Bernie Sanders in Las Vegas

Is the panic of the US functional elites justified in view of a possible Sanders candidacy? An overview of the program of the socialist candidate from Vermont

The “Red Scare” is experiencing a revival in the USA. This fear of the election victory of the left-wing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, which many prominent politicians and media representatives in the United States have long since openly articulated, is now taking on strange characteristics. A few days ago, Chris Matthews, one of the most famous TV presenters and political commentators in the United States, gave free rein to his panic in front of the running cameras of the MSNBC television channel.

Executions in Central Park

In response to a presidential debate among Democratic candidates, the commentator suddenly spoke of Fidel Castro, the Cold War and executions of counterrevolutionary elements in New York’s Central Park, which he linked to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. In this context, the veteran television presenter expressed his fear that he too would find himself in Central Park in front of a firing squad.

A few days later, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, a well-known Sanders supporter, had to assure the fear-ridden commentator that if Sanders won the election, he would not be taken to Central Park. This bizarre episode, in which a prominent political commentator on national television “almost loses his mind,” clearly shows “how appalled the media companies are at a Sanders victory,” commented Rolling Stone.

The question arises whether this panic, which is drifting into the absurd, is somehow justified. What does Sanders want, what are the main features of his election program? Is the Vermont socialist actually hatching plans to make veteran Central Park television hosts disappear, or worse, disappear! – threaten the profits of influential industries and the assets of powerful oligarchs?


Nationalization of the health sector

At least the debate on the reform of the dysfunctional American healthcare system, which is currently at the centre of the election campaign, speaks in favour of the latter. The largely privatised healthcare system in the United States, which is largely run by capitalist corporations, is incredibly expensive and simply murderous. Illness or accidents are among the most important factors that can bring about the ruin of even well-off wage earners. Diabetics, for example, die time and again from the fact that they cannot afford the absurdly high price of insulin, which guarantees profit rates of several thousand per cent – and they have to go over to rationing as a result.

This capitalist mismanagement, calibrated to maximise profits, is reaching absurd dimensions: The administrative costs in the health care system of the USA alone are four times as high as in Canada with the statutory health insurance system in place there, as Newsweek reported. The murderous health care system of the USA, which is disrupted by capitalist profit interests, is by far the most expensive and inefficient in the world, so that life expectancy in the United States has now begun to fall.

Sanders wants to drain this nightmarish capitalist quagmire and introduce a uniform statutory health insurance system. All US citizens are to be covered by public health insurance, so that those costs in the event of illness or accident no longer arise, which at present can quickly lead to ruin. This project, which involves a radical departure from the current “healthcare market”, is to be financed by, among other things, spread increases for the wealthy. Recently published studies estimate that a statutory health insurance scheme could save around 68,000 lives a year and save around 450 billion US dollars.

Through this plan, Sanders has incurred the hatred of the powerful U.S. healthcare industry, which is profiting from the waste and overpriced prices of drugs and services. The healthcare industry has a very strong lobby in Washington, which has already successfully torpedoed US President Barack Obama’s attempts to reform the healthcare sector. The healthcare industry lobby is thus trying to prevent President Sanders from taking power, as a statutory pension scheme would literally dry up the industry’s market.

Freedom instead of a capitalist prison industry

The situation is similar with the corporations that operate private prisons in the United States – and are dependent on corresponding supplies of inmates. The USA has by far the highest rate of prisoners in the world, which Sanders wants to halve within a short time by ending the draconian legislation that prescribes long prison sentences for petty and drug offences.

A central project of this judicial reform is to ban the capitalist prison industry, whose facilities are particularly prone to abuse and human rights violations.

Since drug addicts have been the main source of supply for the prison industry in recent decades, the Socialist is in favour of an end to the criminalisation of drug addiction and the abolition of all laws providing for “excessive prison sentences”, such as the notorious three-strikes-laws, which provide for the maximum penalty for the third minor offence committed, such as shoplifting. The legalisation of cannabis plays a central role in the planned judicial reform, which is to be implemented nationwide within a very short time.

Education Crisis

The Sanders campaign is going to confront the financial industry directly in its attempt to overcome the crisis in the American education system, in which private institutions play an important role – and which is also incredibly expensive. Higher education is barely affordable even for members of the already shrinking American middle class, with the result that 45 million US citizens now have to take out student loans to study. This has created a lucrative market for the financial sector with a volume of around USD 1.6 trillion, as these student loans have to be paid off by wage earners over many years after they have completed their education.

Sanders wants to use a one-off debt cancellation to eliminate these liabilities, which weigh like a mountain pasture on the middle class, by having the state take over. At the same time, the interest rate for these student loans is to be limited to 1.88 percent, whereas the financial sector currently charges between 4.5 and seven percent. In addition, the draconian tuition fees at public universities are to be abolished, which would reduce the demand for further loans.

Finally, the financial sector is to be made to pay for this reform of the education system: by introducing a tax on financial transactions, which is expected to pour 2.4 trillion dollars into the state coffers within the next decade. “We were able to finance the Wall Street bailout, we can certainly reduce student debt in this country,” Sanders said during a campaign speech to students.


Tax policy, the fight against oligarchy

In addition to the health industry and the financial sector, the super-rich of the United States in particular see their nemesis in Sanders – and rightly so. For America’s billionaires, the presidency of the socialist from Vermont would be “very bad news”, warned the business magazine Forbes. The democratic presidential candidate has made the fight against excessive wealth a priority of his election campaign.

