The Working Economy
Taking Back Our Democracy From Corporate Influence
If they give it to the poor, they call it a handout; if they give it to the rich, they call it a subsidy.
– MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR
Beneath every issue in American politics lies a deeper one, and nowhere is this truer than with our economy. At this time in our history, our economic system doesn’t serve our democratic values. Instead, the government founded to protect those values now serves an economic system that often thwarts them.
Beginning in the 1980s, an economic perspective which deems market forces our most appropriate organizing principle, began to infiltrate both American politics and American consciousness.
According to this view, the fiduciary responsibility of corporations to serve short-term profit maximization of their stockholders – with no particular ethical responsibility to other stakeholders such as workers, community or environment – began to replace democracy as our primary organizing principle. Advocacy for the well-being of citizens and the planet was now to be brokered by market forces, which alone were deemed the appropriate arbiter of our social good.
The real wealth of our nation lies not in corporate profits, but in our people. Investing in care is both humane and good for our economy.
This view represented a radical departure from a most basic value in our Declaration of Independence: that, “God gave all men the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that “governments were instituted among men to secure these rights.” Yet today, our government functions more to secure the rights of multinational corporations to make more money for their stockholders than it does to secure the rights of We the People. This shift away from our core principles was sold to the American people on the basis that so much money transferred to our corporate overlords would result in more money for everyone else as well.
Quite to the contrary, a small minority of Americans – called in today’s nomenclature “the one percent” – has become the recipient of extraordinary government largess, while the American middle class has been decimated. From huge corporate subsidies, to tax breaks for the very wealthy, to deregulation of even the most fundamental protections, to greater and greater permission given to moneyed interests to flood our political system, to the proverbial “revolving door” practice between corporate and government leaders, the American people have been played.
American social and economic policy has acted like a vacuum cleaner, taking the majority of our nation’s economic resources and sucking them into the hands of a very few.
It was unreasonable to have expected an amoral economic system to express ethical largess. Why would a huge multinational corporation – with no particular allegiance to the American worker – feel any remorse about closing an American factory and relocating it to another country? Or about fighting an increase in the minimum wage? Or about cutting the health benefits of its workers? Or about fighting fair labor practices? Or about fighting labor itself?
Adam Smith, the primary architect of free market capitalism, said it could not exist outside an ethical context. Yet today, it certainly does. A person with no sense of ethical or moral responsibility is a sociopathic individual, and an economic system with no sense of ethical or moral responsibility is a sociopathic economic system.
Particularly when the Supreme Court of the United States granted to companies the preposterous notion of “corporate personhood,” billions and even trillions of dollars started flowing in the direction of a system deeming itself responsible only to its stockholders. Its complete disregard for the welfare of the least advantaged and the least powerful among us – even of the planet itself – became inevitable.
For all intents and purposes, our government has become a handmaiden to a new corporate order; it has surrendered to those whom President Franklin Roosevelt called “economic royalists.” This is not just an economic debate or even a political debate; it is a philosophical and moral debate, challenging this generation to decide in our time whether or not a “government of the people, by the people and for the people” shall not perish from the Earth.
Just as an individual can dwell in denial, so can an entire group. Today, the American people are in denial if we think that the existence and perpetuation of our democracy is guaranteed. In order to override the tyrannous effects of an authoritarian corporatism that has now infiltrated the highest levels of our government, we must rise up en masse and elect a new wave of officials deeply dedicated to the democratic ideal.
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The Williamson Administration’s Approach
to the Economy
A system that does not feel, which has no sense of ethical responsibility to people or planet, is a dangerous guide to America’s future. Living for our principles will provide more economic security than living for short-term corporate interests can ever provide. Our government should not be run like a business; it should be run like a family, where taking care of each other, and taking care of our home, are the values that guide us. America can create a care economy.
In an economic system that puts utility before humanity, two groups get the shortest shrift: children and seniors. That’s why we should not think in terms of running our country like a business; we should run it like a family. Children first. Not only do I want a massive realignment of investment in America’s children, I also want increased social security payments and services to seniors.
Short-term profit maximization, whether for corporations or for the government, is at odds with long-term economic planning. The $2 trillion 2017 tax cuts – which gave 83 cents of every returned dollar to our richest corporations and wealthiest citizens – is not an economic stimulus, but rather an economic theft of resources that could have been directed toward genuine economic renewal in the form of a Green New Deal, universal healthcare, better education and free college tuition for those who cannot afford it, cancellation of college loan debt, and equal funding of all public schools. According to the OMB, the tax cut will never pay for itself.
