15 Questions for Bernie Sanders

If Joe Biden enters the convention with a plurality of delegates, will you advocate for him to be the nominee?

Bernie Sanders
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

After Super Tuesday, it’s clear the Democratic primary is a two-person race, between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Here are 15 questions that I’d like to see Sanders address before the next round of voting:

  1. The spread of the coronavirus highlights the value of a capacity to rapidly develop new vaccines. What role, if any, do you think the profit motive has played in increasing that capacity?
  2. During a debate, you were asked whether you could guarantee full employment if, over 10 years, tens of millions of people lost their jobs to automation. You answered, in part, that the planet faces the greatest threat in its history from climate change, and that the Green New Deal “will create up to 20 million jobs as we move away from fossil fuel.”

    But heads of state have often found that economic planning is far harder than they imagined. Why are you confident that you can predict the number of jobs in a complicated, fast-changing sector? Why should we trust your forecasts in any sector when guessing wrong means misallocating and wasting lots of money and manpower?
  3. The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures. But most Fourth Amendment case law predates digital technology, including smartphones, GPS location data, facial-recognition software, high-resolution aerial video, and more. Surveying the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the rest of the criminal-justice system, including law enforcement and prosecutors, do you think the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans are being adequately protected? What new limits on the state, if any, will you impose to safeguard people’s privacy?
  4. You’ve insisted that billionaires should not exist, full stop, while defending your status as a millionaire by pointing out that you wrote a best-selling book. If anyone else does the same, you say, then they too could become a millionaire who owns three houses. Of course, if anyone writes code for a computer operating system that’s adopted as widely as the one Bill Gates developed, or creates a social network that is joined by as many people as the one Mark Zuckerberg created, or writes and performs 14 No. 1 hip-hop albums like Jay-Z, and then invests the profits, they too could be a billionaire. Why is that different?
  5. The British press says sexist and racist patients could be barred from nonemergency care at the National Health Service. “Currently, staff can refuse to treat non-critical patients who are verbally aggressive or physically violent,” Sky News reported. “But these protections will extend to any harassment, bullying or discrimination, including homophobic, sexist or racist remarks.” Some believe that reform is necessary to guarantee just working conditions for NHS employees; others say doctors and nurses have a duty to treat all patients, even racists and sexists, as long as they pose no physical threat. What do you think?
  6. Would you rather reduce income inequality without any rise in working-class living standards or increase working-class living standards without any fall in income inequality?
  7. Consider a family of four with a household income of $120,000 earned by parents making $60,000 each. How much more would they pay in taxes if you get your agenda through Congress?
  8. Say a person earns $100,000 a year. If he paid 1 percent of that in taxes split among federal, state, and local governments, you would favor raising his taxes. If he paid 100 percent of his income in taxes, you would presumably find that to be unjustly confiscatory. What’s the maximum percentage of his income that the state could justly take?
  9. The essayist Scott Alexander once described the difference between “mistake theorists” and “conflict theorists”:       

Mistake theorists treat politics as science, engineering, or medicine. The State is diseased. We’re all doctors, standing around arguing over the best diagnosis and cure. Some of us have good ideas, others have bad ideas that wouldn’t help, or that would cause too many side effects. Conflict theorists treat politics as war. Different blocs with different interests are forever fighting to determine whether the State exists to enrich the Elites or to help the People.

Like Donald Trump, you typically adopt the rhetoric of a conflict theorist, positing that elites are putting one over on the people and that progress requires a movement big and powerful enough to overwhelm “the billionaire class.” What would you say to a voter who believes that many important matters are better characterized as thorny problems or tough trade-offs with no clear answers being confronted by well-intentioned people with different guesses about what would work?
  1. You’ve said that while you might praise discrete actions taken by leaders like Fidel Castro in Cuba, you reject authoritarianism and are happy to denounce it. In your estimation, why did idealistic proponents of socialism in countries as varied as Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and beyond wind up living under authoritarian tyrants? How can proponents of democratic socialism avoid having your vision usurped in ways you don’t intend?
  2. If you get your way, the federal government will grow much bigger and more powerful. Do you worry about what the next Republican president would do with those new and expanded powers?
  3. While the front-runner, you argued that it would be very divisive for the Democratic Party if a candidate with a plurality of delegates going into the convention does not become the nominee. If Joe Biden enters the convention with a plurality of delegates will you advocate for him to be the nominee?
  4. If rapid climate change is among the biggest threats that humanity faces, why do you favor phasing out nuclear power, America’s biggest source of energy that emits no carbon?
  5. If the federal government spends significantly more on social welfare for all people in the United States, as you propose, some worry that Americans will become more hostile to newcomers to this country, because every immigrant will cost more in government outlays. Would your domestic agenda likely result in—or even require—fewer immigrants?
  6. What if Medicare for All causes some of the best doctors to exit the public medical system, with its lower rates of pay, and instead provide private concierge medicine to the rich?