…And an Open Letter to President Obama
The anger behind the Occupy Wall Street movement – the 99 Percent -- runs deep, and the protests seem to be spreading like a super-virus. But, as some critics have pointed out, anger is not enough. The outrage needs to be focused on a goal – a specific agenda for reform.
The overall objective should be to create a Fair Society. We need a new “social contract” based on three fairness principles: (1) equality -- ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are provided for, (2) equity -- reforming capitalism so that its rewards are more closely related to merit and all of the “stakeholders” receive a fair share, and (3) reciprocity – insisting that everyone pays a fair share, or contributes a fair share, for the benefits we all receive from our society. This would entail drastic tax reforms, along with a broad program of national service.
Here is just a partial agenda for achieving a fair society: First and foremost, we need a national full employment program that would put everyone to work who is ready and able to do so, and with a “living wage”. This is not a new idea, but it poses many challenges; there would have to be many moving parts to make a full employment program work, but it could be done. (I discuss this idea further in my book, The Fair Society.) We need to supplement this with a more generous safety net for those who, for whatever reason, cannot provide for themselves -- our “no-fault needs.” (The USDA’s estimate that some 50 million Americans went hungry at various times last year is a national disgrace.) Let’s also do something radical about our hugely expensive and inefficient health care system by going to universal health insurance -- Medicare for all -- along with some obvious cost reforms like drug price competition. (The administrative overhead cost for Medicare is 3-5 percent. Under private insurance, some 25-30 percent of the total cost goes to overhead, including advertising and lobbying expenses,and profits.)
Restructuring mortgages and otherwise assisting distressed homeowners (and former homeowners) is another obvious measure. Then there is the need to do something the long deferred maintenance on our national infrastructure of roads, bridges, sewers, dams and the like, to the tune of perhaps $2 trillion dollars. This would also provide many construction jobs. We also need to get back on track with efforts to reform and upgrade our vitally important educational system, rather than making drastic cuts (a form of national suicide by slow death.)
Then there are the structural reforms that are needed to fix our dysfunctional political system. Among other things, we need to do away with the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate (or drastically curtail it). And we need to reverse the damage done by the Supreme Court with its Citizens United decision and sharply reduce the flood of corrupting money in our politics. Other democracies have done much better.
The obvious objection to all this (and more) is that we already have a yawning national deficit. These measures would only make the deficit much worse, so it has been said. The response to this charge is that we do not have to choose between deficit reduction and reforms. On the contrary, higher taxes on the wealthy (the top 10 percent, actually) and additional tax revenues from plugging the huge loopholes in our tax code, would then be “invested” in ways that would stimulate consumer demand and produce real and meaningful economic growth, with more revenues to businesses and many more employed workers paying taxes, which would increase overall tax revenues. In fact, falling tax revenues from the financial meltdown and the recession have played a major part in the current budget deficit.
The point is that there is a lot that we can do to bring about needed change, if there is the national will to do so. But this requires both a mobilized electorate – the 99 Percent – and committed and organized leadership. As the distinguished (now retired) PBS interviewer Bill Moyers put it: “The answer to organized money is organized people.” So my text message to the 99 Percent is: “Focus your anger on a demand for a “fair society.” And my Open Letter to President Obama reads (in part): “If you want to lead the 99 Percent, stop triangulating. It’s time to get behind your 2008 campaign promise and champion radical change. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the agenda…”