I don’t have time to expand on this idea as fully as I’d like, but just some quick notes:

  1. During World War II, the federal government managed the U.S. economy to an unprecedented extent, including price and wage controls, and (I just learned) limits on the production of durable goods. The durable-goods limits were so intense that the spread of television was delayed until the war ended.
  2. After the war, millions of Americans were able to go to college through the G.I. Bill.
  3. Clearly, when we want to make something happen, we can make it happen.
  4. It’s equally clear that we only believe we can achieve the impossible during wartime.
  5. I’ve seen no reason for this belief.
  6. It may be the case that World War II was singular and irreplicable. But I’ve not seen this argued. We have every reason to believe that if the country needed to gear up for total war, it could do so. All economic slack would be removed and the unemployment rate would effectively drop to zero.
  7. It seems clear that society has reached a point in its development where macroeconomic outcomes are all a choice. We choose to tolerate involuntary unemployment. We choose not to use the government as an employer of last resort. We choose not to build good mass transit, choose not to house the homeless, choose not to feed the hungry.
  8. American economic ideology is stuck in an earlier mindset, wherein these are not choices. If we don’t feed the hungry, it’s because we can’t afford it, and/or because of the moral failings of the hungry.
  9. People probably believe this ideology sincerely. It just happens that this ideology is convenient for those who don’t want to feed the hungry.
  10. The chink in the armor for those who support this ideology is the nearly instantaneous availability of cash whenever war calls for it. War is a choice we make available to ourselves; improving our society is not.
  11. The Sanders campaign has been attacked for the unreality of its economic plans. I’ve not investigated very deeply, but if Sanders’s plans are unrealistic, they’re probably unrealistic in not saying all of the above: that the money is available, and we spend it on wars without hesitation, and that we just need to turn our society’s focus from the violent destruction of life to the improvement of life. Sanders’s presentation (“millionaires and billionaires”) has been narrow and monotonous, and hasn’t really approached the full scope of what’s available to a modern society. If we wanted a Manhattan Project to give every child a college education, we could do it. If it were a Manhattan Project for bombs, we could do it. There’s no reason to believe that a Manhattan Project for college is more difficult.
  12. The argument against Sanders is essentially an argument for hopelessness.
  13. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, actually. Who knows: it may in fact be hopeless to dream of achieving Sanders-like outcomes. But what makes it hopeless is not a fact about reality or a fact about economics, but rather a fact about politics.
  14. So if you’re going to argue against the Sanders campaign, don’t argue it on the basis of economic reality or fiscal plausibility. Argue it on the basis of political reality. Because that’s the only real ground on which this opposition stands.
  15. If political reality stands between us and Sanders-like outcomes, and if we desire those outcomes, then it seems that the top question on everyone’s mind ought to be how to change political outcomes.
  16. By “changing political outcomes” I mean something like “making the results of our collective decisionmaking match the results of our collective desires.” If we, as a society, would prefer to have a tax-financed system of public universities that leave our students debt-free, but our political system doesn’t make that outcome feasible, then there’s something wrong with the way that our policy desires are translated into political outcomes.
  17. Which candidate is more likely to change political outcomes? The typical argument for Hillary is that we’re never going to change political outcomes if a Republican is elected, and that Hillary is the only electable one. The typical argument for Bernie and against Hillary is that Hillary wouldn’t do the right things if elected — that she’s too comfortable with the system as it is — and that she’d aim in the direction of the right policies without fundamentally changing the political structure. The argument against Bernie here is that he would be one man among many, and that his noble intentions would be crushed by the system. Bernie’s argument for himself is that his election would signal a political revolution; this would mean that the very organization of political life had changed.
  18. There’s a certain fashionable pessimism these days: our children will live worse lives than ours, globalization is destroying the American economy, and we need to settle for smaller dreams. These are all choices. If we, as a society, decide that we deserve better, and we choose to not achieve better, we are making a moral choice rather than succumbing to economic necessity.