For all of the conflict and rancor in our political conversations, there is a broad consensus on our most fundamental issues. The answers aren't always easy, but with compromise and consensus we can find a path forward. Here are some possible answers.
Bring Back Democratic Capitalism
For many years our country had broad agreement on the role of government. Both parties embraced versions of Democratic Capitalism, the free market moderated by democracy to ensure everyone benefited, everyone had a chance to participate and everyone played by the same set of rules. There were certainly differences in implementation, but there was broad agreement that government should both nurture the free market and make sure it served the whole of our country. This compromise helped create the postwar economic expansion that grew our economy to be the largest in the world.
Unfortunately, we’ve slipped away from Democratic Capitalism. The Republican party seems to have become anti-government and forgotten the importance of everyone playing by the same set of rules. The Democrats seem to have given up on capitalism, somehow talking themselves into socialism. In many ways, our country has stopped doing the things that helped so many people have access to our system.
The free market moderated by democracy is still the best approach to ensuring every American can participate and benefit from economic success. We as a nation need to return to the compromise. We need to again work to ensure all citizens have the ability and the opportunity to participate in our economic system. We need to again make sure that there is one set of financial, investing and insurance rules. We need to get back to Democratic Capitalism.
fix american capitalism
American Capitalism is (partially) broken. We need to get back to one set of financial rules for everyone. For many years our economy ensured the benefits of capitalism were widely shared throughout our society; everybody got a piece of the prosperity. That’s no longer true. Virtually all of the economic gain of the last thirty years, $21 trillion, has gone to a very small part of our population, with the middle class and poor getting almost none.
This didn’t just happen. Instead, both parties are to blame. Democrats somehow became fascinated with socialism and paid less attention to tending to our capitalist system, and Republican’s had a hard time resisting the sweet deals they could slip into our tax code. We allowed a second set of rules to be slipped into different parts of our economy that only benefitted a very small part of our population. We stepped away from our commitment to providing everyone a level playing field.
What made our economy great, our country great, was that we believed everybody should have a level playing field – everybody should play by the same set of rules. It’s fair and its consistent with the beliefs of our democracy. It also creates the best, most efficient form of capitalism, because it keeps competition on the playing field, instead of in the political realm.
We need to get back to a level playing field.
We Need to Again Have an Industrial Policy. This is something President Trump got right. Republicans used to believe in a national industrial policy, recognizing it was critical to both national defense and our economy to ensure that basic manufacturing continues in the U.S. Unfortunately in their effort to prove that government was too incompetent to do anything they abandoned any attempts to have the government set an industrial policy. Now, as a result, we don’t manufacture our own light bulbs, nor do we mine critical rare earths. Our government needs to again use its buying power to ensure that core technologies and manufacturing continue in our country.
We Need to Push For A Democratic China. President Bush, for all of his difficulties, did get one thing right – we need to consistently promote the spread of democracy. Yes, it is morally right that all individuals have an equal say in their government. But as importantly it is an economic imperative. The international trade model only works if all of the trading partners are democratic. The global free trade model assumes that free trade will move jobs around the world, lifting the residents of poor countries into the middle class. But its democracy that forces a country to share the benefits of capitalism with the workers. If democracy isn’t there, the gain accumulates at the top and the workers never get the buying power to make them full consumers. And that means that, yes, we need to push for democracy in China.
israel and palestine
Israel Has to Decide if It Wants to Remain a Jewish Nation. Israel has a hard choice to make – either it remains as one state, including the West Bank and Gaza, and accepts that in another fifteen or twenty years the majority Arab population will likely win control of the government and end its status as a Jewish nation, or Israel has to accept that there will be a Palestinian state, maybe even a hostile one, next its borders, and that Jews living in settlements in Palestine will be Palestinians, not Israelis.
No Right of Return in A Two State Solution. If Israel agrees to a two state solution with realistic borders for Palestine, then the Palestinians that left after Israel was formed do not have the right to return. Mass migrations are an unfortunate part of history, but they do happen, and once happened can’t be undone. The Palestinians left need to accept that they will never be allowed to come back.
