The drunken pigeons of Waiheke Island


There’s a bird native to New Zealand called the kereru, a larger than usual pigeon with a green-and-purple head, neck and wings, and a healthy-size white breast, that gets high on its own fumes. In warm weather, it gorges on berries till it can barely move, then sits in the sun to digest the fruit. The berries ferment to alcohol, and the kereru gets plastered. 

Which brings me to Bernie Sanders. 

No offense to the senator’s many devoted fans, but they seem to have gotten more than a bit intoxicated by whatever he’s been feeding them of late.

I had occasion to view a few kereru last week, on Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland, and I can tell you they’re an entertaining bunch, quite boisterous and loud and limber, even acrobatic, when they first become inebriated, and getting more so the more soused they become, hanging upside down from tree branches and living dangerously as they fly head on into one another, white feathers hirsute like Bernie’s hair, wings flapping like the senator’s arms when he’s red-faced and excited and issuing commandments like they were on fire sale, giving away free college tuition, single-payer health care, the breaking up of the banks and more equitable distribution of wealth, not to mention 13 million new jobs, 12 weeks of paid family leave, universal child care and prekindergarten, all of which will be achieved by expanding government spending and making rich people pay their fair share of taxes 

Seriously? He says this with a straight face and takes Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to task for not leveling with the American people? 

Go to berniesanders.com, click on the “Issues” link at the top of the page, then scroll down to “How Bernie Pays for his Proposals.” Put simply, his economic plan relies on three fundamental assumptions. First, that if elected president, he can convince the United States Congress to agree to the greatest expansion of government spending since the New Deal. Second, that money for the government spending would be generated after he has persuaded Congress to raise taxes and close loopholes and make CEOs pay taxes at the same rate as their secretaries (free health care for all, for example, would require $1.4 trillion a year for the next 10 years, which Sanders plans to pay for by raising taxes and eliminating current deductions allowed to employers who provide health insurance for their workers). Finally, Sanders claims, this additional government spending will create new jobs and put more money in Americans’ pockets, which means higher tax revenue, which means more money available for government spending.

Never mind that most Democratic economists agree that Sanders has vastly underestimated the cost of his social spending and overestimated the amount of revenue he can raise through taxes and more spending. Never mind that most reasonable people may agree that getting these schemes through our divided Congress is unlikely at best. What Sanders doesn’t tell his voters is that his entire economic plan is based on the assumption that government spending for a limited length of time will indefinitely continue to generate income for the government. That is, 10 years of government spending will lead to infinite years of public spending. Let’s say that starting on Sanders’ first day in office, the government will hire currently unemployed people to work on a government-funded project — building new roads, for example. The newly employed will spend part of their income buying goods and services. This will then generate tax revenue for the government, which will in turn make more spending possible. 

But what happens when the government stops hiring people or infusing money into the economy? Sanders’ economic plan, summarized on his website, proposes up to 10 years of government spending. His assumption, which by far the majority of economists disagree with, is that people will continue to have jobs and to spend long after that decade of spending is over. In fact, the only way his plan would work is if unemployment remains permanently, drastically low — a little more than 3 percent. For context, this has happened in only six of the past 95 years. 

Honestly, people, I want some of the berries Sanders has been eating. 

Bernie Sanders started out as a likable guy with all the right leanings, the truth-telling, if a bit mad, professor who has spent a lifetime screaming from the sideline without really expecting to hear his own voice in the din. 

If you were a Democrat or someone even remotely interested in social justice, you couldn’t help but like him and love his ideas. If you were still fuming, like I am, over the fact that the bankers and charlatans responsible for the financial meltdown have gone unpunished, even been rewarded, for their larceny, you couldn’t help but root for him. As long as he didn’t have a prayer at the presidency, or at being the Democratic candidate — as long as he served as the party’s conscience and shamed its bosses into remembering that they don’t actually work for Goldman Sachs — he could have been forgiven his indulgences in the art of the impossible. At best, he was setting goals the party should aspire to; at worst, he was wasting his breath.

Nowadays, though, he’s lying to his fans and they’re buying it. 

The kereru of Waiheke Island eat and drink and get stoned until they — literally — fall off tree branches onto the ground. When they come to, their brain is still so fogged up they can’t remember where they live or how to get back up on the tree. I don’t begrudge Bernie’s voters their moment of jubilation, or their apparent lack of healthy skepticism (by which I mean gullibility). I just hope that when this is over, we all have a softer landing than New Zealand’s alcoholic pigeons. 

GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

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