My Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America

For the last few days I have been musing about the things that clearly need to be repaired as soon as the pandemic subsides, Congress re-assembles and DJT is an unpleasant chapter in our history. I started this list on April 28 and I will continue until I run out of ideas. The list may seem like a partisan list of Democratic Party objectives. It is not. I think everyone may have learned something about America, our national purposes, and the way we are governed. I plan to delve into many areas of our social and religious lives.

I invite your reading and comments. Trolling is not helpful. Please don’t do that.

Post-Pandemic Fix No. 3: Did You Say Raise Taxes?

The next big fix on our post-pandemic list is wealth and income distribution. Of course it involves raising taxes. But not for everyone. We need to raise income taxes at highest levels of compensation and get back to an effective graduated income tax. The purpose is not to punish the rich. It is not even to raise revenue for the government.

The two major reasons for doing so are 1.) to allow tax cuts at the lower levels and 2.) to remind corporate managers what their jobs really are.

Yes, of course, people who work hard and have big ideas should profit from their industry and their innovations. I accept that they are deserving of rewards exceeding minimum wage. By golly, I don’t even have a problem with smart, hardworking people getting rich. But really, some limits are needed.

Why? Because, contrary to what we all learned in business economics in junior high school, the purpose of a business is not to make money. The real purposes of any business are a little more complicated. They include:

  • to provide some product or service needed by the market,
  • to provide a livelihood for the owner and ALL others involved in production,
  • to provide enough profit to expand and perfect production and distribution and to reward investors through the payment of dividends,
  • and to do all this while taking proper care of the environment in which they operate.

When CEO compensation rises to levels that exceed their needs by obscene levels, they tend to lose sight of those purposes and focus all their efforts on shooting for the numbers to which their compensation is tied – often the short term capital gains of the corporate stock.

Workers become expendable, the environment is theirs to exploit without compensating anyone, and production is focused on what sells and not so much on what serves. It is a recipe for environmental, social, and economic disaster. Thus, controlling CEO compensation is more than simply middle-class envy, it is an essential step in re-focusing them on their real purposes and making their businesses socially responsible and productive beyond typical balance sheet measures.

There is ample evidence of rapid growth in income and wealth inequality, especially, since the beginning of the Reagan years in 1981. We once effectively moderated the maldistribution of resources in the economy with a graduated income tax. We have slowly eroded it with a variety of tax reductions and dodges available only to high earners (a term I use advisedly) and the imposition at the same time of regressive sales taxes at the state level. As a result, a small proportion of the people have benefitted inequitably from the growth in the economy post-WWII while the people who drive the economy, producers and consumers, have seen incomes stagnate. I am not sure what we should call this but it isn’t capitalism.

The instant high level of unemployment that occurred with the closing down of much of the economy to control the spread of the virus gave us a quick lesson in the true engines of our economy. It turns out that all those highly touted innovators and job-makers were only part of the key to economic growth. They needed consumers at the household level, or it all went for naught. It is workers and families who drive economies, not rich white guys who manipulate markets and turn obscene short-term profits to justify obscene salaries and bonuses.

So post-pandemic fix number three is to repair the distribution of wealth and income so that all Americans stand a chance of prospering some humane level. And, of course, that requires much more than a simple tax increase on the wealthy. But it gives us a clear starting poing.

Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2

Bringing our electoral and legislative processes into the 21st century is the next item that commands our attention. Really, this includes several things we tend to think of as separate concerns: the security of electronic voting devices, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative processes. But they really all become part of the same problem if we accept the premises that full voter participation is desirable, that political power should be distributed equally across the voting population, and that modern technology should be applied to make participation easier for voters, more secure from manipulation by bad actors, and available to Congress to enable remote participation in situations like the one they are confronting now.

If this seems like a Democrat’s partisan wish list, I simply point to the person who found his way into the White House with the help of a foreign power, who continues to seek their help for re-election, who won the office with less than a majority of the vote, and who avoided removal from office by threatening primary opposition to any disloyal Republicans in the Senate. The result has been a travesty of government, something that looks more like low budget television than a process for governing for the welfare and defense of a nation. Even the Republicans I hang out with don’t like it. And, for all that, it’s not even entertaining.

