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writing for godot

Even The Best Economic Goals are Too Low. Aim Higher

Written by Tom Cantlon   
Thursday, 29 June 2017 17:15

Even the very best safety-net-policy and worker-friendly-policy that we could win, which is a guaranteed minimum income, would just mean accepting a payoff instead of what people should really have.

Aim higher.

We have wandered so far from what working people should be getting for their work, we have been battling so long for patches on a broken system, patches like longer unemployment benefits after the crash, or like keeping Medicaid from getting cut now, that even the Bernie Sanders of the world have lost sight of what would really set things back to right.

Aim higher.

That very highest policy goal, a guaranteed minimum income, would come as a gift from Uncle Sam. A well deserved gift for people struggling to survive, but still a gift, and subject to change, or to being cut off. It would be like having your parents give you a "salary" when you're in college and are working at an unpaid internship. A gift given because they feel sorry for you. A gift they might cut off if they're not satisfied with your grades. A gift they might reduce if they're feeling a little tight in their own budget. It might go up one time and down another because it's not really based on anything.

What you need is not a gift. What you need is to be paid the full value of the work you do; to have the leverage in the employer/employee relationship to demand the pay, benefits, and treatment that matches the value you bring to the company. That's the goal progressives need to fight for. Not patches.

Aim higher.

Is there money in business to do that? Is this just a pipe dream? Consider that GDP per person is well above what it was at the peak just before the crash, though it's mostly gone to the top. Consider that big corporations are sitting on record amounts of cash they hardly know what to do with except to give it back to investors. Consider that it is you, your work, that creates that wealth for them.

There is room in the economy. It worked that way once in the past. We're not talking about everyone getting rich, but the typical, adult, bread-winner job has to pay a living. And it does. It's just not going to you.

A broken system with patches is a warped, unhealthy economy that will never run as well as it should, won't even do as well for the wealthy as it could, and will never let you rise quite as high as you should.

Aim higher.

Getting workers that kind of leverage is not easy and not a one-shot process, but there are big steps we can take in that direction. It's too much to spell out here but there are policies on the full-employment level, on giving employees legal leverage, on fair scheduling, on hourly vs salaried, and a host of other steps that can be taken. Those first steps wouldn't solve it all but they are doable, and most importantly, they would altogether change the direction we are moving in.

The grassroots, across the political spectrum, are ready to take action. It's a matter of getting people elected to the levers of power who have the will to take those steps. Trump took crude advantage of some of this groundswell of frustration. Democrats and progressive could choose to ride this wave to a much bigger victory in 2018, and then actually follow through on it. The opportunity is just waiting.

The safety-net, and college loan help, and more family leave, and all the rest are needed but should not be the goal, not the focus, not to be settled for, not what will fix the economy for everyone, not to get distracted by and lost in the battles for. There is a goal that restores people to their proper place in the order of priorities, and nothing less than that will get things working right again.

We all know the frustration. We all know we need to demand change. But what change?

Aim higher.


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.

Please see my main piece, "The Plan for the Win" your social media marketing partner

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