POLICY and PROGRAM OPTIONS to PUSH
DURING the 2014 CONGRESSIONAL YEAR
Maintain throughout the prime, individualistic emphasis of American exceptionalism – the individual citizen-leader and what he or she can do to effect real change.
What is “real” change? -- that which increases the democratic power and influence of “We the People” to effect specific changes that would both:
Improve the quality of life of our children and future generations, and
Restore the American Dream and our republic to be a light of freedom and liberty for the world. This is our vision. What is our mission befitting the vision? What are our goals and objectives?
What follows is a set of propositions to work for. Altogether , they represent the work of at least a generation if, indeed, we are to “make a difference”, altogether.
First and foremost are Unger‘s “proposals for the institutional reorganization” of democratic politics”1 in order to:
“Enlarge the idea of what is possible…
Fashion “structures designed to invite (one’s) own reconstruction…and…
Implement the idea of a “high-energy democracy.”
The proposals? -- To:
“Break deadlocks” between the two people-based branches of government, the legislative and the executive [Congress and the President] -- As in some parliamentary systems, either branch should be able to call an election for both.
Allow “free access” of campaigns to the mainstream media (MSM) to enable any candidate to get his or her message out to voters.2
Establish “electoral regimes” to strengthen political participation [PP].
Permit our Constitutional “federalism (to serve) as a form of experimentation” such that groups and lower levels of government can “opt out” of federal initiatives [e.g., as many states are now trying to opt out of ObamaCare through suits by their Attorneys General, some of which have been validated by federal appeals courts and are expected to reach the Supreme Court].
Enable “social inheritance of basic resources” for individuals to draw upon.
Implement a “philosophy of how we (together) create futures.”
According to Unger, the primary “enabling, conditions” for the above changes are:
Avoid extreme inequalities.3
“Enhance the capabilities of ordinary men and women”4and “strengthen guarantees” for individuals.
“Radicalize democracy…heat politics up” and “raise the level of political mobilization” -- by:
Changing institutions and ways to encourage and support popular engagement.
Combining features of representative and direct democracy.
Resolving impasse(s) among centers and sources of political power by amending the Constitution in at least two ways -- to enable both national I&R (Initiatives & Referenda) and flexibility in calling elections.
Allowing “opt out” of groups, states, localities or sectors (as indicated earlier).
Enabling condition #2 includes (i) Overcoming inequalities of opportunity for education that would enable many more people who face poor employment prospects to join “the vanguard of society -- advanced, knowledge-intensive firms and schools”, and (ii) young people receiving a “social inheritance of basic resources” The social inheritance concept, for example, has inspired recommendations for government-provided, $5,000 per child endowments at birth.
What are “structures…to invite one’s own reconstruction”? They are groups or organizations that challenge us to get involved in politics and, thereby, change ourselves as well as help and lead others. Unger calls for us to “wage rebellion against the limits of circumstance…”5 This resonates with Odegard’s urging re-invention through enlargement of “Self” -- his fundamental common denominator with Unger.6 Also note the importance of loosening the constraints of “context(s)” [per Chapter 1of Bearse (2013)].7
Most of the above proposals would relax the constraints of governments at all levels to “invite one’s own reconstruction.” As indicated earlier, Odegard referred to this as “par-making”, not just partaking of, or “par-giving” to, our Republic.8 We accomplish the same to the extent that we are willing and able to surmount the constraints of our contexts or fight to relax them. Note that the proposals pertain both to political activism outside of government agencies and that which would serve to open those agencies up -- to democratization within as well as to transparency and accountability from without.
Many other or more specific propositions deserving of both serious consideration and concerted action have been brought forth by American reform advocates over the years. Some of them jibe with Unger’s; others lengthen the list consistent with Unger’s framework. Consider
Additional, More Specific Recommendations for Programs, Policies and Legislation:
Devise triggers and mechanisms to limit inequalities of income and wealth in the U.S. This is first and foremost. New policies would follow from a new “Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities.9 For example, legal limits could be put in place, both on executive pay and unearned financial sector and executive bonuses. The former would address the excessive multiples that corporate executives are paid relative to their employees;10 the latter, excessive bonuses paid to people for taking excessive risks with other people’s money or to executives of underperforming or even failing companies.
