The most outrageous candidate on the stump in 2016 is not, if you can believe it, Donald Trump. It is someone who calls himself Vermin Supreme, the satirical presidential hopeful known for wearing a bushy white beard and an upended boot on his head and making ridiculous promises to voters: a pony for every American; more federal research into time travel (“to go back and kill baby Hitler”); and of course preparedness for the inevitable zombie invasion.
Yet when it comes to the kinds of economic promises we’re hearing these days, even the serious presidential candidates are in danger of wandering into Vermin Supreme territory. On both the right and left ends of the spectrum this has become the season of the fiery populists, with their ability to play to people’s frustrations. Donald Trump offers a restoration, Bernie Sanders a revolution, but both candidates suggest a return to a far better place in America. The majority of economic wisdom out there suggests these are false hopes: The most we can expect for the foreseeable future is incremental change, and we ought to get used to it—starting with a reality check on the campaign trail.