Since I never indulge in New Year's resolutions, I thought, instead, it would be worth drawing up an economic to-do list for the Democratic leaders. It would be a guidepost for the Congressional leadership, or for presidential-wannabes so that we, the voters, can find out what they stand for besides simply audacity and hope. The lesson from the 2006 election is that people want dramatic change, not poll-tested, cautious half-measures. So, be bold.
The threat to a progressive agenda is not the lack of hugs and soaring rhetoric. Rather, the challenge is pretty clear: Will Democrats be willing to break from the false worship of the twins gods of the so-called "free market" and so-called "free trade"? This worship has made Democrats quiver, tremble and crumble in the face of policies that have been devastating to our country and the world for the past several decades, and made them incapable of advancing ideas and proposals that people so desperately need.
"Free market" and "free trade" are both marketing phrases. There is no such thing as a "free market" because every corporation in America profits thanks to subsidized public goods like education, roads, the electric power grid, and (albeit, too permissive) regulatory management of the stock market, which imposes stability and deters dishonest behavior. So-called "free trade" is a mirage--nothing is free about a global trading regime that has iron-clad protection for capital investment and corporate intellectual property, and thrives on controlling and suppressing wages of workers, particularly in China.
Will Democrats stand up and clearly say that the real choice is not over politically empty slogans or accusations of 'protectionism' but over what rules we want to govern how the economy operates for the benefit of our families and communities? Do we want rules that support people and their communities or rules that help powerful, global corporations? Once Democrats do so, the political road is easy because such a plea has broad support across the country, no matter how people define themselves ideologically. It comes down to this: Are you for everyone having health care, a fair wage, solid retirement, and being able to live in a democratic system that allows the people to decide how corporations behave?
Here are ten steps to take:
Health Care: A Universal Right--With Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., leading the way, we can expect all sorts of half-measured, warmed-over Clinton-lite national health care plans, all of which will fail to solve the long-term moral and economic health care crisis. Most Americans who support a national health program favor a single-payer system, which keeps the private delivery of health care in the hands of physicians and hospitals, but takes away the moving of money from the insurance industry and places it under a single public agency. Sound familiar? Sure, it's called Medicare, which is why the bill by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., H.R. 676, is often referred to as "Medicare For All." Only a single-payer system will wring out the administrative savings--as much as $300 billion per year--that we can use to cover the current uninsured and make up the cost to provide full benefits to every American. Single-payer will increase our individual personal wealth far more than a minimum wage increase.
Energy Is Where Our Money Is Best Spent--Lower energy costs. According to the Apollo Alliance's plan, for a 10-year national investment of a bit more than $313 billion, we would generate $1.43 trillion in economic activity, $953.87 billion in personal income and over $3.3 million new good-paying jobs. That investment is maybe a fifth or less of what the Iraq war is likely to cost. Which would be a better return? Pass a bill now.
Taxes--Let's have a field day here. It would be nothing short of scandalous if Democrats did not make a determined push to roll back the immoral Bush tax cuts for the very rich. Without the rollback, the top 1 percent--those who pull in at least $1.3 million a year--will pocket more than $347 billion in the next four years. Yes, the rollback would be devastating for people like the Goldman Sachs CEO, who just pulled in a $53 million bonus, and who might have to give up a smidgen more of his loot, perhaps reducing the size of his next mansion by one bathroom. Notice how that sum is just a bit higher than the Apollo Alliance's ten-year energy independence program? Let Bush veto the rollback and make it a 2008 election year issue: The Republicans want to keep giving the richest people more yachts and mansions but want you to keep paying more for gasoline, keep our country dependent on imported oil and do nothing about global warming.
Wall Street Fairness Tax--Here's a way we could easily raise $50-$100 billion a year. We tax gambling in casinos, right? Why not tax Wall Street gambling? Every day, billions of shares are traded through financial systems that often have huge fluctuations. Rather than rewarding speculators who move hot cash in and out of investments, we should encourage what economists sometimes call "patient capital": making an investment in a company you think has potential and holding on to it. The Wall Street Fairness Tax would decrease volatility and reduce the incentive to jump in and out of investments quickly--which is also destabilizing for U.S. companies and for other countries. The Wall Street Fairness Tax would be 0.25 percent of the value of a trade. Long-term investors would not feel the tiny tax because they are putting their money into a company for the long haul. You could even direct the revenue from the Wall Street Fairness Tax towards paying for single-payer health care or for a massive investment in public infrastructure. Let Bush veto this idea and then take the appeal to the country: Should Goldman Sachs be handing out $16 billion in bonuses to buy BMWs without a few cents going towards helping 48 million Americans get health care?