Every dollar we invest in education, infrastructure, and healthcare helps unleashes the spirit of the American people. Everything we do to make it easier for people to create, to work with dignity, to live safely and securely, helps unleash the spirit of the American people. Everything we do to decrease the chronic economic and personal trauma that an unjust economic system has created among millions of people helps unleash the spirit of the American people.
And that is sound policy. The American people have been mentally trained to expect too little from our government, to forget that it is there to work for us and not the other way around. The citizens of the United States have been reduced to saying, “Pretty please?” to forces that would withhold things from us that should be considered basic rights in an advanced society. To those forces, we should not say, “Pretty please.”
To those forces, we should say, “Hell no.”
40% of all Americans are having a hard time earning enough to pay for rent, food, healthcare, and transportation costs, 84%, said they are concerned about an economic recession and half of Americans are concerned about losing their job. This did not come out of nowhere; rather, these statistics were the inevitable result of the systematic movement of major resources over the last few decades into the hands of a very few. Only a few Americans can now easily afford health care, only a few Americans can now easily afford higher education, and so forth. For those of us who make it “into the club” in America, there truly is no better place to live. But not enough people can make it into the club today, and that is an unsustainable reality.
How do we close the wealth inequality gap in America today, by which the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined?
In the long term, we should massively realign our investments in the emotional, social, health and educational wellbeing of children ten years old and younger. The greatest source of America’s future economic vibrancy lies in the entrepreneurial spirit alive in any American kindergarten. Our problem is not that we don’t have enough creativity to fuel our economy for centuries; the problem is that we cap that creativity through under-education and a lack of proactive care for our young. An Economic Council of Advisors should include experts in child psychology and education as much as it includes economists.
Our country enjoys tremendous wealth, but the vast majority is owned by the few, while millions of people struggle financially. In too many areas there are pockets of prosperity surrounded by a sea of economic anxiety. Two out of three adult Americans can not pay an emergency bill of $400. Although the unemployment rate is low, millions of people who have given up finding work are not counted. Financial desperation is contributing to a rise in stress, bad health, opioid addiction, and suicide.
For the first time in the modern era, the next generation is likely to have a lower standard of living. For the first time in the modern era, the average American lifespan is getting shorter. As financial disparity leads to financial desperation, people are dying.
These problems will intensify as automation, Artificial Intelligence and robots will replace millions of jobs in the next 5-10 years. Some job dislocation has occurred already in areas such as manufacturing. Millions more people will lose their jobs and be unable to find new ones. Job loss will hit professionals as well as blue-collar workers. Any job that involves repetition is at risk; even lawyers and doctors, including some surgeons, will be displaced. More wealth will be created, but it will increasingly go to the top 1%.
We must address this crisis of wealth inequality and financial insecurity, and as president I will.
The way to have a vibrant society, and an abundant economy, is to help people thrive. To uncap their dreams. To unleash their spirits. Yet for millions of Americans, dreams are dashed and spirits are left broken every day.
Nothing is more emotionally, psychologically or societally debilitating than poverty. Yet according to figures from the US census bureau, over 37 million Americans live in poverty — almost 12 percent of our population. Over 103 million live in near-poverty — almost 30 per cent of our population. Almost 11 million American children live in poverty. And where this is poverty, there is hunger.
As if all that isn’t enough, our political and media establishment say repeatedly that our economy is “good.” Really? Really?? Whenever someone says, “The economy is good,” you might want to ask yourself, “Good for whom?”
In the 1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson waged a War on Poverty. Since that time, our government has not only moved away from that kind of thinking; it has moved away from the kinds of policies that work toward the eradication of poverty.
I’m running for president because it’s time to bring it back.
Johnson established the Office of Economic Opportunity to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty. Johnson believed in expanding the federal government’s role in education and health care as poverty-reduction strategies, continuing the basic philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Yet starting in the 1980’s, such governmental largess was demonized. As trickle-down economics became the order of the day, government was seen as the problem – not the answer. The Office of Economic Opportunity was abolished in 1981, replaced by a system of insidious “block grants” to states. That way, forces within individual states could obstruct the application of anti-poverty funds to the purposes for which they were intended. And thus we are where we are today.
Trickle-down economics hasn’t “lifted all boats,” as was promised. Instead, it has left millions without even a life raft.
It is again time to set a national goal of eradicating poverty. It’s time to reestablish the now-defunct OEC, change the current system of block grants, and put anti-poverty funds back to Community Action Agencies to eliminate poverty, expand educational opportunities, increase the social safety net for the poor and unemployed, and tend to the health and financial needs of the elderly.
