Ask Auntie Pinko
March 3, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
In a recent column, you stated that the Democratic Party's
one simple promise should be that it "will not rest until any American
willing to work forty hours a week can support a family of four
in safe and decent living conditions." As a goal that sounds just
wonderful. But how is that to be achieved? I think it's an important
question that needs to be answered. Otherwise we're just making
Auntie would never advocate making empty promises to the American
people. That field is already overcrowded. So I agree with you:
if the Democratic Party makes that promise to America, we must be
prepared to keep it. To never rest, until the goal is achieved.
I do not delude myself, nor do I advocate we attempt to delude
our neighbors, by implying that this is a goal that can be achieved
quickly or easily. I do know, however, that it can be achieved,
because I remember a time when even a high school dropout could
get a full-time job that would enable them to support a family.
These were not "easy" jobs. Like a great many of today's
jobs, they were mind-numbingly repetitive, often physically demanding,
and they conveyed little or no status upon those who held them.
But unlike the equivalent jobs today, they provided sufficient pay
and benefits so that one full-time wage earner could provide shelter
and food and other basic necessities.
No one event, law, policy or decision led to today's sorry state,
and no one action, legislative proposal, policy, or position on
the part of the Democratic Party today will reverse it. It may take
decades, and it will certainly be an arduous, two-steps-forward-one-step-back
process. And since we have spent some decades now taking one-step-forward-two-(or
three)-steps-back, we have a lot of lost ground to make up. Nevertheless,
I firmly believe it can be done, if we have the people who want
and need those jobs behind us.
As to how - there are a number of things which are needed, and
Auntie is not sufficiently knowledgeable or gifted in political
strategy development to say which should be done first, or in what
order they should be done, etc. Indeed, I would be cautious about
laying out too detailed and rigid a plan, because it is certain
that those who benefit from abusing cheap labor will mobilize powerful
efforts to undermine and counter any efforts to restore value to
labor and dignity to workers. We need to remain flexible in order
to work effectively in the face of such opposition.
Nevertheless, I think there are a number of efforts and policies
which can advance this goal. Some of those that might offer the
most efficient progress would include:
- Finding a way to bring all Americans back into the health insurance/health
care payment pool. Half of all bankruptcies among American families
today relate to inadequate or non-existent health insurance coverage.
- Addressing the issue of housing affordability. As long as the
housing market includes decrepit, inadequate inner-city and inner-ring
suburban stock, and hyper-inflated upscale housing, with very
little in between, American families wanting to live in decent
housing will need the equivalent of two or three full-time jobs
to afford shelter.
- Creating viable, convenient, affordable public transportation
alternatives. The cost of maintaining our grossly inefficient
transportation infrastructure not only strains public resources,
it prevents the free movement of the workforce in response to
available employment opportunities. And that's not even taking
into account the costs in health problems and quality-of-life
issues an individual automobile-based transportation economy creates.
- Re-structuring the tax system based on wealth, rather than
income. In other words, re-align the system to make tax rates
on labor and on capital more equitable, to tax earned and unearned
income at similar rates, and to address the value of non-liquid
assets as well as cash.
- Invest in infrastructure improvements that will make America's
businesses more competitive and efficient in the world marketplace,
by providing them with cost-efficient communications, transportation,
and power grids, stable and safe communities, and access to a
more highly-educated workforce. Assist them in meeting the costs
of that workforce by making housing, health care, transportation,
education, and retirement security affordable and secure for all
workers through public policies and programs.
- Develop creative programs to help American businesses and workers
transition readily as industries and technologies change, workforce
demands shift geographically, and the global economy affects various
sectors. This would free up America's entrepreneurs to be creative
and competitive, rather than propping up stagnant and/or non-competitive
industries at ever-increasing public cost. It would give workers
security independent of a particular employer or job category.
I could go on and on, Matt. There are dozens - even hundreds -
of things needed to contribute to achieving the goal. But as long
as we keep all of those efforts focused on the big picture goal
of making it possible for one full-time wage earner to support a
family, we have a good chance of mobilizing the support we need
to achieve that goal. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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