If I ran the Democratic Party
Much has been made lately about the Democrat’s disarray. We certainly blew a great chance in the last election to increase leadership opportunities at all levels. There are many reasons, but the biggest one that is both possible and necessary to tackle is lack of a clear message. What do we stand for? What will we do? Here’s what I would do.
Invest in People.
There are other items that need to be in the platform, of course, but this needs to shine out like a big, green traffic light. Invest in people with the same enthusiasm that the Eisenhower administration invested in highways and bridges. If you build your human resources, you build potential to do anything/everything, and you make people more satisfied with their lives to boot.
First, don’t stint in investing in education, including preschool and daycare. Birthrates are going down (all over the world). This is good and necessary, but it means we have to make the most of what we have. Don’t waste the potential of any little kid. Give new parents free books to read to them. Find ways to help them run free, be challenged, develop curiosity. Help schools invest in STEM education, but don’t neglect the arts, history, all the rest. Raising our children right is the most important thing we do, as human beings. Oh, and for gods’ sake, feed them! Anyone who argues against SNAP benefits is an ogre. If you make them more generous, maybe people can actually afford nutritious food instead of raising their kids on macaroni, and we’ll have just a little less obesity (and possibly smarter people) in this country.
Develop a national database on job opportunities; get all employers to send in not only vacancies but non-binding wish lists. What skills do you need? If your business were to grow, what would you be looking for over the next few years? Offer free aptitude tests, and strongly subsidize job training, particularly if the applicant can demonstrate aptitude for the desired job. But recognize that training has its limits and that learning on the job is where it’s at, so get the education part right, then subsidize the first 6 months on the job, or perhaps relocation expenses, and let the companies do the training.
Once you have a database of short and medium term needs, tailor scholarships to meet those needs. Need more GP’s in rural America? Give more scholarships to medical school, with riders that say that by accepting this, you have to spend the first 5 years serving in a community of no more than 20,000 people. It would be like the GI bill, in a way: yes, I will give you a scholarship, but not until you agree to serve your country for 4 years. Higher education should not be free (I differ with Bernie on that score) because you should work for it, value it, but there are many ways to skin that cat beyond sinking you into debt for the rest of your life.
Quit fussing so much about healthcare. Just find a system that is less expensive than ours and has good outcomes, copy and paste…probably Canada since their culture is somewhat similar to our own. You can tweak it later.
I am a big believer in the principles of capitalism, of control by supply and demand, of its ability to set pricing by what the market will bear. It’s like physics and math, you really can’t argue with it. And I definitely believe it applies to people, they are an input into the system. However, unlike corn or iron ingots, they are more infinitely variable, and less transportable. If you want a quality input you have to groom and culture them for 15–25 years, and you need an active system to handle local pockets of under-supply of able bodies or particular skills. The database will help a lot, as will helping companies take a risk to relocate and train employees who have potential, but not experience.
We have the paradoxical situation that with decades of automation, population growth, and offshoring, we have too many people…while at the same time, our drastically slowing population growth means we have too few new little consumers being born for businesses to show the growth they used to have decades ago. Part of the answer is helping our populace retool and relocate for the opportunities that are out there, but part of it is also smart immigration policy. We can’t have our nation of immigrants close the door on immigration when we desperately need highly qualified engineers, doctors, and researchers, as well as reliable hard workers to harvest our crops and make our hotel beds. And throwing people out who have made a life here and largely followed the rules, contributed to economy and community, that is both stupid and cruel. They came here looking for opportunity, the way every ancestor of every one of us did (yes, even Native Americans!); the WAY they came here is mostly because our immigration system is broken and heartless.
Also, we need to reform our criminal justice system. It is unfair, damned expensive, and utterly wasteful of the priceless resource of our people. More non-violent offenders need sentences of community service. More needs to be done to develop opportunities for convicts once they reenter the outside world. Perhaps they can work while incarcerated, why not? Teach them how to cook, sew, build, repair. Telecommuting is a thing. Make their minimum wage just $5/hour, limit what they can do on the computer, and teach them to code, or whatever the database says we need. That way they will not have that suspicious gap in employment history, and they have a stake in joining society in a productive way. OK, the idea needs work, but…something needs to be done.
Raise the minimum wage. If you don’t want to give tons of benefits to the working poor, then make that work pay enough to let them support themselves. Make the minimum for younger people less, so they can get that first foot on the ladder. If you have jobs where you can handle the turnover, you can keep your costs low by hiring 16–20 year-olds. They’ll have incentives to work hard and prove themselves, so they are retained when they age out of the low minimum wages. And they will still have opportunities to earn more, with extra hard work that sets them apart, or in tight labor markets (which they can find by checking the database). Young people are more mobile than older, settled families, and should be helped to go where the work is.
