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Because of his extremist views, I often refer to Senator Sanders as “Crazy Bernie.”

You can argue I’m being unfair. After all, I pointed out during the last campaign that his voting record in the Senate was almost identical to the voting records of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (his vote rating also was similar to supposed moderate Joe Biden when he was a Senator).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they think the same or have the same agenda. As the cartoon illustrates, Bernie wants to travel at a faster rate in the wrong direction.

And it’s quite likely that he wants to travel farther in the wrong direction. And he may even want to get to a very unpleasant destination.

You don’t have to believe me. You can simply listen to what Bernie Sanders has said, in this video narrated by Maxim Lott.

And if that’s not enough, here’s a video from Reason that has more of Crazy Bernie’s extremist statements.

So what should we think when we examine Bernie’s past statements, review his voting record in Congress, and also analyze his current platform?

Is he a radical? Crazy? A Marxist? A democratic socialist? A socialist democrat? Some combination of all those options?

We obviously have no way of knowing what his real motives and thoughts are, but James Pethokoukis of the America Enterprise Institute speculates whether Sanders has learned anything.

What lessons have the events of the last half century taught Bernie Sanders? …He’s certainly seen a lot that would seem to have direct bearing on his ideology, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union… Was he “very distressed” at the failure of the centrally planned Soviet economy? He certainly should have been, but only offers a condemnation of the authoritarian political system. …No wonder he’d rather talk about Scandinavia as his socialist success story. Those tiny economies score well on just about every economic metric. But there’s more to them than universal healthcare and generous paid leave. The Nordic model, according to a recent JPMorgan report, “entails a lot of capitalism and pro-business policies…” That’s stuff antithetical to the Sanders democratic socialist agenda. Indeed, the report concludes, “A real-life proof of concept for a successful democratic socialist society, like the Lost City of Atlantis, has yet to be found.”

For what it’s worth, Ryan Bourne points out that his agenda is more extreme than Jeremy Corbyn’s (which is not an easy task).

…some commentators are downplaying his socialist credentials, painting the veteran Senator as no more than a moderate social democrat. …To simply label him a socialist, without any caveats, is misleading. But it’s even more grossly misleading to suggest his “democratic socialist” ambitions stop at a Scandinavian-style welfare state. More redistribution is central to his agenda, sure, but he also proposes massive new market interventions, including the Green New Deal, a federal jobs guarantee, expansive price and wage controls… Sanders’ platform goes far beyond any modern social democracy in terms of government size and scope. Indeed, his policies can only be considered moderate if some three-way lovechild of the economics of 1970s Sweden, Argentina, and Yugoslavia’s market socialism is the baseline. …compare Labour’s 2019 manifesto against the Sanders’ economic platform. Doing so makes clear that Bernie is more radical than Corbyn on economics, both in absolute terms and relative to their countries’ respective politics. …Combined with national insurance, Labour’s top marginal income tax rate would have been 52%. Sanders’ top federal income taxrate alone would be 52%, bringing a top combined top rate of around 80% once state and payroll taxes are considered. Sanders wants a new wealth tax too, another option Labour shirked. …where there are differences, it’s because Sanders is offering the more radical leftwing policies. He and Labour both proposed big minimum wage rises, national rent control, mandated employee ownership, and workers on boards, for example. But where Labour proposed 10% worker ownership stakes in large companies, Sanders would mandate 20%… on the role of government, the declared economic platforms are instructive. Call it “democratic socialism,” or just plain old “interventionism,” Bernie Sanders is, in many respects, putting a more radical interventionist offer to the electorate than Jeremy Corbyn did.

Interestingly, social democrats from Nordic nations think Bernie Sanders is too far to the left.

