Imagine Economic Democracy

This post first appeared at the Imagine Democracy blog.

We don’t have to “bring back jobs from China.” Economists explain that exporting low-level jobs and automating free up resources so “we” can have more $ and free time. And places climbing the jobs ladder get jobs.

The problem is how “we” are distributing the gains. Right now a company ships jobs away or automates and a few already-wealthy people in charge of the company get all of the gains. The workers a shit out of luck. They lose homes, etc.

AND on top of that the owners of companies use those job losses to break unions, etc, forcing wages down. “Shut up and accept the pay cut or we’ll fire you.”

Imagine Democracy

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Imagine if “we” all shared the gains, and received more $ and free time. And as those other countries automate, etc., they also get more $ and free time.

What we need is democracy (aka “socialism”,) so we can GET that $ and free time.

Imagine if we had an economic system designed to be of, by and for We the People, where we require that automation and job exports mean those economic gains go to US – We the people – instead of an already-wealthy few.

A company improves efficiency by automating, etc., and the gains go into a fund. As all the companies do this, the fund provides income to working people. People get the same pay and reduced hours because the efficiencies mean there is less work to do. Or they can move up the ladder to more-skilled jobs for more pay.

In other words, imagine democracy

Share Everywhere Please #GreenNewDeal

A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

“What if we actually pulled off a Green New Deal? What would the future look like? The Intercept presents a film narrated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and illustrated by Molly Crabapple.”

Means Testing Sucks

In a democracy government should be for everyone equally. If we’re going to have a program just give it to everyone, not just a few people. Limiting like that breeds resentment, of course, but the resentment is the correct reaction because limiting like that is just wrong.

It’s humiliating to have to prove you are poor enough to qualify for a government program, plus the masses of forms you have to fill out require huge bureaucracies to check. There is an assumption you’re trying to cheat. Means testing also sets up people to be ostracized as “Takers”. It tells the non-poor that the government is not for them, they just have to pay for it.

I could go on.

No wonder everyone hates the older generation of Democrats. Well-meaning, but they did this. Social Security, Medicare, even roads and bridges should have been the guide. Everyone deserves the things government does to make our lives better.

We Need A Federal Voter Assistance Agency

This post originally appeared at Imagine Democracy.

We need a Federal Voter Assistance Agency.

The Federal Voter Assistance Agency’s mission would be to reinforce democracy by getting every citizen registered and empowered to vote. This would include helping people get registered, helping them vote, and helping people overcome suppression efforts like Voter-ID laws.

The agency would conduct outreach, even door-to-door, to let people know they need to be registered, hep them register, and help them vote.

The agency would also fight voter suppression by doing things like helping people in voter-ID states get the correct ID. This would include an online service to get valid birth certificates and everything else people need (for free) to get the necessary ID in their state. For those who can’t get things like birth certificates for various reasons the agency’s mission would include doing the research necessary to get birth documentation to get their ID. (Free, as a service to democracy.)

An idea like this couldn’t get through the Senate NOW (nothing Democrats pass can), but it educates the public about the possibilities of government being on their side again.

It also puts it out there for when Democrats do have the power to pass it.

On Trump’s Steel/Aluminum Tariffs And So-Called “Trade” Generally

I agree with the tariffs, but not the way it is being done. It should have been planned, phased in, coordinated with US industry and, most important, part of a comprehensive US economic/trade/industrial policy. The latter just isn’t going to happen under Trump nor under a Wall Street dominated economy even with Democrats running things.

Trump’s tariff doesn’t come out of nowhere. This is the result of an actual process. It comes after our Commerce Department ruled on a case that started under Obama that China is dumping steel.

Here is an example of the problem. China increased its capacity dramatically during their infrastructure boom (which is how they got through the recession). Then internal demand dropped as the infrastructure projects wrapped up, but the steelmaking capacity continued because they don’t want to lay a lot of people off. So they are selling the steel wherever they can at prices lower than cost. The rest of the world suffers. Esecially the US “rust belt” workers. But also our country’s ability to make steel as needed. Imagine a conflict with China and they cut off steel to us, after this “dumping” has closed what’s left of our production capacity.

From April 2016’s CAF post, The Big Fight Over Chinese Steel,

When China’s growth was very high, and China was building tall buildings and high-speed rail all over the place they needed a lot of steel. Then their economy slowed. Now China is making more steel than they need.

Meanwhile countries around the world are fighting their own slow growth with austerity policies that literally take money out of their economies – like cutting back on infrastructure maintenance and modernization. And their slowing economies mean less steel use.

… So there is less demand for steel in China and around the world. Current global overcapacity is estimated at 700 million tons – more than seven times what U.S. steelmakers can produce. This is expected to get worse.

