PUT PEOPLE FIRST: Progressive Ideas for Economic Reform

The Internet is full of complaints about our current political and economic arrangements. Our current political economy has led to a reduction in the number of semi-skilled jobs, a stagnation of real wages, a loss or substantial reduction in manufacturing businesses, financial gambling and speculation, more frequent and severe recessions, and the observation that our political representatives are more responsive to corporate interests than to the needs and wants of our people. So, there is a lot to complain about! But we need to do more than complain. We need to explore potential remedies.

800px-Poor_People's_March_at_Lafayette_Park_ppmsca.04302.jpg

Conservatives have been offering up the same remedies for over 30 years now: tax cuts, chiefly for the wealthy; and corporate deregulation. Are we better off now? Rich people are. The rest of us, not so much. Look at Kansas.

What conservatives have been saying is, “Only rich lives matter.” The rest of us are just slugs feeding off of what trickles down from the wealthy. So you get “avoid and neglect” conservatism: avoid the problems and neglect the victims. Just make sure the rich get richer. Well, only a fool continues to do the same thing expecting different results!

So I’ve combed through books and articles by some economists I think are more progressive, or post-neoliberal, for ideas that are likely to really improve the economic lives of the 99% of Americans. I found answers in works by economists Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Ha-Joon Chang, and a number of others. There’s a bibliography at the end of this post, for anyone who wants to read more about these ideas and the rationales behind them.

Gathering and sifting through their ideas, the following struck me as most consequential:

1. Increase jobs for the 99%

  • Make public investments in domestic infrastructure projects.
  • Take measures to encourage growth and survival of labor-intensive industrial sectors, especially those critical to national security and independence. Such measures could include:

◦ Subsidies for Research and Development;
◦ Subsidized credit;
◦ Direct lending by public institutions;
◦ Regulation of industrial investments;
◦ Export assistance; and
◦ Support for needed training.

  • End tax deferment on corporate profits earned abroad. Deferment discourages repatriation of earnings.
  • Enact a financial transaction tax, to dampen speculation, reduce financial market volatility, and encourage longer-term investment.
  • Take measures to further reduce corporate monopolies, trusts and cartels. For example, reduce the scope and duration of patents.

2. Increase income for the 99%

  • Raise the minimum wage
  • Raise the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Make unionizing easier and penalize anti-union actions more severely

3. Reduce burdens on the 99%

  • Make voting easier, for example, with weekend elections and more voting stations
  • Restore student loan bankruptcy protections
  • Push for the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill, which will bring down the excessive fees that the debit card companies now impose on merchants, and which are passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.
  • Create a homeowners’ chapter 11, analogous to corporate chapter 11
  • Reduce the likelihood of forced financial industry bailouts, by

◦ Increasing capital surcharges for the largest banks
◦ Requiring all lending institutions to document how they plan to unwind in the event of bankruptcy
◦ Establishing strict rules for bailouts and reimbursement of public funds
◦ [I would add prosecution for bailouts necessitated by malpractice!]

  • Remove special protections for derivatives in corporate bankruptcies
  • Raise the top marginal income tax rate.
  • Tax capital gains and dividends at the same rates as wages
  • Reduce opportunities and means for tax evasion
  • Eliminate costly tax breaks
  • Apply value-added taxes [VATs] to luxury items

4. Increase benefits for the 99%

  • Enact “Medicare for All,” of course.
  • Subsidize pre-K childcare.
  • Provide public financial support for post-secondary education.
  • Enable the Postal Service to provide a public-banking option.
  • Create a public option for housing finance.
  • Expand Social Security by removing payroll caps, and add public options for additional retirement investing, like the Thrift Savings Program for Federal employees.

5. Improve the quality of life for the 99%

  • Restrict political donations to *natural citizens*, and maintain low donation limits
  • Tax pollution (including carbon emissions)
  • Work with other nations to change the WTO’s rules, interpretations of rules, policies, goals and overall agenda so that the needs of populations are treated as more important than the desires of corporations.
  • Require that international trade agreements be approved by the International Labor Organization [ILO]
  • Join with other nations to create an International Finance Organization (IFO), whose chief objective would be to reduce the risk of international financial meltdowns. The IFO would be responsible for things like:

◦ Establishing rules for international finance
◦ Ensuring transparency and accountability in international finance
◦ Monitoring and reporting developments in international finance
◦ Supervising the IMF and World Bank

I’m sure that Conservatives will call these ideas “socialist,” even though there’s no proposal that the government should own the means of production and distribution. That would be the dictionary definition of Socialism. But Conservatives will call anything “socialist” that limits self-centered, narrow-minded behavior.

