’s. The interests of the class of humans who might reasonably qualify as technocrats are also not the interests of the polity.

So, I am for Bernie. I am not against Hillary. But just as it’s foolish to say that Democrats and Republicans are “all the same” because they are both corporatist parties, it is foolish to claim that Bernie and Hillary do not represent meaningfully different interests and values. I’ll enthusiastically support either Bernie or Hillary over a Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump. But it is Bernie Sanders who is for me, and I’m supporting him without apology. If your interests and values are my interests and values, I hope that you do too.

Update History:

  • 16-Feb-2016, 1:00 a.m. PST: “which is a real-time experiment”

62 Responses to “Your theory of politics is wrong”

  1. Thank you for writing this. It neatly expresses what’s right about Bernie Sanders—and what’s wrong about Hillary Clinton. The comparison of wonk rule to military rule is one I’ve never seen before, and very apt.

  2. Lawrence D'Anna writes:

    I think your theory of Bryan Caplan might be wrong. Or maybe I missed the part where he suggested we put a bunch of bureaucrats in charge so we can be more like the EU.

  3. Phil writes:

    Asterices? The word is ‘asterisk’, not ‘asterix’, who is a cartoon character.

  4. Daniel O'Neil writes:

    I will not, because his values might be in the right place but he clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Wonks are not “the help”; they represent the physics of any economic plan.

    Policies that are economically infeasible are not suddenly okay because they reflect one’s immediate values. It wasn’t okay when Bush II did it, or Reagan did it, and it’s not okay when Sanders is proposing it. Because if he doesn’t have a clear idea how he is going to do things, he is going to break them.

  5. Peter K. writes:

    I agree with this completely.

    And I don’t agree with 4. Suddenly when the Hillary campaign realized that Sanders was doing better then expected, they went on the attack. Krugman and others went on the attack.

    I don’t think the attacks are fair and all they are doing is alienating Sanders supporters. What Sanders says about Hillary is true. Hillary is the establishment Democrats and so in effect is running on the record of Bill Clinton and Obama.

    Liberal Democrats want a President who only enacts liberal Democratic policies, not centrist ones which move things in the wrong direction.

    If things don’t progress enough, if the establishment is too slow because they’re too cautious we could end up with a Piketty-death spiral and entrenched oligarchy. That’s the danger.

    The danger with a Sanders victory is that the Republican will beat him. I don’t see that though this time.

  6. RC AKA Darryl, Ron writes:

    Awesome, Dude, just awesome. THANKS ever so puppying much. I am profoundly amazed and deeply impressed. You wrote it perfectly. THANKS again.

  7. Mitch writes:

    You’re right that technocratic expertise is orthogonal to interests and values. But technocratic expertise, interests, and values all come together in the person of an individual candidate. If one candidate is close to my interests and values but has bad ideas on how to implement them, that matters. If that candidate hires bad technocratic “help”, that matters.

    Good alignment on interests and values doesn’t matter if the candidate can’t implement them. So it’s absolutely right to evaluate candidates on the technocratic quality of their proposals. That fits into my theory of democratic politics just fine, thanks.

  8. S writes:

    No discussion of if he can actually get elected? I honestly don’t care about Bernie’s policies. Or Hillary’s. The gap between them is so small compared to the gulf between Democrats and Republicans that I literally only care about who is most likely to win the general election. America has never elected anyone who is Jewish. Any socialist. Or an atheist. And very few divorcees. Assuming most people vote their party line, these factors plus his age and history of intentionally presenting as wacky could be more than enough to make the difference in the election.

    I still remember people making pitches for Ralph Nader in 2000, and it sounds frighteningly similar to the Bernie pitch today.

  9. Nicholas Weininger writes:

    One central problem with this line of argument is that because polities are irreducibly heterogeneous, there is no such thing as “the interests of the polity”. Letting the interests and/or values of the 51% rule at the expense of those of the 49%, regardless of the moral merits of those composing the two, is just invoking the divine right of the majority, a doctrine ultimately no more philosophically defensible than the divine right of kings. We may so far have found no better alternative than democracy in practice for restraining factional corruption and abuses, but that doesn’t mean we should promote it as a positive good.

  10. Nicholas Weininger writes:

    And come to think of it, the EU experience is a great illustration of the practical problems that result from the combination of heterogeneity and centralizing statism. Their governance does not reflect their internal diversity of values and interests, so they’re stuck with one-size-fits-all policies that don’t fit most well. The UK is not really significantly less technocratic than other EU countries, but their currency independence has enabled them to do much better.

  11. mpr writes:

    Given the large swathes of the middle class his policies would threaten (higher taxes, loss of existing healthcare …) its objectively obvious to me that BS would be destroyed in a general election. (I mean just look at the heat Obama took because a tiny number of people lost there healthcare plans.) Does this make no difference ?

