Four prominent Democratic economists wrote a letter condemning an analysis that estimated the costs of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ economic plans, arguing the platform would “undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda.”
The economists — Alan Krueger, Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson — each served at one point as a chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
In their letter, they argued Sanders’ assurances that massive spending increases would provide economic growth exceeded the “grandiose” predictions by Republican candidates about how their tax cuts would boost the economy.
“No credible economic research” supports those estimates, the economists wrote in the open letter, which was addressed to Sanders and Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
“Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic,” they continued, adding that Friedman’s claims were “extreme.”
Their criticism comes as the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ primary rival, has highlighted what it says is the unrealistic nature of many of Sanders’ proposals. Other liberal-leaning economists, including Paul Krugman, have criticised Sanders’ economic platform this week.
Friedman’s projections, which he laid out late last month, suggested that median incomes would soar by more than 20% and GDP growth could be as high as 5.3% annually under Sanders’ economic plan. Such growth would provide more than enough in tax revenue to fund big spending Sanders initiatives like a “Medicare for all” healthcare plan and free college tuition, to name a pair.
“In sum, these programs will increase economic growth and employment, reduce poverty and inequality, and balance the federal budget,” Friedman wrote. “The Sanders economic policy will achieve broad-based and sustained prosperity.”
For his part, Friedman told Business Insider he was stunned by the scathing assessment of his projections. He added the only connection he has with Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, was in meeting him at a congressional hearing three years ago.
“I testified about single-payer [healthcare] and I was very proud, and he shook my hand after my testimony. He leaned over and whispered to me that I did a good job, and that made my day,” Friedman said. “No senator had ever said that to me.”
Friedman said the campaign had “nothing to do with the report.” In fact, he said, he is actually a donor to Clinton.
“I have no connection to the campaign and I don’t necessarily support Sen. Sanders,” he said. “I donate to Hillary Clinton $10 a month, so that was weird.”
He said he was “speechless” when he read that the chairs said his projections were harmful to the progressive economic platform.
“I wonder if they actually read it,” he said. “What I did was completely conventional Congressional Budget Office modelling. … I would like them to tell me what they think I did that’s weird.”
Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who served as chair of the CEA from 2010-2011 under Obama, told Business Insider in an email that the letter wasn’t meant to be a critique of Sanders or Friedman. Rather, he said it was a “plea to stick with reality-based analysis and avoid creating a Vermont version of voodoo economics.”
He said he praised the Sanders plan in November for being honest about wanting more spending and needing more tax dollars to do so, but added that this analysis showing mass growth, which has been embraced by the campaign, undermined that honesty.
“I think he could realistically propose a lot of his existing ideas — college, family leave, gender equality, and even the health plan,” Goolsbee wrote. “But he should really work out the details and use legit numbers when he does.”
The Sanders campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
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