Economic utopia under President Sanders? Not likely, say former White House economists

Could the Danish welfare state ever work in the United States?
Could the Danish welfare state ever work in the United States?

Hillary Clinton has questioned the feasibility of rival Bernie Sanders' agenda. Now, four former White House economic advisers are taking issue with a rosy economic analysis of Sanders' proposal.

That analysis found that Sanders' plan would spur the U.S. economy to grow by 5.3% per year, median income to soar by more than $22,000, and the unemployment rate to fall to 3.8%. The analysis was done by University of Massachusetts Amherst economics professor Gerald Friedman, who shares the same political views as the candidate but was not paid by the campaign.

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Not so fast, wrote the economists, Alan Krueger, Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, who chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Obama and Clinton in a letter addressed to Sanders and Friedman.

"We are concerned to see the Sanders campaign citing extreme claims by Gerald Friedman about the effect of Senator Sanders's economic plan -- claims that cannot be supported by the economic evidence," the former chairs wrote. "As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes."

The economists did not provide an alternative analysis, but said making such promises undermines the Democratic Party's reputation of responsibly estimating the impact of economic policies. They noted that Democrats have worked hard to show that Republicans' assertions that large tax cuts for the wealthy would pay for themselves are not supported by economic facts.

The former White House advisers are the second group to call Friedman's work optimistic. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said Sanders' universal health care plan -- the cost of which was provided to the campaign by Friedman -- would fall short by at least $3 trillion.

Related: Bernie Sanders' plan to pay for health care falls short by trillions, says one analysis

Friedman defended his report in an interview, saying he used standard economic methodology. Also, he said none of the four economists spoke to him about his approach, and he doesn't know whether they even read his full 53-page analysis.

Sanders' campaign also stood by the analysis. His policy director, Warren Gunnels, noted that the letter-writers are among the same "establishment economists who said NAFTA and unfettered free trade with China would be good for the economy." Sanders feels these trade deals have harmed the nation.

"Given the 40-year decline of the middle class and skyrocketing wealth and income inequality, it's too late for establishment economics and establishment politics," Gunnels wrote in an email. "Instead of attacking a fellow economist for coming up with his own estimates on the benefits of Sen. Sanders' economic agenda, they should join us in fighting for a living wage, rebuilding our infrastructure, providing universal health care, and making college more affordable."

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