Under the reign of right-wing populist Donald Trump – who likes to stage himself as a “rebel” against the establishment – the top tax rate in the US has dropped to a meagre 23.1 percent. Sanders wants to massively increase the tax rate for the caste of influential oligarchs: to 97.5 percent. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates would have to pay between nine and 8.5 billion US dollars in taxes annually if the law were already in force, says Forbes.

Sanders, however, wants to introduce additional wealth taxes only for assets of 32 million US dollars or more. This top percent of the American wealth pyramid will pay a tax rate of 53 percent at the lower end, which will then rise progressively to the aforementioned 97.5 percent for the billionaire caste. This is expected to raise around 4.3 trillion US dollars within a decade. In addition, the wealth of the US oligarchy would be halved within 15 years. Sanders is concerned with the long-term elimination of this class of super-rich, warned CNN, for example, in reaction to the wealth tax propagated by the socialist.

In fact, in view of billionaire Bloomberg’s candidacy, the Sanders campaign is aggressively addressing the excessive political influence of the US oligarchy. Bloomberg wants to “buy” the elections, the Socialist said literally. This argumentation sees the formation of an oligarchy in the neoliberal age as a danger to democracy.

Bloomberg’s candidacy also makes perfect economic sense: even if the billionaire invested one billion from his assets of 65 billion in the election campaign, he could profit enormously from the prevention of a president Bernie Sanders, compared to a threatening tax rate of 97.5 percent.

Wages, unions

The alarm bells are likely to ring not only in the financial sector, but also in many important business associations from industry and the construction sector, in view of the good survey results for Sanders. The socialist from Vermont wants to raise the minimum wage in the US from USD 7.25 to USD 15, which threatens the business basis of the broad-based miserable and low-wage sector established in the neoliberal decades, which pays wages that are hardly sufficient to reproduce the “commodity labour”, especially in services. Sometimes regularly employed wage earners feel compelled to live in their cars because they cannot afford to rent out their homes.

In addition to raising minimum wages, Sanders wants to strengthen the bargaining power of the weak US unions, which in many sectors of the economy are now living a shadowy existence. The membership of the trade union movement should “at least be doubled”, the left-wing presidential candidate declared.

This would be achieved through a reform of labour law, introducing a European system of collective bargaining that would achieve industry-wide collective agreements, whereas at present union struggles take place only at the company level. In addition, a number of provisions are designed to facilitate the admission of new members to trade unions, for example by removing the process of joining from the supervision or control of management. New legislation is also intended to make the neoliberal practice of outsourcing particularly labour-intensive areas by companies more difficult. The Trump administration, on the other hand, is currently working on guidelines that will largely exempt bogus self-employed subcontractors from the labour law obligations of their clients.

Green New Deal and nationalisation of energy production

A central feature of Sanders candidacy, which brings him the opposition of the entire fossil economy of the United States, is the Green New Deal, i.e. the intended transformation of the entire energy base of the USA to climate-friendly, renewable forms of energy. The scope and timetable of this targeted economic transformation are by far the most ambitious in Sanders’ case, Politico explained. Against the backdrop of the escalating climate crisis, around 16 trillion US dollars – that is 1600 billion – are to be invested over the next few years in order to free the United States from dependence on fossil fuels in a radical and gigantic act of transformation by 2030.

The capitalist market is to be massively pushed back because of its inability to react adequately to the climate crisis. Not only health insurance, but also the production of electricity should be nationalized, according to Sanders, explained Politico, who advocated the state “taking over a fundamental segment of the economy”. Public companies should therefore invest massively in the sector and build up solar and wind power capacities as quickly as possible, while coal and oil would be pushed back. The plan would – similar to the reform of the healthcare system – put many large companies out of business.

After decades of capitalist mismanagement, the energy infrastructure of the United States is in a dilapidated state and is currently not up to the coming challenges of climate change. These late-capitalist tendencies towards disintegration were exposed, for example, by the scandal surrounding the private electricity companies in California during last year’s fire disaster, when breakdowns in the ailing energy infrastructure, ruined by years of profit maximization, contributed to the intensification of the fire disaster.

Sanders also hopes that this historically unique investment program will also generate mass employment and thus initiate a new, long-term economic cycle – a new, ecological accumulation regime. This gigantic transformation project, which dwarfs even Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, has been described as unrealistic by business associations, mass media and competitors such as Joe Biden. On the part of science, however, there is support for the socialist. In an open letter, scientists described the project not only as “possible, but necessary if we want to save our planet for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and future generations”.

Confrontation course

The Sanders Campaign also seems to be aware that these plans, which confront a large part of the functional elite of the United States, will meet with fierce resistance in Washington. For this reason, possibilities are already being explored to implement as many measures as possible by means of presidential implementing decrees immediately after a possible election victory.

The proclamation of a national climate emergency, the ban on oil and gas exports, the import of cheap medicines from Canada, the nationwide legalization of marijuana or the immediate halt to all construction work on Trump’s border wall are to be implemented by means of the so-called “Executive Order” in order to build up pressure for the realization of further reforms.

1 comment

  1. David Dobereiner February 22, 2020 5:09 pm 

    A President Sanders will prove that American democracy, for all its faults, can still produce its long forgotten ideal: a government by the people and for the people. We can only hope and pay (contributions).

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