Thursday, July 19, 2018

How to fix the USA rant (Dec. 20, 2017)

Finally finished my holiday wish list. Thanks for asking, Michael Demetriou:

I think the first thing we need to do is make a genuine commitment to true democracy. The first step in that is ending the legalized system of graft that has long been with us in some form and really took off after the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. Elections should be 100% publicly funded, and candidates should win or lose on the strength of their ideas and qualifications--not their financial resources. Candidates should be provided with adequate resources to get their message out to voters, and tough regulations should be put in place to limit (and hopefully eliminate) the ability of private actors to aid candidates through unofficial monetary contributions. Congressional districts should be drawn using computer software and overseen by a nonpartisan commission. Federal election days should be national holidays. Felony disenfranchisement should be ended, along with various other forms of legal voter suppression methods. The electoral college should be eliminated and the president elected through popular majority. Instant runoff voting should be adopted to enable meaningful participation by third-party candidates and better reflect the intentions of the electorate. And all of these reforms should occur at the state level as well.

Second, we must acknowledge and address existential threats. Climate change has to be at the top of that list, along with related concerns like fossil fuel depletion, loss of species (especially ocean fish), deforestation and salinization of arable land, and other major environmental concerns. We needed to start taking these problems seriously decades ago, and because we didn't, the best we can do now is damage control. But we need to start making drastic cuts to greenhouse emissions and shifting energy production to 100% renewables, like, yesterday. I think we need a series of very aggressive policies restricting the continued extraction of fossil fuels, taxing their use, and eventually prohibiting their emissions product. This probably means shutting down factories and taking vehicles off the road, among other things, so it's obviously a tough sell politically. But it's necessary. I would put nuclear threats second here but that seems like a permanent condition so I am not sure how helpful that is.

Third, I think we have to recognize that capitalism only functions as the basis of a national economy when its destructive impulses are tightly regulated and controlled for by government--and after decades of deregulation we have an economy that simply does not meet the needs of very many citizens. We need a massive reversal here, because it is no exaggeration to say that the 21st century U.S. economy is based literally on fraud. Because we neither regulate adequately nor reliably enforce the regulations we have, we effectively incentivize not only firms but individual executives within those firms to pollute the environment, underpay their workers, rip off consumers, engage in dishonest securities trading, then loot the company on their way out the door. And basic principles of microeconomics will tell you that where a "market inefficiency" exists, those who mercilessly exploit it will be rewarded and those who don't will be punished. Government is supposed to fix that by requiring things like reasonable minimum wages, collective bargaining rights and other fair labor standards, formidable tort, product liability, and consumer protection laws enforced by well-resourced watchdog groups and a strong and independent judiciary, rigorous health and environmental regulations, effective financial and securities policy enforced by competent and well-funded regulators, and so on. We've weakened all of these things, some to the point of substantial eradication. We need to at least restore all of these things and probably make them better than ever.

Finally, we need to restore the social mobility that once made America the "land of opportunity," at least for some, and provide a European-style safety net for those incapable of providing for themselves. These aren't entirely distinct from each other, since people are more likely to take risks (like starting businesses) when the wages of failure are disappointment and frustration rather than homelessness and destitution. But on the opportunity front, this means universal access to sufficient education. It's clear that K-12 is not enough these days, so we should have public funding for education at least through the undergraduate level, if not beyond for qualified students. On the safety net side, this means single-payer health coverage for everyone (or at least elderly, disabled, and unemployed or underemployed workers and their children), a reasonable set of cash assistance benefits for retired, disabled, or unemployed workers (or a guaranteed minimum income for everyone), a massive investment in affordable housing construction (right now there is nowhere in the USA that a person employed 40 hours per week at minimum wage can afford a 1-bedroom apartment) and/or rental subsidies for lower-income households, meaningful parental leave, and so on.

I wanted to include personal gun ownership in there somewhere, even though that's one thing that could really wedge apart any kind of widespread support for this platform. Maybe if we ever had all these things, Americans would be happy and stop shooting each other?

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