It's easy to like Bernie Sanders. He seems to be a genuinely nice and down-to-Earth person and he has a long history of sticking by his convictions. His ideas challenge the conventional wisdom and have helped spur a national conversation. Some say that he thinks too big, and the policy proposals he's made are too grand to be feasibly implemented. To Sanders supporters, of course, this only enhances his appeal, as they feel he's the only candidate with the courage to think outside the box. The cult of personality that surrounds him, however, obscures the fact that many of his proposals are simply bad ideas.
Free Tuition at Public Colleges and Universities
When talking about foreign policy, Bernie Sanders often remarks that the US has taken action in the Middle East without considering what comes next. He's doing the same thing with respect to this policy proposal. Free tuition does sound nice, but what will the effect be on the market? There already exists a shortage of good-paying jobs for college graduates, and many have found work in the service sector doing jobs that do not require a college degree.
It's said that a bachelor's degree now is what a a high school diploma was 40 years ago. The devaluing of the bachelor's degree continues today, and would be exacerbated by simply increasing the number of people with one.
As there comes to be a larger surplus of bachelor's degrees, employers will eventually have to find some way to reduce their pool of candidates. One potential way is that degrees from private institutions may become more highly coveted. The consequence of this would very likely be a skyrocketing in the cost of private colleges and and worse job prospects for a person with a bachelor's degree than currently exist. Another way employers may begin culling the field is to require master's degrees. This already occurs to some degree, and would become commonplace if there was free tuition at public universities. Bernie Sanders has referred to a student debt crisis with respect to undergraduate. Perhaps 30 or 40 years after implementing free college, it's entirely possible we would have this same issue occurring with master's degrees.
The real issue behind higher education is the job market. If college graduates could feel reasonably assured that they would get a good job that would allow them to pay off their student loans in a reasonable time, the burden of debt wouldn't seem so heavy. Yes, college is too expensive, and the system of student loans requires a significant overhaul. But all the access to higher education in the world will not matter if people are not able to secure good jobs at the end of the road.
Now, Sanders could offer one compelling counter. People live longer now than they did 40 years ago, so it makes sense to extend the amount of time a person spends in education. If most people are going to live well into their 90s, instead of the low 70s, people having a few more years in school to grow and develop in a safe environment would be beneficial. Sanders, however, has not made this argument to date. Unless he can find a way to counteract the downsides of his proposal for free tuition at public colleges and universities, it remains a bad idea!
$15/hr Minimum Wage
During last night's debate, Bernie Sanders went after Hillary Clinton for only supporting raising the national minimum wage to $12, not $15. In reality, either number if implemented on a national scale would have many unintended side effects. In a place like New York City, yes a $15/hr minimum wage makes sense, as the cost of living there is so high that nobody has any business working for less than that wage. For certain places like NYC or San Francisco, the minimum wage could arguably be even higher.
There are many places in this country, however, where having to pay all employees $15/hr would be harmful to businesses. As a personal example, during my last two years of college I worked for a small business in Tucson, Arizona that at it's most had 7 or 8 employees. I started out at $8 and ended at $11. I feel that that none of the work that I was doing, especially living in Tucson, was worth $15 an hour. Additionally, if my boss had to pay everyone that rate, it would have a noticeable impact on the business's day-to-day operations. This situation would not be uncommon across smaller towns and cities in the U.S.
Looking at the cost of living across the country, the argument becomes more apparent. Palo Alto, California has a consumer price index of 270, the highest in the country. Tucson, 77 out of 78 urban areas, is at 134, or less than half of Palo Alto. While consumer price index is not equivalent to cost of living, this shows the latitude of employment markets that exists in this country. This wide disparity in urban areas, not even considering more rural communities and smaller towns, means that a one-size-fits-all approach to the minimum wage is going to have negative implications for many people who don't live in the big cities.
The Trade Deals
Bernie Sanders has gone into cahoots with Donald Trump, and has dragged Hillary Clinton along with him when it comes to free trade deals. On this issue, he decries the manufacturing jobs lost to Asia and Mexico, and vows to bring them back for working Americans. For considering himself a progressive who is ahead of the curve, Sanders's mentality on this issue is remarkably old fashioned.
Manufacturing used to be one of the great American industries. A person could graduate high school, go to work in a factory, and be able to make a decent living that was able to support a family. It's not that way anymore, and manufacturing jobs are never coming back. The U.S. has moved to a primarily service economy, and there's no amount of trade deals (or lack thereof) that can change that.
Those negatively impacted by trade deals represent an important, but minority of people in this country. Most benefit greatly from our trade deals by having access to a wider market of goods at a lower price. Trade deals cannot be Pareto efficient. There will be some people who come out worse when any agreement of this magnitude is made.
It's been a good thing that Bernie Sanders has drawn attention to the plight of those who used to be in manufacturing. Because many of these people have suffered due to the trade deals, the government has a duty to help them out. The solution to the current problem is not to try to get things back to the way they were, but find new jobs for these people. One could invest heavily in renewable energy and use that as one way to create jobs for these people. Another possible way would be grants for at least the younger portion of this group to go back to school. The solution is not to blame the trade deals and foreign nations for taking our jobs.
Hillary Clinton has has spent a large portion of her time during the Democratic primary chasing Sanders around on many of these issues, trying to prove that she will be better able to implement them than Sanders. Instead, she ought to question more the virtue surrounding some of Sanders's proposals in the first place. Ask him why he is opposed to trade deals when most people, including his supporters, are in favor of them. Have him explain how free college tuition at public universities will not further accelerate the educational arms race. She ought to move the conversation beyond just merely if his ideas are feasible.
Bernie Sanders has made many positive contributions to the political process, and he's challenged the Democratic status quo on many issues such as campaign finance, criminal justice, and foreign policy. When it comes to the ideas presented here namely: free tuition at public universities, a national $15/hr minimum wage, and his skepticism of trade deals are all areas where he has reached the incorrect conclusion.