    Its been noted that BS’s support is concentrated among *white* young people, and this doesn’t surprise me. It strikes me that arguments like this come from a position of privilege. A Republican president, isn’t going to threaten *your* healthcare, or disenfranchise *you*, or deport *your* family. So why not role the dice and go with BS ?

  12. reason writes:

    Nicholas Weininger
    “The UK is not really significantly less technocratic than other EU countries, but their currency independence has enabled them to do much better.”

    Better at what exactly? (It seems you have a very short memory and specific class interests in mind.)

  13. reason writes:

    Nicholas Weininger
    P.S. I live in Germany so of course I have rose coloured glasses.

  14. vlade writes:

    @Daniel O’Neil – please be specific? Which of his ideas don’t work? If you’re talking say about the bank regulation, his policy wonk there is Elizabeth Warren (as it’s her stuff that he wants to put in), and I’d say that she’s pretty good across it. Definitely better than Krugman.

    @S – there are polls that suggest that BS is more electable than HC, and some polls that suggest he’s the most electable candidate from all the parties (say ). You know, when you look at it, BS and DT has a surprising overlap in targeted audience (both target people dissatisfied with the current elites, some of their suggestions are even broadly similar, although they still are very different), and both are doing very well, thank you very much.

    @mpr – see above. The polls include middle class by definition. I find that a lot of people who talk about “middle class” really mean “upper middle class”. There’s a whole swathe of people who think they should be middle class (because they do the same as they parents did, and THEY were middle class), and blame the current lot for not being ones. So they are happy to vote for someone like BS and DT.

  15. ludlowgoat writes:

    I totally agree. Winning is alot more complicated that having a good Thesis. And when you’re done with the election it is likely the Thesis needs to be shredded and recycled.

    It is about a good political philosophy that others can get behind. It is wholly aspirational. Events will unfold that can not be forseen … that’s why we elect Representational Governance, individuals, who we believe will Instinctively act in the public interest.

    It’s about Belief, and that may have little to with grades on a particular paper, and to do with a more nuianced view of the Human Condition and People.

    There is no ‘Right Answer’ to this quiz.

  16. ilsm writes:

    Winning is not everything! Let the Norn rule.

    As Jerry Garcia said: “the lesser evil is evil.”

    I am voting for values!

  17. Ramanan writes:


    FYI: In India, Narendra Modi, the new PM from mid-2014 won with a huge majority because he led a genocide on Muslims back in 2002. I have seen a lot of people who say “they are all the same” as a kind of an excuse (and a lie to self as well) to support Modi.

    So agree with you that it’ foolish to say “they are all the same”.

  18. Quantico writes:

    His values are your values and both are sick and totalitarian.

    You’re another very smart guy who’s effectively an idiot because you buy into a collectivist ideology and think very smart guys like you should be in charge of everyone else because you can puke out a lot of words in a row. You use beautiful logic to get the wrong answer, but it’s gorgeous isn’t it.

    You are a fake centrist (you often try to fake it, thanks for not doing it here) “practical solutions oriented” person. That is, you’re a socialist (== totalitarian).

    Done reading you. It’s fake intellectual masturbation as society falls more and more under the thumbs of technocrat dictators like you.

    Thank God for the 2nd amendment – as long as we retain some of it.

  19. Justin Cidertrades writes:

    Ryan’s various budgets haven’t been wrong because they require giant magic asterices


    I catch myself doing the same thing — poking fun at the incorrect by incorporating it into my blurb.


  20. John writes:

    The arguments that principles not technocracy would hold a lot more weight if american democracy was parliamentary with the president in clear control of government like a prime minister. Bernie and Hillary’s agendas have 0.1% chance of being enacted. I couldn’t care less if the choice was between the agenda of Lincoln Chaffee or Jill Stein. What I care about is who I think will win the fight. Who will pander to swing groups to win a marginal congressional seat or electoral vote? Who will know which battle to pick when ramming an executive order down congress’s throat? Who will not waste all their political capital off the bat with an ego project of a grand healthcare scheme that is dead on arrival?

  21. Aaron writes:

    I think this logic is true up to a point, but not up to the Bernie Sanders point. For broad policy areas it is general values that count, not specific beliefs (and certainly not specific beliefs filtered through an official platform written to get elected). Does a candidate believe in using force only as a last resort, or does she feel the need to “be strong” and “do something” whenever something happens in the world she doesn’t like? Does he favor simple mitigations that definitely help some people at least a little, like earned income tax credits and SNAP, or insist upon identifying root causes and mobilizing coordinated massive resources to fight “wars” on poverty, crime, drugs, terrorism, etc. These things matter more than opinions on the military viability of anti-Assad rebels in Syria or the precise effect on the unemployment rate of a minimum wage increase.