These proposals actually assume that there will be private property and that there will be private markets. They just shouldn’t have unfettered control over the political and economic lives of the American people! The American people, to ensure their general welfare, must have priority over them.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ha-Joon Chang and Ilene Grabel,
Reclaiming Development: An Alternative Economic Policy Manual,
Zed Books Ltd., 2004/2014

John Eatwell and Lance Taylor,
“Towards an Effective Regulation of International Capital Markets,”
Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, 3/99
http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/ipg/ipg-1999-3/arteatwell-taylor.pdf

Robert Reich,
Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future,
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010

Joseph Stiglitz,
The Coming Great Transformation,”
Journal of Policy Modeling, 2017
http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/jstiglitz/sites/jstiglitz/files/The%20Coming%20Great%20Transformation_1.pdf

Joseph Stiglitz, Nell Abernathy, Adam Hersh, Mike Konczal, Susan Holmberg,
Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: an Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity,”
Roosevelt Institute, 2015
http://community-wealth.org/sites/clone.community-wealth.org/files/downloads/report-stiglitz.pdf

up
19 users have voted.

Comments

Amanda Matthews's picture

with ideals like Sanders, none of it will ever happen.

Please don’t misunderstand what I said. I meant IDEALS like Sanders, not Sanders himself.

up
11 users have voted.

I'm tired of this back-slapping "Isn't humanity neat?" bullshit. We're a virus with shoes, okay? That's all we are. - Bill Hicks

Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. - Frank Zappa

thanatokephaloides's picture

@Amanda Matthews

Excellent OP! But until we can elect someone with ideals like Sanders, none of it will ever happen.

Please don’t misunderstand what I said. I meant IDEALS like Sanders, not Sanders himself.

More precisely, we need to elect someone who actually holds and maintains ideals like the ones Sanders advocated for during his 2016 Presidential campaign. To the point where (s)he sticks to them no matter what.

up
6 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

The Aspie Corner's picture

not socialism. But since 'Murica is heavily propagandized to believe socialism = when the government does something, that's what most people will think anyway.

And besides, even if any of the policies you propose are enacted, we'll be right back here in 30 years or less, depending on how the pigs go about it.

up
9 users have voted.
thanatokephaloides's picture

@The Aspie Corner

And besides, even if any of the policies you propose are enacted, we'll be right back here in 30 years or less, depending on how the pigs go about it.

So what do you propose we do?

up
4 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

The Aspie Corner's picture

@thanatokephaloides America needs to learn what Socialism is and what it isn't.

Beyond that, Wall Street, K Street and all the other FIRE bullshit needs to be abolished. Hell, they should have been after 2008.

Otherwise I'd say the OP has the right idea.

up
4 users have voted.
Lookout's picture

There are solutions to our dire situation. You list many good ideas. My idea is to use green energy and transportation as a transition to a new fair economy. Sadly the opposite is happening.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, recently revealed it is working on plans to give failing coal and nuclear facilities—which can't compete with cheaper, cleaner energy—a taxpayer-funder bailout.
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/06/07/after-just-few-months-trump...

Looks like the election down your way is dicey.
https://therealnews.com/stories/colombias-choice-fascism-or-protest-vote...

All the best and hope to see you more often.

up
10 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

GreyWolf's picture

@Lookout As you know, I've argued that:

"Jobs" create wealth disparity.

It is literally a "the emperor has no clothes" situation.
Jobs got us to where we are now. More jobs will fix it?

When people who think they are leftists argue for "more jobs" I give up. Every job siphons more money to the oligarchy, so anybody, from my leftist point of view, who argues for more jobs is advocating transferring more wealth to Warren Buffet.

I literally don't know how to talk to humans anymore. I know why Richard Wolff and Gar Alperovitz appear so confounded. They apparently have more stamina for head pounding against walls than myself.

up
9 users have voted.
Lookout's picture

@GreyWolf

I never worked in a coop, but I did work for a small business with profit sharing. When your effort pays dividends, people go the extra mile. It worked for me in my youth, and I think it would work today. People directly benefiting from their own work is the goal IMO.

We could couple that with a jobs program doing public works...teacher aides, park and museum docents, litter supervisors, recycling centers, and on and on... We've got the work and the people that need it. We lack the will.

up
11 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

thanatokephaloides's picture

@Lookout

We could couple that with a jobs program doing public works...teacher aides, park and museum docents, litter supervisors, recycling centers, and on and on... We've got the work and the people that need it. We lack the will.

Don't forget that our Essayist called for means to insure that those jobs delivered what we need them to deliver. This means, above all else, strong, ubiquitous labor unions and Draconian punishments inflicted on all who abridge the right of labor to organize or attempt to do so. This means no more Taft-Hartley Act at all, and no available recourse to "right to work" for States, localities, and the major corporations these are in bed with.

up
5 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

thanatokephaloides's picture

@GreyWolf

"Jobs" create wealth disparity.

It is literally a "the emperor has no clothes" situation.
Jobs got us to where we are now. More jobs will fix it?

When people who think they are leftists argue for "more jobs" I give up. Every job siphons more money to the oligarchy, so anybody, from my leftist point of view, who argues for more jobs is advocating transferring more wealth to Warren Buffet.

What our Essayist was advocating for was more and better employment. He advocated for the one thing that has ever worked in the USA to prevent the very situation you describe: strong, ubiquitous labor unions and Draconian punishments against all who would abridge the right of labor to organize effectively.

I daresay you and I agree that the foul Taft-Hartley Act needs to go into the garbage, along with all recourse to its "right to work" nonsense. I would also submit that our Essayist is of similar mind.

