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Bernie Sanders on the Issues: From Infrastructure to Labor Unions

by Craig Berlin, published

The first installment garnered many comments responding to the headline and not the article:  blanket support for Bernie or accusing him of being a socialist, communist and/or Marxist. The goal here is to evaluate parts of the platform on their individual merit. People differ on what the role of government should be. Hopefully we can agree that we need to prioritize.

Having covered his ideology, we'll jump right into the first planks of Bernie's Agenda For America.

Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, America’s infrastructure gets a grade of D+ and the World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. only 16th in quality of overall infrastructure. Although it's not surprising engineers would lobby for trillions to be spent on projects requiring...engineers, documentation is plentiful.

Regardless, there is widespread agreement we should spend more money on infrastructure.

What is controversial is "stimulus" type spending.

Bernie advocates spending $1 trillion, which will also create an estimated 13 million jobs. While our budget should continue to include infrastructure, using government as a de facto employment agency is financial quicksand. It takes the wages of 4-5 private sector workers to create enough tax revenue to pay for one comparable public sector job, which in turn only repays 20-25% of the revenue.

Spending in excess of the budget is a never-ending debt spiral. If projects make sense, we must find ways to include them within the budget and yes, that means cutting something else or increasing revenue.


National Review supports the idea but points out the priority should be to find "ways that make economic sense," which entails addressing high costs of building, as in "issues with contracting practices, union work rules, and environmental-review burdens." We shouldn't be signing a blank check.

One alternative is bringing back the Works Progress Administration, an FDR initiative that put the unemployed to work, later adding vocational educational training. The WPA ended after WWII and gave way to more modern versions of entitlement programs under LBJ's “Great Society,”

Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it” and with a GOP Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996, but the requirements were relaxed by the Obama administration and since then, means-tested entitlements are at an all-time high.

Bringing back the WPA is an option liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on as it provides work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving benefits and provides additional workforce for federal projects, all using money we are already spending.

Reversing Climate Change

We can't cover all the debate surrounding anthropogenic global warming, recently renamed "climate change." Many on the left say the science is settled while others on the far right claim it's a hoax.

Outside of political circles, there is a wide disparity of scientific opinion on what's happening, how much we are the cause, and what can be done.

In Cook's oft-cited documentation of "consensus," the peer-reviewed scientific literature examining 11 ,944 peer-reviewed climate abstracts from 1991–2011 referring to "global climate change" or "global warming",  "66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain. "

Of those expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed humans being the primary driver, hence the misrepresentation that there is a 97% consensus when in fact, it was only 31.65%. Since that time, Cook's study has been questioned for falsely classifying papers and mathematical errors, possibly even doctoring the data.

Without taking sides, it's safe to say there is plenty of conflicting legitimate scientific opinion and the 66.4% of abstracts taking no position reflect the majority of non-deniers and non-alarmists that acknowledge we simply don't have all the information on complicated climate systems to make absolute assertions.

What we can all agree on is that man's activity has a profound effect on the planet, most certainly in terms of pollution and environmental damage.

Berne's platform specifically mentions reversing climate change, which is a very broad statement on something we don't have a complete grasp of, much less certainty we can "reverse" it. He specifically mentions getting away from fossil fuels, weatherizing homes and buildings and updating our transportation systems and accelerating the transition.

Government attempts to force change have sometimes gone awry, as evidenced by disastrous efforts such as ethanol subsidies that did more harm than good. Thankfully, after years of costs being high, alternatives such as solar and hybrid automobiles and LED lighting are becoming more affordable.

There are many claims that big oil undermines the transition to green energy, but fossil-fuel executives understand that a diversified portfolio is best. So rather than finding themselves in the buggy whip business, they are indeed investing in alternative energy.

It's beneficial for an administration to have a directive, but it's entirely different to spend money on trying to force the issue. We need to take a leadership role in helping the rest of the world transition, but too much crony capitalism has crept into government sponsored "solutions."

U.S. emissions are flat and we have no control over what other countries may do. We certainly can lead, but even if the climate is changing and we are contributing, can we reverse it? Perhaps the best course is to learn to adapt no matter what the cause of climate change is.

