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The REALLY ANNOYING Don’t-Wanna-Subsidize-Wealthy-Kids’-College-Tuition Canard [With fun update!]

Hillary Clinton’s performance wasn’t as clean or as crisp as her last one. Among other things, she invoked 9/11 in order to dodge a question about her campaign donors. But she effectively made the case that, though Sanders speaks about important questions, his solutions are ultimately simplistic and hers are better. Instead of railing about breaking up the big banks, focus on identifying and moderating the biggest risks to the financial system. Instead of making college free for everyone, increase access to those who need it and decline to subsidize wealthy kids’ tuition.

Can anyone really imagine Bernie Sanders in the White House?, Stephen Stromberg, Washington Post, Nov. 15

Stromberg, a Washington Post editorial writer who also blogs there, is an all-but-official Clinton campaign mouthpiece who last month, in a blog post and (unforgivably) a Post editorial (i.e., commentary with no byline, published on behalf of the Post’s editorial board) baldly misrepresented what Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon on Tuesday misrepresented about Sanders’ single-payer healthcare insurance plan, but from a different angle: Stromberg said that the cost of the single-payer plan would be in addition to the cost of healthcare now.  Actual healthcare, not just insurance premiums.

According to Stomberg and the Post’s editorial board then, hospitals, physicians and other healthcare provides would receive full payment from private insurers and also full payment from the government.  And employers, employees and individual-market policyholders would continue to pay premiums to private insurers while they also paid taxes to the federal government for single-payer—double-payer?—insurance.

A nice deal for some but not, let’s say, for others.  Also, a preposterous misrepresentation of Sanders’ plan.

Fast-forward a month and Stromberg, this time speaking only for himself (as far as I know; I don’t read all the Post’s editorials) and for the Clinton campaign, picks up on Clinton’s invocation of the horror of the public paying college tuition for Donald Trump’s kids.  But since he probably knows that Trump’s kids no more went to public colleges than did Clinton’s kid, he broadens it.

Instead of making college free for everyone, increase access to those who need it and decline to subsidize wealthy kids’ tuition.  Good line!  At least for the ears of voters who are unaware that public universities, like private ones, quietly skew their admissions processes to favor the kids of parents who likely can pay full tuition simply by switching the funds from a CD or other savings account into a checking account at the beginning of each semester, thus removing the need for the school to dig into its endowment fund to provide financial assistance.  Or to worry about whether the student will have that loan money ready at the beginning of each semester.

Which is why Jennifer Gratz, salutatorian at her working-class Detroit suburb’s high school, whose extracurriculars included cheerleading but probably not a summer in Honduras assisting the poor, was denied admission to the University of Michigan back in 1995.  And why she sued the University in what eventually became a landmark Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality under the equal protection clause of UM’s affirmative action program.

She did not challenge the constitutionality of the U’s almost-certain, but unstated, admissions policy that would ensure that the freshman class had a substantial percentage of students from families wealthy enough to pay the full tuition.

Y’know, the ones wealthy enough to pay for SAT tutoring, SAT practice course and if necessary more than one SAT exam.

What especially angers me about this let’s-not-subsidize-wealthy-kids’-college-canard is that it uses disparities in ability to pay the tuition as a clever way to ensure the admissions status quo.  Or something close to the status quo.

In her and her campaign spokesman’s statements in the last several days—most notably her “Read My Lips; No New Taxes on the Middle Class, Even $1.35/wk to Pay for Family and Medical Leave” declaration, but other statements too—she’s overtly declaring herself a triangulator.  And some progressive political pundits are noticing it.  Yes!*  They!**  Are!***  And Sanders needs to start quoting these articles, in speaking and in web and television ads.

I said here yesterday that Clinton is running a Republican-style campaign.  But it’s not only its style–its tactics–that are Republican. Watch her edge ever closer on substance as well.  Which is the way she began her campaign last spring and early summer, until it became clear that Sanders’ campaign was catching on.

——

*Hillary Clinton Attacks Bernie Sanders’ Progressive Agenda: Why is she talking like a Republican?, Jonathan Cohn, Senior National Correspondent, Huffington Post, Nov. 17

**Hillary Clinton Hits Bernie Sanders on Taxes, Paul Waldman, Washington Post, Nov. 17

***Under attack at the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton plays EVERY POSSIBLE CARD, Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post, Nov. 14

——

Edited for clarity, typo-correction–and the addition of the last sentence.  11/19 at 8:23 pm.  [Oh, dear.  That’s addition, not edition. Can’t seem to avoid the typos.  I need an editor!]  Corrected 11/20 at 9:52 a.m, after Naked Capitalism linked to the post.  Damn!  

Oh, well.

FUN UPDATE: Yves Smith was kind enough to republish this post on Naked Capital this morning, and there are a few terrific comments to it there.  But I can’t resist reprinting this one, from rusti, as an update the post here at AB:

rusti November 20, 2015 at 5:07 am

We can’t, in good conscience, continue to pay for public works projects knowing that The Donald’s kids are driving on these roads, getting their electrical power from these lines, sourcing water from the same pipes and so forth. A few (moderate) tax rebates to impoverished families to allow them to build out their own infrastructure ought to do the trick.

Perfect.  Question to self, though: Why didn’t YOU think of that, Beverly??

Added 11/20 at 10:18 a.m. 

