Free comes at a cost: Will Sanders’ plans translate?

Free, ironically enough, is a great selling point to get people on board with a cause.

Who would want to turn down free? One would certainly have a hard time finding people who don’t like free.

So when presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders trots out the notions of free universal healthcare and free public college instantly these ideas sound more than appealing.

While these proposals do sound nice – and helpful of course – how realistic are they?

Sure, certain European countries offer amenities just like the ones Sanders promises if he were to reach the high office. But there are large differences between the United States and those countries.

For instance, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its 2015 report on the tax burden on earnings among member countries.

In the report, the tax wedge, which is the dollar measure of the income tax rate, is ranked from highest to lowest. Stated in the report, seven countries that provide free public college have a higher tax wedge than the United States 31.5 percent.

These countries include Germany (49.3 percent), Finland (43.9 percent), Sweden (42.5 percent), Denmark (38.1 percent) and Norway (37 percent).

The correlation between these free amenities and higher taxes is without dispute. So, in order for these programs to go into action in America, taxes would obviously have to be raised.

Here is the problem.

Gallup released a poll in April 2015 that concluded 51 percent of Americans believe their income tax rate is already too high. More than half the populace already has a problem with paying tax on the money they make, so what would get them gung-ho to cough up more money?

On top of the difference in tax payment, some of these countries differ greatly in size of population and more importantly – rate of tertiary school enrollment.

The World Bank reported its enrollment findings in the seven countries stated above. Coincidently, the respective countries send a lesser percentage of people to college than the United States.

The only country that matches America’s 94 percent rate is Finland. A country with the population of 5.43 million. Less than the state of New Jersey’s population of 8.93 million.

Germany, the country with the highest tax wedge percentage listed of the seven, holds a 62 percent enrollment rate.

What does all of that mean?

Essentially, these countries pay much higher taxes and send fewer people to college than the United States. So social services like free tuition suddenly become more feasible for countries with these advantages.

Here in the United States – which registered a population of 318.9 million in 2014 according to The World Bank – more than half of people of a much larger populace than those European countries already do not like paying the taxes they pay.

The logical way to administer free college to the vast number of Americans vying for it, would be to raise taxes.

In short, to follow through with the freebies Sen. Sanders wants to provide, he needs to convince the majority of people to do more of something they already do not like doing.

That sounds like an uphill battle.

Good luck.


Dennis Chambers can be reached at or on Twitter @DennisChambers_

Author: Dennis Chambers

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