Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Bernie Sanders has offered clear and increasingly sharp critiques of the American economy, all of which can be condensed into a single statement: The economic system is rigged.
In the mainstream media, Sanders is often presented as a radical who is out of touch with the prevailing consensus of experts and political pundits. In reality, however, Sanders’s critiques of the economy have been so popular precisely because they speak to a reality experienced by millions of Americans on a daily basis.
A new poll conducted by Marketplace-Edison Research found that 71 percent of Americans “think the U.S. economic system is ‘rigged’ in favor of certain groups.”
More Americans, the poll found, are also “losing sleep over their financial situation” and “less confident that they could find a new job within six months if they were to lose their current job.”
These results are consistent with polling data compiled by the Pew Research Center, which suggests that a significant majority of Americans believe that the “economic system unfairly favors powerful interests.”
For those confused about the rise of Sanders, a candidate who has popularized a message that comes largely from the New Deal tradition, this data can help with the demystification process.
Economic anxiety is enveloping even middle-class families, who are feeling the pressures of a globalized economic order and a system that disproportionately rewards the wealthy.
As corporate executives receive lavish pay and benefits packages, the average worker is left with very little — as such, millions are worried about the prospects of their children, who will likely come of age in the midst of slow growth, stagnant wages, and the prospect of crippling student loan debt.
Between 1979 and 2014, the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the top 0.1 has seen wage growth of around 324 percent, while the bottom 90 percent has seen a meager 16.7 increase.
Resulting from this disparity in wage distribution the collapse of the middle class, which was documented by Pew in a major study late last year.
“After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it.”
Sanders has offered an inspiring solution to this dispiriting scene, one that rejects the voodoo of trickle-down economics and promotes the interests of working families by proposing a higher minimum wage and greater protections against corporate plunder.
While Sanders has had to endure efforts by the Democratic leadership to marginalize his message, it is easy to see his influence on the rhetoric of Democratic politicians looking to capitalize on the progressive waves the Vermont senator has sparked.
To further bolster his argument that the economy is rigged, Sanders often points to the post-recession period, during which the richest captured almost all of the new income.
Just last year, Justin Wolfers of the New York Times wrote that “so far all of the gains of the recovery have gone to the top 1 percent.”
Citing data compiled by Emmanuel Saez, Wolfers adds, “The share of total income (excluding capital gains) going to the top 1 percent remains above one-sixth, at 17.5 percent. By this measure, the concentration of income among the richest Americans remains at levels last seen nearly a century ago.”
So while Sanders is often dismissed as an idealist whose agenda will never have broad appeal, the big economic picture, and the views of most Americans, suggest otherwise. Perhaps this is why, much to the dismay of experts who predicted an easy victory for Hillary Clinton, Sanders made such a substantial and lasting impact on the political conversation in the United States.
And given the scope of the problems we face, we need the ambition and energy that Sanders has consistently brought to the political scene.
“The truth is, we’re in a world of hurt,” concludes Bill McKibben, a delegate selected by Sanders to help write the Democratic platform. “That hurt—economic, social, environmental—is driving the unsettling politics of our moment. That hurt needs to be addressed.”
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]