Johan Hassel, the international secretary for Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, visited Iowa before the caucuses, and he wasn’t impressed with America’s standard bearer for democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We were at a Sanders event, and it was like being at a Left Party meeting,” he told Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper… “It was a mixture of very young people and old Marxists, who think they were right all along. There were no ordinary people there, simply.” …Lars Løkke Rasmussen, then the prime minister of Denmark, made a similar point in a speech at Harvard in 2015, when Sanders was gaining national attention. “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism,” he said. “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy”.

Giancarlo Sopo, opining for the Washington Examiner, worries that Sanders actually is an unrepentant Marxist.

Sanders is not the nice, Nordic-style “democratic socialist” he claims to be. At his core, Sanders is almost certainly an all-out Marxist. …The man has no business being anywhere near the Oval Office — not even on a guided tour. …Sanders has been an unabashed apologist for communism, an evil ideology with a body count of 100 million people dead in its wake. …While people such as my grandfather were languishing as political prisoners in Cuba, Sanders said that he was so “excited” about the island’s communist revolution that watching JFK get tough on Fidel Castro made him want to “puke.” …The 78-year-old presidential candidate even honeymooned in the Soviet Union and came back full of praise for it. Some may not grasp how bizarre this was during the Cold War… Sanders’s platform, which openly calls for nationalizing major industries such as higher education, healthcare, and even the internet, falls well outside the mainstream of U.S. politics and more closely resembles the central planning committees in Cuba and Venezuela.

Last but not least, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Elliot Kaufman compares Sanders’ radical past with his modern rhetoric.

Campaigning for U.S. Senate in 1971, he demanded the nationalization of utilities. In 1973 he proposed a federal takeover of “the entire energy industry,” and in 1974 he wanted a 100% tax on all income above $1 million. In 1976 he asserted that workers needed to “take immediate control of the economy if we are to survive” and called for “public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.” He had a plan for “public control over capital.” As late as 1987 he asserted that “democracy means public ownership of the major means of production.” …He had also begun a dalliance with the Socialist Workers Party, a communist group that had followed Leon Trotsky. Mr. Sanders endorsed the SWP’s presidential nominee in 1980 and 1984, spoke at SWP campaign rallies during that period, and in 1980 was part of its slate of would-be presidential electors. …After three decades in Congress, he has settled on a populist vision that fits in on the Democratic left. In a major speech last June elaborating his idea of socialism, he cast himself in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt… He enumerated a series of positive rights—to “quality health care,” “as much education as one needs,” “a good job that pays a living wage,” “affordable housing,”… But he said nothing about state control over the means of production or Fidel Castro’s revolution.

So who’s the real Bernie Sanders?

I have no idea whether he still wants government ownership and control of the means of production (i.e., pure socialism with state-run factories, collective farms, etc). I also don’t know whether his past support for awful Marxist dictatorships meant he actually was a Marxist.

But I can confidently state that his current policy agenda is nuts.

A few years ago, I created a three-pronged spectrum in an attempt to illustrate the various strains of leftism.

I’ve decided to create a more up-to-date version. It shows that the Nordic nations are part of the rational left. A bit further to the left are conventional leftists such Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and then Barack Obama.

At that point, there’s a divergence, with Hitler and Stalin representing totalitarian socialism at the top and pure socialists (such as the U.K.’s Clement Attlee, who nationalized industries and sectors after World War II) at the bottom.

Without knowing what he truly thinks, I’ve put Bernie Sanders in a middle category for “Crazies.”

I suspect he has sympathies for the two other strains of leftism, but the real-world impact of his policies is that America would become an even-worse version of Greece (though hopefully not as bad as Venezuela).

P.S. Given that he’s now the leading candidate to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, and given that he’s ahead in some national polls, I’m very thankful that America’s Founders bequeathed to us a system based on separation of powers. If Sanders somehow makes it to the White House, he’ll have a very difficult time pushing through the radical parts of his agenda. Yes, it’s true that recent presidents (both Obama and Trump) have sought to expand a president’s power to unilaterally change policy, but I feel confident that even John Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court would intervene to prevent unilateral tax increases and nationalizations.