    But the difference between Bernie Sanders’ and Paul Ryan’s budget priorities is not that Bernie wants to help poor people and Paul doesn’t. If that’s what you believe, then it’s a reason not to support Ryan, but no reason to support Bernie. Lots of people, almost everyone, wants to help poor people. The dispute is not about the value, but about the means; not the policy wonk details, but the basic approach. What is the quality and cost of government-run healthcare versus one based on regulated competing private entities? Should workers be taxed to pay for pensions of retired people, or should workers instead save the tax money and pay for their own retirement?

    A vote for Bernie is not a vote to help poor people, but a vote for taxes and top-down regulations to solve social problems. A vote for Paul (if he were running) would be a vote for lighter regulation and lower taxes to let people solve more of their own individual problems. For a few people this is a moral choice, but most people would support whatever combination of those two approaches worked best.

    So I think you need to find a candidate who not only reflects your interests and values, but also one whose approach to governing aligns with your empirical beliefs. I assume you wouldn’t vote for someone with precisely your interests and values, who thought the way to advance them was Wiccan rituals; moreover you might be willing to settle for someone who ran an honest, gentle and efficient administration, even if he disagreed with your relative priorities of social issues.

    The problem with Bernie Sanders’ proposals is not that they don’t add up, but that they reflect an empirically discredited strategy for achieving social goals that is incompatible with freedom, prosperity and progress. You probably don’t agree with that statement, in which case you’re supporting Sanders not just because you like his values and interests, but because you accept some empirical facts about socialism. Good luck with that.

  22. United Fruit writes:

    Ha, ha, I see what you did there. You say politics. Then you say words: democracy, democratic polity, democratic process. In which of your wet dreams did US politics have anything to do with democratic anything? The legal test for democracy is free expression of the will of the electors. Did you like your free expression of the will of the electors when you voted JFK in and CIA shot him? When you pushed LBJ out and CIA shot RFK before you could vote for him? When you tried to send them a message with spoiler Wallace and CIA shot him? When you voted Carter in and CIA shitcanned him with a humiliating hostage crisis arranged with US enemies? When you voted Reagan in and CIA shot him and tried to take him back to the White House instead of the hospital? When you finally gave up and voted in the former CIA director? When you got to choose between the former CIA director and the comprador of the CIA drug trade at Mena Airport? When you voted Al Gore in and they said No, none of this vote-counting business, it’s going to be spook cadet G.W. Bush? When you voted to replace him with Kerry and CIA stole the whole state of Ohio? When you voted for a credential-free empty suit who worked for BIC, took an inexplicable intern trip to Pakistan, and whose mother, father, Australian squeeze, and Grandpa were spooks?

    So knock yaself out, vote for Grampa and watch Marine One throw a rotor and crater in leaping flames.

  23. A H writes:

    I agree with this 100%. It is interesting to investigate why wonks like Krugman are so ideology blind. I’ve been thinking about it like this:

    There is a basic contradiction ideological contradiction of left liberalism (as opposed to socialism).

    This is the contradiction between 1. a belief in free markets as the best way to organize society and 2. the empirical failure of markets to succeed at this due to things like financial crashes and inequality.

    In order to solve this, left liberal ideology naturalizes the market and assumes that proper technocratic government regulation is all that is needed to solve market failure. The most prominent example of this is faith in an independent central bank as the main source of economic regulation.

    A major problem with this theory of governance is that it is basically blind to the real effects of ideology. So in the US you have a situation where the right has been able to use ideology to actively use ideology to promote it’s goals and be incredibly successful at it in the face of very bad demographics, while the center left is trying to have a technocratic argument about budget proposals while having no counter to effective right propaganda.

  24. Detroit Dan writes:

    Well said, Mr Waldman.

    In addition, I like Bernie’s technocrats (i.e. Stephanie Kelton) better than the status quo of technocrats who think that the central bank controls inflation and unemployment, or that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a good idea. Bernie’s policy proposals are much more straightforward and practical, in my opinion.

  25. Detroit Dan writes:

    @Aaron (post 21) — I just reread your post and see that you do make a good point, i.e.

    The problem with Bernie Sanders’ proposals is not that they don’t add up, but that they reflect an empirically discredited strategy for achieving social goals that is incompatible with freedom, prosperity and progress. You probably don’t agree with that statement, in which case you’re supporting Sanders not just because you like his values and interests, but because you accept some empirical facts about socialism. Good luck with that. [Aaron]

    Actually, I do like Sanders brand of democratic socialism better than the status quo. As he points out, it’s been tested and works elsewhere (e.g. Scandinavia). Considering “socialism” a dirty word is a tell for someone 60 years old or over, whose thinking is conditioned by the name-calling of the Cold War era.

  26. Practically liberal writes:

    I promise a borderless and nationless world where there are no wars, where all individuals are equal, where there is respect for private property as well as provision of public goods and where ther is no destruction of the environment. I also promise not a single human being would remain poor or have unmet health/education/credit needs. These are my values and please elect me as president. Don’t be a wonky technocrat and ask me details, come on, this is democracy!

