Taking an Inventory of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Town Halls in 2017 and 2018

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I decided to write this post — a little off-topic for Thanksgivng, I grant — simply because I was out walking and it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know how many town halls Senator Bernie Sanders had done since the 2016 election. Hence this inventory. The object of inquiry, the “town hall,” is a little fuzzy round the edges, but at least one key element is “constituent participation with a politician,” generally in the form of questions. To this I would add that the town hall must be labeled a “Town Hall,” be national in scope, and that the audience be large. (This rules out book tours, rallies, and small town halls designed for the state and local levels.)

The inventory wasn’t all that easy to do; I suspect the only complete listing is on Sander’s Facebook page, but (a) Facebook and (b) not doing the Facebook infinite scroll, sorry. So I went with the Google. For each town hall I give the online venue (including a link to the complete video), the location, and some descriptive material, often in the form of represenative Sanders quotes. (“Representative” is not hard, because Sanders is relentlessly on message.) Where available, I give press releases from Sanders’ office. After the inventory, I’ll draw some conclusions.

Herewith the list of Sanders Town Halls, in reverse chronological order.

* * *

(1) Climate Change Solutions: December 2, 2018 (to come)

Press Release: Announcment

(2) CEOs vs Workers: June 28, 2018

Press Release: Announcement

Online venue: Live stream with media partners

Location: Washington, DC

From Jacobin:

Monday night, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders hosted a live-streamed town hall with five low-wage workers — one each from Amazon, American Airlines, Disney, McDonald’s, and Walmart. The workers sat on one side of the stage, while on the other idled five empty chairs, each emblazoned with the name of an absent CEO. Sanders had invited the executives to participate in the discussion, but none had agreed.

“I guess they didn’t show up,” Sanders said, gesturing to the vacant chairs. “We made a sincere effort, because I think it would’ve been an extraordinary discussion for them to defend the kind of compensation they get in contrast to the people who work for them.”

An empty chair for your opponent is the oldest trick in the book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective!

(3) Breaking the Deal: The Aftermath of Trump’s Decision on the Iran Nuclear Agreement, May 14, 2018

Press Release: Announcement

Online venue: Live stream with media partners

Location: Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium, Washington DC

The Bennington Banner:

Sanders, who was criticized during his 2016 presidential campaign for a dearth of foreign policy experience, moderated the panel of four experts in an hour-long conversation that focused on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

“I think that in American politics there is not the full degree of understanding in terms of what the implications of foreign policy are,” Sanders said.

While issues like health care and education feel immediate to Americans, United States foreign policy “often seems a little bit distant,” he said.

However, Sanders contended, the amount the country spends on the military makes overseas relations with other countries directly pertinent to domestic issues.

“That brings the issue of foreign policy kind of back home in terms of our national priorities,” he said.

The event attracted a smaller audience than his previous two town halls. Some 600,000 tuned in online, according to Sanders’ staff, less than half of the 1.7 million viewership of his last event on economic inequality in March.

Note the smaller audience; Sanders instincts to focus on universal concrete material benefits may be politically sound. Note that this is really a panel discussion; the Sanders press release bills it as a “Town Hall” even though there’s constituent participation, which could be taken to show a lack of confidence on Sanders’ part.

(4) Inequality in America: The Rise of Oligarchy and Collapse of the Middle Class: March 19, 2018

Press Releases: Announcement; recap

Online venue: Live stream with media partners

Location: Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium, Washington DC

Boing Boing:

[Y]esterday, 1.7 million people tuned in to watch Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore, and a panel of experts discuss inequality.

It was 90 minutes of wonkish, measured expert discussion of substantive matters of economics and policy, with special emphasis on the racial dimension of structural poverty, in webcast form.

HuffPo:

The result, Sanders said in his introductory remarks, is a country where “the top 10th of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

“In recent years, we have seen incredible growth in the number of billionaires, while 40 million Americans continue to live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on Earth,” he continued.

A prominent feature of the evening’s analysis that Sanders’ critics have sometimes accused him of downplaying was an explicit breakdown of the racial roots of American poverty.

WAMC:

[SANDERS:] There is something very wrong when young people have got to go to Germany in order to get a higher education. There’s something wrong when people have got to go across the Canadian border to get affordable prescription drugs. There’s something wrong when the in greatest nation in the history of the world, the most wealthy nation, our infrastructure is collapsing and we’ve got 40 million people living in poverty.”

Note that this format, too, is a panel discussion: Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and filmmaker Michael Moore interview subject matter experts.

(5) Medicare for All: January 23, 2018

Press Releases: Announcement; recap

Online venue: Live stream with media partners

Location: Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium, Washington DC

Wisconsin Gazette:

A national town hall on Medicare for all hosted by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and digital media outlets The Young Turks, NowThis and ATTN: drew nearly 1.1 million live viewers Jan. 23.

The number rivals the viewership of cable news in prime time.

And, mid-day Jan. 24, more than 1.6 million views had accumulated on the town hall video across platforms.

Sanders comments:

[SANDERS:] Far too often corporate television limits the nature of what we see and the discussions we have. This event will not be interrupted by commercials from drug or insurance companies or Wall Street.

In These Times:

Sanders noted that the event was the first nationally broadcast town hall taking place outside the corporate media. ‘This is, I think, kind of revolutionary, is it not?’ he said to YTN host Ana Kasparian in a pre-town hall interview. ‘This could be the very first step in bringing millions of people into serious discussion about the serious issues facing our country.’