Stop the Fast Track Rolling Over American Workers--One of the least talked about pieces of legislation coming up this year is the renewal of "fast track" trade authority. In English, this undemocratic power gives the president the right to negotiate trade agreements and present a deal to Congress for an up or down vote--no amendments allowed. Talk about handcuffing the people who represent us. The votes probably exist to block any re-upping of fast track in the House. The Senate is the problem because so-called "free trade" has always had much broader support from Senate Democrats. It's this simple: fast-track authority is the lubricant that oils the shipping of jobs and capital abroad, and helps create misery for millions of workers around the globe. No union should support a candidate for president, or for re-election for any seat, who votes for fast-track. So, where do you stand, Sens. Biden, Clinton, Dodd and Obama?
Can You Say The Word "Union?"--Will the Democrats fight hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act? For at least half their waking hours, the American people live in a dictatorship. At home or in public places, Americans enjoy a measure of freedom and liberty envied by most people around the world: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. But, the moment Americans walk through the doors of their workplace, they enter into a world that strips away all their basic rights. Within the walls of the workplace, the whim of the corporation is more powerful than the U.S. Constitution. The EFCA will help change that balance and allow a much fairer, more democratic process for workers who are seeking to unionize. Like "fast track," the challenge will be in the Senate, where the bill needs 60 votes to break a filibuster. Not easy--but the party has to fight hard. And what the presidential aspirants do here should be closely watched by labor.
A New Club: Global Prosperity--Far, far away in a land across the ocean, the forces of the Dark Side gather under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization. Led by the emperors of global corporations and their minions, the WTO enforces the global economic regime that has impoverished millions of people. We need to raze this organization and start fresh. We need Democratic Party champions who have the courage to propose a new organization called Global Prosperity. Such an organization would pay heed to the elections in South American countries like Ecuador and Bolivia where people voted largely to reject the WTO-driven economic model. Global Prosperity would be transparent, democratic and dedicated to driving wages up, fairly distributing economic wealth and encouraging development with an eye to safeguarding an environmentally groaning planet. And can we base Global Prosperity somewhere else besides bland, milquetoast Geneva? How about Asia or South America?
The Dollar And The Trade Deficit--Most people understand that this is a big problem--and getting worse. But, most of the solutions have focused on forcing other countries to do something, particularly China. It wouldn't be a bad thing to get China to re-evaluate its currency--which would make imports from China more expensive. But, really, what we need is a lower dollar, which Congress can call for as a matter of national policy. Big corporations like Wal-Mart love a dollar that is high in value because they can, then, bring in goods from China and other low-wage countries at dirt cheap prices--while exploiting people over there, too. Except if you're a tourist, regular people don't benefit from a high dollar. Sure, that Chinese-made shirt or electronic gadget might cost a few more dollars but isn't that worth it to avoid inevitably higher interest rates to pay off our foreign debt and lower living standards in the future?
High-Tech And Progressive--Just because it gets boring thinking about lots of money, I'm going to throw in a financially trivial point: Spend $5 billion to set up a free wireless Internet network across the country for every American. My friend, sociologist Joel Rogers, calculates that wireless for a typical city of 150 square miles costs about $20 million to set up and, if you figure 200 such cities cover about 30,000 square miles, you cover 80 percent of the population at a total cost of $4 billion. Throw in another billion for the less populous areas and, presto, you've just lowered peoples' cost of living by hundreds of dollars a year (a whole lot more than the majority of people got from the Bush tax cuts). Now, do you think that might endear a whole lot of young people to the Democratic Party for a very long time ("Like Your Free Wireless? Thank The Democrats!")?
Cut The Cash--Anger over political corruption was a key reason the Republicans lost the House, and, frankly, the reason the Democrats lost the House in 1994. Repeat this mantra--political corruption destroys a progressive agenda. A progressive agenda has no hope, long-term, without cutting off the mountains of campaign cash that keep legislators on the hook to corporate interests.