Begin the process of re-grooving our military. Significantly less emphasis on hardware and things that go boom. Much more emphasis on cyber-security. Get with the times, people. We are not equipped to fight the war that is already upon us. And service should be six years, not four. We put a ton into training these young people, then amortize that cost over a very short time. Our military will save money AND be more skilled. Also, cut the budget 20% (gradually) and put that money into smart aid programs and diplomacy. It will save both blood and fortune, and make the world a better place. Political instability, climate change and hardship will cause increasing numbers of displaced people, and finding solutions will avert many, many wars.
So, how are we going to pay for all this? All the daycare, the education, training, relocating, the carrots and broccoli we are going to feed the next generation? Because we do still need to repair our crumbling infrastructure too, and build the smart energy grid and broadband network, the infrastructure that this century demands. Well, the CBO hasn’t gotten back to me yet on my proposals, but replacing our health insurance system with Canada’s should free up quite a few billion dollars right there. We should probably consider just merging with Canada and saving a bunch more on letting them run our country…but no, they wouldn’t want us, so it would have to be a hostile takeover…maybe we could pay them to invade and conquer us? Hmm, let’s just table that idea.
One idea is avoidable taxes. I’m not talking of making tax avoidance easier, but instead adding taxes that, with better habits or a bit of effort, you can avoid. For example, shopping bags should have a 25 cent tax. Bring your own if you don’t want to pay for them. Waste is reduced, megatons of plastics out of our environment, just like that. Put a 10% tax on all foods that have some threshold amount of added sugar (why are only soft drinks targeted?). You can still afford them at that rate, but it’s enough to have a positive impact on both budget and health. The argument that people will just go across state or county borders to buy is nullified if it is a national tax.
Replace some local sales taxes with a national sales tax. That way internet sales are fairly taxed. The tax revenues can still go back to local governments if it is set up that they are assigned to the zip code of the purchaser. I love to shop on the internet, but it is not fair to local retailers that they need to cover taxes while the internet sale may not. Further, it is bleeding municipalities dry of sales tax revenues.
Also, we need to shift the basic value proposition between labor and capital. Right now hard work doesn’t make you wealthy, it doesn’t even guarantee that you can avoid homelessness. Investing in the stock market makes you wealthy…and inheriting wealth is even better. It has created a permanent upper class and under class. People should be able to make fortunes if they are clever and hardworking enough, but being able to pass so many millions of dollars on to your kids without taxes, that’s just creating laziness and perpetuating the social order.
And why is it that putting money in the stock market and owning/creating a business or a farm are both considered “investing”? With stocks, you give the company your money and THEY choose whether or not to invest it. Often enough they just pay their executives bigger salaries with it, or buy back their stocks. I can see bigger exemptions for inheritances of actual assets — companies, land, true physical investments — but much smaller exemptions for passing on wealth. And of course, income derived from capital is still income, and should be taxed significantly more, at the higher levels. I’d propose 25% on incomes derived from investment of $250,000 or more, and 35% over $500,000. If you have that much, then put that money to work! Donate it, or build something, or loan it to a budding entrepreneur.
Take the cap off contributions to Social Security too, please. It makes no sense to me that the middle and upper classes get a big tax break as Christmas approaches (or as Valentine’s Day approaches for the CEO’s!), every year as their income cap is reached, while working people never get a break. Also I would raise the age for retirement with full benefits, we are living longer after all. But do not cut benefits for most people, as they are depending on them a great deal.
That’s a lot of new taxes! Don’t we want to cut taxes? Of course we do. But first, we need to pay off a significant chunk of the national debt. It’s unconscionable to leave that much debt to future generations. We bought it, we need to pay for it. And when you are short of cash, that’s not the time to try to cut your income, as the government always seems to want to do. Pay half of it off and we can talk.
Above all, invest in the future of this planet, invest in saving the human race, along with the rest of Nature’s children. Quit subsidizing fossil fuels. Institute a carbon tax. Subsidize renewable energy development. After people, energy is the most important thing out there.
The entire arc of civilization is all about our increasing ability to capture and use energy. Agriculture developed as a way to capture and store more solar energy in the form of calories, and it permitted the differentiation of roles, so people could become potters, cobblers, and scholars. They didn’t need to hunt for themselves because farmers could harvest enough to feed them. It allowed civilization to form. Utilizing stored solar energy — for that is what fossil fuels are, the solar energy captured by plants millions of years ago — magnified the output of human labor many times over, and is at the heart of all the glories of our industrialized world. But we CAN’T KEEP USING FOSSIL FUELS. We just can’t. We are killing the planet, every day we burn them. But if we value all that this incredible bounty that energy has brought us, all of civilization, then we need to replace most of that energy source with the capture of new energy.
This is mission critical, and it needs to be done NOW. And this, too, is an investment in people. It is an investment in our children and grandchildren, to give them a livable planet, that retains as much of the vibrancy, diversity and wonder of life as we can preserve. It is our most important job as a species, to nurture the next generation and give them a future, and we are failing miserably at it.