THE PEACE, JUSTICE AND RENAISSANCE AGENDA: Utopianism at Home and Abroad
Part One: Domestic Policy: "Bread and Roses"
The term "Bread" is used to refer to the transition to a decent society, one that satisfies core needs and rights, eliminates discriminations, ensures equal opportunity and exercises compassion for the less fortunate. A decent society shows respect to those it impacts in other countries. It is a steward of the environment, respectful of the next generation, and it pays its bills. In a decent society, there are no "throw away" people, whether because of race, or gender identity, or age, or other characteristic. In a decent society we say both "If I am not for myself, who will be?" and "If I am only for myself, what am I?"
Bread is not a general term for material consumption. It means a focus on basics, and is used to express the importance of limits, and the advantages of living more simply, but with more economic security.
Social Contract Approach
In a decent society, the dignity of all is respected. Within American culture this requires that responsiveness to the needs of all, not be thought of as "a hand-out" to the less deserving, but as a contract that we have made with each other.. Thus the decency agenda is framed in terms of rights and obligations, essentially a social contract between the citizens of America and expressed through relations with the government.
- Everyone who is mentally and physically able, must make a contribution to society. For many, this takes the form of paid employment and paying taxes. For others there are non-market contributions. But everyone is expected to contribute from their talents and abilities and resources.
- Everyone is expected to develop their capabilities to offer “value-added” to the lives of others.
- Everyone is expected to participate in our democratic governance. The legitimacy of our democracy and of the laws and policies it enacts, rests not merely on the opportunity to participate, but on the actuality of government by the people.
- Everyone is expected to obey the rules that our democracy sets down.
- Right to employment, self-employment, lifelong re-training, and relocation assistance.
- Right to a realm of meaningful, life affirming activity.
- Right to life-long wherewithal to satisfy core needs (e.g. food, health care, clothing, shelter, transportation).
- Right to a childhood.
- Right to education for pursuit of happiness.
- Right to access the beauty of both the natural and humanmade environment.
The term "Roses" is used to refer to what lies beyond decency. This includes beauty in the public domain, lives of meaning and purpose, expanded leisure, overcoming the deeper underemployment of unused human potential. And it involves education that unlocks, for all, the treasures of our human inheritance, and imparts the values and skill sets that enable us to live authentically, lightly, and vibrantly. It means discovering and nurturing the creativity that every child is born with. And it means drawing on the wisdom of those with life experience. In all, it means Renaissance in America.
Clarity about Ends, Modesty about Means
The policy orientation that lies behind this agenda is one that distinguishes very sharply between means and ends. It is essential to be clear about ends, about core values and objectives, about what problem one seeks to address. However, with respect to solutions, with respect to legislative remedies, with respect to government programs or public/private cooperative efforts, it is best to be modest and pragmatic. In government, as in science, as in medicine, as in going out to eat, it is frequently the case that there is error, failure, and miscalculation. It is a remarkable fact about much policy discourse, especially within Congress, that there is enormous pretense about how much we actually know, about how sure we can rightly be about proposed remedies. In my experience, in the Executive Branch, where I spent ten years, things are not as bad. Among those that run government programs there is considerably more honestly. There is an effort to evaluate programs, and often enough a recognition that even efforts at evaluation do not tell you very much.
This does not imply turning away from government anymore than bad outcomes would imply not shopping for food because good tomatoes are virtually indistinguishable from inferior tomatoes. Rather, it implies the need to become a learning society, to experiment, to evaluate, to test, to change course and to learn from others. In particular, to learn from other societies that are also pluralistic democracies, countries that have faced similar problems and have found solutions that seem to be working better than our own.
It also means taking advantage of our federal system within which the 50 states can function as 50 laboratories, so long as there is an honest and dedicated effort to solve an agreed upon problem. All too often, of course, the mantra of "turn it over to the states" is really a ruse to turn over the search for a solution to state officials who are not dedicated to solving the problem in the first place. But this can indeed be overcome, and an "American laboratories" approach can also function on far more local levels, be it counties, cities, or even neighborhoods.
One approach, consistent with what was said above about dignity, for getting on the right track, of establishing a commitment to values, and ends, while remaining un-dogmatic about means, is to establish, in law, certain key economic and social rights, such as the right to adequate and affordable health care, the right to free higher education, the right to paid sick leave, the right to paid vacations, the right to a "living wage," and more. Once established, we need professional institutions within and outside government that can track, evaluate and report on the extent to which we are making progress in securing those rights.
Bread: Policy Specifics
Money and Politics
- A $50 Refundable Tax Credit for Campaign Contributions. Severing the link between big money and politicians is essential for any serious effort to reform the Congress, and for any serious effort to make government work for most of the people. I support a Constitutional Amendment to overcome the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which enables super PACs to receive unlimited funds from large corporations and the super-wealthy/super-powerful among us. Achieving this, however, is not likely to happen any time soon as amending the Constitution is an enormous task, and the powers that be, would move to defeat such effort.