  27. stone writes:

    As a UK based outsider to all of this, I’ve been impressed by the array of excellent technocratic policies Bernie Sanders has had. Years ago I was impressed at his “Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act S1137 and S1138″.

    and @Aaron (post 21), Bernie apparently draws on the “Nordic model”. From what I can see, people in Nordic countries don’t seem to be irresponsible as you suggest would be the case. Rather, people seem to take care of everything very well in those countries.

  28. What a great post. I submitted this comment on Krugman’s blog in response to one of his technocratic attacks on Sanders and they’re sitting on it so I may as well repost it here:

    Our problems began back in the 1970s when we abandoned the Bretton Woods international capital controls and then broke the unions, cut taxes on corporations and upper income groups, and deregulated the financial system thereby facilitating an increase in the concentration of income through outsourcing manufacturing to foreign lands which, in turn, created a situation in which full employment can only be maintained through an increase in debt relative to income. See: and

    This is what has to be overcome if we are to get out of the mess the world is in today, and it’s not going to be overcome by compromising with the agents of those who brought it about.

    Irrespective of Sanders reaching for the stars in his rhetoric, it’s his will and purpose that counts—his willingness to stand up to the moneyed interest and to motivate people to join him. That’s what people are looking for, not rhetorical realism. It’s the failure of the Democratic Party to stand up and speak the truth and fight for what they are supposed to believe in that discourages people and loses elections.

    Hopefully Sanders can change this. I’m pretty sure Hillary can’t.

  29. Marko writes:

    Bernie should just abandon the Nordic Model comparisons altogether. The radical social democratic model he’s looking to emulate is as American as apple pie. Per Piketty :

    “….Let’s glance back for an instant. From the 1930s until the 1970s, the US were at the forefront of an ambitious set of policies aiming to reduce social inequalities. Partly to avoid any resemblance with Old Europe, seen then as extremely unequal and contrary to the American democratic spirit, in the inter-war years the country invented a highly progressive income and estate tax and set up levels of fiscal progressiveness never used on our side of the Atlantic. From 1930 to 1980 – for half a century – the rate for the highest US income (over $1m per year) was on average 82%, with peaks of 91% from the 1940s to 1960s (from Roosevelt to Kennedy), and still as high as 70% during Reagan’s election in 1980.

    This policy in no way affected the strong growth of the post-war American economy, doubtless because there is not much point in paying super-managers $10m when $1m will do. The estate tax, which was equally progressive with rates applicable to the largest fortunes in the range of 70% to 80% for decades (the rate has almost never exceeded 30% to 40% in Germany or France), greatly reduced the concentration of American capital, without the destruction and wars which Europe had to face.

    A mythical capitalism
    In the 1930s, long before European countries followed through, the US also set up a federal minimum wage. In the late 1960s it was worth $10 an hour (in 2016 dollars), by far the highest of its time.

    All this was carried through almost without unemployment, since both the level of productivity and the education system allowed it. This is also the time when the US finally put an end to the undemocratic legal racial discrimination still in place in the south, and launched new social policies…..”

    As far as the empirics go , it’s not even a contest. Not only was it a Golden Age in the U.S. , it was a Global Golden Age , as well , especially when you consider the relative absence of financial crises and the widespread stability of economy-wide nonfinancial debt/gdp levels.

    The U.S. led the way out of the last global mess. This would be a good time for a repeat performance.

  30. wally writes:

    “technocratic attacks on Sanders ”
    I see comments like this a lot from Sanders supporters (taken from a comment above; there are others like it).
    However, pointing out flaws in Sanders’ political claims and projections is not ‘attacking Sanders’. It is pointing out that some of what he want is wishful thinking. And wishful thinking, in spite of what the gist of this article claims, is not what we need to have elevated to the Presidency. Reality exists and it can bite. Political advances require down-and-dirty dealing, compromise, and attention to the real world. That’s not where Sanders lives. Once we had McGovernites and Naderites and they voted their hopes and the world went on without them… in fact, took a wrong turn BECAUSE of them.

  31. Aaron writes:

    @Detroit Dan (post 25) and stone (post 27)

    I don’t agree that what Bernie Sanders is proposing is Nordic social democracy, but that gets into a complex discussion. I don’t think “socialism” is a dirty word. It’s a fuzzy one, in that it encompasses a wide range of political and economic views, but it’s a useful one because it distinguishes ideologies that make the social good and social justice central from another broad overlapping set that start from individual rights and ethical principles.

    My only point in this discussion is that what a leader stands for is indeed more important than policy details, but a leader’s general approach to government can matter as much as what she’s trying to do. I personally like Sanders’ approach to foreign policy and criminal justice (or at least like it a ton better than anyone else with more than a microscopic chance of being President) both for values and implementation philosophy. I also think he’s more honest than anyone else running, with the possible exception of some people whose fanatic religious or social views may be sincere, but are insane. But I can’t get behind his economic views, not because of technical disagreement about parameters, but because I think his approach to economic policy choices guarantees failure; in an insidious form that has often in the past led to rampant escalating failure.

