U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I can hardly open the Wall Street Journal without seeing an article about why Bernie Sanders’ proposals won’t work, but I’m not buying it. Sure, any sort of change at all is going to have some unintended consequences. But that’s been true of just about every single governmental policy in the last, oh, 100 years or so. Of course, some people will benefit more than others—just as they did under the Republican presidencies. But, like Bernie, I’d like to see the greatest good for the greatest number, and I’d most like to see policies that will benefit the hard working middle class, tamp down extreme disparities in wealth, and provide basic social supports so that no one lacks basic healthcare, housing, nutrition, and the opportunity for an education.
I like government to stay out of my hair as much as the next person. Hey, I homeschooled my kid for 10 years while paying a pretty big property tax bill to support the local schools. I’ve yet to meet the person that actually enjoys paying taxes. But, as a financial planner, I ask what return I’m going to get on my investment—is there benefit for my (many) bucks?
Really, I have to laugh when I listen to the Republicans pounding their chests about how long you’ll have to wait for a doctor’s appointment if we get Bernie’s single payer national health program. In January I decided to find a new internist, since my previous one has decided that he can’t make a living billing even the best health insurance around. Of course, maybe if he downsized his suite of offices on Lake Shore Drive and didn’t have 4 receptionists chatting to each other at the front desk(who, by the way, NEVER answer the phone), he might be able to eke out a living of, oh I don’t know, a pitiful $300k or so. I had to call 5 recommended internists before I found 1 who was even taking new patients, and then I had to carefully check just WHAT Blue Cross insurance they would take (i.e. not many from the Health.gov marketplace). And then, I have to wait 4 months (mid-April) to get in to see her—and I have no idea whether I’ll even like her, so theoretically if I interviewed 3 practitioners, it could take the better part of a year of waiting to see a doctor for actual examination. For a dermatologist I saw in October, I was told to go home immediately and schedule my 6 month checkup or there wouldn’t be anything left. I can’t imagine that it COULD get all that much worse.
What about the charge that your taxes will skyrocket? Right now I pay $10,144.20/year for a plan that covers me and my daughter, with a $3,500 deductible. It’s an old policy—yes, I liked my insurance and just as President Obama promised, I got to keep it. I haven’t seen any proposal at all that suggests that your taxes will go up by $10,000 a year if we get a single payer. Yes, if you’re employed by a company that pays most of the health care cost, you probably don’t see that kind of bill, but you’re paying it nonetheless—in lower earnings. Unless, of course, companies find a way to offload a cost without any salary compensation. Oh wait, that’s already happened to your retirement. Remember that antique thingy that your parents had—a pension?
I’d happily pay more taxes for better health care for all—prenatal care, lead screening, diabetes prevention, you name it. The comment about how it will never work? It DOES work in every other Western nation, all of whom have better health outcomes than we do. Yeah, maybe hospitals and insurance companies would make less. But something tells me they’d find a way to survive—perhaps by providing the same healthgap insurance they currently provide to Medicare users. Maybe it would create more elite stratification—it all depends on how high the basic bar is set. Once it’s a universal, there’s a limit on how much extra most people will pay. It seems to me that in Europe people still become doctors, and in interviews I’ve heard even they all talk about the better quality of life.
Incremental change is easier than radical change and usually works better. Obamacare was that incremental change. Now, let’s make another one.
Public education for everyone
Some bonehead Republican (I think it was Trump but he says so much crap I lose track) declared that a free university system would make us like Europe, and foreign students all want to come to the U.S. for our superior education. Simply not true. It’s true there are a lot of foreign students on U.S. college campuses for at least two reasons I can see: colleges heavily promote it because these students generally pay full freight, and they’re coming from countries where the university system is generally rigid or substandard (India and China) or where the system offers little potential or is in political turmoil (especially women from Middle Eastern countries). European students are absolutely NOT in evidence as undergrads—in fact, the traffic is the other way since even the best Euro universities are cheaper and easier to get into than the U.S. equivalent. Sure, graduate students come from all over (but again, not predominantly Europeans) but plenty of traffic goes east across the pond, too. There’d probably be more if most U.S. students weren’t so completely incompetent in and terrified of functioning in another language.
Would this put private colleges out of business? Probably, yes and no. The financially weaker ones might have to recast their mission to actually offer programs that would be worth paying for, and a lot of them would fall by the wayside. Oh wait, that’s already happening. The elite schools? Not so much—over half the attendees are already paying full freight, and an awful lot of parents around here would pay absolutely anything to get their kid into those places (you know who you are). I don’t think that will change, and most of these places could already fill their freshman classes three times over with qualified applicants. I don’t think they’ll see empty seats if their application ratio goes from 10 for every 1 accepted to 3 for every 1 accepted. And maybe an expanded public system will stop the horrendous college arms race we’re currently experiencing, and the horrible impact on the mental health of college students.
Right now, its college or you’re a failure. Maybe some changes would produce quality technical and trade education as a viable and respectable option. Pinch me, I’m in Europe.
This is actually a Hilary Clinton proposal—that Social Security be redesigned so that it doesn’t penalize women who have stayed home with children. Now there’s a family friendly proposal. Republicans will certainly continue braying that Social Security was never designed to completely fund your retirement. Right. Because when Social Security was designed, people had PENSIONS. Social Security should be redesigned to offer people a respectable retirement consistent with what they earned in their working life. It’s just ridiculous that contributions cease at $118,500 in income. And why not tax people with very high retirement incomes? If it would provide a decent life for the elderly (which we all hope to be someday)—I’ll pay. The societal good seems just compelling to me—and like all income increases, it would raise consumer demand (more money to spend) and not necessarily discourage savings, since everyone would want to live above the minimum. People who save now would continue to save, and people who save very little (the vast majority) would not endure a desperate old age. Our system right now punishes stay at home parents, people who’ve dedicated themselves to socially useful lower paid work, people who’ve gotten ill or taken care of their own elderly parents or got a late in life divorce. Don’t even get me started on the need for long term care—it’s going to take the tragedy baby-boomers are surely facing to confront society with that disaster.
Financial transaction tax
Whew, this one hurts. Bernie is proposing a .5% tax on every $1,000 transacted according to WSJ this morning. That’s pretty high for individuals, but maybe it will return some sanity and thoughtfulness to the process of investing, and slow down the rapid fire high stakes trading that individuals cannot possibly compete with. Does anyone seriously think that it will topple our markets, the strongest in the world? I would like to see some protection for individual investors, but my guess is that if this ever passes it’s going to be a lot more complex than what is currently proposed.
However the election resolves, I think we need to read the handwriting on the wall. Bernie’s policies are overwhelmingly popular with the millennials. Unlike the baby boomers who had no real political agenda except ending the Vietnam War (and then taking up the culture of hedonism), millennials seem to have real political beliefs and economic issues that they intend to fight for. As they get older and move into positions of control, I think we will all have to acknowledge that the times, they are a changin’.