But Wait, There’s More – Cheap Labor

OK, now the bigger picture. Economists will tell you about the benefits of trade. I should have said Wall Street economists.

“Trade” is supposed to be about “comparative advantage.” This means a region that grows bananas has an advantage doing that compared to Iowa. But Iowa is great at crowing corn. Iowa trades corn for bananas, etc.

However currently discussion of “trade” really just means using “trade” deals for moving American production out of the country to low-wage places. The “comparative advantage” involved is cheap labor. (The factories aren’t even already there, they are moved there.) Wall Street likes to argue the benefits of lower prices resulting from using what amounts to slave labor outside the US but the real benefit they get from this and the rest of the trade regime is pressure on US wages, which means people have to take what they can get (or drive for Uber) and labor cannot demand a larger slice of the pie.

When they say trade agreements “increase trade” remember that moving a factory across a border and bringing the same goods back here “increases trade” because now they cross a border. “Trade”?

Even More – “Expanding Markets”

There is another part of what we call “trade.” They say trade “opens up markets for US goods and services.” As if those markets are not already being served? What it does is open up “markets” for exploitation by the largest, ost powerful competitors, wiping out whatever has developed locally. There AND here. Look at how “trade’ has wiped out OUR textile, electronics, etc producers. And OUR giant monopolies like to use their power to wipe out local industries elsewhere.

So “trade’ is currently being used by giant multinationals to consolidate their power.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way. Imagine Democracy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine if the US had full-employment policies, so everyone who wants a job has one. This is in fact easily done.

Imagine a democracy with rule of law and sensible coherent structures for determining policy. (Those policies would include breaking up monopolies and reducing the power of big companies.)

Imagine a government that offers a job to anyone who wants one, with reasonable above-poverty pay and benefits. There is so much that needs doing, like child care, elder care, retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient, fixing up parks, teaching — you know, the list of things that a democracy would put resources into to make people’s lives better.

So imagine a system where everyone has the ability to get by, and the opportunity to do work that does good. Imagine how jobs would change if employers had to compete to get people to do the jobs they need done. That competition would involve offering jobs that actually do make the world a better place, because people would be able to choose to do that.

This Creates A New Economic Problem – A NEED To Outsource Production

Never mind the societal reckoning full employment policies would bring, with its higher wages, increases in labor’s power, etc. (That’s another discussion…) There would be a new economic problem: Our economy would have trouble finding enough labor to get things done. In other words, the economy would be prevented from running at full capacity by a demand for labor. What to do?

THEN it makes economic sense to move production elsewhere. But then it could be done non-exploitively, bringing higher pay and prosperity to the places we outsource to as well as here. Then trade becomes the benefit it is supposed to be, benefitting everyone. This is how democracies would do it.

And immigration. (But that’s also another discussion.)

In an economy designed to be of, by and for We the People outsourcing production could be good for everyone.

Imagine an economy designed to be of, by and for We the People. Wow.


Capitalism by definition is a system (‘ism’) designed of by and for ‘capital’ (people with money).

People with surplus money make the decisions about where to apply our economy’s resources and then reap the benefits of the investment. For themselves.

We the People are largely prohibited (privatization) from deciding where to apply resources and are charged for use of those resources.

Private roads. Private railroads. Private health care. Private energy sources. Private communication sources. Private financial resources. etc…

Progressives Should Focus On Russia

Too many on the “left” say progressives should not be focusing on the Russian interference in our democracy. They say it is just an excuse to allow the failure of Clinton and Democratic leadership to offer the public good policies that help people instead of just helping corporations and the rich slide. Some even say it is just old 1950s-style “red-baiting.”

Criticism of Russia is not related to previous pre-1990s criticisms of communism or socialism. Russia is not that. Today it is a kletocracy run by one guy and a bunch of oligarchs, sort of the perfect Koch/Thiel/Trump/corporate state that Republicans are trying to bring about here.

They Did It

The Trump campaign did do this and the Republican Party is running cover for it, just so they can continue to loot us with tax cuts for the rich and taking away the things our government does to make our lives better.

Its better for progressives if the spectrum of power goes from the left to centrist Dems, instead of from centrist Dems to the far right as it does now. Using Russia to get lots of Rs out of power and move that spectrum left only helps us obtain an environment in which Medicare-for-All, free college and university, allowing everyone to vote, restoring taxation and regulation on corporations, breaking up monopolies, bringing racial and gender justice, ending privatization, finally fighting climate change and all the other things needed to heal the country and planet are possible to achieve.

We need the public to understand that conservative/Republican/corporate rule is anti-democracy and not legitimate. Focusing on Russia helps us get there.