Jerusalem is Israel’s Capital: Generally speaking in history, the victor in the last war gets to keep the territory it seized. Israel should get to keep Jerusalem, and if it is designated as the capital then the rest of the world needs to respect that. We hope that as a democratic country Israel respects the property rights of all, including Palestinians living in Israel – for them not to do so would be a step away from the rule of law.
the harsh truth about healthcare
The government does have a right to require people have some form of healthcare coverage. Compassion places a floor on possible outcomes – we do not let people without insurance die if something bad happens to them, but instead society bears the cost of paying to get them well. It is not unreasonable for government to mandate that individuals be responsible for themselves and buy health insurance.
We Need to Recognize That We Cannot Afford to Save Every Person. We need to put an acceptable cost on saving a person, if the cost is too high let that person die. Yes, this is harsh, but this is what society, government, has to do – assign a cost and decide whether or not we as a society can afford to pay that cost. We do not have unlimited resources.
What Level Of Respect Does Society Owe An Individual? The answer is “The level of respect an individual affords himself or herself.” This, truly, is one of those core questions that is a starting point for so many policy decisions. We as a society are too compassionate to let people die - we pick up the pieces of the self-destructive and help them get on with their lives. But picking up the pieces costs money, and sometimes a lot of money. How many times do we owe it to a person to help them? There is no easy answer, but this is a question we have to address.
we need an old energy new deal
The Green New Deal didn’t make sense before the pandemic. It makes even less sense now. What we need is an Old Energy New Deal, focused on making our existing energy infrastructure more efficient, less polluting. It’s not glamorous, but it will bring the most meaningful change.
Of course everybody wants to be “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” But the changeover to zero emissions energy won’t be at some arbitrary point in time. It will occur when we have alternative energy generation in sufficient quantity and at comparable prices to fossil energy. Only then will we be able move away from fossil fuels. At the moment, there is no magical, zero emissions way of generating clean energy and even if there were it wouldn’t make sense to scrap our existing power infrastructure. We have 1,700 oil, gas and coal power plants in the United States. That’s trillions of dollars of investment, and much of our infrastructure has decades of usable life left. It just doesn’t make sense to throw out a half a trillion dollars in infrastructure that’s still good.
Like it or not, fossil fuels are going to be powering our country, and much of the world, for many decades to come. Yes, we need to continue to build our alternative energy infrastructure, and yes we need to continue to look for ways to conserve energy. But we also need to make our current old energy system less polluting.
Mandate Energy Transparency
If a new vehicle or device has a digital display and an input, we need to mandate that the display is able to show its energy use in dollars and cents. Money is the universal standard, the reference point that Americans think in. Showing kilowatt use or miles per gallon is imprecise – it needs to be translated into dollars. People need to be able to enter the cost per gallon or kilowatt, and then able to see the actual fuel cost for their trip to the store, or leaving their TV on overnight. My guess is this knowledge will cause many people to reduce the amount of gas and electricity they use. It’s a truism that people pay more attention if they understand how much something costs them. People will change their energy usage because they can very directly understand just how much money they are spending and how much they can save. Transparency will empower consumers to better understand and manage their energy consumption, saving them money and conserving for future generations.
Read “Miles Per Dollar” on The American Journey.
Energy conservation has tended to take a top down approach – government mandates requiring manufacturers to produce more energy-efficient devices. An example of this approach is the fuel economy standards that car manufacturers have to meet. Energy transparency addresses energy conservation from a different direction – showing people the cost of the energy they are consuming to allow them to make more informed consumption decisions.
We Need to Take A Deep Breath. I know education is a critical issue, but sometimes I think we need to take a deep breath before discussing the topic. To my mind, most children in the United States do get a reasonably good education, and if I had to guess I would say most parents are reasonably satisfied with the job that their own schools are doing. Every time we institute a new school reform or experiment, there is a transition cost on the kids currently in school – there is a disruption to their education. We need to be careful not to turn our educational systems into laboratories of constant change.