Here we have Sanders moderating a discussion among experts; again, no constituent participation, unless via chat in the live stream.

(6) Tax Reform (Sanders, Cruz): October 18, 2017

Online venue: CNN

Location: Washington, DC

From the transcript:

In two minutes, Senator Cruz is going to tell you that if we give tax breaks to the billionaires like George W. Bush did, like Ronald Reagan did, we’re going to create zillions of jobs and you’re all going to become very, very rich, that we have a trickle-down economic theory, tax breaks for the wealthiest people, the largest corporations, and, whoa, everything is good.

That is a totally fraudulent theory. Here is the reality of American society today. For 40 years, the middle class of this country, the great middle class has been shrinking. And what we have seen is a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the top 0.1 percent, trillions of dollars because of cooperate greed and an unfair tax system.

And then the other thing they do, in order to pay for [n-o-o-o-o-o] their tax breaks, you know what they do? They cut Medicaid over a 10-year period by $1 trillion, throwing 15 million Americans off of the health insurance they have. They cut Medicare by $470 billion.

(7) Tax Reform (Sanders, Cruz, Cantwell): November 28, 2017

Online venue: CNN

Location: Washington, DC

CNN:

[SANDERS:] The tax bills in both the House and the Senate give the lion’s share of tax breaks to the top 1%

Thank you, Occupy (though I prefer the precision of 0.1%, as in the quote above).

(8) Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill (Graham, Cassidy, Sanders, Klobuchar): September 25, 2017

Online venue: CNN

Location: Washington, DC

The Bustle:

from a human point of view — we’ve heard some of that discussion tonight — understand what it means when people who are struggling with cancer, heart disease, diabetes suddenly get the word that that legislation passed and they lose the health insurance they have. That is their lifeline for literally staying alive. Our job as a humane society is to do a couple of things. It’s not to throw 30 million people off of health insurance. It’s to do what every other major country on Earth does, guarantee health care to all people as a right. That’s what we should be doing. And second of all, what we have got to be doing is come up with short- term solutions. And I think Amy mentioned some of them. Why don’t we make sure that in every state in this country there is a public option, a strong set of benefits, and an affordable course to compete with private insurance? I think that’s a very, very good idea. Some want to do it through a Medicare option; some want to do it through a Medicare option. But people should have the option to go beyond the private insurance company in their own community. I think that would be a successful effort, and I would hope that you would support us on that.

The trouble with short-term solutions is that they open the door to yet another liberal Democrat bait-and-switch operation, exactly like the so-called public option, which I’d speculate is exactly what Pelosi and Schumer are scheming to do. If there’s going to be a short-term solution, then make it part of a phase-in to HR-676 or S-1802. Otherwise, we’re just kicking the can down the road for another couple of election cycles.

(9) Health Care, August 22, 2017

Online venue: Facebook

Location: Fellowship Chapel Church, Detroit, MI

Detroit Metro Times:

“I’m concerned with the quality of life [in Detroit]. Nationwide it’s not so much [racial/identity politics anymore] because we are all suffering. This is a class situation,” said Sharon, an African-American woman in her late forties standing in line. Decked out in pins for Coleman Young II’s mayoral campaign, she was adamant that the era of Clintonism wasn’t sustainable for the Democratic party and had to come to an end.

“Using public assistance and stuff to try and make ends meet — the living conditions are just getting worse and worse and I see two different Detroits and I don’t like that,” she said.

These sentiments from Sharon regarding the present situation in America, and Detroit in particular, becoming ever more untenable were echoed by many others at the event.

(10) Bernie Sanders Speaks, August 22, 2017 (10:30AM)

Online venue: YouTube (partial)

Location: Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, OH

WSAZ:

[SANDERS:] I fully understand that Donald Trump won this county. I am here because I am an old-fashioned guy who does not believe in red states and blue states.

Dayton Daily News:

[SANDERS:] I am in Trump country because I think the issues you face here in southern Ohio are not any different than in Vermont or California or any other state,” he said.

Trump won 65 percent of the vote in Scioto County.

I think it’s high time we focus on the most important issues facing our country and do not allow people to divide us up based on the color of our skin, our sexual orientation…We have to be smarter than that.

Daily Independent:

As human beings and Americans we are entitled to certain rights….we have a whole lot of freedoms…and I would add to those rights the American people are also entitled to certain economic rights. At the top of that list is the right to healthcare, whether we are rich or poor.

(11) College For All, October 17, 2017

Online venue: From the live stream

Location: Castleton University, Castleton, VT

Vermont Biz:

And let me be very clear. I am not just talking about 4-year universities and colleges. I am talking about community colleges. I am talking about vocational schools. I am talking about apprenticeships. We desperately need highly trained and highly skilled electricians, welders, plumbers, mechanics, pipefitters and health care workers of every kind.

This is not a radical idea. A number of nations around the world are doing just that, investing in their young people so that they will have an educated workforce that isn’t burdened with enormous student debt. In Germany, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden public colleges and universities are tuition free. In Germany, public colleges are free not only for Germans, but also for international students, including some 11,000 from the United States of America.