The Russia Story Isn’t Going Away

It’s not like the Russia story is going to drop from the news, allowing other things to be discussed. So ride the wave instead of fighting the tide.

The Russia story actually gives us an opportunity to talk about good policies instead of policies that hurt the country, by tying that discussion to Russian efforts to hurt us. All the talk about Russia gives us the opportunity to tie Republican anti-government policies to the ways Russia hoped to benefit from their interference in our democracy. Russia helped put them there in an effort to hurt the country and Republican policies hurt the country.

The Russia story delegitimizes Republicans by exposing their lack of legitimacy. (Along with voter suppression, gerrymandering and other ways they are not legitimately in power.) The more they and their policies are delegitimized the more progressive policies fill the vacuum.

Note how Medicare-for-All is being widely discussed, even while the Russia story dominates.

All the talk about Russian interference in democracy offers us a chance to remind people of what democracy means. erference in our democracy.

United Incident Shows Why We Need To Re-Regulate Corporations

In a democracy, We the People are in charge. We are the boss of the corporations. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Apparently, that isn’t so much the way it is anymore. The United States used to regulate corporations to protect people from concentrated power. Now concentrated power has taken over our government, which fights the people for the benefit of corporate profits.

Or, to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith and a Soviet joke: In democracy, We the People regulate corporation. In deregulated America is other way around.

The Face Of Deregulation

This is literally the face of deregulation of corporations:

This is what can happen to you now in the United States if you get in the way of something a corporation wants:

We’ve all seen the videos. A guy gets beaten and dragged from his paid seat on a United Airlines flight because, in essence, he was interfering with corporate profits just by being in the seat. The airplane was full, the corporation decided it could make more money by moving some employees to another town, and a passenger was in the way.

Airline Deregulation

Airlines used to be regulated in the U.S. as a public utility that served citizens. They competed with each other by offering better service.

Then in 1978, airlines were deregulated and passengers were considered consumers instead of citizens. The airlines argued that more competition would bring benefits. Instead, as time passed, airlines did what corporations tend to do.

They consolidated, reducing competition. They reduced and reduced and reduced service to reduce costs. They cut employee wages and benefits. They changed routes to “hubs” for their convenience, causing passengers to have to wait hours in crowded airports. And they write contracts that said you can’t use their (essential) service without signing away every right you have.

Since deregulation, airlines intentionally overbook many flights. They scrunch as many people into smaller and smaller seats just inches from the next, and sell you more legroom. Instead of serving food, they sell it. They charge you if you travel a suitcase. They charge you to bring a travel bag on the plane.

Soon, they will put a large spike in the seat and charge you to shorten it.

And you can’t do anything about it. You can’t even complain without risking being considered “disruptive” and dragged from the airplane and jailed. And be careful how you dress.

Not Just Airlines

It’s not just airlines. All kinds of corporate deregulation have been harming We the People. There used to be regulations requiring broadcast media to act in the public interest in exchange for use of publicly-owned broadcast frequencies. Now, obviously, there isn’t.

Pollution rules are being deregulated. Pesticides that harm children are being deregulated. The list is long.

“Arbitration clauses” are now used in all kinds of contracts and agreements to keep you from being able to take corporations to court. “Tort reform” laws also restrict access to courts when people are harmed by corporations.

You get the idea.

“Burdensome” Regulations

Corporations complain that regulations are “burdensome.” They complain that regulations cost them money.

Of course, regulations that stop corporations from polluting streams place a “burden” on them to properly dispose of waste. Of course it costs money to require them to not just dump waste into rivers, streams, and the air we breath.

Carmakers used to complain that rules requiring seat belts in cars were a “burden.” Tobacco companies used to complain that stopping them from selling cigarettes to kids “cost money.” So far, government regulation has protected us from these abuses-for-profit. But for how long?

Who Is Our Country FOR?

Americans have lost our understanding of the meaning of democracy and of the powers democracy brings us and duties it places on us. We have become consumers instead of citizens and we think that markets should make decisions for us instead of our votes.

In a democracy, We the People are supposed to be in charge. In a democracy, our government by definition exists to serve us, protect us, and do things for us that make our lives better.

A democracy regulates corporations to protect people from concentrated power. If we let concentrated power make decisions for us, we end up getting dragged off of airplanes because the corporation decided the seat we paid for would make them a bit more profit.

Corporations should be regulated to serve the public interest. Why else would We the People want to allow these things called corporations to exist at all?


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their OurFuture site. I am a Fellow with CAF, a project of People’s Action. Sign up here for the OurFuture daily summary and/or for People’s Action’s Progressive Breakfast.