Fair and Free Economy- Draft of Message and Policies

Note: This is a draft of a policy paper for a PA Progressive House candidate.  I want to capture the ideas of a fairer economy in language that resonates with American values of hard work, fair play, and compassion.  The policy ideas are negotiable…

The economy should work for everyone who works.

We have lived through an upside-down economy where Wall Street prospers on Main Street’s misery.  Just as millions of hard-working home owners found themselves upside-down in their homes- paying for a mortgage worth more than the house- all of us have been in an upside-down economy.  We are paying for the idea of an economy, one that favors wealth over work, one favors a quick buck over an earned dollar, one that favors glitz over grit, when the real economy is loosing real value.

The real economy is where stuff is made, relationships matter, value is clear, and a handshake instead of a stock option starts a deal.  The real economy needs the strengths and talents of all of us.  It also needs the infrastructures to connect people and companies.  It also needs rules of the road that we all agree to.

We can fix the economy.   We can give it what it needs: better people, better infrastructures, and better rules of the road.

Better People Ideas:

1) Healthy People: decouple health insurance from employment
2) Prepared People: invest in worker re-training
3) Child care systems so that working parents can work

Better Infrastructure Ideas:

1) Invest in transportation networks
2) Invest in healthy ecosystems
3) Invest in people through daycare, schooling, community college, state 4 year
4) More access to the Internet for people, towns, and entrepreneurs

Better Rules of The Road Ideas:

1) Too Big to Fail is Too Big to Be- re-instate Glass-Steagal separation of retail from investment banking and also cross-ownership of financial institutions.
2) Reward Work and Wealth- change taxes so that wealth (retained interest, capital gains) does not get a huge tax break compared to work; encourage better alignment of compensation to long term wealth
3) End Foreclosure Abuse by Banks and Mortgage Holders
4) Allow workers to represent themselves
5) Tie minimum wage to economic indicators like inflation
6) Require all free trade agreements to integrate wage, safety, and environmental minimums so it is far trade and not a race to the bottom

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Occupy Wall St.: Interview with David Kristjanson-Gural

Here is a link to a recent interview on WKOK with Mark Lawrence.

After you click on it, you will see a screen that says “no preview available.”  Never fear.  There should be a link in the upper left that says “download.”  You can download the file and listen to it on a computer, transfer it to an iPod or other mp3 player, burn in it on a disc and voila!  a good Chanukah or Xmas present.  Ask if you have problems.

https://docs.google.com/a/bucknell.edu/leaf?id=0B2lA_mBM6QWtZGMxNjg0OGYtNDEzYi00OGMzLWE2NDEtMTMxNTA2M2U0MzZi&hl=en_US

Political Typology Quizzes Annoy Me

I put this on Facebook.  Then, 40 minutes later, I had this stab at an explanation…

According to this: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz I’m a a “liberal.” And in this one I am “solid liberal” or “post-modern” depending on how I answer. http://people-press.org/typology/quiz/. Why do I find myself arguing with lots of liberals then?

I find myself able to take either side in almost all of these forced choice pars in these things.  They are designed to squeeze people into set categories.  Neither one of them even has “progressive” as a political ideology.  I am not sure it is one, but it is worth thinking about. Off the top of my head, an embrace of pragmatism as an approach to knowledge and action is part of being progressive.  Let’s talk about what can work for this problem and not look to “ideology” to decide how we should approach an issue.

Three examples come to mind.

One, schools and religion.  I don’t think banning any whisper of religion from public schools is the best reading of the establishment clause.  As  I get it, even the supreme court recognizes religious expression as a form of culture.  The bright line is coercion or proselytizing.  However, for many schools or other public entities, it is simpler to ban than to handle the nuance of deciding if a menorah, cross, or whatever is clearly cultural as opposed to endorsement of a religion.  To pull it off, you need to trust officials to use judgement.  So, a pragmatic response is to figure out how to balance trusting judgement with means to redress clear violations of religious freedom and the establishment clause.

Second, educational funding.  I had an interesting discussion the other day with a friend and I mentioned that I would rather have MORE diversity among schools, and if a school choice- voucher system accomplishes that, fine.  Basically, focus public education policy on some broad outcomes and free up schools to differentiate and yes, compete, for families and their students.  Among his concerns was what happens if school officials are given too much autonomy and they enact discrimination or other harms.  He is invoking racial segregation under Jim Crow.  I get it; we don’t want to re-create that, but a system where each family and each school can be distinctive is not the same as forcing some to go to inferior schools.  Smaller schools that can create a sense of difference and cohesion will work better and hence a liberal approach of equalizing inputs through enforced sameness is a mistake.