(12) Bernie Sanders in Trump Country, March 13, 2017

Online venue: MSNBC

Location: Welch, West Virginia (McDowell County)

Metro News. On coal miners:

“These guys are heroes,” Sanders said. “I grew up in a rent-controlled apartment house in Brooklyn, New York, and I will never forget the piles of coal. I don’t know if it came from here or where it came.”

“You kept my house warm. Thank you,” the senator said

Bustle:

Sanders asked a West Virginian coal miner if ‘[America] should join other countries and guarantee healthcare as a right?’ to which he replied, ‘Yes, I think every American citizen should have healthcare.’ The miner’s response, along with the crowd’s thunderous applause, demonstrate the complicated nature of the relationship among GOP voters, Trump and his campaign promises, and healthcare.

(13) Sanders vs. Cruz: The Future of ObamaCare, February 2, 2017

Online venue: CNN

Location: George Washington University, Washington, DC

CNN:

LaRonda Hunter, who owns five hair salons in Texas, said she can’t afford to provide coverage to her employees because of low profit margins and that the Obamacare rule is preventing her from growing her business.

Sanders responded with what he prefaced would be “an answer you will not be happy with.”

“I’m sorry, I think that in America today, everybody should have health care. And if you have more than 50 people, you know what, I think I’m afraid to tell you, but I think you will have to provide health insurance,” Sanders said.

Cruz shot back that Democrats have turned small businesses into a “bad actor.”

“Millions of businesses are being told by Democrats: tough luck,” Sanders said. “It’s one of the most damaging things about Obamacare.”

(14) Senator Bernie Sanders Town Hall, January 9, 2017

Online venue: CNN

Location: George Washington University, Washington, DC

CNN:

[SANDERS:] We just cannot allow this culture of corporate greed, which results in the very, very rich becoming much richer, a middle class shrinking, and 43 million people living in poverty. Somebody has got to stand up to these billionaires and say “You know what? Enough is enough. You cannot have it all.” I want an economy that belongs to all of us — works for all of us. People forget, Chris, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. And our job now is to create a government which represents all of the people; not just the one percent.

* * *

Considering the technical aspects of the Town Halls, the contrast between 2017 and 2018 is interesting. In 2017, Sanders barnstorms so-called Trump Country (I assume proving to himself that he can win those votes). The CNN format pits him against other candidates, but also allows constituent participation. In 2018, the format changes — to me, disappointingly — to a panel discussion format, with streaming to media partners. (The Sanders “digital media operation” is very effective, and disseminates millions of clips from the live streams.) We also have press releases starting in 2018 — there are none before that date — which suggests the Sanders operation is tightening up — perhaps anticipating a 2020 run?

Looking at the topics covered, Mr. Counter-suggestible sees some weaknesses. First, foreign policy. Sanders really needs to subject himself to constituent participation, here. I feel strongly that if Sanders did a foreign policy town hall in “Trump Country,” which tends to have higher battlefield casualties than the average, he would meet with a very favorable reception were he to advocate for an end to our endless wars (as Trump, in his crude way of speaking the unspeakable truth, did successfully in 2016). Second, there are two systemic issues that are critical to conveying concrete material benefits: (1) the voting system, and (2) MMT. The first is needed to make sure electoral gains for the left are not undone by crooks, whether liberal or conservative. The second is needed, ideologically, to get the country out of the austerity box. I would suggest Atlanta, GA as a suitable location for the first topic, and the University of Kansas City at Missouri for the second. And again, and bring back constituent participation — maybe from online viewers? Let’s not send the message that professionals, even subject matter experts of integrity, are the only people listening to, mkay?

My bottom line: I think this series of Town Halls shows that Sanders is in a class by himself as politician, and not just because he’s an Independent. What Democrat politician — let alone a potential 2020 candidate — is barnstorming the country with this level of intensity? What Democrat politician has such a structural critique? What Democrat politician has such a focus on universal concrete material benefits, especially for the working class? Above all, what other politician — besides Trump on Twitter — is disintermediating the political class by speaking directly with millions of constituents?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

57 comments

  1. david lamy

    The University of Missouri at Kansas City would be a fine location for a town hall devoted to MMT.

    Kudos to Missouri as well, though a far more conservative state than the one of my youth, Missourians sent a Right to (Earn Less) Work amendment to their constitution packing.

    I believe that Sanders can draw a crowd anywhere. I hope he keeps going.

    Reply
    1. Steve H.

      Second UMKC.

      What necessarily cannot be replaced is the length of his record, the facts of his life.

      But there are others emerging to carry the banner. None perfect, but the more the merrier, a single hero strategy is a doomed one. “There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I think that’s exactly what Sanders would like to see happen. And even help to happen it where-ever and for whomever he can.

        Reply
  2. Kurt Sperry

    Before I dive in: “simply because I was out walking and it suddenly occurred to me”. Thinking and walking are, to say the least, complimentary. I do my best work while walking, and I doubt I am unique in that respect.

    Reply
    1. cjonsson1

      Kurt, I’m walking with you, hoping that Bernie’s vision for humanity and the earth will prevail after Trump has done his best to destroy them.
      Trump has made it perfectly clear what both parties are driven by, money. The public interest is not a priority. Corporations and big business rule us. Let’s gather forces and stop them at long last, regardless of parties
      .

      Reply
    2. cjonsson1

      Kurt, I’m walking with you, hoping that Bernie’s vision for humanity and the earth will prevail after Trump has done his best to destroy it. Trump has made it perfectly clear what both parties are driven by, money. Lett’s join forces and stop corporate interest controlling us.

