Economic Justice

The ‘American Dream’ is most often associated with economic opportunity. For centuries, people have come to our ‘land of opportunity’ seeking freedom to build a prosperous life and pursue their passions. Yet, far too many of our citizens are struggling to make ends meet, and feel like the ‘economic system’ is rigged. They are right – the system is ‘out of whack’ like never before.

Economic security for families depends on more than just liberty and opportunity. The economic equation must be balanced with justice and equality. It is this side of the formula that so-called libertarians/conservatives fail to understand. Their ideas and beliefs are rooted in a half-baked political ideology.

The full circle of economic security is stable and complete when these four indispensable pillars have a full seat at the table – LIBERTY, OPPORTUNITY, JUSTICE, and EQUALITY – equal partners in building an American economy that offers realistic hope for all of our people.

Economic Justice

OVERTHROW THE OLIGRACHS (Peacefully, of Course!)

This title sounds like a great Woody Guthrie folk song! Recently, friends invited me to a Bernie Sanders’ Rally in Mesa, AZ. Great experience! I heard Bernie say something like, “I’m afraid we are headed toward Oligarchy.” And, former President Jimmy Carter stated in an interview that the U.S. is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created a “complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors”. (Thomas Hartmann Program, July 2015) I agree with Carter – The Oligarchs have already arrived. Besides corrupting our electoral system, the implications for economic justice are startling. How can a free enterprise system flourish and sustain itself when a handful of extremely wealthy individuals (oligarchs) control all the levers of economic and political power? It can’t. Just look at Russia.

PRO SMALL BUSINESS

My wife and I built a Mom & Pop business from the ground up in rural Arizona. We employ 10 people and are very cognizant of our place in the community. Small businesses in rural towns or big cities play a vital role in stitching together a community fabric. It is the small business owners who tend to know their customers by name, offer products or services that are unique and tailored to a clientele on a personal basis. It’s been said many times, but I believe it’s worth saying again – small business enterprises are the backbone of our economy. Elected leaders at every level can learn a great deal about the pulse of the people, and of the economy, by listening to the concerns of small business owners.

REDUCE INCOME INEQUALITY

Most people strive toward upward income mobility. It is their ability to move upward in a positive direction that helps reduce and ever widening gap of income inequality. Most reports I have read or heard discussed over the past 2-3 decades, conclude similar findings – that the gap between the “Haves” and “Have Nots” is getting worse, not better. It is a depressing scenario for the majority of wage earners in America. Once upon a time (mid 1900’s), the ‘next generation’ realized greater financial success than the previous generation. Today, it’s a coin toss. The bottom half of our population hasn’t seen a significant rise in their income for over thirty years. Yet, the folks at the top of the economic pyramid, the 1% Club, have tripled their earnings during the same time period. That fact brings credence to the expression, “The Rich Get Richer.” If you believe, as I do, that a robust economy and a vibrant, productive society thrives when the vast majority of its citizens thrive, then we need to ring the alarm bells loud and often. Most of the 1% Club just don’t get it. Apparently, they do not realize that when the top 1% of the pyramid becomes the tip of the iceberg – the whole enterprise goes down.

HEALTH CARE SECURITY

We can’t have true security without Health Care Security. Here’s what I mean. Can a family feel secure, even if the family income is sufficient to provide for all basic needs, IF lurking around the corner is a potential medical crisis? Why should we, as a nation, create widespread anxiety due to the lack of affordable health insurance for ALL of our people? Why? Only two possible reasons, as I see it. Extremists in congress are either terribly misguided by their political beliefs, or they just don’t care about the well being and economic security of most Americans. I’ll bet we all know of families who have gone bankrupt and lost nearly everything because of a health care calamity. The Affordable Care Act (OBAMACARE) made great strides to help families avoid catastrophic economic loss due to a health crisis, but even the ACA fell short of what we need in America – NOW. This issue has been kicked down the road for decades. President Obama made a valiant effort to fix it – and with a public option or Medicare for ALL provision, we could have achieved what Massachusetts did under Romney Care. My goodness, whatever happened to Romney Republicans? Maybe there is a silver lining to the deplorable spectacle we are now witnessing in Congress in the summer of 2017 – maybe this cruel debacle being thrust on America by the GREED MACHINE of right-wing extremism will create a backlash so severe that a single Payer Health Care Plan is within sight. Maybe? But, do not underestimate the power of Greed – we must combat the big corporate health insurance oligarchy with the one arsenal that can prevail – People Power.