Third, the tax code.  I believe in progressive taxes.  There are two reasons.  One, the wealthiest should pay more proportionally because their wealth is created and supported by more of government spending- courts, police, military, transportation, disaster relief, education (yes, we pay to educate the workers who create value in firms the wealthiest own).  Two, apart from economic fairness, we believe in social fairness.  Capitalism always exacerbates inequality and therefore it is good to tax progressively to create avenues to reduce inequality.  The periods of the greatest amount of activity to reduce inequality in the US, roughly the 1930s to the 1980s, saw the lowest rates of inequality.  Since the onset of neo-liberal economics in the a980s, roughly, economic growth increased along with gross measures of inequality.   Anyway, this is my case for progressive taxation.

However, that does not mean defending the current status quo tax code (at the federal level).  I’ve not done the math or seen anyone else do it, but I can imagine getting behind a simplified, progressive, LOWER set of tax rates.  The complexity of the tax code sucks up a lot of human capital.  Is it necessary?  Well, yes, for me.  I can’t stand doing income taxes.  What would happen if we had federal marginal rates at 0% (for people at living wage or less), 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25%  No other exemptions or deductions.  This would decouple a dynamic national economy, as well as personal financial decisions like getting a mortgage, from the tax code.

It would also obsolesce a chunk of the accounting profession.  But maybe their human capital could be redirected to tasks that they may like more and may create other economic or social value…

But, as to typology and ideology, I’ve never seen a “liberal” politician discuss anything like this.

Notable Political Blogs? Part 1 of an Irregular Series

As part of the effort to make our blog more visible (and hence relevant), I am looking for other blogs that we can target to interact with and hopefully bring traffic our way.

There are two ways to approach this.  First, the local/regional/state angle.  Let’s find people who care about our issues and also have a stake in this area.  Second, the issue angle.  In that case, we might target blogs or other social media on any geographic level but that are interesting for their political or topical focus.

Now, I am working on the local angle.  First, I went to technorati, a site that tracks blogs.  I searched for Pennsylvania Progressive and Liberal and found the following possibilities.In no order:

  • Agent Ska: Covers many topics in Pittsburg.  Politics, feminism, art, music.  The link is to the posts on politics.
  • Gil Smart’s Smart Remarks Describes himself as a Steelers fan and an avid anti-conservative.  I am not sure what lancaster online is, but he may represent a cross over from homebrew blogging and commercial media.
  • Beaver County Blue: Describes itself as a chapter of PDA (Progressive Democrats of Maerica).  Like us, a multi-author blog.  Where is Beaver County?
  • Scatablog: Six friends who post on many topics, one of whom is in PA.

Finally, Daily Kos, one of the biggest progressive/liberal outlets made up of thousands of users and a cadre of writers who make it to the front page.

  • DAILY KOS on PA: This link takes you to anything by any regsitered user on Daily Kos who added a tag of Pennsylvania to their diary.

Winning with the Left, Governing from the Center

As President-Elect Obama goes about naming more and more of his cabinet and senior advisers, many of his left-of-center supporters are expressing increasing unease at the absence of certified progressives in the mix, and the prevalence of centrist Clintonites, including Hillary herself.  This is very much in contrast with what happened eight years ago, when movement conservatives were very prominent in the initial appointments of the Bush administration.

This is a difference of long standing between the parties.  While the Republican Party has come increasingly under the sway of extreme social conservatives, the Democrats have pretty much stuck with the conventional wisdom of staying close to the center where the majority of voters are to be found.  Although Reagan-era Republicans successfully demonized liberalism, with the sole exception of George McGovern in 1972, the left wing of the party has not controlled the presidential nomination since the Populist William Jennings Bryan ran in 1900.  By contrast, the right wing of the Republican Party has determined the nominee in at least four of the elections since 1980 (1980 1984, 2000, 2004), and has held veto power over the others (including this year, when John McCain never escaped the need to play to the party’s right wing base.

Public opinion polls show consistently that there are about twice as many people who declare themselves conservatives, as those who call themselves liberals.  Thus it is easier for a right winger to get enough centrist voters to win: the bar is lower for conservatives.  That’s exactly what happened under Reagan and George W. Bush.  Obama’s achievement was to be sufficiently inspirational for the liberal/left base of his party, while eschewing real liberalism (much less socialism or social democracy!).  He thus had a highly mobilized liberal base and a majority of centrist (self-described moderate) voters.

It should thus be no surprise that Obama’s first personnel decisions should be decidedly centrist.  There will surely be “movement progressives’ in the administration, but they are not going to occupy the top posts.  We don’t know yet what policies the new administration will adopt; we may hope that the policies will be more liberal than the personnel.  But fundamentally, progressives should reorganize themselves to articulate and promote such policies.  We should not wait for the administration to produce them.

In foreign policy, for example, it appears likely that Obama will move away from the unilateralist militarism of the Bush administration, but how far he moves toward antimilitarism will depend on how vigorous and thoughtful his progressive supporters are.  Similarly, policy toward rectifying a generation’s slide toward obscene levels of inequality will reflect progressive priorities only to the extent that progressives can generate pressure in that direction.

Obama could not have won without our activism, and we should not let him forget that.  He also could not have won without all those moderates, and we should not let ourselves forget that.