      Reply
  3. Kurt Sperry

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lambert for assembling this.

    I don’t have the time (nor beer, nor cigarette papers) to watch all the linked material. But I remain convinced that Bernie is and remains our best hope for now. He is human, he gets things wrong, yes, but he gets so much more right than any other high-profile political figure that I must and I will forgive him the parts where we differ. His heart, his soul, are correct. My fondest wish on this sad day where I watched my father buried is that he is well enough to make another run at the Presidency and to fight for four years, and that he faces Trump as his opponent in the 2020 general election. And I am confident that if he makes it that far, even against all the powerful forces that stand in his path, that he will win.

    Then, let the battle be joined. It would only be the beginning — of what? I hope to see. Sweet and poisonous hope.

    Reply
  4. JohnnyGL

    I don’t think Sanders wants to do the heavy lift required on MMT. It’s going to have to fall to others to do it for him.

    Here, briefly, I’d like to make the case of: “Why MMT matters” with a lens of recent presidential election history. I think it’s more or less true that presidents get the blame/credit if the economy is bad/good. With that said….

    If Trump gets re-elected, it will be in no small part because he was willing to hit the fiscal accelerator and make the economy go faster. He and the Republicans have done it poorly, spending money on all the wrong things, with low multipliers, but they understand that you MUST HIT THE GAS PEDAL. Trump probably gets it, according to Bob Woodward’s sources, at least. I suspect Larry Kudlow gets it.
    https://www.businessinsider.com/bob-woodward-book-trump-federal-debt-printing-money-2018-9

    The only Republican president in the last 40 years NOT to get re-elected was George HW Bush and he’s the only one that pushed austerity. His reward was a recession and a lost re-election bid. Wealthy Republicans like Grover Norquist used this moment to teach a lesson to Republicans about NEVER RAISING TAXES. I think it works as a proxy for fiscal stimulus. I also think it’s analogous to how centrist/right wing Democrats have used McGovern’s loss in 1972 to teach a lesson to the left.

    GW Bush and Reagan both won increased mandates (popular votes) in their re-election campaigns because they both used the fiscal accelerator. Obama suffered a greatly reduced mandate in his 2nd term because he pushed austerity. And, I’d argue Obama helped to bury Clinton because he kept pushing austerity via the Grand Bargain. Trump was clear that he was going to hit the fiscal accelerator with a big tax cut and defense spending increase. Clinton was pretty clear that she wasn’t.

    For those asking how Republicans can keep getting elected when they’re so awful….I’d point to the prodigious use of fiscal stimulus as Exhibit A!!!

    Dems can’t win if they’re fighting with one hand tied….but they’ll keep telling you how superior and honorable they are because they’re trying so hard to fight this way and the Repubs are cheating because they won’t tie one of their hands! So irresponsible!

    Reply
    1. hemeantwell

      I don’t think Sanders wants to do the heavy lift required on MMT. It’s going to have to fall to others to do it for him

      Sanders can help to generate an intellectual-cultural environment where such things are discussed. I guess you could argue that one is either fer it or agin it, and in that light Sanders, by talking foregrounding budget frets at times, is agin MMT. But that’s different from a direct attack, which would be awful. In the meantime MMT advocates can put up with the eye rolls and involuntary hospitalization threats to prepare the ground. Eventually Sanders will have to seriously engage MMT to make his policies feasible, unless he’s prepared to argue for pretty heavy duty redistribution.

      Reply
      1. johnnygl

        By that measure (opening the space for ideas on the left to flourish) he’s been excellent. Perhaps he knows the limits of what he can do and knows not to overreach?

        I’d go as far as saying that one of his best skills is pulling the conversation (overton window?) to the left about as far as one person can, in his position.

        Reply
      2. workingclasshero

        Sanders and stepahanie kelton did not hit ir off that well.he wants to raise taxes on the upper and middle class to pay for his programs and she tried to explain he didn’t have to since taxes don”t necessarily fund spending.i’ve said it before he’ll get destroyed advocating for broad based tax increases if he runs.

        Reply
        1. JuneZ

          Raising taxes for the top is usually not necessary for financing social spending, but is the only way of removing some of their resources and power to set their agendas. Of course their political power could be curbed by public financing of elections and overturning Citizens United.

          Reply
        2. JerryDenim

          “…he’ll get destroyed advocating for broad based tax increases if he runs.”

          Absolutely. ‘Soak the rich’ has got legs, but chasing the .01% Jones, and fighting to keep up with outrageous price tag of housing, healthcare and education has even the upper middle-class feeling maxed out and stressed out. I have friends and family living in expensive metros with kids, who earn over 500k per year, but they don’t feel or act rich. Nobody wants a tax increase, but at this particular moment, even a small tax increase for anyone between the 20th and 80th percentiles would likely precipitate a crisis or at least severe belt-tightening.

          Reply
        3. Jeremy Grimm

          I strongly agree with JuneZ. The ties between tax revenues and spending are be tenuous at best. But some targeted tax increases to repair the targeted tax cuts for the wealthy so kindly conferred upon them during and since Reagan would not be particularly unpopular. Taxes good enough for Eisenhower would be much better at trimming the growing inequalitiy that’s lead to the massive speculation in all our markets. That and some estate taxes would also help. And just to avoid claims of an attempt at wealth transfer the initial revenue increases could be used to beef up the enforcement of anti-trust laws and pay for some aggressive tax collection from the wealthy as well as prosecutions for their tax evasions. The revenues could also pay for public financing of elections and maybe some hand counting of ballots during elections. We might be able to do something about Climate Chaos.

