Here are some better versions of Bernie Sanders' ideas
How to build a social-democratic America that actually works.
As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am not a big fan of America’s new socialist movement. Their obsession with power and their relentless factionalism drove the socialists to focus the bulk of their rhetorical fire on Democrats and progressives who weren’t part of their faction, like Elizabeth Warren. In order to distinguish their faction from establishment Dems, they espoused policies that even they knew were unrealistic. And because of his focus on building an alternative power structure, Bernie Sanders surrounded himself with outsiders; Bernie himself is a good guy, but it turned out that most of those people had been outsiders for good reason. After the attempted hostile takeover of the Democratic party flamed out, some of Bernie’s supporters simply slipped into the broader progressive movement, but some remained in the left-wing media ecosystem they had created and simply continued to denounce the Biden administration.
This was all pretty pointless and annoying. The groundswell of discontent that gave rise to the new socialism and the Bernie Sanders campaign did end up pushing the Dems in a progressive direction, as the Biden administration’s policies have shown. But ultimately the vector for that success was Warrenite progressives who argued for their ideas behind closed doors; Bernie and his people had the chance to create a real grassroots egalitarian movement in America, and they bungled it.
But the problems that led to the explosion of popular energy that powered the socialist movement have not gone away. Expensive health care, inequality, high student debt, and climate change are still major issues. And although Bernie’s campaign adopted extreme ideas in order to differentiate themselves from Warren and Biden, some of the basic approaches the socialists endorsed are directionally similar to smart policies that would effectively address those problems.
So here are some more realistic versions of four of Bernie’s ideas — Medicare for All, a wealth tax, student debt cancellation, and the Green New Deal — that I think would actually work.
For universal healthcare, use a system like Japan’s
Everyone knows that American health care costs way too much. We spend about 17% of our GDP on health care, while other rich nations — including Singapore and Switzerland, which are richer than we are — spend far less.
Naturally this translates into increased pain for American patients, including things like high out-of-pocket costs. National health insurance would be a good way of addressing this, as I’ll explain. But the Bernie people focused on the wrong reasons to support national health insurance, and this led them to craft an unworkable plan.
First of all, the socialists focused on out-of-pocket costs, promising to eliminate them entirely. But out-of-pocket costs are already a small percentage of Americans’ total health spending — smaller, in fact, than almost any other rich country, including the UK.
In fact, Americans spend only a little bit more out of pocket on health care than people in countries with much lower incomes than us. Almost all of our massive spending is hidden, out of sight, paid for by somebody else.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Noahpinion to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.