Bernie Sanders' Political Revolution Is a $15 Trillion Tax Hike

Even middle class earners would be hit with a sizable tax increase under Sanders' plans.



On the heels of a surprise victory in last night's Michigan primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will square off against Hillary Clinton again tonight in another Democratic presidential debate. Before you watch the two candidates go at it again, it's worth looking into a recent study breaking down Sanders' tax plans. 

The short version is that Sanders would raise taxes—and he'd raise them a lot, on the middle class as well as the wealthy.

In total, Sanders would raise taxes by about $15.3 trillion over the course a decade, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center, via more than two dozen different tax hikes. And although Sanders tax hikes would be concentrated amongst high earners, just about everyone would pay more.

This would substantially cut average incomes. Sanders would raise the average tax burden in the country by about $9,000, and decrease after-tax income by about 12.4 percent, according to TPC's estimate. Extremely wealthy people would bear the brunt of the hike, with the richest 0.1 percent paying about $3 million more in 2017 than they would with no changes—equal to nearly half (45 percent) of their average pre-tax income of $6.9 million.

But the middle class would face a significant tax hike too: with those in the middle quintile of the income range facing a tax increase of about $4,700, resulting in an average decrease in after-tax income of about 8.5 percent.

That's worth repeating: With Sanders' plans in place, middle-class earners would face a nearly 9 percent loss in after-tax income.

The TPC analysis makes clear that these tax hikes would have significant economic effects of the kind that most would describe as negative. "The increases in marginal tax rates under the plan would reduce incentives to work, save, and invest," the report says. Sanders' tax plans would also end up "significantly reducing incentives to invest and increasing tax distortions in the allocation of capital."

One thing those tax hikes wouldn't do is substantially decrease the national debt: Most of the money raised would be plowed into new government spending

The Sanders campaign argues that it's unfair to look at these tax hikes without analyzing the government expansions that they'd pay for. And it's certainly true that he'd offer a far more in the way of government services, including, most notably, a single-payer health care system—effectively a nationalization of the health insurance industry—his campaign estimates would cost about $1.38 trillion annually. But a credible independent estimate suggests the cost would likely be far higher, probably on the order of $2.5 trillion per year. So fully implementing his program would likely require a lot more than $15 trillion in tax hikes.

The sort of across the board tax hikes that Sanders proposes would represent a radical shift from recent history. As the TPC report states: "His proposals would raise taxes on work, saving, and investment, in some cases to rates well beyond recent historical experience in the US." In effect, they'd be an unprecedented experiment in rapidly and radically expanding government in the United States.

On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders often talks about starting a political revolution. So it's worth remembering that this experiment is at least part of what that revolution looks like. 

(Correction: I originally wrote that middle-quintile earners would face a tax hike of about $4,500 or 8.9 percent of their average income. The correct figures are $4,700 and 8.5 percent.