A LIVABLE MINIMUM WAGE

“Livable Minimum Wage” is somewhat of a misnomer. Even at $15/hr it is not easy to make ends meet unless there is more than one worker in the family. According to the Pew Research Center, the Federal Minimum Wage, adjusted for inflation, peaked in 1968. Since the last Federal Minimum Wage (FMW) was raised to $7.25 back in 2009, the actual purchasing power has declined nearly 10%. Another Pew fact that debunks a widespread myth, is that less than half of the hourly workers being paid at or below the FMW in 2015 were under the age of 25. Often it is said by opponents of raising the minimum wage, “It’s just teenagers in entry level fast food jobs that make these low wages.” Nonsense. Several million adults earn a minimum wage. Fortunately, many states have set higher minimum wage standards, including Arizona. PEW also reports that over 20 million workers, that’s approximately 30% of all hourly employees 18 years or older, are “near-minimum-wage “ workers. The bottom line – full-time workers should not live in poverty. It is unconscionable that families in America must endure such a struggle to survive.

GENDER INCOME EQUALITY

If The Gender Pay Gap continues at the same rate of change that we have seen for the past 50+ years, women will achieve pay equity with men in 2059. So… 20 year-old females entering the work force today, may reach pay equity with their male counterparts a few years prior to their retirement!
Here are a few quick facts assembled by the excellent Economic Justice web-site, American Association of University Women.

The Pay Gap today is 20%
The Pay Gap is worse for women of color
The Pay Gap exists in every occupation
The Pay Gap is worse for mothers, and grows with age

According to the source noted above, Arizona is ranked #13 out of all fifty states, showing a pay gap of 17%. One surprising statistic demonstrates that higher education is not the solution for closing gender income inequality. Both men and women with more years of education earn more than workers with less education, but the pay gap remains constant, even widening at the upper educational level. What progressive changes could facilitate a more rapid remedy? The AAUW advocates for the following:
Companies should perform salary audits to effectively monitor and deal with gender pay bias.

Women must be proactive and learn how to empower themselves through more skillful negotiation.

Legislators should enact The Paycheck Fairness Act that would provide more incentives to employers to comply, and more muscle for regulators to enforce equal pay practices.

There remains much work to be done to resolve this economic injustice.

PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE, AND MEDICAID

Social Security

Most of us have seen up close and personal the value of this social safety net. Our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors rely on Social Security for survival. Thank you President Franklin D. Roosevelt and progressive partner Eleanor!
Imagine the 50% poverty rate for senior citizens prior to this life-saving program. Unquestionably, Social Security is the most important public policy ever enacted in the United Sates. Through financial ‘thick & thin’ over the past 75 years, Social Security has provided economic security for millions of our citizens. A majority of folks nearing retirement have absolutely zero savings for their ‘golden years’, and more than 30% of seniors rely on Social Security for all of their income. So, why on earth would Republican elected officials want to cut, or privatize this vital program? They claim Social Security is “going broke”. Wrong. The Fund currently has a near 3 trillion dollar surplus and can maintain a healthy balance sheet for the next two decades. It is true, that at some point, adjustments will need to be made to keep Social Security solvent. A fair, responsible solution is to lift the cap of what wealthy individuals pay into the fund. This would sustain the Social Security program indefinitely. In order to address the obscure gap between the ultra-rich and the remaining 99% of Americans, a super-progressive tax policy must be enacted. We should actually take legislative action to expand Social Security benefits so that senior citizens can live with dignity and afford to pay for basic necessities.

MEDICARE & MEDICAID

Medicare has been a shining example of a single payer health insurance program administered by the Federal Government since 1966. It provides health care coverage for nearly 60 million U.S. citizens, most of whom are 65 years or older. Medicare has become a popular and indispensible social program. We could quickly solve the uninsured health care crisis in our nation by simply expanding Medicare to all citizens who are uninsured. Such a ‘Medicare for All’ approach is fiscally smart, and could serve to transition us toward a new and improved single payer model.

MEDICAID

Due to the expansion of Medicaid coverage under Obama care, there are actually more U.S. citizens receiving healthcare under this program than from Medicare. Medicaid, a joint federal/state program, is crucial in providing health care to individuals/families with limited financial resources. It also covers certain health care costs such as nursing home care that are not typically covered by Medicare. Several Republican Governors, like Arizona’s Jan Brewer, accepted funding for Medicaid expansion from the Obama Administration. She did the right thing. Yet, many of her Republican colleagues in Congress want to severely cut Medicaid funding, thereby devastating state budgets, but more importantly causing hardship to millions of Americans.