P.P.S. More than 10 years ago, I speculated that America’s separation-of-powers system would save the country from Obamacare and cap-and-trade. I was half right.

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One of the most significant developments in 2020 politics is how Democratic presidential candidates have embraced hard-left economic policies.

Prominent analysts on the left have noted that even Joe Biden, ostensibly the most moderate of the candidates, has a very statist economic platform when compared to Barack Obama.

And “Crazy Bernie” and “Looney Liz” have made radicalism a central tenet of their campaigns.

So where does Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, fit on the spectrum?

The New York Times has a report on Bloomberg’s tax plan. Here are some of the key provisions, all of which target investors, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and other high-income taxpayers.

Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York unveiled a plan on Saturday that would raise an estimated $5 trillion in new tax revenue… The proposal includes a repeal of President Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for high earners, along with a new 5 percent “surcharge” on incomes above $5 million per year. It would raise capital gains taxes for Americans earning more than $1 million a year and…it would partially repeal Mr. Trump’s income tax cuts for corporations, raising their rate to 28 percent from 21 percent. …Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers estimate his increases would add up to $5 trillion of new taxes spread over the course of a decade, in order to finance new spending on health care, housing, infrastructure and other initiatives. That amount is nearly 50 percent larger than the tax increases proposed by the most fiscally moderate front-runner in the race, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. …Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers said it was possible that he would propose additional measures to raise even more revenue, depending on how his other domestic spending plans develop.

These are all terrible proposals. And you can see even more grim details at Bloomberg’s campaign website.

Every provision will penalize productive behavior.

But there is a bit of good news.

Though it would be more accurate to say that there’s a partial absence of additional bad news.

Bloomberg hasn’t embraced some of the additional bad ideas being pushed by other Democratic candidates.

It would…maintain a limit on federal deductions of state and local tax payments set under the 2017 law, which some Democrats have pushed to eliminate. …the plan notably does not endorse the so-called wealth tax favored by several of the more liberal candidates in the race, like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

I’m definitely happy he hasn’t embraced a wealth tax, and it’s also good news that he doesn’t want to restore the state and local tax deduction, which encouraged profligacy in states such as California, New Jersey, and Illinois.

It also appears he doesn’t want to tax unrealized capital gains, which is another awful idea embraced by many of the other candidates.

But an absence of some bad policies isn’t the same as a good policy.

And if you peruse his website, you’ll notice there isn’t a single tax cut or pro-growth proposal. It’s a taxapalooza, what you expect from a France-based bureaucracy, not from an American businessman.

To add insult to injury, Bloomberg wants all these taxes to finance an expansion in the burden of government spending.

For what it’s worth, this is my estimate of what will happen to America’s tax burden (based on the latest government data) if Bloomberg is elected and he successfully imposes all his proposed tax increases. We’ll have a more punitive tax system that extracts a much greater share of people’s money.

P.S Take these numbers with a grain of salt because they assume that Bloomberg’s tax increases will actually collect $5 trillion of revenue (which won’t happen because of the Laffer Curve) and that GDP won’t be adversely affected (which isn’t true because there will be much higher penalties on productive behavior).

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When I was in London last week for Boris Johnson’s landslide victory, many people asked me whether Trump would win again in 2020.

Since I was wrong about 2016, I told them I wasn’t the right person to ask.

That being said, Trump has some positive economic tailwinds.

For those of you who care about political outcomes, there’s a new CNN poll of battleground states.

It’s good news for Republicans, particularly if one assumes that there are some people who don’t want to admit that they will vote for Trump (which seems to have been true in 2016).

Political betting markets also are pointing to a Trump victory.

Here’s a screenshot showing the 2019 odds of success for the various candidates. As you can see Trump’s numbers are trending upwards – including a positive bump after the House voted for impeachment!

Both polls and betting markets were wrong in 2016, so take all this data with a grain of salt.

