Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The top 10 domestic policies that the Democratic Party's presidential candidates must commit to. Yes, a purity test.

Above: Men learning the mechanics of refrigeration in a WPA adult education class in Buffalo, New York, 1936. During the New Deal, many educational opportunities were created - free literacy courses, free distance learning courses, free adult education classes, free job training, new K-12 schools, new college buildings, and much more. Today, unfortunately, education is frequently ransomed. One must agree to huge outlays of money, or lifelong debt, in order to receive training and education. And, because the rich have destroyed the American Dream, most jobs don't pay enough to warrant the investment or debt. This has left many American workers in a horrible no-win situation: Either go into debt and become unable to pay it back, or don't go into debt and only be eligible for low-wage work. Yes, the American Dream has been replaced with this American Nightmare. And the rich love it, because it fattens their wallets, portfolios, and bank accounts. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The Democratic Party's presidential candidates for 2020 must commit to the following 10 policies (among others):

1. Higher taxes on the rich--on both income and wealth--and more funding for IRS enforcement.

Top marginal rates, estate taxes, corporate income taxes, and capital gains taxes must all be raised. A yearly wealth tax should be imposed on all billionaires. Any deductions, exemptions, shelters, loopholes, or other gimmicks used by the rich to avoid contributing to the common good should be scrutinized or eliminated.

We're frequently told by the political right that if we raise taxes on the rich, the rich will go to greater lengths to hide their money from the tax man, and so therefore we shouldn't raise their taxes. This rationale is absurd. It's akin to saying, "We shouldn't have laws against burglary, because then the burglars will be sneakier." The answer is not to submit to tax criminals, but to better fund the enforcement division of the IRS.       

2. Medicare-for-All or a Medicare buy-in.

Our current health care system is a disaster. Compared to citizens of other developed countries, we're paying more to die younger. The best first step to end this nonsense is to create a Medicare-for-All system or, in the alternative, a Medicare buy-in option for those who don't want greedy CEOs and shareholders in the private sector making healthcare decisions for them.

3. Repeal the 2005 bankruptcy restrictions.

By disallowing a fresh start for lower-income people, the 2005 bankruptcy restriction law (which Joe Biden voted for) is destroying many lives. It should be repealed in full. (See, e.g., "Study: Law creates many too broke to file for bankruptcy," Nasdaq, February 24, 2015.)

4. Debt-free public college.

Public colleges should either be free or their tuition should be income-based. Forcing middle and lower income Americans into debt, if they want a college education--while the children of the rich attend debt-free--is an abomination. It's the sign of a caste system, and that's not what America should be about.

5. Student loan debt elimination.

All student loan debt should be eliminated. Holders of student loan debt should not bear the enormous burden of the current $1.6 trillion cumulative debt. Why? Because student loans have benefited everyone (with the possible exception of the students themselves). For example, student loans help pay for the salaries of administrators and professors. Those administrators and professors then spend the money in the general economy - buying groceries, buying houses, buying cars, paying contractors to improve their homes, etc. To place the burden on individuals--with interest--when the entire society has materially benefited, is ruthless and unfair. In contract law there is the concept of "unjust enrichment." I think a similar phenomenon has occurred here - society has pocketed the benefits of student loans, but the individual debtors bear all the responsibility; and, often, enjoy little or no improvement to their lives. 

6. Increasing the minimum wage.

I don't know if a blanket increase to $15 is the way to go. Big businesses like Walmart can bear that burden much better than mom & pop shops. But I think a federal increase to $10 is reasonable, with state & local governments determining whether or not they can handle a higher increase.

7. Increasing the earned income credit.

Earned income credits (EIC) should be increased, especially for workers with no children. The current maximum amount allowed for such workers is $519. That should be tripled or quadrupled to serve as a true incentive to work. And the maximum income that one can earn, and still be eligible for the EIC, should also be increased. For example, $15,270 is the most a single person can earn and still be eligible. That should be increased to at least $25,000.

8. A job guarantee.

A person who cannot find a job in the private sector, or in regular government employment--commensurate with their education, training, and experience--should be offered a public works job for a certain, sometimes renewable period of time.

9. A Green New Deal.

A Green New Deal could help avert climate change catastrophe, create millions of good-paying jobs, build solidarity, and contribute to the job guarantee policy.

10. Gun regulations.

I am a gun owner, I enjoy target shooting, I have no problem with the Second Amendment (although I think its meaning has been distorted by the profit-seeking gun industry), and I think concealed-carry for private citizens, and armed guards in schools, makes sense in some situations. But the current philosophy of a free-for-all, where anyone can have an assault rifle with a 500-round drum magazine, because "good-guy-with-gun-stops-bad-guy-with-gun" is infantile and insane. Why? Because there are too many irresponsible nuts in this country, and those nuts aren't usually going to give you enough response time before they shoot you. And today's "good citizen" could be tomorrow's nut.

We need universal background checks, reasonable limitations on clip capacities, reasonable manufacturing limitations, a better gun registration system, safety license requirements, and other common sense regulations. And yes, mental health should be addressed too - for example, improving economic opportunity and restoring the American Dream might go along way towards calming the anger and despair that is rising in the United States - anger and despair that is causing more and more people to reach for a gun to take their own lives and/or the lives of others.

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If the Democratic Party's presidential candidates do not commit to the above, then they're signaling to us that they're more concerned about private wealth than the common good.

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