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The mindless canard stating as unexplained fact that it would be worse to expand the federal government by a third in order to accommodate single-payer healthcare insurance than it is to have private, for-profit health insurance companies playing this role instead

No one would ever accuse Bernie Sanders of thinking small. The senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate wants to transform one of the world’s most boisterous free-market economies into an exemplar ofScandinavian-style “democratic socialism.” He wants to jail Wall Street executives and double the minimum wage. And he wants to spend taxpayer money, lots of it.

According to an estimate by The Wall Street Journal, Sanders’ spending plans would cost $18 trillion over 10 years, increasing the federal government’s size by roughly a third. He would create a single-payer health plan, make public universities free, expand Social Security, spend big on infrastructure, create universal child-care and pre-K programs, provide federal jobs for young people and bail out struggling pension plans, among other things.

To be sure, fully $15 trillion of the $18 trillion would come from Sanders’ health plan, which seems unlikely to cost that much. Bringing all Americans under the umbrella of a single-payer system would create enormous power to hold down prices.

Even so, there’s no doubt that Sanders, who’s running a surprisingly strong second to Hillary Clinton in the latest polls, is talking serious money.

— Bernie Sanders: ‘Now is the time for bold action’, USA Today editorial, yesterday

Yes, no one would ever accuse Bernie Sanders of thinking small.  And no one should ever accuse the USA Today editorial page staff of explaining why increasing the federal government’s size by roughly a third is per se a bad idea. I mean other than just saying we can’t afford it.

I give the writer of this editorial credit for saying upfront and explicitly that $15 trillion of the $18 trillion would come from Sanders’ health plan.  That’s more than Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Stromberg did the day after that WSJ report last month.*  And it’s more than the WSJ reporter did in the article itself, if I remember right.

But why exactly is it per se bad to expand the federal government significantly?  That is what Medicare and Social Security did, and the National Labor Relations Act and the Securities Exchange Act and the EPA, etc.  If you think these pieces of legislation should not have been enacted, fine.  But most people would disagree with you.

Sanders wants to replace private-industry healthcare insurance with federal, nonprofit, single-payer insurance.  Like Denmark!  And like Medicare.  I would love to see Sanders have an economist like Uwe Reinhardt or Joseph Stiglitz compute what the cost to individuals receiving Medicare would be now if there were no Medicare.  Especially since most of them are retired, so there would not be the possibility of employer-based private insurance.

What drives me crazy about this mindless but politically potent canard is that these folks don’t attempt to explain why it would be worse to expand the federal government by a third in this respect than it is to have private, for-profit health insurance companies playing this role instead.  How much more income tax revenue would the federal government receive if the money that employers now pay in insurance premiums went instead to wages and salaries?  And how much better would the economy be if that happened, and if individuals weren’t saddled with premiums and large out-of-pocket healthcare costs?

Josh Barro has an outstanding column in today’s New York Times, the theme of which is that Sanders unnecessarily complicates his candidacy and causes confusion—providing an opening to his opponents like the one Clinton took at the debate last week to imply that Sanders wants to nationalize businesses, large and small; he cited Clinton’s comment—by calling himself something he is not: a democratic socialist.  He’s a social democrat, Barro and others he quotes, say, accurately.

But the key part of Barro’s lengthy column is this:

“When you look at the policies, there’s a way to see it as Bernie has cranked up Hillary’s agenda to 11,” [Roosevelt Institute economist Mike] Konczal said. To wit: Mrs. Clinton favors preserving Social Security with some enhancements for the poorest beneficiaries, while he wants to raise taxes on the rich to expand it in ways that could add $65 per month to the average benefit. This, like most political debates, is a disagreement about how far to turn the knobs when adjusting policy; it does not seem to call for a separate ideological label. That said, Mr. Konczal did offer one difference between Mr. Sanders’s and Mrs. Clinton’s worldviews that is of kind rather than degree. This is decommodification: the idea that some goods and services are so important that they ought to be removed from the market economy altogether.  [Italics added.]

The idea behind the Affordable Care Act, and behind Mrs. Clinton’s approach to tinkering with Obamacare, is that quality health insurance should be affordable to everyone, and that people who can’t afford it should be given subsidies to buy it. For a democratic socialist, that’s not good enough; instead, health care should simply be provided to everyone without charge, removing the profit motive from health care. But even this is a matter of degrees. Mr. Sanders favors Medicare for all: a single­payer health care system, with the federal government as the sole insurer. This would remove the profit motive from health insurance but not from health care, which could continue to be provided by private doctors and hospitals, often working on a for­profit basis. Mr. Sanders is not proposing to go further, like Britain, and have doctors work directly for the government. Nor does he appear inclined to decommodify broad swathes of the economy; in other countries, even conservatives often endorse special, less-­marketized rules for health care than for other sectors.

This distinction is real, but it’s not clear to me that it merits Mr. Sanders his own ideological label.

That—the idea that some goods and services are so important that they ought to be removed from the market economy altogether—is why it is absolutely incumbent upon the USA editorial writer, Stephen Stromberg, Hillary Clinton, and anyone else who takes the position that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare insurance system is per se bad because it would be run by the federal government, to actually state why this is so.

*The editorial was, like all Post (and most newspaper) editorials, published without a byline, but Stromberg had a blog post there on the same day that was virtually identical to the editorial.  [Elementary, Watson!]

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