          Reply
          1. lyman alpha blob

            Exactly. Taxes don’t fund spending but they do serve a purpose, one of which is to reduce practices that we as a society find undesirable.

            We tax smokers in the hopes that there will be fewer of them.

            The same logic apples for rich people and I think Sanders understands that.

            Reply
      3. Jeremy Grimm

        The eye-rolling MMT experts need to broaden their concepts of economics to reconstitute a concept of political economy. Taxes have purposes beyond to pure economics. The provision and maintenance of public goods would not be a redistribution of wealth. It would be a long due restitution of stolen wealth. Removing the vast amounts of wealth held in the top 1/10 of 1% would work to remove the political power they have exercised to the detriment of our society and to the detriment of the rest of the world. We need a redistribution of political power away from the wealthy and the Corporate powers that seem determined to bring us all to ruin.

        Reply
        1. JohnnyGL

          I don’t think MMT is at all blind to the usefulness of taxes at all. In fact, they’ve got some interesting writings on what taxes are actually for, since they’re not for raising revenue with a currency issuing entity.

          Implementing broad-based social programs without tax increases in a context of something close to *fullish* employment could force trade-offs like we saw in the late 1960s-early 1970s where the Pentagon ends up at odds with Wall Street because of rising inflation. Wall street wanted austerity to bring down inflation, but the Vietnam War required hefty spending increases, causing some over-heating. Then OPEC made its mark and really got inflation going. Later on there was an agricultural crisis and food prices got jumpy.

          Having Wall Street’s bondholders at odds with the Pentagon budget would be an interesting trade off. Right now, it’s social spending that gets squashed.

          Reply
          1. JohnnyGL

            Also, do keep in mind that Medicare for All may yet prove deflationary if it works as it’s supposed to….in which case we’d need to step up fiscal stimulus to avoid recession.

            Reply
            1. Kurt Sperry

              This is a good point. A well-run universal health care plan will by necessity kill a lot of jobs in the insurance “industry” and the massive cost savings must(?) be pretty strongly deflationary as the total annual spending on the sector will shrink significantly. Cuting defense spending to reasonable levels would have similar effects too wouldn’t it? The government would need to find other ways to maintain the cash flows, like social or infrastructure spending to protect the value of the dollar. Of course this all would be, from my non-military, non-insurance based perspective, a win-win.

              Reply
            2. political economist

              Very good point. Single Payer definitely has deflationary tendencies. I have been trying to convince my single-payer friends to embrace this idea with some success. No single-payer bill should include “pay-for” … in fact taxes should always be a separate issue from any bill which “supports the general welfare” one of the explicitly stated goals of forming the US as stated in our Constitution.

              We need honestly to recognize that there are also inflationary aspects of single payer.

              What the overall effects will be on the economy are many and complicated but the main effect of single payer will be that people’s lives will be improved by obtaining needed care with financial harm reducing pain and suffering as well as the number of premature deaths. Whether inflationary or deflationary is a very, very small matter compared to the increase in the general welfare of our nation.

              Reply
            3. political economist

              Very good point. I have been working with single-payer activists and have been having some luck convincing them that taxation should not be part of any single-payer legislation. In fact as the US Constitution explicitly specifies one of the goals is to “promote the general welfare” which single-payer and many other social programs clearly do.
              Tax policies should always be a separate issue which should also consider the general welfare.
              One could ask those who like Pelosi think spending and taxation should be put to together in one bill the following.
              Since the DoD budget includes spending for military objects which only benefit protecting the profits of multinational corporations and the offshoring of jobs and the hiding of income and wealth overseas (as opposed to the general welfare), that part of the DoD budget, which is much more than half, should be paid for by its beneficiaries the upper part of the 1%.

              Reply
    2. JerryDenim

      “I don’t think Sanders wants to do the heavy lift required on MMT. It’s going to have to fall to others to do it for him.”

      Agreed. This education campaign might be best waged by surrogates. At least at first. The ground should be plowed, and the debate should be started by others. Once Republicans feel the need to defend the classical monetarist paradigm I think the water will be safe for Sanders to wade into. Until then, MMT discussions of fiat money and sovereign governments unbound from bond markets and debt ceilings will sound like zany conspiracy theory to most Americans. The level of cognitive dissonance the average American experiences when they find out everything they thought they knew about the monetary system is lie, is frequently quite intense, and is often channeled into open hostility. This is potentially dangerous turf for a politician who has already been branded as a “wild-eyed, crazy, socialist.”

      GHW Bush, austerity, – the early nineties recession and the “read my lips” pledge didn’t help Bush Sr of course, but the right-leaning, third party, Texas billionaire populist who captured 19% (!) of the vote is most likely what denied Bush a second term. Bill Clinton coasted into the White House with a mere 43% of the popular vote, which has always struck me as ironic or perhaps hypocritical given the considerable amount of time his running mate, Gore, and later his First Lady cum perennially failed Presidential candidate, would spend bellyaching about the popular vote, third party candidates and outside interference. Nader only pulled 2% of the popular vote in 2000 and Jill Stein only received 1% of the popular vote in 2016, but my goodness the screeching and wailing from Clintonites has been so disproportionately loud!