In the immediate present, we need a totally different approach: Rather, than restricting big-money, we should empower those with little money. Campaign contributions in 2016 for the Presidential race and all Congressional contests combined, totaled approximately $6.8 billion—a figure that may sound like a lot, but given the size of our economy, is not. In 2016 our GDP was around $18 trillion. 1% of that is $180 billion. The $6.8 billion is less than 4% of that, so we are only talking about 4/100ths of 1% of our economy. There are 250 million adults in America. If we provided each adult with the right to be reimbursed for up to $50 they might give to the campaign of their choice (a $50 per person refundable tax credit for campaign contributions), this would generate $12.5 billion in small size campaign contributions, completely swamping the role of big money! Essentially, we would use the tax system to provide each adult American citizen with a $50 spending account to be used for campaign contributions. People could give to whomever they choose. Not only would this dramatically dis-empower big-money, it would powerfully promote the engagement of poor and low-income Americans in our civic life. And it would make campaign contributors in the “bottom 99%”of most interest to politicians. It would also make it feasible for candidates to refuse any PAC funding. If $50 proved insufficient we could to a $100 credit per person.
Health Care Rights
The right to high quality health care. Every person has a right, not only to health care, but to care that draws upon the highest level of care that medical science and humanized medicine has to offer. Access to such care should not depend upon income or wealth. In the coming decades we will see amazing advances in medicine, and as a result a great expansion of the human life span. It is intolerable that because of income disparities some people will live to 75, while others will live healthy lives to 150. Yet unless we have a recognized legal right to high quality health care, this is what the future holds. Of course such disparities in health status and life span already exist, but it is going to get markedly worse unless we change the system.
There are multiple possible ways in which such a right may be implemented. And of course there are differences in how likely any particular route is likely to be implemented. For instance, much of the current policy debate is about the nature of our health insurance system, but there is nothing that requires a health insurance system in the first place. It is totally possible to have a national health care system which is simply free, just as public schools are free and all public school teachers work for the government.
Exactly which way of securing the right to quality care is best is an open empirical question. With respect to the insurance system, Medicare for All, is clearly superior to the present system. At the same time, it is not at all clear that it is an attainable legislative objective. Having a public option that allows every person who wishes to do so, to opt into Medicare, is certainly better than the present system and is more doable.
An important policy reform that we should take, in addition to whatever progress can be achieved with the health insurance system is to simply put a cap on the percentage of income that any family pays for medical care including insurance. Thus, we could have a fixed limit of 1/12 of household income. Thus, no family would have to devote more than 1/12 of their earnings to cover any medical expenses. Anything above 1/12 would be covered by the government. Better yet, this should be a sliding scale with 100% covered for those at the lower income ranges, perhaps 1/12 for those in the middle, and with the more wealthy covering more of their own medical expenses. Remarkably, for the 15% of households who itemize deductions on their tax returns we already have something of this sort, with tax deductions available for medical expenses in excess of 10%. With combined Federal and State taxes, this can result in the government, today, paying up to 50% of the medical expenses above 10% of income for the wealthy. This tax provision should be changed to a refundable tax credit and be available on a sliding scale to everyone, regardless of whether they itemize deductions.
At 1/12 of income as the cap, no one would need to work more than one month to cover medical expenses. We should have a similar metric for other basic needs expenditures as well.
Wages and Economic Rights
- A Right to a "Living Wage" Income Level For All Working Americans.
The federal minimum wage needs to be raised and then indexed to inflation. $15/hour seems reasonable, though living expenses vary considerably in different parts of the country. Rather than fixating on a specific number, we should establish in law the goal: No American family with at least one full-time worker equivalent should be living in poverty. Depending on family composition, even a higher minimum wage may be insufficient to achieve this goal. Thus we should proceed through two steps:
(I) Revive, within the Bureau of Labor Statistics the calculation of "health and decency budgets." These are not actually wage levels but income levels required for families with different compositions to live at levels of decency. They were calculated by the Labor Department for most of the 20th Century, ending during the Reagan administration.
- Link the level of the existing Refundable Earned Income Credit which supplements earned income, to an Increased Minimum Wage such that the combinedeffectof the minimum-wage increase plus the refundable income credit is sufficient for each family with at least one full-time worker (or its equivalent) to live at the calculated "health and decency" level. This proposal enables all full-time American workers to earn a "living wage" income without having to resolve the sterile policy debate over exactly how high the minimum wage can go before it causes businesses to shift to job-eliminating technologies. These levels would be indexed to inflation going forward.
