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National Issues

What would a Sanders victory mean?

“Today, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially…The billionaires of America are on the warpath, buying candidates and elections to quench their insatiable appetites for more and more.” — Bernie Sanders, Senator (I-VT) and Democratic presidential candidate

There is little doubt that Americans are disillusioned with a system they view as corrupt, run by money-driven politicians in Congress and recent administrations. They make this point in poll after poll and by showing up to support maverick candidates like Sanders and Donald Trump. Sanders and Trump, according to much of the electorate, stand above the fray of campaign finance and special interests that infests Washington, D.C.

But look more closely, America. Sanders’ precedent would represent a win for those very special interests —notwithstanding any number of small grassroots donations to his campaign.

By calling for taxes that could increase the federal budget by trillions of dollars, Sanders all but guarantees that special interests will continue to have their way in coming years. His “revolution” will result in more of the people’s money being fought over by state and local governments and various private interests. Money could be thrown around willy-nilly with little to no regard for the public interest.

Liberals who lambast the military-industrial complex that pours tax dollars into the Department of Defense’s maw should not discount the potential for similar government-run institutions to take root in education, health care, food and myriad other industries that make up our rich economy. Lobbies can — and will — plague these institutions, too.

Private companies can ensure that their administrations and work forces are not inefficiently bloated, and consumers and shareholders can stop buying goods and shares. That’s because the market is more easily beholden to corrective mechanisms than is a large government. Examples abound of administrative bloat and inefficiencies. Presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s lofty promise to abolish the IRS and four cabinet agencies notwithstanding, it is not so easy to wish away a rotting federal infrastructure.

Despite a variety of analyses suggesting that the Department of Defense’s F-35 program is a black hole for taxpayer dollars or that the public school system’s grip on those same dollars is a key driver of income inequality, political ploys around such large government-run programs have ensured that they fester and outlast any single presidential administration. Scale up to Sanders’ proposed programs that could add up to trillions of dollars in cost over the years, and we reach the potential for wrongheaded or wrongly implemented policies that would do great damage to our nation.

Sanders’ revolutionary appeal seeks to undermine a tradition of cronyism in Washington, D.C., which few deny exists. He achieves this appeal by asking that more Americans’ taxpayer dollars be entrusted to the government. This, however, will precipitate a vicious cycle of special interest lobbying and rent-seeking without guaranteeing meaningful policy successes — growing the very malaise that Sanders seeks to address.

Pi Praveen, from Portland, Oregon, is a senior studying political science at Duke. She is also the president of the Duke Political Union and chair of the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council on campus.


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