Why Bernie Sanders' Economic Vision Sets Him Apart From the Other Presidential Candidates

If there's one mantra economists across the spectrum rely on, it's that our ultimate goal should be growing the economy. "I don’t think the U.S. should settle for anything less than 4 percent growth a year—which is about twice our current average. At that rate, the middle class will thrive again,” intoned GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently.

The problem with this construct is that it assumes growth in and of itself will benefit us all — workers, the middle class and the planet we live on. 

That certainly hasn't been the case during this economy recovery we're experiencing. As economist Justin Wolfers notes, “so far all of the gains of the recovery have gone to the top 1 percent.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he disagrees with this growth-obsessed approach“Our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount of [wealth] back from the top 1 percent,” Sanders said in a recent interview, even if that redistribution slows the economy overall.

“Unchecked growth — especially when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent — is absurd,” he said. “Where we’ve got to move is not growth for the sake of growth, but we’ve got to move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all of our people. In other words, if people have health care as a right, as do the people of every other major country, then there’s less worry about growth. If people have educational opportunity and their kids can go to college and they have child care, then there’s less worry about growth for the sake of growth.”

The growth argument seems to imply that the United States economy's biggest problem is that there isn't enough wealth, rather than the reality that our country is very rich but that the riches are distributed in a way that is very unequal. Sanders' argument is that human outcomes are more important than simply growing.

There's also the fact that many of the resources we use are not unlimited. We cannot embrace unlimited economic growth without degrading the planet. This is something Americans realize — a Gallup poll last year found that 50 percent of Americans say the “protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth” (41 percent disagreed).

As the Washington Post notes, Sanders is the only candidate to make such a statement, setting him apart from the field.

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