FAIR TRADE AND FREE TRADE

FAIR Trade V. Free Trade suggests we must choose between one or the other. But, the two concepts, together, is the optimal formulation of a Trade Policy. The two expressions emphasize a different aspect of trade, yet both perspectives are important in forging the proper, balanced approach. I prefer to place greater emphasis on Fair Trade because this speaks to the importance of economic justice, and stresses the value of wages, working conditions, exploitation, and environmental concerns. If FAIR trade is not the first consideration, then it may be ignored altogether, as so commonly occurs when ‘free traders’ control the debate. Free Trade advocates argue for less regulation, favor the corporatist position, thus opening the door wide for worker exploitation and environmental degradation. However, their advocacy for reduction of trade barriers, and elimination of most tariffs and subsidies are generally positive. So long as the focus of any trade negotiation first considers fairness issues, then Free Trade proponents add a measure of balance to the preferred outcome.

END CORPORATE WELFARE

Although government assistance to low income and poor people is often derided by privileged conservatives, these same folks don’t seem to have much concern about government subsidies to corporations, or tax breaks (handouts) for upper income individuals. It makes one wonder, through what prism do they see the world?
THE BLOG by Bill Quigley published an article in 2014 entitled, Ten Examples of Welfare for the Rich and Corporations:

1. State and local annual subsidies to corporations = $80 billion/yr
2. Direct federal subsidies to corporations = $100 billion/yr
3. Federal tax breaks for corporations = $200 billion/yr
4. Federal tax breaks for wealthy, Hedge Fund Managers = $83 billion/yr
5. Indirect subsidies for fast food industry = $243 billion/yr

Corporations capitalize on countless tax breaks. They also hire thousands of lobbyists to influence state legislators and members of Congress for special favors, subsidies, and less regulation. It all adds up to a massive redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to the wealthy and powerful. Progressive tax policy and subsidy reform could fix this in a heartbeat.

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT

Investing in ‘green infrastructure’ is a WIN – WIN both economically and environmentally. Interest in green projects has climbed substantially during the last several decades. The focus of green infrastructure is how best to utilize natural resources and surroundings when planning the use of space, both urban and rural. Historically, the terminology referred to storm water management and ‘low impact’ development practices.
In Arizona, water is as precious as gold. Projects that enhance water conservation and deal with water pollution are vital for a safe, clean environment. Public policy decision-making must seek every opportunity to incentivize and support green infrastructure investment.

FAIR, PROGRESSIVE, SIMPLIFIED TAX

Fair taxation is the key to Economic Justice. A vibrant, healthy economy that builds a strong middle class and gives hope and opportunity to low income Americans, depends on a taxation system that is fair and truly progressive. A society simply cannot thrive when financial resources are siphoned off from the public sphere so that Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich, get even richer. The taxation system in the USA is indeed rigged – to the point of seeming criminal. What must we do?

1. Reform the Personal Income Tax. Incrementally raise tax rates on annual incomes greater than $250,000. As an example: the rate on income exceeding $5 million should be 50%. Additionally, the tax code should limit and simplify the rules for tax deductions, and terminate tax breaks for capital gains on dividends for higher income individuals (greater than $250,000/yr)

2. Reform the Estate Tax. WE have created our own aristocracy in America – it’s called the Super Rich! The estate tax should incentivize wealthy citizens to plan their estate so that assets can legally flow to entities that contribute to “the greater good”, to charity, or to the government – but, not to the formation of an American Oligarchy. Republicans have been trying to repeal the estate tax altogether, which would cost the treasury approximately $250 Billion over the course of a decade. If a person’s estate is not dispersed for the greater good, a tax rate of 50% on the value of an estate exceeding $5 million sounds about right.

3. Reform the Corporate Tax Code. First, we must stop corporations from avoiding taxation. Tax breaks for BIG Oil are ludicrous as are offshore tax havens. Corporations that play the tax loophole game should be penalized.

4. Penalize Wall Street Speculation. The reckless greed of financial speculators has inflicted so much pain on our nation. Why do we continue to tolerate these unpatriotic and irresponsible activities? Time and again, it is recklessness driven by extreme greed that causes inestimable harm to our economy and our social fabric. The Great Recession wiped out millions of citizens’ life savings, retirements, even the roof over their heads. We bailed out Wall Street to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s time we get repaid. A Speculator Tax could generate significant revenue that could be invested into education, infrastructure projects, and a national goal to lead the world in renewable energy development.
The bottom line: we must implement an ‘aggressive progressive’ tax reform agenda to redistribute wealth fairly, and to close the obscene gap of income inequality.