Taxes, Tax Reform, and the Economy
- Moderate the Impact of Recessions and Unemployment: One of the greatest inequalities in American life is found in the pattern of unemployment. The focus on a single national rate of unemployment (e.g. 5%) conceals that fact that for specific groups (e.g. youth, people of color, blue collar workers) a 5% national rate may mean 10% or 15% or 20% unemployment for them. At the same time, even when the national rate is very high, say 8% unemployment, groups such as white professionals may face levels of unemployment of only 3% or less. This is especially unjust when the unemployment is the direct result of a government decision to "cool down" the economy to fight inflation.
During World War II we had long periods in which both the unemployment rate and the rate of inflation did not exceed 2%. While no one wants to return to war-time price controls, it does demonstrate that when the stakes are high, there are other policy choices for controlling inflation. The burden of our current "dampen the economy through restrictive monetary policy" places the burden most centrally on those at the bottom. This is deeply unjust.
One approach is to have selective jobs stimulation programs ready to go in low income areas, and to have them automatically launched when the unemployment level exceeds a pre-determined level.
We also need policies that will moderate the impact of a weak economy. A variety of approaches should be experimented with, including work sharing which might allow all workers at a plant to undergo a day off each week, with everyone staying on the job. Also we could move towards patterns of work in which each person would be trained in multiple fields, and employed in two or more sectors, thus helping ensure that no one would be fully out of work, even in downturns.
Wealth: Estate Taxes and a Right to Share in the Nation's Wealth Expand, rather than eliminate, the estate tax. People who have worked hard have a right to leave their children and grandchildren the fruits of their labor. But there are limits. There is no place in a democratic society for a permanent aristocracy of inherited wealth and power.
In moving toward a more equal society, it is not sufficient to tax a portion of the great estates. We should also dedicate estate tax revenues to establish birthright accounts for all newborns. And we should supplement such funds by dedicating revenues attained from closing the present loophole that avoids any payment of capital gains when property (e.g. stock holdings) is transferred at time of death. Exemptions that would allow small family businesses to function when transferred to the next generation would continue to be provided.
- 7. Weath Development/Tenant-Ownership:Establishment of the right of tenants to priority-in-purchaseshould an owner decide to sell a rental property. Establish within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a program that will provide tenants, or tenant groups, with technical, organizational, and financial assistance so they might purchase and convert their rental dwellings into cooperatives, owner-occupied condominiums, and owner-occupied homes, and further assist in the development of the management skills to maintain them.
For inner-city neighborhoods we should have an Urban Homestead Act which provides to very low income tenant-groups purchase vouchers that will provide them with assistance in coming up with a down payment to purchase properties for their residence, whether they presently live there or not.
- 8. Empowering the Vulnerable: A $100 Per Person Refundable Tax Credit for Contributions to Non-Profits:This would give poor and low-income households the ability to support the non-profits organizations that address the problems most central to their lives. One value of this, in addition to expanding the role of non-profit social well-being/empowerment organizations, is that the not-for-profit sector provides highly meaningful job opportunities at relatively low cost. An expansion of the non-profit payroll by, say $25 billion, could provide as many as 500,000 full-time jobs, or more creatively, a million half-time jobs, or even 2 million quarter-time jobs for healthy retirees who are eager to contribute their energy and life skills to causes that they believe in.
This kind of program could be used in low income areas as one of the automatic job stimulation measures needed to prevent inflation control from falling unfairly on vulnerable demographic groups.
- Right to a Safe Childhood
Every child has the right to a childhood without fear; no one in America should be born into an environment in which it is dangerous to go out and play, an environment in which their daily lives are ruled by violence and intimidation, an environment in which they are both afraid of the police, and are confronted with criminality on a daily basis.
It is a national disgrace that we have such conditions in America, and it is indicative of who we are as a nation that they can be found within walking distance of the Capital. Once a year, every member of Congress should be required to walk, alone, through neighborhoods within three miles of their offices, and if they are afraid, let them reflect on the children who are born into those neighborhoods and know nothing else.
A decent society simply cannot abide by such reality. It is time to open our eyes. What can be done?
Worst things first. We need to commit to the full transformation of these environments. And we need to start with the worst, and begin the long march to a society we can be proud of. To do this we must break new ground and we should experiment with multiple holistic approaches in the cities and neighborhoods that are the most dangerous, including Maryland's largest: Baltimore. Such holistic approaches might include:
- Gangs/Drugs: Establish a National Commission to develop a holistic approach to gangs, include schooling, employment apprenticeships, and policing to assure personal safety in inner-city neighborhoods and to free young people from gang intimidation. Fund alternative approaches to the drug problem, seeking to discover what can work in the U.S. Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001 (not the drugs themselves) and has come close to eliminating death through over-dose.
