Spitballing a New Left Politics
I've been somewhat out of pocket the past couple of months, avoiding politics and current events to a great degree. Have had a few changes in my work life as well, which will give me a little more time for my family and my thoughts. I've been doing some reading here at C99 and at a few other places, but mostly stepping back. As a result, I've found my political views evolving somewhat beyond the direction they were taking around the time of the November election. A little slow to the table, but this essay is an attempt to begin sorting my thoughts.
It's clear to most of us that the Democratic party has outlived its usefulness as a vehicle for our political aspirations. The Sanders campaign outed it as primarily a veal pen intended to catch and neuter the left, delivering it to the same oligarchic interests that run the Republican party and the corporate media. I've read some thinking lately that debates the virtues of this politician or that, or the pros and cons of founding a new political party vs. trying once again to reform the Democrats. This all misses the point, as I now see it.
One of my favorite political observations is the famous one from Frederick Douglass:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.
An essay by the wonderful maggid today, Mom and Dad are getting divorced: A family dynamics analogy, provides another meaty quote, from Slavoj Zizek:
The marriage between democracy and capitalism is over.
Both of these quotes point toward a new direction in politics, it seems to me, away from a focus on electoral results and toward an issues-based, activist political era. The best result of the already-disastrous Trump presidency could be a new era of activism analogous to the 1960's, when millions demonstrated and held their politicians of both parties to account for their actions on the most burning issues of the day, civil rights and the Vietnam war. Today we have no-less burning issues, climate change and economic inequality. Neither political party has any significant interest in addressing either, so the people must make demands. What should those demands be?
Given the scale of our challenges, I'm currently thinking we need two central demands:
1. Removing carbon from the atmosphere.
2. Creating an economy that works for all of us, rather than one that we work for.
To create a carbon-negative human world, we need several uncompromising policies:
- Phase out the internal combustion engine.
- Phase out carbon fuels for electricity generation.
- Reduce beef and other livestock production, focusing on sustainable animal protein sources.
- Heavily tax fossil fuels commodities.
- Punitively tax corporations that extract fossil fuels.
- Invest in reforestation, soil and marine carbon sequestration, and combating desertification.
Reorienting our economy away from predatory capitalism to serving the people is even more complicated, and will be more heavily resisted in the US. I believe the most important steps in beginning this process would be to focus on one issue: a guaranteed living income for all Americans. Economic inequality has produced a profoundly cruel and unjust economy in America, in which some have wealth far in excess of any good it might do for themselves, and most have far too little to see to their needs in anything approaching a humane way. We have chosen to live in this kind of a country; we should strongly advocate a different choice.
A guaranteed annual income would insure food, shelter, health care, educational opportunity, and basic dignity to all. It has been proposed occasionally by Republicans and Democrats in recent decades, but never taken seriously. I believe it should be a bedrock principle for a new leftist politics, a non-negotiable demand.
Other issues which would help reorient our economy in a democratic direction:
- A guaranteed jobs program for those who can work, with income augmenting the basic income guarantee.
- A revised income tax exempting the guaranteed income, and starting with a low rate at the 50th income percentile. It should rise first gradually, then very steeply at high incomes, reaching perhaps 90% above $10 million.
- An annual wealth tax on the order of 1% of in-country or expatriated assets above $10 million, 3% above $100 million, 5% above $1 billion and 8% above $5 billion.
- Laws and tax policies that promote domestic employment and severely penalize offshoring to reduce labor costs or evade environmental regulation.
- Revision of corporation law to reorient corporate obligations: highest priorities to avoid adding carbon to the atmosphere or seas, and to bring economic benefit to communities in which they operate. Shareholder value would be statutorily secondary.
- Medicare for All healthcare program, providing comprehensive health and dental care for all citizens, including elder care expenses.
- Public financing of daycare, primary and secondary education, and college or technical school. Severe restrictions on for-profit educational alternatives.
Other issues are also vital to a new leftist politics, including public financing of campaigns, nonpartisan redistricting, universal voter registration, expanding anti-discrimination protections, making the criminal justice system accountable, etc. But any new politics must have a clear focus on one or two issues, ideally of greatest importance to young people.
Bernie Sanders' campaign gave us a peek at what might work. His campaign made the perhaps fatal error of joining the Democratic party, which made good tactical sense but was a poor strategic decision. Our new politics must follow the 1960's model, appealing directly to the people without the intermediation of politicians or parties. If we can create a strong movement, the political parties can either come to it or die and be replaced. That question is of secondary importance at this time. How to build the new movement, identifying who's already doing it, helping them build their strength and create interconnections are far more critical for us now.