    I don’t expect most people here (any?) to agree with that last assessment, but I do hope to convince some that approach does matter. I don’t think a non-socialist can support Sanders as anything more than the least of evils, however much you like the world he will try to create.

  32. hermes writes:


    Wonks are not “the help”; they represent the physics of any economic plan.

    The physics of an economic plan? The physics? Now that is an interesting turn of phrase to be applied to economics. Because nothing could be further from the truth; economics is not a hard science that can be described and proven through empirical experimentation, no more than is politics. And it is that exact misjudgment that makes technocracy, rule by “experts”, not only a bad idea but swerving into the territory of the dangerous.

  33. hermes writes:


    You seem to be confused by the difference between fact an opinion. Calling Sander’s plans “wishful thinking” is just a silly opinion, not some sort of hard empirical fact that everyone must acknowledge.

    And as for political advances require down-and-dirty dealing, compromise, and attention to the real world, you (or anybody else for that matter) has really made the case that Bernie is incapable of compromising. All you really have is a bunch of very squishy logic that attempts (and fails badly) to link Bernie’s platform with an inability to get things done. I would rather Bernie’s plan be the baseline of any compromise over Clinton’s, whom we all know will be diluted by half or more even before the dealing begins.

  34. Aaron writes:

    @Marko (post 29) “In the 1930s, long before European countries followed through, the US also set up a federal minimum wage.”

    The first federal minimum wage was set in 1938. . .at $0.25/hour ($4.00 in 2015 dollars), a level that affected almost no one. It applied only to nonunion workers, and was explicitly pushed by organized labor as an attack on non-union workers, not as something to help poor people (unions wanted $0.40/hour, closer to modern minimum wage levels, and well above what many of their workers were making, so that union labor would be cheaper than non-union).

    Minimum wage laws (and maximum hour laws which were also part of the 1938 act) had been around since the 1890s at the state and local level and in other countries, an generally applied only to women and specified minority groups (blacks in the northeast US, Asians in the west). They were attempts to force low-skill or disfavored workers out of the labor force, not to improve the lives of those people.

    Minimum wage laws intended to help low-wage workers rather than to drive them out of the labor force and raise wages for higher-skilled or more favored workers date only to the 1960s.

  35. Green Mountain Bot writes:

    Given the current congressional districts, it is unlikely that either democrat would be likely to get their agenda passed and implemented. So if you want to write of Sanders’s policies as wishful thinking, you must acknowledge that Clinton suffers the same malady. So, that leaves us with principles and judgment. On those fronts, I will take Sanders over Clinton any day.

  36. D writes:

    @ 35/Hermes

    Sanders plan is wishful thinking because it provides for 1) faster productivity growth than America has ever recorded 2) higher GDP growth than advocated by Jeb! 3) Higher labor force participation than at any time in American history.

  37. RW (the other) writes:

    Personally I remain doubtful that Sanders is electable in these United States but my bigger problem with him is that he offers no help to any Democrat down-ticket. A Vermont native who gladly votes for him at the state level explains why a vote for him at the national level makes no sense regardless of your values; in this context Sanders is rather clearly not “for you,” he is for Sanders, and that is not going to cut any mustard if your goal is the restoration of sanity to fifty states.”

    “Here in Vermont, there is a marriage of convenience between the Progressive Party and the Democratic Party, where (in statewide races, at least) there is usually only one candidate from either party to run for office. Bernie Sanders came into Congress in 1991 as an independent who identified with Vermont’s Progressive Party. He founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He’s caucused with the Democrats, but he has never joined the Democratic Party. …In many ways, he is to the Democratic Party what Donald Trump is to the GOP: an outsider to the party who was welcomed in but who has been willing to wreck the party to achieve his own goals. Hence, all the vague talk from Sanders about a political revolution and no talk that I’ve heard or seen about how to build the Democratic Party in all fifty states.”

  38. A H writes:

    @37 The Dems have failed at down ticket help for the past 8 years. There is zero evidence that Hilary would be better than Bernie.

  39. Detroit Dan writes:

    @Aaron (post 31)– Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    Bernie does explicitly mention the Nordic countries as having democratic socialist features to emulate.

    I think his approach to economic policy choices guarantees failure; in an insidious form that has often in the past led to rampant escalating failure.

    I don’t expect most people here (any?) to agree with that last assessment, but I do hope to convince some that approach does matter. I don’t think a non-socialist can support Sanders as anything more than the least of evils, however much you like the world he will try to create. [Aaron]

    Leaving aside theory, I think we can see that “socialist” policies in things like health care, education, and infrastructure have proven more effective than the current overly private way we do things now in the U.S. This is not some pie in the sky unrealistic socialism. It’s pretty obvious that the public sector performs certain functions better than the private sector.