Restore the unionism of the 1930s, make it the norm nationwide, and take the necessary steps to insure that our labor unions do their jobs and don't sell out to the oligarchs, and we will evade what you justly fear and obtain what our Essayist's vision entails. For without strong, ubiquitous unions, "more jobs" always does exactly what you say, Grey Wolf: it puts more money and power into the oligarchs' hands -- the last thing we need!

up
6 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides I am not so sure about unions. Railway Unions covered a wide range of jobs and work, some positions that would have had weak protections on their own. Today they are specialized, Police, electricians, teamsters, pipe fitters, etc. With Keystone XL its http://www.liuna.org/about and they can't wait to bulldoze protesters and lay pipe. It's about money, and jobs, and sometimes unions are in lockstep with corporations.

To me, whats better is to fight for what unions want, job protection, wages, pension, health and education, for every American. For the most part, unions don't care about the rest of us. That is not a unions purpose.

up
5 users have voted.
thanatokephaloides's picture

@Snode

I am not so sure about unions. Railway Unions covered a wide range of jobs and work, some positions that would have had weak protections on their own. Today they are specialized, Police, electricians, teamsters, pipe fitters, etc. With Keystone XL its http://www.liuna.org/about and they can't wait to bulldoze protesters and lay pipe. It's about money, and jobs, and sometimes unions are in lockstep with corporations.

The cause of all these things you rightly complain of is that vile Taft-Hartley Act. Prior to its passage, we actually had a labor movement in this country. No union worthy of the name would violate the principle still laid down in the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World:

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class
upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

But, once the Taft-Hartley Act passed into law, the very situation the IWW complained of came to pass nationwide:

The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

ibid.

Solidarity strikes and other direct action supports between one organization of workers and another -- the core of an actual labor movement -- were specifically banned by the Taft-Hartley Act. And, soon after the Act's passage in 1947, America's labor movement was beginning to be replaced by the sellout "unions" you describe, Snode.

This is why I advocate for the kind of labor movement that we had between the Haymarket affair in 1886 and the passage of the vile Taft-Hartley Act sixty years later. With only two exceptions I can think of -- the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). -- I sure as fuck am not talking about the sellouts masquerading as "unions" in today's America! I find today's AFL-CIO nothing more than a bunch of stooges for Wall Street and the 0.1%!

And I apologize to you, Snode, for not making that considerably clearer! Wink

For what you said is true: we need all this country's laborers to join in one solidarity and one love to demand:

job protection, wages, pension, health and education, for every American.

For when you said: "For the most part, unions don't care about the rest of us. That is not a union's purpose.", you were correct. But that wasn't always the case. And unless and until unions go back to "caring about the rest of us" as part of a healthy labor movement, they will continue passing into the irrelevance they suffer from now.

Because "30 pieces of silver" only goes so far.

edit: Rebuilt 2 hyperlinks so they work and display correctly.

up
2 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides I have a hard time understanding the scope of unions before the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This to me gave much of what unions gained to a good part of the rest of us, since eroded and bastardized. I just can't see unions as a 21st century force for change, much like the democratic party is today. Us/them.I know you are a strong supporter of unions and not trying to pick a fight. I was always told unions were what made America what it was, but it's by law we gained those rights, by union example, not union action for all. So, maybe I'm too cynical, or just unable to make the leap in thinking. I dunno.

up
2 users have voted.

@GreyWolf For me it highlights how we are so deep in a groove we can't see the top anymore. Are we blind, a little insane? No matter, we seem to be coming to a point where life is just existence, opportunity absent, a static state of life. It seems in the past there was always some frontier to escape to but now everywhere there's borders, physical, spiritual and mental.

up
4 users have voted.

and so many of these ideas are already working individually or severally in countries around the world. This could be a political platform.

up
5 users have voted.

eliminate the wto, imf and world bank to start with? Maybe Greece would catch a break, finally.
As for the rest of it, I'm in. Good luck reining in the money aspect, though. Those greedy fucks want it All and until we start eliminating the institutions And people. . . Ahhh fuck it, we all know the song.

Stop These Fucking Wars

peace

up
5 users have voted.

Ya got to be a Spirit, cain't be no Ghost. . .

needs to be done to force down the price of housing.

I know of three ways, none of which are politically acceptable to Right or Left:
1. Restrict immigration.
2. Price and rent controls on housing and restriction on how many
any one person can own. Neither John Kerry nor Mitt Romney needs
five houses.
3. Restrict BOTH foreign and out of area (absentee) ownership of
both houses and apartment buildings. Or at least municipalities
could impose a surtax on absentee ownership, and require and
compel complete transparency of funding and ownership of RS
transactions.

Any such proposal as above will be bitterly opposed by wannabe millionaires, both conservative and members of immigrant communities. I don't think we need to be respectful of anyone, no matter who they are, whose "American Dream" consists of extracting half to two thirds of a working persons' income to pay for housing.

up
2 users have voted.

Nastarana

mhagle's picture

Great suggestions.

up
1 user has voted.

Marilyn

Let's save the planet for our kids. Tree Hugger to the end.