Why are so many college students enthralled by Bernie Sander’s push towards a socialist economy?

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The American flag waves in the wind at the University of Denver [Photo by Palmer McGraw]

Denver, CO– November 8, 2016, will mark the 58th quadrennial U.S. presidential election which will determine who will be the 45th president of the United States. Currently Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are running neck and neck to win the Democratic nomination. However, unlike candidates in the past, Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist, a political ideology frightening to some and appealing to others.

Currently Sanders has been deemed a popular candidate especially amongst Millennials, and a recent poll found that 58% of young people would choose socialism over capitalism. However, it is unclear if Millennials, who did not live through the Cold War and witness the collapse of Soviet Russia, truly understand what Socialism is and the potential implications it could have on America’s capitalist economy.

The United States is a representative democracy, which grants the people the right to elect representatives to speak for the interests of the voters. Two major parties dominate the United States; those being the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, and both parties hold differing beliefs on tax policies, social issues, health care, labor and free trade, education, and capital punishment. Republicans are known for being capitalists, wanting less government and free trade without strict regulation; while Democrats are known as being more toward the socialist end of the spectrum, due to wanting more government control and further regulations on trade.

Capitalism as a form of government advocates for free market and free trade. On the other end of the spectrum is socialism, which is a system where all property is controlled by a small group of individuals, in this case the government. They determine what the common good will is. Democratic socialism on the other hand is more in line with the political systems seen in Europe, in countries such as Scandinavia where there is more governmental control in terms of creating financial equality, but there is a higher happiness index because their citizens are not competitively profit driven like they are in the U.S.

Sanders, a democratic socialist, has pushed for policies such as free college, single-payer health care, wealth redistribution, minimum wage increase, increased estate tax, expanding social security through tax increases, and curtailing free speech. After hearing some of these proposed policies, for a Millennial, it would be hard not to vote for Sanders, given the amount of student debt in our country. Even more distressing is the fact that many recent college graduates are knee deep in debt and finding it increasingly more difficult to find jobs. Tuition rates are getting higher and higher every year, and economists have noted the price tag is rising past the point of inflation.

A University of Denver economic professor, whose research areas include Political economy and the History of Economic Thought, explained the state of the U.S.’s current healthcare system, and the significant problem it poses. He stated; “Americans pay more for health care and get less than people with comparable levels of wealth such as in Britain. In those European countries as well as in Canada, their taxes are higher but the price of healthcare and education is included in their taxes. If the U.S. were to implement a health care plan similar to Sander’s proposal that would create one system with uniform healthcare, it would become less fragmented, and thus benefit the greater good. The reason why health care is so high in the U.S. is because the government is unable to control or negotiate costs with healthcare providers and insurance companies which results in higher prices.”

Yet some Millennials are worried that Sanders will hurt the U.S. economy in ways that will outweigh the effect of the current student loan debt crisis.

Thomas Ide, an economics major, hoping to go into Wall Street after graduating from DU, stated; “ I am a little concerned about his proposals to implement a tax on stock transactions in the financial sector. This is because there is thought that it will not raise any revenue to fund any of his ridiculous “free” college and healthcare. It is common sense that when investors are forced to pay a high excise tax on stocks and bonds, people tend to trade less, making the stock prices go down, which in turn, causes the markets to become unstable. If this were to happen, I think the markets would suffer substantially, and we could be dealing with another recession.”

However many young voters with little knowledge of the stock market may not be considering exactly the price that would come with some of these proposed policies as Ide mentioned. Sanders proposal for the “College for All Act,” a bill that would make universities and four-year colleges tuition free, would arguably do far more harm than it would good to the economic health of the U.S. A recent article published in USA Today found that through such added taxes, Sanders would grow the national debt by up to 15 trillion; government would be 50% larger than it has ever historically been, and by 2026 the national debt would rise by 93% of the total gross domestic product.

Despite this and the negative connotations regarding socialism, many young people, especially here at DU, remain confident and supportive of the Vermont senator.

“I think its because he’s igniting change and is entirely different than any other candidate in my lifetime. So far I haven’t experienced anything positive from any president, and I feel like he could honestly get stuff done,” said student Kathryn Mullen.

Many students believe corporations and businessmen are greedy and too powerful, which is why many have sided with democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders who passionately argues and detests the oppressive nature of free market capitalism. However, if one stops and considers the ironic nature of Sander’s arguments, they would recognize he is utilizing all the innovations and creations of the free market and free enterprise like Facebook and Twitter to preach the power of democratic socialism in an attempt to consolidate power within the government, and limit the effect of the market by implementing stricter regulations.

But is democratic socialism and impending debt truly worth this need for change? Some economists argue that it is not, and though many don’t necessarily directly financially profit from free market capitalism, they say it is essential for the prosperity of the United States, as it ignites innovation, new technology, and has increased the standard of living. Some believe that without free market capitalism people would not have the drive to take the initiative, think freely, and become successful. Arguably, without capitalism the invention of Google, Starbucks, Uber, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Apple would have never come into fruition. This is because free market capitalism encourages competition, which in turn forces innovation and creativity in an attempt to create the best product. The consumers would decide which product would gain widespread consumption and, thus, profit for its business owners. However there are undoubtedly counter arguments that believe innovation is constrained by profit, and if the markets were to become more regulated, products would be designed to last longer and more efficiently because companies are not competing directly for market share and profit.

This election year is sure to be an interesting one. With such differing opinions prevalent on campus and confusion on what exactly each candidate is proposing, it is important to thoroughly research the facts, become more informed, and go out and actually vote.





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