- Inner-City Schools: Inner-City schools would be eligible to apply for special "transformation grants" for innovative programs, that counter school-flight through education enrichment that provides services and curricula often available at only the best private schools in the nation. Administrators/Teachers/Parents collaboration in design and approval of grant submissions would be required. Overall, the goal is to show that inner-city schools can become magnet schools.
- Focused Efforts on Employment, Home Ownership, Wealth Development and Beautification: This agenda, on a national approach calls for such programs. The cities and neighborhoods where the right to a safe childhood is most seriously violated must receive priority in funding these kinds of programs.
- Violent Crime. In fulfilling the right to a safe childhood, while the socio-economic roots of criminality must be addressed, there must also be a strong response to those who actually carry our crimes of violence. How those who commit violent crimes are dealt with when incarcerate is a separate issue from whether they are incarcerated. A safe childhood agenda requires that violent offenders are not allowed to continue to endanger and intimidate others.
Perspective on Immigration, Refugees, and Sanctuary:
We should have far greater openness to refugees. It is hard to reconcile our tough-guy, gun toting, John Wayne country with our lack of courage when it comes to standing up for our values and common humanity. At the same time, in a democracy there is a powerful case for obedience to the law. We must have both, a more welcoming society and strong respect for the laws we enact.
But can we turn desperate people away? Should we not give sanctuary regardless of the law? I believe it makes little sense to speak of support for sanctuary in general. It all depends on context— sanctuary from what? The specifics make the difference. Consider the St. Louis, a ship that in 1939 carried Jewish refugees from Germany. They were denied entry by Cuba, their intended port, and when they sought entry to the U.S., their appeal was ignored. Ultimately, the refugees returned to Europe where half of them perished in the Holocaust. Suppose, when off the Florida coast, they had jumped overboard and swam to American shores. I would hope that I would have had the conscience to provide sanctuary to these illegals, and the strength to accept the penalties I would have faced for violating the law. Indeed, I would hope that our society would have been wise enough to use "prosecutorial discretion" to not indict those who provided sanctuary, when the law has not caught up with common morality.
Perspectives on Crime, Justice and Imprisonment
- Rape Adjudication: Rape is a criminal offense and should be reported to the police, immediately investigated and promptly prosecuted. Ways to make this doable with dignity need to be enhanced. At the same time, those accused of rape are entitled to the full protection of the law. Colleges should get out of the business of trying to determine what happened, adjudicating, and imposing their own sanctions. We need an enforceable law that guarantees rape victims the prompt investigation of the crimes they have suffered. Steps need to be taken to make it easier for victims to come forward, report rape to the police, and attain expedited police response to these crimes.
- Crimes Within Prisons: The threat and reality of sexual abuse and male or female rape in American prisons is an indelible stain on us all. It rises to the level of un-Constitutional "cruel and unusual punishment," and as those who run such institutions we are complicit-by-default in this criminality. Such in-prison sex crimes must be eliminated, including if necessary, by special Justice Department takeovers of prisons, special prosecutors, and incarceration of prison officials who violate the law. It will surely cost money, but even prisoners are entitled to minimal norms of decency.
- Closing Prisons: Eliminating victimization of the incarcerated is not suffificent. The basic "lock-em-up" approach to crime in America has not worked. Non-violent crimes should not be met with long periods of incarceration. Disparities in criminalization, prosecution and sentencing between racial groups is intolerable, and should be viewed as an un-Constitutional violation of the right to equal protection under the law.
Imprisonment for violent stranger-to-stranger crime should focus on both mental health issues which are pervasive and on equipping those who are imprisoned with the skills and education that will enable them to turn their lives around rather than becoming hardened repeat offenders. A person's first imprisonment should be seen by society as a one-time opportunity, perhaps a last chance, to intervene forcefully in the offenders life trajectory. In-prison degree completion and higher education programs should be widely available, as well as teaching entrepreneurship skills. Exposure to the humanities, creative writing and arts expression seem to produce results and should be evaluated and, very probably, greatly expanded. Post-prison support must replace rote check-ins with parole officers.
Opening Space For Alternative American Dreams
The Roses/Renaissance Agenda seeks to address four central questions
- How do we make America into the land of "With Beauty for All"
- What policies will assist people in achieving work/life balance so that there is time for the best things in life?
- What policies will assist people, whether young or old, to draw on their deepest potentials and translate them into meaningful forms of activity, whether paid or unpaid.
- What policies will assist us in lowering our need for income, so that we may work less and opt for more meaningful work.
This last question, about lowering our need for income, itself opens a variety of questions. Some of them are sector-based, such as, how do we lower what we need for housing, or transportation, or retirement. But another has to do with consumerism, with not developing the felt-need for so much stuff, and how education for modest living can be promoted through the right kind of education. That of course raises key questions about what is "the right education" and the proper role of schools in an economically insecure society.