For those who care about economic policy, I’ll simply regurgitate my usual comment that Trump is good on some issues (taxes and regulation) and bad on other issues (trade and spending).

I expect this pattern to continue if he’s reelected.

The big wild card is monetary policy.

As I said in the interview, I worry there’s a bubble caused by an easy-money approach. And bad things happen when bubbles pop.

P.S. I should have mentioned that the employment-population data is not as positive as the unemployment-rate data.

P.P.S. I mentioned macroeconomic political forecasts in the interview. I wrote about those predictions back in October.

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There’s an entire field of economics called “public choice” that analyzes the (largely perverse) incentive structures of politicians and bureaucrats.

But is economic analysis also helpful to understand voting and elections?

In the past, I’ve suggested that political betting markets are a useful place to start since “you are seeing estimates based on people defending their views with cold, hard cash.”

In his Bloomberg column, Professor Tyler Cowen takes a more rigorous look at the potential insights of political betting markets.

Prediction markets…are a quick way to get an overview of the state of the campaign. President Donald Trump is currently at about 0.40 to be re-elected… Under normal assumptions about the uncertainty of future economic growth, the markets rate Trump’s chances of winning at 40%. …it is a useful corrective to the argument that Trump is toast — or, alternatively, that he is a shoo-in.  The market incorporates the relevant uncertainties in both directions. (Interestingly, Trump’s re-election odds have stayed pretty steady over the last week or so of negative news.) In many cases, prediction markets…“see through” the day-to-day volatility that may buffet the polls but not affect the final outcome. …Prediction markets…also made me think that a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy…is perhaps an undercovered story. …It is not a valid criticism of prediction markets to say that they didn’t predict Trump, say, or Brexit. The purpose of prediction markets is not to foresee particular upsets. They can, however, tell you in advance what would be an upset — much like probability theory can tell you that getting three heads in a row is unlikely but is of no help in predicting exactly when it will happen.

There are also people who build models that predict elections based largely on economic factors.

The Washington Post just published a very interesting review of how three of these models show Trump comfortably winning.

President Trump is on a fast track to an easy reelection. That’s the conclusion reached by economic forecasters… Moody’s Analytics projects the president will win handily next year if the economy doesn’t badly stumble — and in fact, rack up a greater margin in the electoral college than the 304-to-227 victory he secured against Hillary Clinton in 2016. …The finding jibes with those of other forecasting models that rely on measures of the economy’s strength to predict which major party’s candidate will win the White House next. Oxford Economics sees Trump winning 55 percent of the popular vote next year barring a “significant downturn” in the economy. …by the reckoning of the firm’s model, three key economic indicators — unemployment, inflation and real disposable income growth — all favor Trump’s reelection. They outweigh a “negative exhaustion factor” with Trump that dents his support in the projection. …Another model, assembled by Trend Macrolytics, accurately predicts every presidential victor back to 1952 by focusing on the effects of the economy and incumbency on the electoral college, according to Donald Luskin, the firm’s chief investment officer. It projects Trump will win reelection next year with 354 electoral votes — a margin that seems staggering on its face.

Here’s the Moody’s electoral map, which doubtlessly will cause sleepless nights for the anti-Trump crowd.

Wow, not only do they show Trump winning every state he won in 2016, but they show him picking up New Hampshire, Virginia, and Minnesota.

So which approach is more accurate, betting markets of election models?

Given my inaccurate 2016 predictions, I’m probably not the right person to ask.

I’ll simply observe that both approaches have erred in the past.

And if you believe in guilt by association, some of the people who put together political prediction models also put together deeply flawed Keynesian economic models.

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We had an election yesterday in the United States (or, as Mencken sagely observed, an advance auction of stolen goods). Here are five things to keep in mind about the results.

First, the GOP did better than most people (including me) expected.

This tweet captures the zeitgeist of last night.