      Obama and the Grand Bargin- if Obama proffers a secret offer to slash Social Security and Medicare to John Boehner but it goes unreported on Fox and MSNBC, did it really happen? Same question regarding the “Catfood Commission”? Every Fox News viewer knows Obama was a lousy, radical, tax-and-spend, Muslim, Socialist, and every good MSNBC viewer knows Obama was a mature, realistic, adult who had to make tough decisions about how to best govern in accordance with a nasty, obstructionist Republican Congress. (all snark) How many people really equate Saint Obama with neo-liberal austerity? It’s an undisputed article of faith here among the readers of this blog, but despite the overwhelming abundance of factual evidence outing Obama as an ideological deficit hawk, such a characterization is a fringe viewpoint among the general population. I don’t disagree that Obama’s economic policies tanked Clinton’s chances in 2016, I just think very few Americans are capable of connecting the dots why, hence the dogged persistence of conspiracy myths to explain Trump’s electoral victory. Anything but the painful truth.

      Reply
      1. Kurt Sperry

        Agreed. This education campaign might be best waged by surrogates. At least at first. The ground should be plowed, and the debate should be started by others. Once Republicans feel the need to defend the classical monetarist paradigm I think the water will be safe for Sanders to wade into. Until then, MMT discussions of fiat money and sovereign governments unbound from bond markets and debt ceilings will sound like zany conspiracy theory to most Americans. The level of cognitive dissonance the average American experiences when they find out everything they thought they knew about the monetary system is lie, is frequently quite intense, and is often channeled into open hostility. This is potentially dangerous turf for a politician who has already been branded as a “wild-eyed, crazy, socialist.”

        Yes, this. Publicly promoting MMT principles would be political suicide. People simply aren’t ready to hear it. But MMT principles can still be applied– the Republicans apply them liberally and shamelessly to “fund” tax cuts, military spending, all the while no doubt laughing at their bases going into apoplexy about “growing deficits” and the lack of any true conservatives remaining in the RP. But, who else are those R-tribe fiscal cons going to vote for? The duopoly keeps them in the box.

        The party of fiscal conservatism embraces MMT without acknowledging it while the party of “tax and spend” liberalism gives its power away to the Rs by hewing to deficit fear mongering, letting the Rs reap its stimulative benefits when in power to win elections and forcing the Ds into election-losing austerity traps when they are in control.

        If you look on the D vs. R thing as a competition rather than as a collusion (I think it is both at the same time) the Rs are clearly the smarter of the two. They get the upsides of understanding and applying MMT principles without ever having to defend them!

        The answer for the left is, I think, to get the benefits of MMT realism without openly embracing it just as the Rs already do. To propose a return large fifties-era proportional taxation of the wealthy, closing tax loopholes and avoidance schemes, making capital gains taxable as income, taking the cap off of SS, taxing large accumulated wealth and so on. These will all be popular as long as the targets are restricted to, say, the upper 5% of taxpayers. Use a fiscal responsibility narrative to sell wealth redistribution and military spending cuts and to rationalize social and infrastructure spending.

        The right have already shown in broad terms how to deniably use MMT for their own political benefit, the left should take a lesson from them here. MMT principles are too powerful to leave in the hands of only the right.

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    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Sanders may be too set in concepts learned up to decades ago for MMT to ever seem real to him. In which case, it is entirely up to others to bring the matter up. They can try doing it in Sander-spaces and extra-Sander spaces and wherever they feel they can.

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      1. JohnnyGL

        The ultimate MMT lesson might possibly loom ahead if a President Sanders gets Medicare for all through….and then spending cuts to health care intermediaries (insurance company lay offs, hospital billing staff lay offs) threaten to throw the economy into recession.

        It may well be true that we need my favorite answer for “how you gonna pay for that!?!?!”

        “By cutting taxes, just like we paid for the Iraq War!!!”

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    4. William Beyer

      Republicans have never, to my recollection, framed their tax cuts as fiscal accelerators. Bernie should know better, since Stephanie Kelton was at his elbow for over a year as he ran for president, but he never uttered a word about MMT. The entire framing of the national “debt” is bogus when you understand where money actually comes from – the POWER given to the Congress by we, the people. The national “debt” needs to be reframed as shareholder equity; it’s OUR money, spent on OUR behalf. And, you don’t BORROW your own money; you MANAGE it.

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    1. johnnygl

      He is a regular lone vote in the senate against defense budget expansions. He’s done plenty of advocacy for a more restrained foreign policy and for the use of diplomacy to solve problems, instead of using force.

      He doesn’t go as far as some would like, myself included, but he’s among the most dovish politicians out there.

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      1. knowbuddhau

        Thanks, johnnygl. Credit where it’s due. He managed to challenge her highness for the throne, keep his day job, and still be in a position to do it again.

        Kudos to his skills. Still, I’d rather he didn’t go out of his way to endorse the latest domestic psyop attack. He’s not standing out from that field in the same way his domestic agenda, which I heartily endorse, sets him apart. Given that he was seen as not going far enough already in the campaign, why go less far still? I don’t see the advantage in that.

        He’s our best hope of improving our material conditions at home, to be sure. That’s not good enough. We’re supposed to be radically decarbonizing and repowering our entire economy all this time. We can start by standing down the biggest polluter of them all, our futile empire.