These are enormously complex and wonderfully interesting questions about the fundamental intersections of work, time, money and happiness. They receive insufficient attention by policy makers and Washington think-tanks. I have engaged with these questions over a lifetime, both in thought and action (e.g. helping to found the organization "Take Back Your Time"). Much of what I have to say is contained in my book, Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream. Excerpts are on the website, along with many of my writings about the economic realm and its relationship to human fulfillment and flourishing.
We need to make use of an approach to economic policy that was developed by thinkers such as Paul Streeten, the author of "First Things First." The approach was termed "the basic needs" approach and was formulated in the context of development economics, with low income countries in mind. What is needed then, is a sector by sector analysis, identifying what the key needs are in each sector of the household budget, whether there is a problem in meeting those needs at modest levels of income, and if so, how to make it possible to do so. The "basic needs" approach is the primary alternative to "trickle down." Thus rather that saying, infant mortality declines with higher levels of GDP and thus we should push for growth as much as possible, we say, "the primary cause of infant mortality in third world countries is dehydration caused by diarrhea -- with the provision of sugar and salt treatments at the village level, at very low cost, deaths from dehydration can be cut in half with two years, whether or not the economy as a whole expands"
Food: We are the beneficiaries of the greatest transformation in economic history. Two centuries ago, the average person worked ten months a year, just to earn enough or to grow enough to keep their family adequately fed. Today, because of an incredible increase in labor productivity in the agricultural sector, this is achieved in the US after about six weeks of worth.
Similarly, clothing today occupies a very minor part of household expenditure. Thus for both food and clothing basic needs can be met with modest over income.
Inefficiency of American Society
Lowering cost of meeting basic needs
Further promotion of self-reliance through simpler home design projects and vocational training that empowers people to participate in their own home construction. Promote changes in zoning regulations to facilitate widespread ownership of modest homes.
such as the “tiny-home movement.” Urban Homestead Act.
- Free Higher Education: Bernie Sanders, hats off to him, put this proposal into mainstream political discourse in the 2016 Presidential Primary contest. In my book, Graceful Simplicity, published in 1999, I advanced the same idea, based on my own free education at the City College of New York in the 1960's. I recognize that there are also other ways of making college more accessible for those families with low and moderate income. We could add to our crazy-quilt of Federal, State and private loans; we could add to student aid funds; and we can expand work-study programs.
A central limitation of these approaches compared to free higher education becomes visible when set against a more far-reaching criterion: the goal of making our economy “user-friendly” for those who seek to live modesty. Knowing that your children’s future education is secured, allows for freedom in lifestyle choices, freedom to choose more leisure and less income, freedom to opt for meaning rather than money, freedom to provide for one’s children the great blessing of parents who are less stressed, and who are less likely to stress their children, parents who have time and better mental health and enthusiasm for the lives they are living. No one should go through life worrying about how they will pay for their children’s education years ahead, and no one should have to count on annual governmental appropriations for accessibility funding, when both our private fortunes and the commitment of political decision makers, are subject to ever more uncertainty. The education of our young people should be anchored in free public institutions and this, in our very wealthy society, should be viewed as a right.
Health care and education, especially, pre-kindergarten and college education, require considerable household income. Moving to a single payer system in health care, can help lower the aggregate cost of providing health insurance and services. But the health sector is unique and will remain central, perhaps increasingly central to the issue of need fulfillment on a modest income. This is because of two basic facts. First, health, longer and healthier lives, remain an open ended and indisputable area of potential progress. And second, we are in the early stages of a health revolution, one in which within the present century, will open the possibility not just of a vast expansion of the life span, but of a healthy life span. The total economic costs of achieving this are unknown, but they may be vast. This is the singular area in which the effort to widely share the good life with moderate income will be most challenged.
Other economic needs are found in the areas of housing, transportation, communications and economic security especially as we age. Here the situation is quite different in different sectors.
In housing the real issue is affordable access to neighborhoods with good public schools and where it is sufficiently safe to tell one's children: Go out and play. Such neighborhoods are out of reach for most Americans. It is neighborhood transformation that is required. Policies such as Urban Homesteading noted above can make an important contribution.
In transportation, the basic need of being able to get around between the venues of everyday life are met for most people. This is a necessary function for any society, and is accomplished in a multiplicity of manners. In 1900, in the U.S. household spending in this area was so minimal, that that data collected a that subsumed transportation spending within “Other.’ Today, the average household spends over 15% of iits budget on transportation; almost two full months of the year are required to meet needs in this area. Overwhelmingly, this is the cost of the automobile.
.What are needed are policies that make it possible to do without a car, or to makes it significantly less expensive to own and maintain one.
