In the 1800s, when the American West was being settled, many enterprising souls sold such remedies as Dr. Brown's Magic Energy Elixir. Of course, the vast majority were worthless. Many were even dangerous.
America is now experiencing a renaissance of shoddy goods—this time in the marketplace of ideas. Virtually all the 26 candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination for president are espousing positions no more credible than the snake-oil salesmen of old.
To get a clear sense of the absurdity of some of the claims, several examples are worth highlighting.
Snake Oil #1: The 'Green New Deal'
First and most obvious, there is the "Green New Deal," which has been endorsed by most, if not all, of the Democratic hopefuls. We are supposed to believe that the world will become abruptly uninhabitable within 12 years, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said, or in 10 years, as former Rep. Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (D-Texas) said.
Not only is the timetable pure fabrication, but the idea that the United States can solve a global problem while India, China, and others with many times the U.S. population grow their carbon emissions is nonsensical. Furthermore, the notion that this country could offset the emissions of others without destroying our economy is downright delusional.
Stunningly, but not surprising, the Dems also seem unfazed by the Green New Deal's $93 trillion estimated price-tag. Recall the late, great Milton Friedman's observation: "If I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government."
The would-be candidates seem oblivious to the broad implications of expenditures of that magnitude, which is literally a matter of life and death. Simply put, the cost tells us that the Green New Deal would lead to what has been dubbed "statistical murder." Diverting resources to fund it would exert a so-called "income effect" on health and longevity that reflects the correlation between wealth and health.
In simple terms, the taxes required to fund the Green New Deal would deprive communities of wealth, placing them under higher health risks, because deprivation of income has adverse health effects. Increased incidence of stress-related problems, including ulcers, hypertension, heart attacks, depression, and suicides would be just some of the adverse results. This cannot be entirely mitigated even by the "universal" health care coverage that all the aspirants apparently advocate.
Snake Oil #2: 'Medicare for All'
Speaking of which, consider "Medicare for All," which, as Robert Pozen pointed out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, isn't Medicare at all. Under such a scheme, private insurance coverage would be outlawed.
There would also be no cost-sharing, limited networks, and reimbursement plans unrelated to usage—all of which are deviations from existing Medicare. The only programs that would survive would be the much-maligned Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Service. In fact, the current proposals are draconian even compared to the single-payer systems in Canada and Britain, which ration services and fail to provide high-quality care.
So, who is kidding who? Even Dr. Brown's elixir was more salubrious than this.
Snake Oil #3: Income Redistribution
Next, let's consider Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) "national corporate charter." We have a do-nothing, know-nothing Congress that can't agree on how to get right the most basic issues facing the nation today, yet we are being asked to trust them to dictate to companies how to deploy their resources and profits? The resulting shift away from shareholder to "stakeholder" (i.e., political) interests would collapse the stock market in a way that would make 1929 look like boom times.
Warren has also proposed an annual "wealth tax" on the most affluent Americans. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg concurs, favoring a top marginal tax rate of 49.9999 percent. Why that peculiar number? Because "There's something about paying the majority of a dollar that comes your way to Uncle Sam that I think people have more trouble with" (we are not making this up).
Snake Oil #4: Raising the Minimum Wage
Another old chestnut that refuses to die is the foolhardy call to raise the minimum wage. Former Democratic governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper has said he wants it to be $15—a figure seemingly popular with other aspirants. Hickenlooper added, "Where living costs are higher, like New York, Los Angeles, and maybe Las Vegas, we will go above $15 an hour."
However, boosting the minimum wage has damaging consequences. A study of Seattle's minimum-wage hike found that it actually lowered average incomes among entry-level workers. Employers simply reduced hours, hired fewer workers, and offset the cost of the wage hike. In one way or another, minimum wage laws always harm more than they help—either in the form of increased prices for goods, or smaller hiring pools for the exact type of workers who need entry-level jobs.
Snake Oil #5: The 'Wage Gap' Fallacy
And then there is Sen. Kamala Harris's (D-CA) equal pay hoax. Harris's plan would fine companies that cannot sufficiently prove to the government that they pay men and women the same for "the same kind of work."
But, as pointed out by Jennifer Braceras of the Independent Women's Forum, "The Equal Pay Act of 1963 already prohibits employers from paying men and women differently for the same jobs. And Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 outlaws sex-based employment discrimination of any kind." Excluding factors other than sex, the pay differential is, in fact, minimal, around 2 percent, or basically statistical noise. In fact, women are beginning to overtake men in a number of cities.
Snake Oil #6: Reparation
Another issue popular among Democratic hopefuls is "reparations" for (long) past transgressions, supported in some form by almost all the Democratic hopefuls save for Howard Shultz. How would it be just to punish (via taxation) a vast number of people whose parents never even entered America until decades, or even a century or more, after slavery ended? What of those whose families never resided in places where there was slavery? How would we calculate how many African-Americans are descended from slaves and would qualify?
Although the pernicious legacy of slavery exists, direct reparations—which would amount to a race-based government subsidy—would only worsen the country's current racial tensions, as pointed out by Lance Morrow in the Wall Street Journal.
An excellent form of reparation would be fixing broken school systems that perpetuate racial disparities. This could be done through voucher programs, charter schools, and increased teacher accountability. But, of course, the Democratic Party cannot abide reining in teachers unions, having corrupt public school systems compete with charter and private schools, or having union teachers held liable for results.
Snake Oil #7: Open-Borders and Amnesty
Finally, there is the subject of illegal immigration. Many of the 26 hopefuls often say that opposing it is "not who we are." Wrong. It is completely legitimate—actually, responsible and civic-minded—to demand that immigration be legal. We should be discussing how much legal immigration is good for America, and what preferences and restrictions should be attached. The presentation of widely differing opinions expressed with passion, but civility, is exactly "who we are."
Conversely, defending illegal immigration is irresponsible. Just as it would not make sense to say that the poor should be excused from other laws and requirements, such as having a driver's license and car insurance, it is not justifiable to overlook the fact that by definition illegal immigrants have broken U.S. law.
Consider this logic from the presidential aspirants: If your parents break the law to get you into college, you should be expelled from school, and they should be indicted, charged, and convicted of a felony and perhaps serve some time in jail. But if your parents break the law to get you into this country, you should be given free education, health care on the taxpayers' dime, and then you should be given amnesty to stay. How on earth does that logic hold up?
Each candidate, in the quest for attention, has attempted to put on the biggest show, not unlike the barkers in towns along the old Oregon Trail. "My elixir is better than your potion!" or "Take my elixir along with his potion for even better results!" With the advent of social media and the left-leaning mainstream media, repetition seems (almost) to make any absurdity more credible.
Recall the old inside-the-Beltway adage that something said three times becomes a fact. Well, with social media, the hunger for confirmation bias can get 300,000 iterations of "fake facts" in no time. There is no longer any penalty for deception and hyper-exaggeration.
It may be traditional that in the scrum of politics, candidates make overly optimistic promises that the electorate somewhat discounts. Even so, we would wager that never in the history of this country have so many absurd statements been made, and unrealistic policy prescriptions been advanced.
It remains to be seen whether any semblance of rationality will eventually end the worst of the lunacy. In the meantime, listening to all the political rhetoric has become more and more like a bitter dose of Dr. Brown's elixir.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.