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Feb. 25, 2020, 8:54 a.m. EST

Bernie Sanders can win because this isn’t Ronald Reagan’s America any longer

How to understand Sanders’ appeal to those who’ve lost faith that the status quo can deliver the American Dream

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By Alexander Friedman

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By contrast, despite persistent and ever more extreme unconventional monetary policies since the financial crisis, the Congressional Budget Office expects real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth this decade to average just 2% annually. This may not be secular stagnation, so much as a reversion to mean: since 1800, the U.S. economy has grown at roughly the pace the CBO now projects.

And critically, the last decade of ultra-loose monetary policy widened wealth inequality so much that many in the middle class fell into the resulting chasm, taking flagging faith in the American Dream with them.

And with that faith probably went any hope for a moderate Democrat to win the 2020 nomination.

After all, Democrats like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar talk a lot (even with their inevitable shift left) like Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin, avatars of an era that seemed good at the time, but today is viewed as the period when jobs were globalized away, median incomes stagnated, and a new plutocracy was not just born, but sponsored by its national leaders.

Demographics, like gravity, are close to an immutable force.

Sanders speaks to these voters

As much as the traditional “wise” men and women of the Democratic Party try to convince voters that nominating Sanders will re-elect Trump, most of the party’s youth, immigrant, and minority blocs (the Democrats’ literal future) appear to disagree. They likely see in Sanders someone who speaks convincingly to lost hopes and wants fundamentally to change a system that no longer offers them a credible path forward.

After all, why defend a status quo that leaves you deep in debt, tenuously employed, badly housed, and one medical emergency away from economic ruin? Ironically, this powerful message is similar to Trump’s appeal to disaffected working-class voters to win the Republican nomination and the presidency in 2016.

Elections are uncertain, and for all the self-serving rhetoric of the Democratic establishment (and of Michael Bloomberg’s $460 million, and counting, in advertising ) that nominating Sanders would ensure Trump’s re-election, there is likely a close to even chance that this consensus thinking is wrong.

Sanders could win a presidential election for any number of reasons. The country is almost perfectly divided regardless of candidate, swing voters are unpredictable, electoral math is tricky, Trump has plenty of weaknesses, and a lot can happen between now and November.

Let’s not forget that most political and market forecasters got the 2016 election wrong. Today, as America’s national ethos of optimism seemingly gives way to bipartisan disillusionment, Sanders’ momentum is both understandable and not to be underestimated.

This article was published with permission of Project Syndicate Why Bernie?

Alexander Friedman, a co-founder of Jackson Hole Economics, is a former chief executive officer of GAM Investments, chief investment officer of UBS, chief financial officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a White House fellow.

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