Summing Up: After the Plague

For the last few days I have been setting down a few of the things that America needs to work on right away. The experience of dealing with a pandemic during a period of such ineptitude in national leadership has made it very clear that we need to do these things. Limiting DJT to a single term will help, but it won’t fix the things that need fixing. So, today I would like to quickly review the items covered and then offer a quick list of some additional things to work on once we have a congress and administration willing to begin dealing with the realities of our world.

Last Tuesday (May 28) I suggested that the first priority should be to adopt a program of universal health care.

Next, I talked about the electoral and legislative processes that could benefit from some tuning and the application of current technologies. The guiding objective would be to improve the fidelity of communications so that voters can be assured that those in the seats of power in government hear “their masters’ voice” more clearly.

On Thursday, I addressed the need to correct the imbalance in income and wealth distribution that has occurred over the last four decades of Tea Party tax cutting and the Republican attacks on the graduated income tax.

Saturday (May 2), I talked about the necessity of having the public sector and education professionals in charge of primary and secondary education again.

And, finally, the need to restore the civil service and properly staff the government with qualified, independent, non-partisan professionals is also of paramount importance.

That should keep the 117th Congress busy for a couple of years. But there is so much more that needs to be done while we have at least two branches of government enlisted on the side of sanity, goodwill, and a spirit of sharing. Here are a few:

  • Maybe we should look at how we are teaching civics and government in public schools and in college. We are experiencing a generation of voters who have no clear understanding of their job and responsibilities in a democracy. They think it is enough to have an opinion, wave the flag and cheer for other people’s sacrifices without understanding what the government does and how to apply one’s own constitutionally endowed power to make it work for their own interests and those of their families. So, enough about the patriotic symbols and hero-worshipping the founders: Let’s teach about the principles underlying our constitution and the mechanics of governing.
  • Make our foreign policy consistent with the need for promoting governments around the world that will take care of the rights and needs of women and children as their top priorities. (Of course, we must first make that our policy here. Much of that can occur if we take care of those top five items I discussed.)
  • Make major investments in infrastructure consistent with Green New Deal goals that will provide jobs and address climate change issues.
  • Put climate change at the center of our domestic and foreign policy concerns. Four long years have ticked off the clock of doom while DJT gave his pulpit over to science denial and the short-term interests of industries that make money from environmental exploitation. And while we are at it, we need to re-examine the principles of American capitalism and how It relates to government and the people.

And as we take on this list of necessary reforms, we need to always keep in mind the constitutional features that have tended to make us less a nation and less a democracy. It may be time for us to try nationhood and democracy rather than the federal system that works pretty well so long as people behave as if we are a nation. However, lately it has proven to be an impediment to national action when we most needed to act as a single nation.

And, democracy? We owe our tears and shame for what we have done to that sweet ideal as DJT has exploited and corrupted our public purposes at every turn and has placed America on the side of dictators and power hungry narcissists like himself, wherever he finds them in the world.

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.