        In 1987, Paul Kennedy, a British professor of history at Yale University, unleashed a political and intellectual firestorm with the publication of his great (677-page) book, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.” Kennedy produced a magisterial overview of the competition for global power over the past 500 years from 1500 AD to the present.

        Kennedy proposed the thesis that any power that achieved, imagined it had achieved or sought to achieve and maintain a dominant hyper-power role of global dominance was doomed to lose it and then rapidly decline in overall power, wealth, prosperity and influence.

        Kennedy argued – with a wealth of detail drawn from different nations over his vast period of half a millennium – that the very attempt to achieve and maintain such power forced every nation that attempted it into a ruinous pattern of strategic overstretch.

        This demanded every major global empire in their turn to devote ruinously far too many economic resources to unproductive military power and ever more costly global commitments and conflicts.

        The more ambitious the commitments, the quicker came military defeat, economic ruin and national collapse, Kennedy documented.

        https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/11/07/written-history-death-america-hyper-power-fantasy.html

        I remind the commentariat that our official defense posture is “full-spectrum dominance” everywhere on earth, forever. Even in “cyber” space and outer space. Ambitious much?

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        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Sanders came of age in a time when America was part of an Alliance considered to be making the whole world a seriously better place. His view of America may still be anchored to that concept. If other people want other concepts advanced to be acted upon, those other people may well have to introduce those other concepts their own selves, in the Sander-space that is being opened up and carved out.

          Reply
          1. witters

            “Sanders came of age in a time when America was part of an Alliance considered to be making the whole world a seriously better place. His view of America may still be anchored to that concept.”

            Then he lives an obvious delusion (https://theintercept.com/2018/11/21/trumps-amoral-saudi-statement-is-a-pure-and-honest-expression-of-decades-old-u-s-values-and-foreign-policy-orthodoxies/?utm_source=samizdat&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=free), and it is hard to see how that is a good thing.

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          2. knowbuddhau

            Yes, that’s a good point. I kinda think that whole cohort, our entire political elite, has an exaggerated sense of our exceptionally helpful nature, a supremacy they enjoy in the shadow of our nuclear hegemony.

            But it’s a spurious, manufactured sense of a likewise supremacy. I mean, we call the president of these united states, the “leader of the free world,” ffs.

            I, too, grew up thinking the US is only and ever a force for good. And then, under Reagan, protesting our brutalization of Central America, I really grew up. I expect the same of a senator and presidential contender.

            Later, I read Zinn. I’d be surprised if Sanders not only read his A People’s History, in which the manufactured myths around WWII are laid bare for lies, but actually met him. Being from an different era is no excuse.

            As to advancing other concepts: being there, doing that, for the last 30some years. Didn’t need “Sander-space” then, don’t need it now, if he’s just going to pull another Obama-style bait-and-switch, tyvm.

            If Senator Sanders thinks our futile empire is a worthy project, that’d be good to know *in advance. We really need to get on with the decarbonizing already.

            I’m no climatologist, but I’m getting the feeling that every hour we waste, is another catastrophe that didn’t have to happen. We need a leader who’s clear about standing down from insanely trying to dominate the world and standing up for radical, immediate decarbonizing and repowering.

            Reply
            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              Well . . . to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld . . . ” We go to political war with the Sanders we have, not with the Sanders we wish we had or would have preferred to have had at some future time.”

              Reply
        2. Swamp Yankee

          Kennedy’s book is masterful. Highly recommended to all. We are most definitely following the path of Imperial Spain and Britain — hollowing out of the economy at home, endless military expenditure and entanglement abroad.

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    2. JerryDenim

      Just a guess, but Sanders has lived long enough to be a minor student of history, and if history has taught us anything I would say it is unwise for a leader to make enemies of the oligarchy and the military at the same time. I can’t think of a single historical figure who has successfully waged a two-front war on both and lived to tell the tale. If the rich and powerful want you dead, it pays to have friends with guns.

      Reply
      1. knowbuddhau

        Can you imagine Sanders showing up with an open-carry posse of mercs turned eco-warriors? Me neither. An overt attempt on his life, of course, would skyrocket his popularity.

        It’s the open secret of US politics, alluded to by the odious Chuck Schumer: don’t cross the spooks. From my vantage point, I can’t tell, though, whether Sanders is cleverly hiding in plain sight, or complicit. Russophobia, senator, really?

        I’m long out of benefit of doubt. Running on “show me” these days. Which all sounds nice, but it’s actually out of my hands. We have to elect the POTUS to find out what’s in it. And if we get it wrong, delaying decarbonizing and repowering beyond the next decade, the human costs and costs to our non-human kin and environment will be as unforgivable as they will be immeasurable.

        As a citizen of the greatest democracy evah, not really feeling the sovereignty. A little clarity on exactly how doomed I am, and when, before I lay me down to sleep, that’s all I ask lol.

        Reply
  5. knowbuddhau

    Thanks for the longitudinal look. Like my history prof always said, pattern recognition is where it’s at.

    And you’re right, Sanders is outstanding, speaking strictly descriptively, and even proscriptively, in many ways.

    Problem is, war for us is what building pyramids was to pharaohs of old: It’s what we do, the materialization of the way the world is supposed to work. He’s not all that outstanding, here. In what world does Bernie Sanders live?