Education Will be Hard To Improve Unless We Make Changes to Our Social Services System. The effects of any other reform, from better financial accounting to removing under-performing teachers, will be limited until we address social services. Unfortunately this means making it easier to take children away from over-matched or irresponsible mothers on public support. Once we’ve done this, the atmosphere in many classrooms will improve substantially, and the teachers will be able to focus their efforts on education instead of keeping the peace.
make our tax codes match the times
We need to change our approach to Corporate Income Tax and the Employer’s portion of Social Security (FICA). Instead of basing a company’s taxes on its payroll and profit, both taxes need to be based on the company’s revenue. Our current tax system is a legacy of a different time. Now its increases the cost of hiring US workers, adds compliance costs and allows multi nationals to avoid paying US income taxes.
The US and other countries have proposed a global 15% minimum corporate tax. Moving to a revenue based tax would be a far more effective approach for our country. If the revenue tax rate were set to generate the same amount collected under the current income tax, many small and medium sized US businesses would see their taxes reduces. Companies that use accounting to move their profit offshore to avoid paying US taxes would see a significant tax increase.
A revenue-based FICA tax would also yield benefits for our citizens and our country. The group receiving a benefit or service from government should also pay for it. The benefit of FICA, Seniors with money to spend, benefits all companies whether they produce in the United States or not. In our current system, US employers subsidize the cost of this benefit for the companies that produce overseas. Under a revenue-based FICA tax, all companies, regardless of where they produce, would pay their share.
realism on our budget
The Government Can’t Easily Create Economic Activity. We need to stop pretending there is a magic wand government can wave to jump start economic activity. Improvement happens as the cumulative effect of many different government policies – energy, healthcare, transportation, international trade, education, etc. We need to AVOID the urge for short-term fixes, and keep our attention on the structural improvements that will have a lasting impact.
We Need to Stop Telling Fibs About the Power of Tax Cuts. A starting point for returning to economic realism is we need to stop telling the lie that tax cuts generate economic growth. This has never, NEVER been shown to be true in our history. There was a time when Republicans knew the different between a tax cut and a tax deferral. All we’ve gotten are tax deferrals, shifting the cost of the government we use onto future generations. There was a time when Republicans considered this stealing from children.
The Economy Won’t Tank if We slowly increase taxes to balance the budget. It amazes me that it is now the Republicans who argue the economy won’t grow unless the government borrows hundreds of billions of dollars to pump up investment and consumption. The Party used to actually believe that the free market itself would tend to reach a natural balance of consumption and investment which best utilized our resources to promote growth. “Faith in the Free Market”, we used to call it.
national markets need national regulation
A national market can’t exist without regulation from a strong and effective national government. This has been true throughout history – there has never been a national market without a strong national government. It’s easy to get misty eyed over the theory of a transparent, self-regulating free market but the theory has only passing connection to the world in which we live. Self regulation is possible in a simple agrarian economy because buyers know the sellers and can judge for themselves the value of what is for sale. This isn’t the reality of our modern industrial economy. We don’t think about it but in our modern economy we regularly buy things from people we don’t know, without being able to judge for ourselves the quality of what we are buying or the accuracy of the seller’s claims. We buy on a leap of faith, taking sellers at their word.
We make this leap of faith not because we trust the sellers but because the federal government serves as a guarantor of claims and standards – we trust that the government is making companies tell the truth about their products, whether packaged meat or common stock sales. Certainly government regulation can stifle growth and has been used as a tool of social engineering. But without basic regulation – without government ensuring the accuracy of claims and adherence to standards by manufacturers and capitalists operating hundreds or thousands of miles away – our modern consumer economy would not be possible.
make the united nations serve democracy
Create a United Nations Agency on Democracy. The U.N. manages agencies on Human Rights, such as combating poverty and ensuring the well-being of children, but has no such agency to rate the Democratic well-being of nations. If a country’s government is democratically elected its resources are more likely to be directed toward improving the quality of life for its citizens, as history has repeatedly shown. This should be a primary goal of the United Nations – to evaluate political systems and promote the spread of democracy. The U.S. flavor of democracy doesn’t have to be used as the standard. What counts is that every country has some formalized and valid method to allow its citizens to periodically vote for the leaders of their country. The freedom to choose one’s own government is the most basic human right.
Non-Democratic Nations Should Only Have a Half Vote in the U.N. The U.N. is a representative body of national governments. Why should nations with non-democratically elected governments have the same standing in the U.N. as those that are fair, representative and democratic? The United Nations establish an “Agency on Democracy” to rate national governments on the degree to which a country is democratic. If we are serious about the U.N. as a concept and as a forum for addressing issues facing the world as a whole, then it is only right that all citizens of the world have a right to make their wishes known. The people of Myanmar deserve the same voice as the people of South Korea.