Complete development of a new model of the economy to bring economic justice and distributional concerns into an integrated political economy framework. Such a model is necessitated by the fact that the failed economic policies of the Obama Administration, like that of other governments, have been inspired by the “ideas of defunct economists.”11 As such, they are overly short-term in nature, and they fail to account for either market failures; interdependencies among politics, government, and economics, and the impact of growing inequalities.
Introduce economic democracy into the U.S., including:
Broadening and liberalizing legislation that enables Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) to include proper representation of long-term employees in the governing boards of companies;
Expanding the legal rights of long-term stockholders in corporate governance and major corporate decisions, including those on the distribution of retained earnings;
Legislation to limit or prohibit growth-by-purchase rather than growth-from-within; e.g., limit growth via “M&A” (mergers and acquisitions).
Gain-sharing to distribute the returns to productivity more equitably.12
Some of the reforms that Toffler recommended in his THIRD WAVE—e.g.,
Enact a “Constitutional “Democracy Amendment” and “Democracy Act”. These would enable laws to be made via national initiative and referendum (I&R).13
Adopt and advocate a New Model of what it means to serve “We the People” in Congress -- set forth in Bearse(2013), work cited, Chapter 4.
Convert the “Earned Income Tax Credit” into a Guaranteed Annual Income based upon hours worked per week in relation to family subsistence requirements [less food aid, if any). This could pertain to limited time periods to help families overcome hardships and enable better transition(s) to a sound economy.
Revise Gross Domestic Product to account for…
Costs external to the market economy, such as the costs of carbon emissions, large plant shutdowns involving jobs’ shifting to other countries, et al.;
The value of women’s work in the home;
The value of volunteer work, including political volunteerism; and
Other significant omissions identified by various analysts and reports over the years.
Adopt and implement a “National Entrepreneurship Development” program to…
Substantially increase funds available for investment in new, innovative or early-stage, independent enterprises [Note that a substantial step in this direction has been accomplished through the “crowdfunding sections of Pres. Obama’s JOBS Act.]
Subsidize entrepreneurship education at all levels;
Allow a portion of unemployment insurance funds to be used to finance business start-ups (by adapting past models from states and other countries);
Enable many more start-up funds to be obtained without SEC registration, via “crowd sourcing”, Joint Municipal-Private Security Offerings, micro-financing programs, Community Development Finance Institutions, et al.
Amend, refine and advocate significant changes to laws that regulate the financial sector , such as a “Tobin tax” on financial transactions, and new regulations such as those negotiated by the “Basel III” proceedings.14 The economic crisis, more generally, has revealed the need to re-regulate a financial sector that had played fast and loose with other people’s money following moves to de-regulate the sector during the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Re-regulation, however, must honor the lessons of hard experience which has revealed the unexpected consequences of sloppy law-making and ham-handed enforcement of regulations.
Formulate and advocate changes to the legal framework that governs the operations of large, private, multinational and private/public corporations in the United States. Especially: A Constitutional amendment to revoke corporate personhood unless corporations introduce provisions that honor “economic democracy” in their governance.
Modify legal and regulatory contexts to encourage the IT/SM industry to help empower a broad base of American citizens to play effective roles as public citizens in their politics and governance.
Reform campaign finance “reform” by…
Valuing the time that people spend as political volunteers more than big donors’ money;
Providing tax credits for time that people devote as political volunteers and for money that other people donate to cover the cost of materials and supplies to volunteers;
Imposing money cost expenditure limits on campaigns, limits that do not include the (imputed) value of volunteers time;
Providing public financing, on a competitive basis, for political activities that effectively engage more people in the process(es) of electoral politics, including:
Citizens’ political education and training,
Events to involve citizens in presentations and debates on issues,
Diverse, independent citizens’ committees on issues, redistricting, and for evaluations of candidates, government operations, and legislative proposals; and
Preparation, production and distribution of informational booklets on issues prepared by independent sources.
Advance “administrative democracy” (as set forth in Chapter 4).
Change the laws governing IRS tax exemptions and not-for-profit organization(s) to reduce the impediments to their participation in political activities.
Reform the tax code to --
Simplify, but also increase the progressivity of the graduated income tax;
Remove incentives for short-term and increase incentives for long-term (more than 5 years) investment;
Enact a Value-Added Tax or Consumption tax that is also progressive;
Maintain the inheritance (“death”) tax;
Heavily tax “fast-trading” financial transactions.