Free Day Care: With women’s entry into the formal labor market, we evolved into a society in which the care of very young children, those in pre-school age, became a major challenge, not just in terms of the family life, but in financial terms as the primary solution the emerged were day-care services. The cost of such services are extraordinarily high, and for low wage families, to a considerable extent, reverse the income gained by formal employment of women. Thus, the cost of daycare runs around $4.00 hour per child. For a parent earning even $15/hour, daycare for one child come to 27% of their earnings. For someone earning $8/hour, with two children, daycare costs completely absorb earnings. We proposed full lifting daycare expenses from the family budget and treating daycare the way we treat free public education. Actual services need not be provided by public institutions, though such approaches should be explored. The immediate solution is the establishment of a refundable day care tax credit equal to $4 hr/child, on an annual basis this is roughly $8,000 per child, making it one of the most powerful steps available to lower need required income on the household level.
With Beauty For All
Promoting Home Ownership at the Bottom
- Ownership Enables Enhancing City Life Across the Country: We need comprehensive quality of life transformation that will affect all sectors: housing, schools, crime, policing, unemployment, with special focus on beautification and renaissance. Key is to start with transition from rental housing to ownership. Home ownership is the anchor. Otherwise there will be rapid gentrification, and rise in rents, with people pushed out of neighborhoods. Ownership is key to neighborhood stability and commitment.
- Home ownership Promotion Policies: Designation of high unemployment urban areas as transformation zones within which sales to tenants are promoted through new policies. Consideration should be given to a) Allowing landlords who sell to tenants, to defer part of their capital gains, when funds are re-invested outside real estate sector. Presently, landlords are locked into having to buy one property if they sell another. b) Provide tenants with credit and down payment assistance to facilitate by-outs. This would be accompanied by a small bonus payment to landlord sellers upon sale to tenants. Thus, landlords would be offered slightly above market prices and opportunity to exit from rental real estate by selling to tenants, and tenants would be offered wherewithal to make purchases. c) Newly acquired conversion properties, provided they are owned and occupied by former renters, would receive a holiday on real estate taxes for an initial period. Overall goal is to ensure that monthlies are lower for tenants as new owners than when renters.
- Facilitate home fix up by the new low-income owners. Provide programs in skills development – insulation, painting, plumbing, landscaping.
Once home ownership reaches target levels, then leap-frog to beautification commences, and beautification + ownership becomes a wealth accumulation strategy as well.
Quality of Life and Urban Environments
- 19. Urban Beautification: Establishment within the Department of Agriculture of services or a special program that will carry out the planting of 300 million trees throughout American towns and cities and most essentially, in parking lots that are a blight in every city and town in America.
- Tree-care financial allotments to young persons over age 8 who adopt a tree
- Inner City Nectarine Project. You can grow them in Philadelphia! Most Americans have never tasted a tree ripened nectarine -- totally different than the inferior fruit available even in quality stores. (Admittedly my personal obsession, buy I'm right).
- Emulate the most elite neighborhoods inside the DC beltway with the planting of tens of thousands of flowering cherry trees.
- Inner-City Quality of Life #1: Food:
- Eliminate the injustice that throughout America, middle-class neighborhoods have both lower priced and higher quality supermarkets. Outlaw such forms of discrimination by chain stores.
- Through a Commerce Department service, provide technical assistance and loans to local entrepreneurs, aiming to create vibrant local shops as in Paris or Manhattan.
- Provide special tax credits to small shops to provide some protection from on-line commerce because of the contribution they make to urban vibrancy.
- In very low-income areas, provide subsidies to lower prices, not just for basics but for pastry shops and delicatessens as well.
- Inner-City Quality of Life #2: Art and Culture:
- Creation of inner-city projects to promote urban beautification including murals and training in fine arts and performing arts for urban youth, building on the success of the Federal Arts Project/Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the New Deal.
- Invest in making inner-cities cultural hubs, centers for music, theatre, dance and museums.
- Equal Access to America's Natural Beauty
- Eliminate entry fees to America's nation parks, or provide free-entry cards for those at the bottom.
- Provide initial Grant Support to Summer Camps that Offer Free Summer Camp to children from low income families.
- Provide grants to non-profits that provide day or weekend trips into the countryside for children from the inner cities.
- Provide grants to non-profits that provide counselor-in-training opportunities to young adults from inner cities.
- Equal Access to Art Museums
Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York decided that visitors from outside the city would be charged $25 admission to the otherwise free museum. This terrible decision reflects the financing problem facing museums around the country. The worst situations are when local people are charged admission fees so high that they effectively cut off access by low-income families. This is simply intolerable, especially for institutions who celebrate the importance of art as part of the good life. Because of various forms of assistance to museums, the Congress has the ability to put a halt to such practices, and it should. But it has to also face the question of how the financial costs of running these great institution are to be covered. Private contributions play a major role, but we need legislation either to enhance such contributions or to increase direct government support.
