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writing for godot

The Missing Bigger Vision

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Written by Tom Cantlon   
Thursday, 31 August 2017 03:03

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Labor Day 2017

The left has a huge piece missing from our economic vision. Despite economic issues being in the news constantly there is no vision of a complete solution.

There are struggles for a higher minimum wage, pushes for infrastructure projects to soften the decline in good jobs, proposals for more help for college, but all of these are just dabbling around the edges. Even when Bernie, bless his heart, goes out and rallies crowds and seems so radical, it's about these edge issues.

The nation desperately needs deeper, broader, more substantial economic change. And it needs to make that change fast. The country is on the verge of tearing itself apart. That's not all just because of economic frustration. Hard core cultural and racial chauvinism are a big part of it too. But it is economic frustration that provides much of the gasoline that feeds the flames, and which is used as legitimizing cover. While real economic reform would not solve all of the problem, it would take that gasoline out of dangerous hands. It also removes that frustration that authoritarians would use as an excuse to rise.

The urgency is great because, as recent events have shown, huge changes in national direction happen suddenly and unpredictably. Recent confrontations are not just thunder in the distance. They are the edge of the storm already upon us. If one big new national crisis happens, confrontations could become much more widespread, or some much greater power grab attempted. And it is promises of economic reform that will be key to legitimize it. Even without a national crisis, if this vacuum of vision persists, it seems inevitable that power-mongers who are contrary to the true interests of the people will use economic promises to consolidate their power.

Some people do try to imagine a bigger solution and go down a path I can sympathize with but which history tells us is the wrong direction. They look for an almost magical cure. That maybe dissolving the Federal Reserve is the fix, or a guaranteed income, or a much more Socialist style system, or as the Occupy people wanted, breaking up the big banks. Some changes are needed, like breaking up the largest banks, but none are going to be the big cure we need. And we don't want to do anything that creates severe disruption and all the human cost that go with that.

It is not that the fundamentals of the system are wrong, it's that the operation of the system has been taken over by the powerful, warped to the benefit of the powerful, and all the wealth created by workers going to the powerful. It's not so much a faulty system as it is faulty operation.

Take college as one example. Only a few years back there was no crisis of ridiculous college debt or the need to consider a huge new program of free college. The college system was well run and state colleges were a bargain and financial assistance was adequate. But the money has been drained out of everything to funnel more to the top. A handful of decades ago, at the end of the New Deal era, we still had an economy that did well by workers. It wasn't radically different, it was just people oriented.

It is the thousand and one policies and decisions that matter. It's setting the minimum wage to keep up with inflation. It's changing it so regular workers can't be forced to sign non-compete contracts. It's serious prosecution of wage theft. It's not letting employers jerk around your schedule unless they're going to pay you for that. It's a government that carries out those thousand policies and decisions for the benefit of people.

You could change the Federal Reserve or start a guaranteed income, but if it's still run by the rich it will still be an economy that we don't control and which abuses us. It is the operation that matters. A government that makes every decision for the people.

Is that a pipe dream? It's happened before. We did it before. We did it during the early rise of the unions and the breaking of the system of sweatshops and dangerous conditions and child labor. We did it again during the New Deal. It might seem impossible, but history, our own history, the history of the struggle for a progressive economy, tells us that that's...just...not...true. It's been done. By us. The progressive people. By our predecessors.

The vision is not to just dabble around the edges. And the vision is not to create chaos and damaging upheaval out of desperation. The vision involves both knowing our past and seeing our future. It is the past in which we had an economy run for people, and a future in which it's not just good for white guys like me, but for everyone. Economic and social justice, inseparable.

There is much that can be said about how, and I've touched on some of that in other pieces, but the first step is to envision an economy that in every way acts on behalf of people. The need is for much deeper, systemic change than we've been demanding. The urgency is great. Start by envisioning that system. Anything less won't solve the problem. Envision our past, and envision doing that again, even better.

See my core piece, The Plan for the Win

 

Tom Cantlon has the interesting challenge of being a left-leaning writer for the paper in a small, right-leaning Western town, in a right-leaning state. He can be reached at comments at TomCantlon dot com.

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