Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ideas On A More Fair America

 Kurt Andersen's recent book on causes and solutions for our unequal society has some very plausible ideas I'd like to share.  They are addressed in his Evil Geniuses, The Unmaking of America.

He credits Ronald Reagan with much of the policy which began with an very socially unequal society inherent in all of our history from the beginning and which his team and the Republican Party he adopted later in his life exploited to their ends of greed and avarice.

Our unmaking has as its root, in his view, Reagan's core policy theme that the government should be mistrusted.  He had a lot to work with with people both on the left and right: Vietnam and lying about it, Watergate, inflation, abuse by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to name several very good reasons which enhanced a very American value of skepticism of authority.

Reagan policies around poorly framed amnesty for undocumented immigrants and failure to acclimate existing citizens with unfamiliar cultures fueled resentment. Economic circumstances requiring more unfamiliarity with two income households and many more women in the workplace added to resentment among our conservatives. Child care challenges because of this added fuel to the fire, including the costs to household budgets. 

Reframing of relatively new civil and voting rights with racism at the core of his belief system was like gasoline on burning embers.

The inauguration of the 24 hour hour news cycle and Reagan's elimination of equal time provisions required of networks and the convergence of news and opinion through unregulated cable programming added heat the the fire, according to Andersen.   On the heels of the shock of these changes came the chaotic and unregulated internet enabled by the new availability of P.C.'s. 

A hallmark of Reagan policy was further, dramatic deregulation of industry combined with  massive lowering of taxes for both corporations (taxes halved) and wealthy Americans led to abandonment of antitrust enforcement and a quantum increase in lobbying at both federal and state levels.  

Reagan deregulation of healthcare with elimination of state based regulation of medical services/facilities expansion leading to the chaos and poor care we experience today at obscene costs.  And the closing of mental health hospitals for chronically ill patients dumped onto the streets as homeless, neglected people.

Small businesses declined and mega-mergers emerged.  Product and service markups swelled. Business/conservative think tanks were born to sell a new myth of trickle down economic benefits with increase in corporate influence on legislation to further enhance profiteering. Shareholder value replaced community betterment in corporate mission statements. 

This all led to a laissez faire capitalism and replacement of new and better products with a reborn finance sector with Wall Street careers in a boom town environment.  While top tier incomes exploded, Reagan began to tax social security income for modest earners. Reagan introduced America to the rebirth of 1920's style of income inequality and an attack on collective bargaining and union busting. The minimum wage went into the freezer.  Contract labor became a norm for many corporations. Wages began their decline and stagnation that would sustain into the next century. 

This is the Reagan legacy we live with today including the replacement of science with the new hybrid merger of myth, religion and science in our education system . This of course, led to his climate change denial.  Today's anti-vaxxer and anti-masker and anti-health science movements which are terribly impeding our ability to address our Covid crisis.

Andersen posits that measures can and need to be taken to rectify these misdeeds of Ronald Reagan and those in the conservative think tank sphere that have imperiled both our democracy and our now very unequal and unfair capitalistic system.  He cites also the very uncertain political economy we face with two other major trends.  First, the wonders of highly perilous Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in processing and manufacturing.  These are major opportunities and challenges we must be prepared to address.  Of course, he does not ignore the economic and social threat the current Covid pandemic presents and the future altering course it represents for our economy and our lives in general.

A more fair America would meet citizen needs with 58% of us saying we want government to do more and provide more regulation. We have a history of doing more with government programs that gave us solar energy, semi-conductors, electric cars, touch screens, the internet, most pharmaceuticals and public utilities, where the private sectors profits from our funding as citizens. 2/3 of us want a wealth tax, much having been made as a result of govt R&D or funding, or both. 92% like the idea of Sweden's economy.  We favor organized labor/collective bargaining on a two to one basis.  the majority of us want the power balance to shift from commerce to consumers.

Andersen proposes some very plausible solutions to the unmet wants/needs.  He proposes reinstating anti-trust enforcement where increased competition can reduce prices and provide more responsive service.  He suggests government guaranteed healthcare without necessarily excluding some forms of private insurance options. 

He suggests that with 28% of of our lands held by the Federal government, we could create an Alaska style universal income with licensing fees from private users of those lands such as gas/oil in the short term, solar and wind  and geothermal installations as well as ranching and agricultural and foresting enterprises.  Add to that income source carbon taxes as well as internet taxes on commercial uses such as Google and Facebook. Additionally , the government could secure funding from payback for tech grants and  R&D investments we've made.  Add to this income derived from climate crisis green jobs programs employing millions with incentives to move  xome off shored industries back to our shores, especially in cases of goods and services, such as crisis medical products better produced here at home for national security reasons.

Finally, here is some of his stunning data. If we evenly divided all U.S. A. income and wealth among the entire population, it would generate  annual income of $140,000 for each household and provide each with a net worth of between $800,000 and $1 million.  This of course is a not to be realized fantasy, but a fair tax system not tampered with by a corporate lobby could move us to a more fair income/wealth redistribution without deny the 1% their yachts, at least several mansions and their private jet.  They would be denied control of the stock market, better put in the hands of small investors through regulatory reform .

Really, with a will to succeed that is uniquely American, America could do this.