- Promoting and Protecting Natural Beauty
- Establish a national CCC-type program to hire unemployed coal miners to restore cutoff Appalachian mountaintops.
- Including beautiful design as a decision criteria in awarding contracts for major infrastructure projects.
- Convert more national monuments to national parks thereby protecting them from arbitrary presidential decisions.
- Immediately extend funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expires September 30.
- Equal Access to the Natural Beauty of Our Nation
- Eliminate all entry fees to national parks for anyone who qualifies for Medicaid
- Establish Birthright Trips Whereby Every Young American would be entitled to the equivalent of eight weeks of experience of our national parks
- Enlist the non-profit sector in developing these programs and the corporate sector in funding them
- Establishment of training programs in preparation for the visitation trips, skill of the sort we learned when we were kids in the Scouts -- fire building, wood cutting, tree identification, rock climbing
- Grant support for a diversity of new scouting organizations.
- Establish "Wider Horizons" travel programs for young people, especially from the Transitional Cities to experience the most exciting and beautiful places in the country, both in big cities such as San Francisco, great college towns such as Ann Arbor, unbelievable environments such as the Pacific coast line and Alaska.
- For the Transformation Cities such as Detroit and Baltimore, the Birthright Travel allotment would be doubled to a total of 16 weeks which could be one month for 4 summers or any other combination.
- Education for Renaissance
A society in Renaissance is a society of human flourishing and of creative expression. All children are born with such potential, and they should be enhanced through schooling not depleted. It should become a general requirement, starting at the earliest years of education, that every young person master at least one way of adding beauty to the social world. This should be part of how we understand the general obligation of all to contribute to society.
Beauty takes so many forms, and its creation is such a natural source of pride, that this is not hard to do. Achieving "value-added" in the realm of beauty can be done in music, literature, gardening, cooking, painting, carpentry, film making, dress making, soup making, hair styling, landscaping, sculpture, pottery, poetry and pet grooming. Indeed, virtually all human endeavor has an aesthetic dimension.
Facilitating Work/Life Balance
It is not the job of government to ensure that people are happy; nor to ensure that their lives are balanced. Rather, the responsibility of government is to help to shape the structures of society, the rules of the game, the rights and responsibilities recognized under law, so that the successful pursuit of happiness is not frustrated. The goal is that our society be made "user friendly" for those seeking to find a balance between earning a living, and living.
How to benefit from increased productivity?
The great engine of material transformation is growth in labor productivity. But productivity growth can be taken in two very different forms (and anywhere in between). We can keep work hour constant and produce more that ever before. Or we can hold output constant and work less than ever before. For much of the nineteenth Century and the first third of the Twentieth Century the goals of the Labor Movement were to both reduce working hours (from 60 hour, six day workweek, to a 40 hour, five day work week) and to increase income. Then, without any actual decision or debate, America stopped reducing hours of work, and on the household level, as women entered the paid work force, we went in the other direction; today, many two parent families, in total, ae working 80 hours a week, outside the home, placing enormous stress on any quest for a graceful family life.
- Time-Liberty: Establishment of a national right of each worker to choose to forgo income in exchange for leisure time. Gradual introduction of an increasing number of days per year any person working for large companies (over 25 employees) could elect unpaid time-off (for any reason, with advance notice). Alternatively, the gradual introduction of Fridays as an optional workday such that, without pay, one could opt for a three-day weekend.
- Right to Time-Off With Pay: The United States is the only major industrialized country that does not guarantee its workers a paid vacation. This leftover objective from the New Deal needs to be achieved promptly. Vacation time should be supplemented with the right to paid sick leave, family emergency leave, and parental leave. As an aspirational goal, our country should aim towards the right of workers to take five weeks of paid leave to be used for any purpose, current law on family and medical leave only ensures unpaid leave. This too, should be expanded.
Discovering Our Potential, Achieving Se
- Work Sabbaticals: Thirty-nine years ago, the Congressman I worked for, Donald M. Fraser, introduced legislation that would create work sabbaticals. Fraser focused on the fact that under our Social Security system, people have the option of retiring at age 62 with reduced benefits, or waiting until age 65 (now 67) for full benefits. He suggested that people be able to take work sabbaticals—an optional year at reduced benefits, every 10 years of their work life, say at ages 35, 45 and 55. This would give individuals an enormous opportunity to retool, to try something different, or just to regain a vitality they may have lost.
[To the Reader: this is not yet complete]
Food -- not just cost but thrill of growing/inner city farming
- subsidize urban farms and smaller sustainable farms in the heartland
- Add an A to STEM, making it STEAM. The A stands for Arts and Agriculture both
- Fund university training for young farmers--young people want to grow food successfully and need to be trained to do so--just as important as computer science.