Tax costs external to (unrecognized by) the market economy, including costs of carbon emissions, large plant shutdowns involving jobs’ shifting to other countries, et al. As recognized by Occupy Wall Street, this would be “a move toward a true (and full-)-cost market regime in which the price of every product reflects the ecological cost of its production, distribution and use.”15
Gradually eliminate all tax advantages and subsidies to established (more than 5 years old) businesses.
Provide incentives to reduce spending in Washington; for example by: (1) providing incentives for government agencies to save; and (2) cutting congressional salaries, percentage-wise, for every percent congressional votes increase the national deficit.
Remove insults and injuries to liberty and freedom contained in the Patriot Act , the 2011 Defense Reauthorization Act, and the new anti-terrorism act.
Change the charters of political parties at all levels -- to refocus their prime purpose from electing their members to the recruitment and training of new members.
Change the legal form of organization [LFO] of political parties -- from 501(c)(j)[j=1-6] organizations to cooperatives whose members are the owners.
Eliminate primary elections. Rely upon Instant Referendum Voting [IRV].
Require completion of an accredited “civics” course or a satisfactory grade on a civics test [similar to that required of who have applied to be naturalized citizens) as a prerequisite to voting.
Move voting dates to weekends. Do not allow voting in advance of election day or by any type of mail.
Reduce the legislative and regulatory barriers to the entry of new political parties onto the political scene.16
The above bullets provide only a partial list of propositions to reform politics and government. See Bearse (2013), work cited for more. These are presented as suggestions, not as declarations from on high. Every reader should review them along with others to see how the list can be adapted and prioritized in light of their own understanding of what is most suitable and necessary to the needs of themselves and others.
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., December 26, 2013
Feedback would be welcomed via either letters to the editor of his online journal or by way of emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Unger, Roberto Mangabeira (2009), THE SELF AWAKENED: Pragmatism Unbound. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2 One proposition that Unger favors I oppose: public financing of campaigns. There is no reason to use the public fisc to support candidates that others do not favor. Free riders do this job poorly enough for the rest of us.
3 On this, see Bearse, Peter (2011), “On the Economics and Politics of Inequality,” THE ETHICAL SPECTACLE [www.spectacle.org] (March).
4 Unger, work cited , pp.171-172.
5 Unger, work cited , p.148.
6 Odegard, W. (1947), THE POLITICS of TRUTH.
7 Bearse, Peter (2013), 1% + 99% = 100%: How “We the People” can occupy politics, change Congress and renew the American Dream. Amazon e-book.
8 Odegard, work cited , p.151.
9 As set forth by Gorga, Carmine, in his forthcoming book WHAT’S AT STAKE as essential prerequisites to a “Concordian Economics” (see citation to follow).
10 “In 1980, American CEOs earned 42 times more than the average employee…that figure has sky-rocketed to more than 300 times…By way of comparison, top executives at the 30 (German) blue-chip(s) …rarely earn over 100 times…” Shultz, Thomas (2011), “Has America Become an Oligarchy,” Spiegel Online (10/28, translated from the German).
11 See Gorga, Carmine (2010), THE ECONOMIC PROCESS. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Dr. Gorga calls his framework “Concordian Economics.” Work to put the new model into testable, econometric form is ongoing by Gorga and Bearse.
12 Note that this and ESOPs serve to reduce unjustified inequalities in the distribution of returns to productivity, a problem that Robert Reich identified as one of the causes of our economic crisis in his book AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America’s Future (Vintage paperback).
13 As proposed by former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel. See Gravel, work cited
14 First advocated by Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin in his 1972 Janeway Lectures at Princeton, this tax was “originally defined as a tax on spot conversions of one currency into another.” In this author’s view as himself an economist, such a tax should include all financial transactions and graduated to decrease with the length of time that an investment enabled by a financial transaction is held -- “to put a penalty on short-term financial excursions…” Quotes from WIKIPEDIA on “Tobin Tax.”
15 Farrell, Paul B. (2011), ????
16 Note the surprise arrival of a “Pirates Party” onto the German political scene, for example, as reported in the September, 18, 2011 edition of the NEW YORK TIMES.