  40. Dallas writes:

    The problem is that reality is getting more complex and diverse. Knowing the details in a specific area, your wonks, is relevant and can’t be ignored.

    The water problem in Flint is a good example. The real problem was buried in the details of water chemistry and no set of rules/regulations/standards or “democratic will”, beliefs, etc. can make a valid decision without understanding the details. The water from the river met all the standards. There is no magic “corrosion” protection system that doesn’t depend upon detailed water chemistry knowledge. Remember, they did the same lead thing in DC, again with a political leadership without the required technical expertise.

    Not enough technical wonks dominating these decisions leads to disasters. The more I listen to Sanders the more I see disaster from the arrogance of thinking that he actually understands the complexity of our world and can make these complex decisions.

  41. Asterices writes:

    Asterices, asterices, asterices, asterices. Asterices? Are you illiterate?

  42. SD000 writes:

    Yes, let’s abandon empirical evidence and expert opinion and simply go with what “feels good” and appeals to our basic desires. Tariffs and Subsidies for everyone! We need European-style rigid labor markets. Don’t worry, we won’t get their pesky unemployment.

    Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (and whatever other populist candidates) don’t have second-order thinking skills. The first-order effects of US protectionist policies seem obvious to see (more manufacturing jobs, less blue collar unemployment!), the second-order effects are harder to see (less consumer surplus, higher unemployment in the long-run, far lower quality of life in developing countries). If you don’t have the correct technical education, you can easily fall into the trap of gravitating towards what “feels right”. Unfortunately, that is the view that is almost always wrong.

    Also, it’s amusing that the original post could be reposted, with only very minor edits, and be turned into a pro-Trump post. That’s because it’s devoid of any substance whatsoever.

  43. static writes:

    A tragic flaw of those that espouse a Nordic model for the United States is that the Nordic model requires particular cultural values to flourish. It is more likely that our implementation would look like Spain, Venezuela, or Greece, as our level of social cohesion and responsibility is low.
    The primary falsehood is that Bernie somehow knows the consequentialist will of the populace. We are notorious for not wanting the consequences of what we ask for. We buy lottery tickets because we want to get rich. We want an economy that offers that opportunity, not one that punishes success and enables lazy apathy.
    Inequality is desirable, we all agree that there is some extreme where it is dangerous, but when wealth comes from the creation of intellectual property, the world benefits.
    We must never let a monster like Bernie or Elizabeth Warren decide that they know the value of things better than we do. We must never submit to their moral reasoning in favor of our own desires, to decide how much of the value of our labor we allocate to education, health care, or credit card interest must be liberties we fight to preserve.
    Anyone like Warren or Sanders that chooses to abandon market pricing should move to Venezuela and get in the bread line. Anyone like you calling themselves an economist is misguided- you aim to destroy the liberty of the value of our labor, enslaving us to your set of values. This is not economics, it is the imposition of an ego that fails to see that individual values lie beyond your control. Independence and liberty are too important to Americans. We are not your children, leave us alone.

  44. jpe writes:

    Technocrat here. I’ll take competent governance over aspiration and feelings.

  45. rsj writes:

    Since when did the Washington consensus crowd stop being dangerous ideologues and start being “wonks”?

    Both politics and economics are fields that, out of necessity, tend to prefer simple ideas to messy reality. The intersection of both may be a blending of different ideas, but respect for reality is pushed even farther away.

    But economic idealism in politics is nothing new. It’s only certain types of idealism that are called technocratic. But they are no less idealistic. What they are, are so repulsive to the sensibilities of so many people that they need to be packaged up as an agenda that must be followed because “experts say this is best”.

    When Clinton was supporting policies that promote outsourcing and financial engineering, that wasn’t based on any facts or deep understanding of the world that elided uneducated voters, it was based on a certain anti-populist idealism. If Sanders promotes policies that tighten the labor market and shift more taxes onto the wealthy, that is another type of idealism. Sanders is not more idealistic than Clinton, he is just advocating a vision that more people support, and that fewer people are horrified by.

  46. Carl writes:

    Bernie doesn’t represent me. But that doesn’t bother him. In his eyes if you don’t support him you’re selfish and need to be coerced to pay for what he wants.

  47. Aaron writes:

    @rsj (post 45)

    I think you are considering only the extremes. Sure, all sorts of people, including those billed as experts, spout oversimplified or flat-out incorrect ideas. And I also agree that even the best impartial experts can only offer educated guesses about the effect of policy actions. But throwing up your hands and equating wild conjectures with solid analysis is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Consider a proposal to increase the corporate income tax rate. The populist says, “make those evil big corporations pay their fair share, and reduce inequality.” The business wing of the Rights says, “the increase will destroy US competitiveness and set back employment and economic growth.”