Humanizing the Job System: Worker Liberation
- Urban Extension Service: Modeled on the extension services of the Department of Agriculture, the establishment of an urban extension service: a program that assists small size, would-be-entrepreneurs, in successfully undertaking start-ups.
- Workers' First Right of Refusal: Preventing Business Closure: A first right of refusal should be given to employees (in any firm of over 50 workers) to purchase, as a worker-owned establishment, any company that would otherwise close down or re-locate. Establishment of services, programs, and policies in the Department of Labor that provide workers the wherewithal to undertake an analysis of the financial implications of such purchases, and assist them in attaining financing for such buy-outs. Further, the establishment of an Arbitration Service, should the parties be unable to agree on a sales price or need to settle other transactional conflicts.
Job System Transformation
- New Corporate Personhood -- Incorporation is a legal procedure whereby the government recognizes the existence of a new corporate person, or put differently, it bestows corporate personhood upon an organization. With this corporate personhood come certain legal rights, obligations and advantages. This includes free speech rights and limited liability to the human person who might own the corporate entity.
Rather than any form of nationalization of existing corporate persons, what we need is to establish and foster a new kind of corporate person – let us call them V corporations, V standing for Value, and referring to their having a purpose that goes beyond serving either the financial interest of the stockholders or of he executives that run the corporation, and instead being responsible to the larger set of people affected by their actions, including workers, consumers, and those in the communities where they are based. These V-corporations would not be non-profit entities, but would have a broader range of responsibilities than merely stockholders.
Because V-corporations in their decision making have an inherent responsibility that includes their workers and their communities and the well-being of their consumers, such corporations should be encouraged through government policy. Thus they can receive tax rates that fall somewhere between the zero rates of non-profit corporations and the standard rates of narrow based corporate entities.
At the same time, V-corporations will be subject to requirements such a board membership that includes representatives of consumers, workers and communities, and more generally a re-statement of purpose of all board members. That said, they will remain for-profit entities and will need to be able to successfully compete in competitive market places.
Part Two: International Engagement
- Friending the Earth
Most fundamentally, by establishing a new kind of advanced economy, one that uses productivity growth to sustain material-sufficiency and expand leisure, rather than ever expanding consumption.
By treating climate change as a national security emergency, and taking
those steps which will produce the greatest change in the shortest time.
- Carbon emissions taxes, including a new gasoline tax that will ratchet up yearly until, with new millage requirements, national gasoline consumption is cut in half.
- - Mandatory energy conservation inspections of all homes and business over the next two years, with required conservation steps aided by the National Service Corps.
- Massive subsidization of solar and wind technologies to promote rapid transition to non-carbon electric power nationwide.
- Phasing out all extraction of carbon based fuel sources.
- Making transition to zero-emissions world a national security objective that is part of US trade policy, investment and development strategies and policy dialogue with every country. Including massive solar promotion and conversion.
- Moving towards stronger international incentives and sanctions for planet offenders.
- Global Humanization
-- A foreign policy that prioritizes dialogue of civilizations, pursuit of conflict resolution, international mechanisms of humanitarian intervention, fuller development of international law, human rights, global stewardship, and cultural tolerance
- a) Reconciling the three Abrahamic religions around a Peace of Jerusalem
- Immediate recognition of the State of Palestine.
- Drafting of a two-state peace treaty by a United Nations Commission as the basis for six months of negotiations, followed by referenda of the two peoples.
- Using aid to Israel in support of two-states and ending settlement expansion.
- Returning to the Iran nuclear agreement, and seeking a fundamental change in Iranian-Israeli relations and US-Iranian relations.
- b) Advocating that all non-democratic governments develop a transition plan as a condition of U.S. aid and friendship.
- c) Re-centering US policy on human rights and toleration as requirement for US friendship, aid, trade preferences.
- d) US support for strengthening International organizations, in particular providing the international criminal court with an arrest capability.
- e) Developing through international organizations a humanitarian intervention capacity: really, really, meaning it when we say: Never Again -- Not To Anyone -- Not Anywhere
- f) Increasing the authority of the UN Trusteeship Council to engage with failed states, especially in Central America.
- g) Sharply increased economic development assistance directed at the poor majority through basic human needs development strategies.
- i) Vast economic and political development program for Central America.
- j) Shifting to a Statue of Liberty orientation towards immigration and asylum. Big-gate approach to borders. Citizenship for dreamers. Tenfold increase in judicial resources for evaluating asylum requests.
- k) Elevate Protecting the integrity of US Elections from foreign attacks to a core national interest. Establish very strong economic deterrence policies to dissuade foreign adversaries. Unite NATO democracies around this need for mutual defense of democratic institutions.
- l) Budgetary Tithing – Supporting the above policies by allocating 10% of the Federal budget to programs to assist the poorer countries of the world in overcoming poverty, overcoming crime and corruption, enhancing human rights, and transitioning to global environmental