The Wall Street Journal decided to take Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign seriously enough to calculate the cost of the programs that he proposed. Their price tag was $18 trillion over the next decade. This is presumably supposed to scare people because, let's face it $18 trillion is a really big number.
Much of the fright factor disappears when we realize that $15 trillion of this $18 trillion comes from the WSJ's estimate of the cost of Sanders' universal Medicare program. That is a considerable chunk of change, but as Kevin Drum and others have pointed out this will not be new money out of people's pockets. For the most part this is money that employers are now paying for their workers' health care insurance. Instead, under a universal Medicare system the government would get this money in tax revenue. Since Canada and the other wealthy countries with universal Medicare-type systems all have much lower per capita health care costs than the United States (the average is less than half the cost), in all probability we would be paying less for our health care under the Sanders' system than we do now.
This still leaves $3 trillion for us to get frightened over, and this still looks like a really big number. As a point of reference, GDP over the next decade is projected at roughly $240 trillion. This makes the cost of the rest of Sanders' plans equal to less than 1.3 percent of GDP.
Should we worry about that? The increase in annual military spending from 2000 to the peaks of Iraq/Afghanistan wars was roughly 1.8 percent of GDP. This was also the size of military buildup that took place under President Reagan. Jeb Bush is proposing to cut taxes by roughly this amount if he gets elected.
In short, the additional spending that Senator Sanders has proposed is not trivial, but we have seen comparable increases in the past for other purposes. We can clearly afford the tab, the question is whether free college, rebuilding the infrastructure, early childhood education and the other items on the list are worth the price.