Helping people is not “wrong.” Serving people is not “codependency.” And strengthening people is not “enabling” them. It’s time to reclaim the core principle of the United States: that this country should belong to its people.
According to the Rand Corporation, over the last 48 years there has been a transfer of $50 trillion from the bottom ninety percent of Americans to the top one percent. This financial trend begun in the 1980’s and found its penultimate expression in the 2017 $2 trillion dollar tax cut, in which 83 cents of every dollar went to the highest earners and corporations. This was an is a massive theft from our public treasury. While wealth inequality did not even exist in the 1970’s, today it is worse than it has been since 1929.
This must stop now. And when I’m president, it will.
The Williamson Administration will champion the following policies in order to close the income gap and improve the economy:
- Enact fair taxes on the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street, and reduce taxes on working people. The richest people in America increased their wealth by a total of $6.5 trillion in 2021. The total wealth of the 1% reached a record $45.9 trillion by the end of 2021, and these fortunes increased by more than $12 trillion, or more than a third, during the course of the pandemic. (See my anti-poverty policy page)
- Support Universal Healthcare, and end prescription drug price gouging. (See healthcare plan)
- Increase of the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. In areas where this is too large a jump to make immediately, the federal government should provide subsidies during a transitional period.
- Protect the middle-class from tax hikes while repealing the 2017 Trump tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
- Make Education Affordable: Offer free tuition to public colleges including community colleges and four-year colleges. Offer free trade school tuition to work in occupations such as a carpenter, plumber, bus mechanic, or electrician. Those trade schools will coordinate with organized apprenticeship programs to give students real-world experience.
- Eliminate all interest on student loans and forgive all federal and privately held student debt. Students are too often burdened with school loans that hold them back from following their dreams. Forgiving all student debt will allow students to work in a career they love, launch a business, or buy a home.
- A modern Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial banks (which take deposits and make loans) from investment banks, ensuring banks cannot make risky investments. If they fail, they should not be bailed out by the government.
- Holding Wall Street accountable. No bank that is too big to fail should exist. There are benefits to capitalism. One is, things that don’t work should not survive.
- Enhanced Union Support. My Administration will expand and protect the rights of working people to organize for better wages and working conditions. (See labor policy)
- Reduce wealth inequality.
- Equal pay for equal work, eliminating pay inequalities for women and disabled workers.
- Paid vacation and sick leave for all employees, even part-timers who cannot work more than part-time hours due to disability or other limitations. Every industrialized nation but ours guarantees this right.
- Portable retirement plans for every worker in this nation. A retirement plan that one can take with them from job-to-job. No one should be afraid of their future.
- Closing the loopholes that give big breaks to large corporations, and ensuring they pay their fair share of taxes to level the playing field so small businesses can compete.
- Eliminate predatory lending practices to homeowners and hold accountable financial service companies that engage in usury. Increase access to loan modifications that enable people to stay in their homes.
- Investing in our infrastructure, creating a green economy with jobs that rebuild roads, bridges, and rails, increasing renewable energy power, updating clean water systems, improving our rail system and massively investing in public transit.
- Expand and enforce Antitrust laws even more forcefully so that new businesses have a chance to succeed.
- Eliminating the income cap on Social Security payroll taxes.
- Raising the estate tax with special care given to help family businesses pay-off the estate tax bills over time so we don’t shut down small businesses.
- Eliminating the carried interest and Exchange-Traded Funds tax loopholes enjoyed by Wall Street.
- We must declare a national climate emergency and end all fossil fuel subsidies to eliminate the use of carbon from the economy to slow global warming. This will create millions of good paying green jobs in renewable energy (solar, wind and water power), architecture and building (green buildings), energy-efficient vehicles (electric cars), new public transit systems, and much more. We must ban all fracking and revoke drilling licenses on public lands. The greening of the economy has already created millions of new jobs – there are twice as many people working in the solar industry than in coal. The best way to decarbonize is to put a price on carbon; this incentivizes people to find ways to use less carbon.
- Create a caring economy. The real wealth of our nation is our people. Investing in care is both humane and good for our economy. Much of the care for children, the sick and the elderly is now unpaid, done mostly by women and people of color. If this labor were paid, it would strengthen the economic security of millions of workers, especially disenfranchised communities, and ensure that people who need care get it.
- Providing early Education and Universal Child Care. Focusing on these initiatives will prepare the next generation for the knowledge jobs of the future, and decrease crime, poverty, and incarceration rates.
- Paid Family Leave (to welcome a new child by birth or adoption), Paid Sick Leave (to care for yourself or a loved one), and Paid Caregiving for caregivers.