And, more consequentially, it has left us poorly equipped to meet the challenges of the pandemic. We started late, we planned poorly, and we put out incorrect information and dangerous advice.

Continue reading “Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2”

America’s List of Things to Fix When the Pandemic Subsides: Item #1

The last few weeks have caused me to notice a few things we have neglected to take care of in our society, aka, the Greatest Country on Earth. The experience of a frightening and deadly pandemic has argued for certain social and economic policies much more forcefully and persuasively than the liberals in the “Democrat” party have been able to with everyday facts and logic.

Universal health care has been on the table since the days early in the 20th century as a proposal from organized labor. Democratic presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama have supported the idea. Congressman John Dingell (D-Michigan) first introduced a universal health care bill in 1943. It has been re-introduced in every session since then by Dingell, his son who succeeded him in office, and his daughter-in-law Debbie Dingell who continues the family tradition as the Representative from Michigan’s 12th congressional district. The bill has never moved beyond a committee hearing in all those years.

In 2010, President Obama barely eked out a much compromised bill to increase the availability of health care in the US. The Republican Party immediately set out to kill it and has been trying ever since, in spite of its popularity. It took one Senator to get off his death bed to pass it and another, a Republican this time, to keep it from being rescinded.

While the rest of the developed world moved toward universal health care, the U.S., for the most part, continued to treat it as a fringe benefit attached to employment. It has become staggeringly clear what a bad idea this was when we saw unemployment shoot up to almost 20% over the last few weeks.Suddenly, people who were used to having coverage found themselves naked in the face of a deadly pandemic.

Moreover, many of the people they counted on for service in food establishments, hotels, and even their own homes had always been without coverage and now presented themselves daily as vectors of the epidemic. Many, more likely most, had no health insurance, no sick leave policy protection, and no alternative but to continue working to pay for rent, utilities, and food. 

It is a formula for a public health disaster, and we walked right into it with our eyes wide open. Indeed, the Democratic Party knew the value of good social policy yet even most Democrats had no appreciation for the perfect storm scenario Republican skinflintism had created.

Obamacare is a good place to start. Add a public option. Then, over time, work toward a Medicare-for-All plan. Personal health is a public asset. Nothing says it quite like a pandemic.

So the need for universal health care is number one on our list of things to do post-pandemic. I will add a few more things to America’s To-Do List in the coming days. But this has to be the one aspect of social policy that requires immediate attention.

Coronavirus Walk: Day 40, Downtown Lake Jackson

Yes, there is a downtown in Lake Jackson. It is formed around a fan-shaped layout of streets designed by Alden B. Dow when his family decided to build a chemical plant here in 1943 to make chemicals and to mine magnesium from sea water to support the war effort. The streets have names like Parking Way, Center Way, Circle Way, This Way and That Way. I have lived here thirty-eight years and I still get lost in the downtown area and it runs less than three quarters of a mile from one end to the other.

I was tired of walking the same route from our home around the nearby blocks. So I drove over to the mid-town area and parked the car in front of the State Farm office. The town was locked up. On a normal Tuesday afternoon, there would be a goodly hum of business in the restaurants and professional offices. Today, nothing.

It turned out to be a good day to see some things that I had never seen before. And some that I have seen and just ignored. Here’s an example of the latter from the outer wall of the Fill Station BBQ joint:

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Courage as defined by America’s Cowboy: “… being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” It is what America’s health care workers are doing at the beginning of every shift.

Moving on down the block to the area behind the old, restored offices of architect, Alden B. Dow I stumbled across something I had not seen in Lake Jackson – homelessness. I knew we had it but somehow it had always stayed hidden from view. No longer.

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Home (temporary) for a few LJ residents.

And then, on around a few more turns, I found this stone in front of the Lake Jackson Library with good advice for the newly homebound from the Friends of the Library.

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. –Mason Cooley

There are all kinds of little treasures you can see only if you carry a camera around on your coronavirus walk. Get to know your own town a little better and share your pictures with friends. You can see more of mine on my Flickr site.

Then wash your hands.