Our Revolution

Book 9 of 2020 was Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. A little background: at this time of year in 2016, I was deep in the throes of democratic primary delegate math fanfiction. I was fantasizing about an increasingly implausible path for Sanders to win over Clinton. This year, I was more cavalier about his chances, since Joe Biden can’t tell his wife from his sister, or whether he’s running for the presidency or a senate seat. But it seems I’m wrong again. Instead of subjecting myself to the same emotional drama of fanfiction, I decided to read Bernie Sanders’ book and get to know his philosophy more in-depth.

The first third of the book is just his political history and some name dropping of celebrities who support him. If you’re not interested in the nitty gritty political behind-the-scenes of running for office, you can skip this part. He summarizes where he went, what he ran for, the outcome, some achievements, who he talked to along the way, etc.

The rest of the book looks at his policy positions. If you’ve heard him speak or debate, you know the broad strokes of his ideas. Healthcare as a human right. Free public college. Break up big banks. $15 minimum wage.

When he discusses the need for stronger worker protection and a $15 minimum wage, he shoots down the idea that a higher minimum wage is bad for small/local businesses. He gives a few examples of businesses making more money and having to hire more workers after minimum wage hikes are implemented. Then he explains that when low wage workers have more money, they tend to spend most of it in the local economy, boosting business.

The most interesting thing I learned from this book was a matter of framing. He re-framed Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs as welfare for large corporations. This comparison is similar to the argument that tipping at restaurants pushes the responsibility to pay waitstaff from the restaurant owner onto the customer. Taxpayers pay for social safety net programs, and these would not be so commonly needed if employers were legally required to pay workers higher wages. In essence, our taxes are paying the difference in what a low wage worker makes and a living wage. If it’s a choice between me paying the difference or Walmart paying it, I choose Walmart! After all, I’m not employing them, so I shouldn’t be responsible for their standard of living.

He also makes a point in his book that I wish he would make more on the debate stage or in speeches. Especially when others press him about the cost of single payer health care. That is, that the US government spends more per capita than almost all other governments, including those with single payer! And this is just government expenditures: it doesn’t include expenses paid by the individual or insurance premiums paid by employers. Other countries use monopsony power to set reasonable prices for everything in the healthcare industry, from drugs to procedures to hospital stays. They also save money in administration costs because there aren’t complicated billing codes for each procedure that differ from insurer to insurer. Do we really have to raise taxes to pay for single payer? Maybe we can just raise efficiency. If most other countries can have single payer for what our government pays already, it seems we’re just getting a bad deal.

This book gave me some measure of comfort despite knowing Sanders will probably lose the democratic primary again. He reminds us that it’s not about electing him in particular, but about implementing policies that will improve the lives of all Americans.

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