- A Universal Savings Program. Under my plan, each child will receive a gift from the federal government deposited in a fund created at birth. Family and friends can add to that fund as the child grows, with the government matching those contributions on a sliding scale. (Less wealthy families will get a 100% match and more wealthy families a 10% match.) Eventually the child grows up and can use those funds for wealth-enhancing purposes such as education, training, house down payment, or to start a business. [See Robert Friedman’s book about the Universal Savings Program, “A Few Thousand Dollars: Sparking Prosperity for Everyone” (2018).]
- Reestablish the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency responsible for administering most of the War on Poverty. Change the current Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) back to its original form under the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), which sent federal funding directly into communities via their local Community Action Agencies to eliminate poverty, expand educational opportunities, increase the social safety net for the poor and unemployed, and tend to the health and financial needs of the elderly. This was successfully implemented before programs were transferred to other agencies and program funds were rerouted through the states, and the OEO was abolished by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Give communities back their power.
How do we pay for these programs?
There are three things the American People must understand about our taxes and social spending policies compared to the rest of the developed world, that our leaders (especially on the right) either avoid or outright lie about.
The first is that while other developed countries may pay some higher taxes, they get far more in return from their governments. One of the big lies of the conservative movement is that smaller government is better. The way they try to prove this is to defund all of the programs Americans need and want, and when those programs fail to meet their goals, they say “look, the government can’t do anything right!” This is all a scheme designed to privatize services and reap profits. How well has that been working for the people of the United States? A third of the country has no, or substandard health insurance that results in 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year. College debt approaching $2 trillion. Rents that have in many places doubled in the last 5 years, while wages remain stagnant. The current economic path is unsustainable and millions of Americans are suffering. Yet countries like Denmark consistently rank among the happiest, healthiest, and most satisfied with their government, because while their tax burden is higher, what they get in guaranteed returns relieves them of so much of the burden that Americans are forced to contend with.
The second point of understanding needs to be that progressive programs and policies are actually far more efficient (fiscally and operationally) than privatized programs. They save us money, while doing the right thing for people and the planet. They have a net benefit to the economy. Let’s just consider healthcare as an example. We know that for-profit health insurance leaves tens of millions without coverage. Why? Because a health insurance company’s purpose is to make profit, not to ensure healthcare. In a vicious cycle, the poorest among us are the least likely to have health insurance, the least likely to be able to see a doctor for preventive care, and therefore the most likely to wait until illness treatment is critical. So when they do use services, their medical needs are advanced enough that treatment options are the most expensive, and chances for recovery to full health are diminished. Lack of preventive care is inhumane, and we shouldn’t accept it.
Guaranteeing healthcare is cheaper in the long run, which has been shown in study after study, including in studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Authority. In fact, while our government continues to try to privatize health services, a recent study in the respected Lancet journal showed a definitive correlation between increased privatization of the UK’s National Health Services, and increased preventable mortality. The same is true for investments in education, in public housing, in energy efficiency, in public transportation – the more we invest in what’s best for people, the better we are all served and the less burden we all carry.
The third is that extremes of wealth inequality are inherently undemocratic. Most of us have little access to our representatives because we’re not cutting them campaign checks and we’re not spending money on lobbying. This kind of engagement is reserved for the wealthy and large corporations, and our national policies reflect that. When two people own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country, and can use that wealth to pressure lawmakers, that’s not democracy, that’s oligarchy. Eliminating extremes of poverty and wealth will always result in a better functioning democracy.
So we are going to have to raise taxes, but we can do it in a way that ensures the burden is shared fairly and equitably: we’re going to tax the rich. The rich will assuredly howl and scream about injustice and being job creators, but here are some tax policies that we can change.
Specific Policies That Can Address Taxation
- Roll back tax cuts to the wealthy, including restoring the estate tax to estates over $5 million.
- Roll back tax breaks to big business. Why are taxpayers subsidizing Big Oil?
- Add a fee to financial transactions like buying stocks. Charge a small fee each time someone buys stocks or exchanges currency. There would be no way for the wealthy to dodge the transaction fee which would be charged automatically for each such transaction. This could add trillions of dollars to pay for the above programs. See The New Operating System for the American Economy by Scott Smith.
- Cut waste in the military. Big business dominates our military as it does so many other sectors. Corporate lobbyists push for expensive weapons systems of dubious value to our defense. While I favor a strong defense, I oppose wasting taxpayers’ money on boondoggles. Force projection to every corner of the globe is expensive and counterproductive.
We urgently need a plan to relieve financial distress, to create jobs, and to increase prosperity. It is only by doing this that the United States can unleash the incredible ingenuity and productivity of the American people. We can not afford to wait any longer to get started.