    The economist tries to track through the impact of the proposal on corporate structuring, costs, wages and corporate profits. There’s a lot of uncertainty about all of that, but it’s not voodoo. It’s possible to arrive at reasonable estimates, with error ranges attached, for how much money the proposal will raise, who it will come from and what the major follow-on economic effects will be. A leftwing economist may have different conclusions than a rightward leaning one, but they will be closer to each other than Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush; moreover their conclusions will be precise and detailed enough to check afterwards and learn.

    Bill James said years ago that two quants looking at baseball data find as much to argue about as any two fans, but nevertheless, there is some objective value in quantitative analysis. Two non-numerate fans might argue about whether Willy Mays was a more valuable centerfielder than Mickey Mantle (I said this was a long time ago) because Willy Mays’ spectacular grace in centerfield and appealing personality made him more beloved than Mantle. But a brief glance at the numbers demonstrates a clear advantage in offensive production for Mantle that no amount of defensive prowess could offset; moreover while Mays was a great outfielder, Mantle was a very good one.

    In the political arena, Mays would win, hands down. But among people interested in plain truth, Mantle is the clearly superior player.

  48. SD000 writes:


    “Clinton was supporting policies that promote outsourcing and financial engineering, that wasn’t based on any facts or deep understanding of the world that elided uneducated voters”

    Except it almost certainly was. Clinton has a team of elite economists, at the top of the field, advising her. You think her decision to land on the economically prudent course of action, given the above, is a pure coincidence? That’s some poor logic.

    Sanders’ ideas can’t even be categorized as “controversial”. The expert opinion and evidence is so far on one side, that it makes the Global Warming debate look close.

    Again, it’s pure “feel good”, first-factor idiocy. I can see low-educated voters line up behind populist thinking, but when intelligent people begin to look his way, I get terrified.

  49. Nathanael writes:

    “Sanders plan is wishful thinking because it provides for 1) faster productivity growth than America has ever recorded”
    First of all, that’s not Sanders’s plan, it’s just Friedman’s analysis of Sanders’s plan. Sanders’s plan does not depend on that. Second, that productivity growth rate has happened in the past, though not often.

    “2) higher GDP growth than advocated by Jeb!”
    Again, that’s not Sanders’s plan, it’s just Friedman’s analysis of Sanders’s plan. Sanders’s plan does not depend on that Second, that GDP growth rate has happened in the past, repeatedly. Only for a couple of years at a time, but *that’s what Friedman predicted*.

    “3) Higher labor force participation than at any time in American history.”
    Again, how shall I put this…. false.

    The problem with being “wonky” is that you need real wonkery, not fake wonkery. Turns out Krugman has been engaging in fake wonkery lately. Not acceptable.

  50. Nathanael writes:

    “Yes, let’s abandon empirical evidence and expert opinion and simply go with what “feels good” and appeals to our basic desires.”

    So that would be a vote for Hillary Clinton, who has no plan whatsoever and says “trust me”?

    There’s empirical evidence and then there’s fake, vacuous assertions of empirical evidence.

    I can tell the difference. Can you?

  51. Coke Pepsi Coke Pepsi writes:

    Chomsky’s right, you’re all trained to pick a side and root for it like totally passive spectators waving big foam fingers in the stands. No hint of comprehensive standards applied to your shitty forced choice. That’s why you keep getting screwed.

    What I want and what I am entitled to is this: Hey candidate, are you going to comply with UN Charter Articles 2(4) and 51? Are you going to ratify the ICESCR and the Rome Statute? Are you going to withdraw reservations to the ICCPR and interpret it in good faith?

    No? Then I let you lose. Get bent. You don’t have the qualifications to be dogcatcher. You suck slightly less than Trump? I do not care. You don’t meet the minimal standards any free human with half a brain demands.

  52. utilitarianist writes:

    “If your theory of democracy is that informed citizens ought to cast votes based on the best social science, you have no theory of democracy at all.”

    I think that ideally, informed citizens should cast votes based on their values, finely sculpted by a sharp edge of reality. Objective policy making is hard, and you are not voting in your own interests if you elect a candidate whose perception of reality is distorted, even if their ethics align with your own.

    Nice false dichotomy though.

    If your theory of democracy is that well-meaning citizens ought to cast votes based on their gut feelings, and take it on faith that the policy details will sort themselves out later, then you are insane, and unbelievably naive to history.

    You know what they say about the road to hell…

  53. commenterbynight writes:

    So in one corner you’ve got a candidate who shares your values but won’t fight for them, and in the other corner a candidate who will.

  54. commenterbynight writes:

    Promising to deporr millions and build gigantic xenophobic walls is crazy; pushing America to the Scandivavian model is realistic, achievable, and reasonable.