The Senate results were especially disappointing for the Democrats. It does appear the Kavanaugh fight worked out very well for Republicans.

Second, better-than-expected election news for the GOP does not imply better-than-expected news for public policy. Given Trump’s semi-big-government populism, I fear this tweet is right about the increased risk of a counterproductive infrastructure package and a job-destroying increase in the minimum wage.

For what it’s worth, I think we’ll also get even more pork-filled appropriations spending. In other words, busting the spending caps after already busting the spending caps.

The only thing that might save taxpayers is that Democrats in the House may be so fixated on investigating and persecuting Trump that it poisons the well in terms of cooperating on legislation.

Fingers crossed for gridlock!

Third, there was mixed news when looking at the nation’s most important ballot initiatives.

On the plus side, Colorado voters rejected an effort to replace the flat tax with a discriminatory system (in order to waste even more money on government schools), California voters sensibly stopped the spread of rent control, Washington voters rejected a carbon tax, Florida voters expanded supermajority requirements for tax increases, and voters in several states legalized marijuana.

On the minus side, voters in four states opted to expand the bankrupt Medicaid program, Arizona voters sided with teacher unions over children and said no to expanded school choice, and voters in two states increased the minimum wage.

Fourth, Illinois is about to accelerate in the wrong direction. Based on what happened last night, it’s quite likely that the state’s flat tax will be replaced by a class-warfare-based system. In other words, the one bright spot in a dark fiscal climate will be extinguished.

This will accelerate the out-migration of investors, entrepreneurs, and businesses, which is not good news for a state that is perceived to be most likely to suffer a fiscal collapse. It’s just a matter of time before the Land of Lincoln becomes the land of bankruptcy.

Interesting, deep-blue Connecticut voters elected a Republican governor. Given the state’s horrific status, I suspect this won’t make a difference.

Fifth, Obama was a non-factor. Democrats lost almost every race where he campaigned.

Though I should point out that he deserves credit for trying to have an impact in close races. Many top-level politicians, looking to have a good “batting average,” only offer help to campaigns that are likely to prevail.

That being said, this adds to my hypothesis that Obama was basically an inconsequential president.

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If you look at my election predictions from 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, you’ll see that my occasional insights are matched by some big misses. So I don’t think I offer any special insight.

But since readers seem to enjoy these biennial predictions, I’ll once again go out on a limb. The bottom line is that my Democratic friends will be happy.

Since so many Democratic seats are up, it will be a big defeat if Republicans stay at 51 seats in the Senate. And the loss of more than 45 seats in the House is approaching bloodbath territory.

This outcome is why I advised my GOP friends that it might have been better to lose the 2016 presidential election.

Now let’s consider the potential economic implications, which is what I care about.

The first-order effect is that we’ll have gridlock and that’s not a bad outcome as far as I’m concerned. Simply stated, that means less legislation, which presumably means less mischief from Washington.

But not all gridlock is created equal. Here’s a chart published a couple of days ago by the Washington Post. I’ve highlighted in green relative stock market performance when there’s good gridlock with a Republican Congress and not-so-good gridlock with a Democratic Congress.

I don’t think S&P performance is the best indicator of prosperity, and the “sample size” produced by American elections it rather small, so I caution against over-interpreting this data.

That being said, I’ve crunched budget numbers and revealed that Republican presidents generally allow more spending than Democrats. The only exception to this rule is Ronald Reagan.

Unfortunately, as I warned the day after the 2016 election, Trump is no Reagan. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if the net result (assuming my predictions are remotely accurate) is that the already-excessive growth of spending becomes an even bigger problem.

P.S. There are some very important ballot initiatives that will be decided today.

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Brazil appears to be a tragic example of what happens when societal capital erodes (or never gets established in the first place) and too many people in the country see government as a vehicle for redistribution.

That environment leads to statist policies.