Creating Worker Co-Ops

Here is one idea that seems to have relatively little downside and is somewhat unique for a political campaign. While some models have found success and others have failed, the idea of workers having a stake in the future of a company has a lot of merit. Not only does it make the workers part owners, it puts them in a position to learn what ownership and management entail.

It is unfortunate that the impetus as represented is too indicative of the resentment rhetoric that is saturating the Sanders campaign. This plank advocates setting up co-ops "instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries."

While there are a number of issues with our egregiously overcomplicated tax code that often result in complicated hoops companies often jump through to be competitive, this claim is a fallacy.

Politifact points out:

"There is no tax break or loophole that addresses outsourcing or insourcing jobs specifically. When Democrats say "tax breaks" in these ads, they are usually talking about standard business expense deductions."

Even so, the Democratic-sponsored Bring Jobs Home Act, which proposed eliminating the standard deduction for moving expenses for businesses relocating overseas and giving a 20 percent tax credit to companies who insource, would only have generated around $14 million or about 0.005 percent of total revenue.

Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Taxation found the credit would have cost $214 million and added to the deficit.

William Branderson on points out that the characteristics of a typical Sanders stump speech, as with his platform, echo the same sentiment: "Your greed has got to end."

While equating Bernie's democratic socialism with Marxism is dishonest and a fallacy, there is at least one common thread. As Henry Hazlitt wrote in “Marxism in One Minute, "always attribute...success to the exploitation, the cheating, the more or less open robbery of others."

While worker co-ops have potential, there is no need to portray every option as good vs. evil.

Growing the Trade Union Movement

Union membership has been on a steady decline for 50 years. Democrats have largely blamed this and stagnation of wages on...wait for it...corporate greed.

Although cooperation of trade workers led to strikes as early as 1768, the industrial revolution brought about a growing need for organized advocacy for better wages, reasonable hours, and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits, and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.

Through a combination of union activities, visionary employers such as Henry Ford, and legislation including the Clayton Act of 1914 affirming workers' right to use boycotts, strikes, and peaceful picketing to negotiate, the scales began to balance. With programs developed as part of the New Deal, government protections continued to improve right up to the establishment of OSHA in 1971.

But originally a nonpartisan effort, the movement evolved. reports: "[W]ith the coming of Roosevelt’s New Deal and from 1936 onward the Democratic party could count on–and came to rely on–the campaigning resources of the labor movement."

Most reasonable people agree that ownership and workers should coexist in a win-win situation and few have an issue with collective bargaining other than in the public sector, where emergency workers should not be allowed to hold taxpayers hostage.

Unfortunately, the unions increasingly garnered more power and not all the leaders were looking for balance.

Aside from ties to organized crime, the New Media Alliance's Thomas E. Brewton wrote in 2006: "The Marxist theoretician of industrial unionism in the United States in the 1890s was American Socialist Party leader Daniel De Leon, who...advocated destruction of the capitalist system and seizure of private industry by industrial unions.”

While Marx advocated "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," something else happened here. With increasing legal protections and mobility, union membership among private sector workers became less relevant. However, in the public sector, things changed.   

Most union members now work for the government and aside from corruption, unions have sometimes demanded unreasonable and unsustainable benefits while making it nearly impossible to fire anyone.  With their allegiance to the Democratic Party, workers may have mandatory dues supporting the Democratic Party and as such, they have become like corporations and other special interests who manipulate politicians in exchange for cash and votes.

While Democrats are usually the ones lamenting Citizens United, points out that the ruling also gave unions the freedom to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, when most people aren't even aware that unions have been the largest historical donors by far and of course, almost exclusively to the Democratic Party.

This alliance has had consequences in cities such as Detroit and school districts across the country where "the Dance of the Lemons" makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers and keep good ones who are younger.

Collective bargaining in the private sector is only fair, but if we say we don't want corporations buying politicians, we shouldn't want unions doing so either.

More importantly, unions shouldn't be able to hold the taxpayer hostage with unreasonable demands, often agreed to behind closed doors. In any event, union reform should be a much higher priority than simply bolstering membership. In fact, the worker co-ops are a much better idea.

Editor's Note: This is part two in a series of articles examining Bernie Sanders' ideology and the specifics of his platform. Check out Part 1 of the series here.

Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich /

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