Iran needs to vote on democracy
We need to make Democracy a condition of any future nuclear deal with Iran. It’s Hard for me to imagine that Iran would nuke Israel. Doing so would kill as many Muslims as Jews and make a significant part of the Middle East uninhabitable, not to mention bringing immediate retaliation on Iran. However the idea of a non-democratic Iran having nuclear weapons does make me very nervous. We don’t need to do anything rash, but we do need to keep the pressure on through sanctions, and further we need to begin pushing Iran towards true democracy.
Iran insists that it is a responsible nation and can be trusted with nuclear technology. Recent unrest has shown yet again that the nation doesn’t trust its own people, and the people are losing their trust in their leadership. Certainly, it’s fine if Iran wants to be a Theocracy, that’s the right of its citizens – every country has the right to choose its own government. But the citizens of Iran should have the right to periodically affirm that choice through a vote or choose to end the Theocracy, the rule by a religious council. Every five years or so that question needs to be put to vote – Iran needs to reaffirm that the population wants to remain a theocracy.
Read More on The American Journey.
Radical Trust on social Programs
Ultimately, the goal of any safety net program is economic agency, to give the recipients of the aid the ability to take control of their economic lives. Government programs can have the opposite effect, building a dependency on the government instead of self-reliance. The current Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 program is an example. The program does allow recipients to take control of where they live, however it also leaves most of the responsibility with the government. The government decides if a housing unit is adequately maintained, not the recipient. The government pays the landlord directly, instead of trusting the recipient to make the payment. And there is no incentive for the recipient to find comparable, lower priced housing – the recipient doesn’t financially benefit from being frugal.
At some point, if we really are going to break the cycle of dependency, we need to trust that the recipients can achieve some degree of economic agency. We need to trust people. The only way to for someone to achieve economic self-determination is to allow them to take control of their own economic lives. We need to, as much as possible, give recipients absolute control over their financial decisions, and allow them to benefit from, or be harmed by, the economic choices they make.
Crowd Sourcing Digital Threats
Communications and social media providers should be required to add a Threats Flag to their software that would allow a person receiving a threat to immediately flag it. This information would be submitted to the FBI for inclusion in a Digital Threats Database. If a person is making repeated threats, either against one person or different people, the threats database would generate a report on the person’s threats. In most cases it would be forwarded to their local law enforcement agency and up to local law enforcement to act on the Threats Report. This could include visiting the person making threats to issue a warning up to arresting them for their behavior. In a limited number of cases the threats will rise to the level to justify federal attention and the FBI will contact the threat maker directly.
It is illegal to threaten to harm or kill someone. However since threats are being made remotely, often anonymously, action is almost never taken against the person making the threat. Often they are in a different jurisdiction and local law enforcement lacks the resources or technical capabilities to adequately pursue the case. Ideally, just the realization that they might be reported will cause many people to pause before they threaten to kill the person with whom they disagree. And for those few people that are truly abusive, it will make it easier to identify and prosecute them.
Abortion should be legal
Abortion should be legal and covered by health insurance for the first trimester and after that if the mother’s life is risk. Without access to legal abortion, women do not have the same control over their lives as men, nor the same freedom. A great many of us that support legalized abortion recognize conception as the start of God's gift, and abortion as a tragedy. But that tragedy doesn't justify the state taking away a part of the mother's freedom. There’s an old saying – your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. The state’s right to protect the freedom of the unborn ends at the freedom of the mother.
And as harsh as this is to say, there is a financial consideration as well. Forcing a woman to have a child she doesn’t want costs taxpayers on average $500,000 over that child’s life. We as a society can’t afford this. As harsh and unpleasant as the decision might be, we need to allow women who don’t want to have a baby to end that baby’s life. Yes, this means that some women will have an abortion and feel a terrible sense of regret and guilt the rest of their lives. And some irresponsible women will use abortion as a form of birth control. But financially, we have no choice – we have to spend our limited resources help those children brought into the world by parents that want them.