After the devastation of WWII, western Europe had to decide how it was going to reconstitute itself for the new post-Hitler world. They largely decided that in addition to capitalist based economies, they would also have a large and generous social safety net. America also faced a fork in the road, but our homeland didn’t suffer the mass wreckage Europe did. Besides repair to Pearl Harbor, our infrastructure was solid (in fact, our capacity to manufacture was key to victory) and we went with a system that emphasized more growth and less safety. It was a very American thing to do – roll your dice and the reward can be worth the risk.
We need a system that duplicates the best ideas from around the world for the safety net, in addition to a system that still has many of the rewards of traditional American capitalism. Right now we operate in a patchwork system that has effectively seized up. It isn’t going to all collapse overnight, but instead the gears are grinding against each other and production is slowly going down.
In some ways, it transcends party. From where I’m standing there seem to be two camps: The conservatives, who seek to protect the fortunes a few have been able to hoard from the system, and the establishment Democrats (including President Obama) who make changes but begin from a position of weakness. I’d rather Democrats (or, liberals) started out shooting for the moon, and it would make the eventual agreement seem like it at least began life without corrupting influence. Instead, Democrats/Liberals are so cowed by the way things are (and the media’s reinforcement of these ideas) that they begin with a slightly positive, yet bland product which eventually becomes even more watered down.
I think liberals have to stop settling for gruel.
Some unpolished thoughts/proposals:
1. Tax Code Reform This means a return to higher taxes for the ultra-wealthy. Somehow during the economic booms of the 1940s, 1980s, and 1990s, a higher tax rate for the very rich didn’t impede economic growth. Over the course of the Bush Recession, the ultra-rich have had historically low taxes, yet this hasn’t helped the broader economic picture at all. If we can raise needed revenue, and we know it won’t hurt growth, we should do it.
This also means an end to corporate loopholes, like offshore havens, and the elimination of loopholes that allow megacorporations to pay far less in taxes (as a percentage) than many of us.
2. Single Payer Health Care In America, you shouldn’t have to strike some sort of grand bargain in order to get decent health care. The Health Care Reform law was a great step forward, but there is much to be done here. There are also economic benefits to be gained — if we take the cost of health care off the business ledger, it provides safety and security for businesses.
3. Radical Education Reform The biggest danger to America’s leading role isn’t the military or the economy. If America wants to have a shot, let alone the human capital to lead the world, our entire education system must be torn down and reformed. This means overhauling school curriculums from coast to coast, employing and engaging the best and brightest to be educators. And it means throwing out ideas that fail to deliver a return on education for children. In this area, more than any other, we have to get rid of the sacred cows.
4. Energy We have to find an alternative to fossil-based fuel. We can’t just throw our hands up and say it’s too hard. It has to be done. We need to follow the path of the Apollo project or the Manhattan project and come up with a viable, environmental, cost-effective fuel source. And in the process, begin working with the technology we have now to create massive projects that pay off in the long term.
5. Civil Rights We have to always err on the side of freedom. America’s civil rights movements – women’s suffrage, minority rights, gay rights – have never been about “waiting” until your turn, or putting constitutionally guaranteed freedoms up to a popular vote (“Brown vs. Board Of Education” wouldn’t have passed a vote in many states, but the Supreme Court decided it correctly).
6. National Security We need to stop being the country that supports oppressive regimes out of a need for global stability and cheap oil. Being a trusted superpower gives us more power than a superpower everyone is skeptical and cynical about.
7. Real Regulation Industries cannot be trusted to voluntarily police themselves. It simply doesn’t work. Megabusiness will almost always find a way to collude and manipulate, putting their own profits far ahead of the well-being and health of their customers and communities.
I probably forgot something, but this is just a scratchpad for what I was thinking about.