Etzioni’s Democratic Platform

We must start with a vision of the America we aspire to bring about.
07/28/2017 10:11 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2017
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A Better Deal, the new Democratic Party platform, is such a namby-pamby document it takes very little audacity to claim there must be, well, a better one. The Democrats who came up with this ingenious document seem not to have noted that better suggests that things are good but can be improved. Actually our conditions are horrible and scary. Above all, we must start with a vision of the America we aspire to bring about and not center on a Hillary-like shopping list of specific policies, which includes a me-too drive to lower drug prices, increase the minimum wage, and little else. Fatally, it is a list that deals only with economic issues.

The America I aspire to is one that Works for All Americans. In it no one feels left out because no one is left out. All are treated with the dignity they deserve, and all voices are heard.

To make America Work for All Americans, we need:

1. Everyone who has the need and ability to work should be able to find work that pays a living wage. Jobs are best provided by the private sector, but if additional jobs are needed, these should be made available as part of a major infrastructure program.

2. All Americans should have access to truly affordable health care, which is best provided through Medicare for all.

3. All Americans should have access either to free college or vocational-professional education, which would be funded with scholarships that require the graduates to provide community service broadly defined.

4. No American should be sent to war unless such a war is fully authorized by Congress. All unauthorized American combat overseas should be ended.

5. To ensure everyone has a vote, the flood of private money into public hands must be curbed. Deep pocket interest groups are public enemy number one. Whether one cares about the protection of the environment, worker safety, consumer well-being, integrity of medication, or any other public good, one ought to note that they are all undermined the same way. To advance any of these causes one must first stop what are effectively large-scale legal bribes.

6. Social safety nets need to be shored up not cut.

7. We should all rededicate ourselves to the principle that Americans who disagree with us on the most profound moral and social issues are just as entitled to their beliefs as we are. And that the fact that we failed to show them the merits of our positions suggests that we must redouble our efforts—rather than cuss them out.

8. All high school students should be provided with a major new civic education program that would focus on the teaching of the Constitution, and make the same lessons available at no cost to all adults who seek to attend them. Such a program would stress the importance of democratic principles, such as the supremacy of the rule of law, the importance of the separation of powers, the cardinal role of a free press, and all the other key elements of a constitutional democracy, all of which will need much shoring up.

As with any broad statement of principles, each aspiration raises questions about details—what path should we take, how should we pay for it, and so on. However, we must remember that our candidates are not running to head public policy institutions like the Kennedy School or a think tank like Brookings. Principles will be converted into polices—voters are sure to understand—after the elections, once the specific ever-changing conditions are known. However, for each principle one may provide one or two examples.

For instance, in response to the question of how to pay for various programs, we should recall that the U.S. is spending about 25 cents of every health care dollar on administrative costs, while other countries spend half as much or less. In 2015, the U.S. public expenditure on health care totaled $1.1 trillion. If the U.S. were able to spend on administration a proportion similar to that of Canada, for instance, we would save each year about $140 billion. Fraud and abuse further drain the coffers. Some estimate that these costs run as high as ten percent of the total health cost. Even if fraud and abuses could be cut only by half, we would still save $110 billion per year.

By tweaking corporate tax law, we would have another pool of dough. To give but one example: the Wall Street Journal reports on a House Republican proposal that would close the deduction companies get for the interest they pay on debt. According to the Tax Foundation, closing this one deduction would generate $1.5 trillion in tax revenue over a decade. In short—once we are able to get elected leaders to give priority to the good of all of us, rather than prioritize special interests—it will not be difficult to find the needed funds to pay for many social programs without raising taxes on other than the truly rich.

We must also consider a few novel ideas. For instance, that every dollar paid for work should include commensurate benefits, whether the person works a few hours, part-time, in the gig economy, or as a consultant. If work is paid for, benefits will have to be provided.

Such policy wonk-ing, however, is the icing on the cake. The cake is to treat all Americans as equal, full-fledged members of the community, as citizens whose voices are to be heard, basic needs addressed, and sense that they are fully respected restored. We are all God’s children.

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at The George Washington University. He is the author of The Active Society. For more, see Professor Etzioni’s articles in the SSRN eLibrary and videos on YouTube.

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