Among Democratic candidates for president, Bernie Sanders is drawing the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds by far. Among Republicans, and despite, or maybe because of, some of his recent inflammatory statements, it’s Donald Trump.
It’s hard to imagine two more different candidates for president, yet they’re tapping into the same public disgust with the political establishment that created the demise of the American dream. There are many issues that both candidates address, but the economy dominates. The middle class is disintegrating and the U.S. is losing its position as the world’s economic leader. We’re losing the traditional values that allowed those born into poverty or modest means to improve their standard of living.
Two issues especially resonate with most working class voters of both political parties: our loss of industry and its well-paid jobs to other countries, and the influx of immigrants into our country. Although immigration increases the labor supply and has a depressing effect on wages, the loss of industry is especially damaging for three reasons.
First, those who lose their jobs — from assembly line workers to managers and professionals — usually don’t find replacement jobs that pay nearly as well. Second, when the unemployed enter the job market, they increase the domestic labor supply and depress wages in their class. And third, workers throughout the country realize that if they press employers for higher wages, their corporations are perfectly willing to carry out their threats to outsource their jobs. Stagnant wages result, and investors and executives of corporations are able to keep all the benefits of technology and productivity improvements for themselves.
Although Sanders and Trump both have identified the problems, they are radically different in their proposed solutions. With Trump, it’s our country against other countries: Mexico, China, Indonesia, etc. Although he lacks specifics, he persuasively claims that he has the hard-headed business acumen to negotiate better trade deals with them and he won’t let them send us their least desirable workers. By stopping undesirable Mexican immigration and getting better trade deals, he claims he’ll improve the living standards of all American citizens, including recently arrived Mexicans.
Sanders, however, is much broader and more accurate in his analyses. It’s more of a class issue rather than an ethnic issue. It’s a matter of the wealthy and powerful of all countries — certainly the U.S., but also Greece, England, Mexico, China, Spain and so on —becoming more powerful and wealthy, while workers everywhere, as a class, are losing their standard of living. In other words, the hard-headed business and investor class of all countries are managing the world economy in ways that benefit the Trumps of all countries.
Sanders’ solutions are specific and focus on cleaning up our own house. There are too many to list here, but some of the major ones are: break up our too-big-to-fail financial institutions, reject trade deals that increase corporate profits and destroy wages, make low-cost advanced education available to all citizens, increase progressive taxes on corporations and individuals who profit most from our lopsided economy, and adequately fund programs like Social Security and Medicare-for-everyone that would benefit those most victimized by it.
Of course, if the talking heads in Washington are correct, the Sanders/Trump sweep will eventually lose its steam. If the past is any guide, the establishment politicians of both parties who are unwilling to offend their special interest backers or risk telling it like it is, will again make sure they prevail.
Chuck Kelly is a retired management consultant living in Burnsville and is author of The Destructive Achiever; power and ethics in the American corporation and Farewell Fantasyland; time for political and economic reality. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.