    Did he really have to endorse Russophobia? He’s going along, saying all the right things, inspiring and energizing people, improvising a way around, or rather, under, the Great Pay Wall, and then he says something way too MIC friendly, for my liking and many others. What’s up with that?

    Is he “keeping his powder dry,” picking his battles, flying under the radar, or a sheepdog? Social democrat, or Athenian?

    Reply
  6. martin

    Interestingly, John McDonnell in the UK is pushing MMT in his book “Economics for the Many”, published this year. So Jeremy Corbyn is attracting a new generation of economists who are challenging the austerity narrative.

    Reply
  7. IowanX

    Thank you Lambert! Great work. I too am a Sanders admirer, for his consistency and his ability to move the Overton Window, e.g. Medicare for All.

    Re MMT, I agree others will need to take the lead there, but Sanders won’t fight it. IMO, Sanders wants to raise taxes (on corporations inheritances & the rich) to pre-80’s levels to attack income & wealth inequality, not particularly for revenue purposes. After 40 years, Pete Peterson fools nobody.

    Reply
  8. How is it legal

    Side note, re Political Facebook pages

    Isn’t it high time a Congressional Bill is sponsored that Facebook, et al, Social Media™ sites which require registration (and online access which millions still don’t have), and have a long, long history of abuse – repeatedly frightening violations and con$umerization of highly personal data – are off limits for Executive, Judicial and Legislative purposes as regards serving the public?

    This would alleviate any honest public servants and governmental agencies from feeling forced onto a Facebook, et al, site; a highly beneficent, much needed twofer, for citizens, public servants, and governmental agencies. It would also notify apparently naive/left in the dark organizations that the US Government is aware (which it most certainly is) that entities such as Facebook have repeatedly abused and profited off of innocent and vulnerable persons who’ve shared very personal information, and photographs with such Social Media™.

    Reply
    1. XXYY

      I have to go along with the sentiment here. FB is a “walled garden” on the internet, privately owned, whose use and availability are subject to the whims of the owners (in this case, Zuckerberg et al). Private, for-profit spaces should not be used by government officials. As we have seen, the rules for use, content, and access can be changed tomorrow. Facebook and Google have already shown themselves to be very accommodating to government and commercial power, including the NSA, Chinese government censorship of its citizens, any and all large advertisers, and who knows what else.

      We already have a beautiful public park available to all: web pages on the open internet! NC is obviously doing this, along with hundreds of millions of others. If one must have an FB presence, it should be limited to linking out to the public site, not storing or presenting important content.

      Reply
      1. philnc

        About the only thing that bothered me with the Stein campaign is that it relied so heavily on FB. Kind of sends the wrong signal on whether to expect significant improvement in privacy protections and Internet access, not to mention trust-busting. Like someone wrote above, I think a lot of people have reached the “show me” point.

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  9. Barry

    Maybe someone like Chelsea Gabbard could be educated in MMT , or perhaps the Public Banking movement which has taken off in the last few years will redirect some of this top heavy Washington/Wall Street centralisation power to States, cities and counties to fund projects that make financial sense locally while simultaneously divesting there investments from WallStreet back locally. Sadly it seems things have to get worse before they get better.

    Reply
  10. Rod

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lambert for assembling this.

    there is a lot to echo in the commentariat today but this starts it for me.

    If you are of the mind-or have had an experience-to ponder what Citizenship and Patriotism are about in 2018 America, I would say Senator Sanders provides a honorable model.
    The Senator is informed; engaged; and active beyond any other Congressional peers(not to mention us Citizens)–with at least these 14 counted Town Halls since 2017 because the opportunity for improvement is everywhere.
    As he so simply says: “We can do better than this”. I find a very familiar resonance in this short phrase.
    He also has a solid template for how we can do better–but he can’t do it by himself.

    While each of those Town Halls had a specific topic–implicit to them was the lesson of what it is to be an american Citizen and how american Citizens need to respond.

    Reply
  11. John k

    Great work, thanks.
    He’s doing a lot, doesn’t seem to have slowed down.
    Liz was along for some of them… interesting… keep your (competitors) closer? Or grooming?
    But these are his meetings, not hers… he’s a wily old fox…
    January will be here soon.

    Reply
  12. Hilary Barnes

    ? Definition
    MMT Million Metric Tons
    MMT Médecins Maîtres-Toile
    MMT Mobile Money Transfer (payment service offered by cellular operators)
    MMT Multiple Mirror Telescope
    MMT Mission Management Team (International Space Station)
    MMT Montmorillonite (phyllosilicate)
    MMT Modern Monetary Theory (economics)
    MMT Multi-Material Technology (safety glass)
    MMT Machine à Mesurer Tridimensionnelle (French: Coordinate Measuring Machine; engineering)
    MMT Multiaccess, Mobility, and Teletraffic for Wireless Communications (Conference)
    MMT Molten Metal Technology
    MMT Methyl Cyclopentadienyl Manganese Tricarbonyl (CAS Number 12108-13-3)
    MMT Mobile Medical Team
    MMT Multimedia Terminal
    MMT Mobile Maintenance Team
    MMT Military Training Technology (magazine; Kerrigan Media International, Inc.)
    MMT Mobile Measurement Technology (IBM)
    MMT Master Mathematics Teacher
    MMT Multi Modal Transportation
    MMT Mission Mountain Railroad
    MMT Mode-Matc

    Reply

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