  55. We like to pretend that a Democrat would not have invaded Iraq. I just dont know that, and neither do you.

  56. jrbillman writes:

    If I thought that they both had the same chance of being elected, I would vote for Bernie.
    This whole wonkery-versus-idealism discussion is taking place because people are looking the electibility polls and deciding they want to vote for the more inspiring and less compromised candidate. But the electibility polls mean nothing; the election will be decided by low information voters who hardly know who Bernie is yet. When they find out that he has said that we shouldn’t lead the fight against isis, has proposed letting out hundreds of thousands of prisoners; a fifty percent reduction in the military budget; sixty-five mpg requirements for cars, so suburban moms have to carpool in chevy volts; replacing their private insurance plans with medicare with accompanying tax increases people will freak out, his poll numbers will drop, and drop big. Your “theory of politics” is only relevant in under the assumption of equal electibility, for which there is “no” real evidence.

  57. I can't let this slide writes:

    Modern statistics have Mickey and Willie as indistinguishable in their best 3 seasons. However, Willie dominates the 7 year peak, 10 year peak and career value.

    source: baseball reference

  58. Tom writes:

    Most western states are mixed welfare-state economies, and the US is no exception. The bargain is that the government broadly ensures the health, education, and security of its citizenry and provides the regulatory framework that undergirds trust in the markets. This worked reasonably well for the United States, bailing us out of the great depression, allowing us to invest in world-class infrastructure, a social safety net, and great research labs and universities. Without these, much of the modern economy would have been created somewhere else. Since the infamous Powell memo, the levers of government have been progressively captured by moneyed interests turning the US into a welfare state for the elite who get subsidies, tax breaks, and tax shelters, while the defenseless poor and the middle-class are treated like ATMs. Corporate taxes as a fraction of federal revenue have dropped from a third to a tenth. Yet corporations reap an increasing share of the benefits of government spending.

    It is absolutely not in any of our interests to continue to elect corrupt politicians of any stripe. We all have a stake in making social investments that will prioritize equality of opportunity, restore faith in the financial system, and protect the planet. Yes, we do need a political revolution even if its merely to stem the rot.

    In contrast to Clinton, Sanders has put forward a detailed economic plan. Dr. Friedman’s analysis of this program was an independent one, and was based on fairly standard assumptions. The economists who objected to these assumptions hadn’t actually studied the analysis. In any case, the Sanders plan is an aspirational one that reflects priorities. It is not the moral equivalent of a Ryan budget. Once you give away a tax break, you have emptied the treasury and that’s it. With a social investment, the voters can continually evaluate its cost-benefit ratio and make decisions.

    In summary, Democrats should think carefully about whether to persist with a cynical status quo that is fraught with political risk, or to opt for what a large chunk of the electorate wants, which is, radical change.

  59. James Briggs writes:

    This shows what a brave new world we live in where knowledge of New Deal and the Civil Rights movement have been erased from memory. People don’t know why we have Social Security. They know it is socialistic and wrong and that it could ever happen now. It seems they are afraid to think that it could every have come about. I guess they believe that it has always existed in this society. They deny the possibility of change so they don’t believe that ancient times ever happened.

    There is plenty of money for Sanders programs. The rich have it. They stole it from the Middle Class who are now poor. How is it that people can believe that the Middle Class can be made poor but they can never be made Middle Class again. What is to prevent the president to call for demonstrations in Washington to pass his program. Why couldn’t the demonstrators in one on one situations convince congresspeople to pass a wealth tax or a progressive income tax to pay for everything just like they did from 1935 to 2000?

    At one time we had a top income tax rate of 90% and the economy did far better than it does now. Every economic claim made by the right has turned out to be false. The long-term effect of cutting taxes has been a slow economy and a shrinking Middle Class. Meanwhile, China that uses Keynesian economics is moving passed the US.

  60. Joe Halloran writes:

    Yes, only candidate for regular people ever. Except maybe FDR? And probably some others. History, people.

  61. RNB writes:

    Time to get real. Bernie can’t bring “socialism” through the ballot box, and what he is likely to get passed won’t be much more than Clinton does.

    So let’s focus on what we can really do. The most important thing to do in this election is to deliver maximum punishment to Trump and his Klan-like brothers for violating the norms of a civic people.

    And the best way to punish them is to make them listen over the next eight years to the voice of President Hillary Clinton, as she is dressed in a pant suit. I hope she gains twenty pounds in office just to drive Trump even crazier.

  62. RNB writes:

    Of course there is a reason Sanders’ policy director jumped on the Friedman paper and told everyone to read it. The crazy projection has everyone a lot richer in just ten years and thus dissipates fears that Sanders’ taxes for health care, free college, infrastructure, etc. will leave people poorer. The policy director must fear that Sanders will eventually get tagged as an irresponsible tax and spender, and this paper shifts people’s attention to how much richer they will be. But the paper has backfired, and the Sanders’ campaign should own the mistake.