Which presumably helps to explain why Brazil is ranked #144 in Economic Freedom of the World. That’s not as low as some of its neighbors, such as last-place Venezuela (#162) or close-to-last Argentina (#160), but it’s still miserable. The country definitely deserves to be in the “Least Free” group.

Today’s question is whether Brazil also belongs in the “give up hope” group. In other words, has the country passed a “tipping point” of big government?

I’ve previously speculated whether the United States eventually may reach that point, and I definitely think it’s a relevant issue for states like Illinois and nations such as Greece.

A few weeks ago, I would have put Brazil in the same category. But the nation just elected Jair Bolsonaro, a right-populist who promises to shake things up when he takes power.

Mauricio Bento of Brazil’s Instituto Mercado Popular explains that Bolsonaro won in part because of a weak economy.

Most of the coverage from international media has been simplistic and is mostly repeating cliches, such as calling him the “Brazilian Trump”…you might have read about how “terrible” Bolsonaro is, and you might be wondering how he managed to win by such a wide margin. …In the last four years, Brazil has been in a deep economic crisis, suffering from double-digit unemployment rates and a lack of confidence that a recovery is coming.

And in part because his opponent, Fernando Haddad, wanted to undo a handful of recent pro-growth reforms and make Brazil more like Venezuela.

Michel Temer…passed some important reforms, such as the spending cap amendment and the labor law reform… Haddad sought to repeal Temer’s reforms and increase government spending and taxes. This made many business owners and investors support Bolsonaro.

Since I am a big fan of the spending cap that was approved in late 2016, I’m glad that Haddad didn’t win.

But should anybody be happy that Bolsonaro won? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it looks like Brazil is about to have a very good Finance Minister.

The UK-based Financial Times has an encouraging report.

For Brazil’s new finance minister Paulo Guedes, the government of far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro could represent a “Pinochet” moment for Latin America’s largest economy.  Mr Bolsonaro, who won elections last Sunday, ending almost 15 years of leftwing rule, will take over a moribund economy burdened by a bloated public sector when he assumes office on January 1. …The Chilean dictator’s solution was a dose of Milton Friedman-style free market economics from University of Chicago-trained academics. Mr Bolsonaro is considering the same medicine in the form of Mr Guedes, who has a doctorate from Chicago… For supporters of Mr Bolsonaro, the 69-year-old Mr Guedes’ uncompromisingly free market view of the world is the only answer. “Liberals know how to do it,” Mr Guedes once said.

Since pro-market reforms turned Chile into the “Latin Tiger,” let’s hope Guedes is serious.

He definitely has a pro-growth agenda.

Mr Guedes — who first considered joining Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign only last year — has repeatedly said his priority is to end Brazil’s 7 per cent fiscal deficit through privatisations of the country’s 147 state-owned enterprises. ..Mr Guedes’ other plans include a radical simplification of Brazil’s tax system, one of the world’s most convoluted, and reforming the country’s costly pension system, which is threatening to overwhelm the budget.

Sounds like Guedes has the right ideas. Assuming Bolsonaro does what is right for his country (such as much-needed pension reform), Guedes could be the Jose Pinera of Brazil.

Here’s a chart from Economic Freedom of the World. It shows how economic liberalization produced a dramatic increase in freedom between 1975 and 1995. Chile is now ranked #15 for economic liberty. Brazil, by contrast, has slowly lost ground since a period of pro-market reform between 1985 and 2000.

I’ll close with a video that was released before the recent Brazilian election.

It’s directed to mushy-headed young people in America, but it neatly summarizes how Brazil go in trouble.

A great video. I especially appreciate the indirect endorsement of my Golden Rule. The criticisms of former President Lula also are spot on, though I once expressed perverse admiration for him.

In any event, let’s hope President-Elect Bolsonaro give Mr. Guedes free rein to bring economic liberty to Brazil.

P.S. Bolsonaro is good on gun rights, so that’s a positive sign.

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