Robert Reich’s “Ten ideas to save the economy” and why they are not enough

I have long been a fan of Robert Reich. His analysis of the contemporary American economy complemented by his political activity are an example of how to integrate academia and politics. Furthermore, his progressive perspective fortifies concrete policy ideas that are backed up by a rigorous analysis of the state of American society. During the first Clinton administration he served as Labor Secretary, where he pushed an agenda of full employment and championed worker’s rights tempered with a program of retraining to equip people for the new economy. His memoir of that time offers a candid view of the frustrations of a progressive trying to implement policies in the conservative environment of Washington and against the opposition of entrenched interests. Ever the fighter and activist, Reich’s new series, “Ten Ideas to Save the Economy,” puts forth policy proposals, which, if implemented, he claims would strengthen the middle class and grow the American economy. His program includes proposals on ending corporate tax breaks, regulating banks, and strengthening unions. It calls for expanding social security, raising the minimum wage, and making work more family friendly.

These are important proposals, no doubt, which any progressive will eagerly endorse. But they are not enough.

Continue reading “Robert Reich’s “Ten ideas to save the economy” and why they are not enough”

On social change and political action

For political action to have meaningful consequence it must be based on a vision of politics and society, and it must have delineated first steps to move towards that vision. The imagination develops the vision, which in turn informs the direction. In considering the foundation of the vision and direction, and thus political action, one must answer three questions:

1. How does social change occur?
2. Who are the agents of change?
3. What is the social role of the state?

Continue reading “On social change and political action”

Introduction to the Open Democracy Project

Citizens want to participate, but our democracy is closed, serving the interests of insiders. Washington’s endemic inertia has made political change dependent on crisis. Even proposals that garner wide support are shackled by partisan politics and industry insiders. As money increasingly corrupts the legislative and administrative process, the capability to make political change becomes evermore limited to those with the money to buy results. Tired of the gridlock and corruption, Americans limit their political participation to the minimal act of voting, or opt out of politics entirely. As popular participation and experimentation declines, the range of acceptable ideas narrows, and elites with special interests define the scope of political thought and debate.

To reverse these trends, the Open Democracy Project is researching policies that work to:

  • Eliminate the corrupting influence of private money in politics: Legislatures and government administrators should be dependent on the people alone, not campaign donors. To achieve this goal, we should develop and expand programs for the public financing of elections, as well as the public provision of other campaign resources, such as media opportunities, to all ballot-qualified candidates.
  • Increase popular engagement in politics: We should invest significant public resources and efforts in ensuring a heightened, sustained, and organized level of popular engagement in politics. Social movements, civic education initiatives, forums for deliberation, and community projects should have broader access to media, funding, public space, and government resources.
  • Develop mechanisms for resolving gridlock: We should establish formal legislative mechanisms to more rapidly resolve Washington gridlock, such as innovative forms of ballot initiatives. We should pursue experiments in combining features of representative and direct democracy in formal decision-making.
  • Empower local and sector experimentation: We should create opportunities for experimental deviation in particular places and sectors. As national initiatives move in one direction, there should be opportunities for pursuing local experimentation and sector autonomy that enable alternatives.

Stay tuned to this section of ProgressiveAlternative.org to follow our work on building this Open Democracy Agenda. To join the Open Democracy Project, contact Pete@ProgressiveAlternative.org. To submit an independent post to this section, contact Macabe@ProgressiveAlternative.org.

Introduction to the Open Economy Project

Citizens want to be producers and innovators, but our markets are exclusive. Although the internet has inspired startup businesses, most dreamers are still shut out. Access to financial resources, regulatory know-how, technical skills, and industry connections are limited to a few. We have left our farmer and artisan roots to become a nation of employees. For most, becoming one’s own boss remains out of reach. The cutting-edge workplace cultures that blur the line between management and labor through fluid roles, continuous education, and distributed authority are still confined to a few industries. Meanwhile, multinational corporations unceasingly homogenize the economy, not only eradicating regional differences and small businesses, but also crowding out alternative economic forms, such as worker and consumer cooperatives, municipal utilities, and other forms of the commons.

The Open Economy Project is researching policies that work to:

  • Ease the path to entrepreneurship: We should lower the barriers to starting a business by broadening access to capital, resources, and regulatory know-how. First, in order to increase aggregate venture capital, we should: (1) enlist finance in service of the real economy, providing incentives and opportunities for more investments to be diverted away from financial markets and towards production and innovation; (2) create public venture funds that will prioritize public objectives while returning profits to government treasuries for reinvestment in people; and (3) enable thebroader population to invest in startups. Second, we should work to increase access to resources such as credit, technology, land, equipment, media, and technical skills. Finally, governments should help upstarts navigate their relationship with public authorities, ensuring that complex registration requirements, regulations, and tax procedures do not lock out those without access to teams of lawyers, accountants, and government liaisons.
  • Make stable employment resemble entrepreneurship: Within the context of stable and secure employment, we should support and broaden trends that blur the distinction between being an employee and being a boss. Such trends include eliminating fixed roles in the workplace, linking routine production with constant innovation, rotating employees through varied teams, and cultivating cultures ofcontinuous education. Structural trends with this aim include setting upemployee stock ownership programs and other forms of profit-sharing, as well as ensuring employee decision-making power either directly, such as in worker cooperatives, or indirectly, through strong, flexible unions.
  • Preserve and encourage economic diversity: We should resist economic entrenchment, stagnation, and homogenization. As it once did at various points in its history, the state should again take up the task of promoting the experimentation, development and growth of alternative market structures. We should encourage experiments in expanding the commons, as well as other alternatives for how governments and markets can interact.
  • Break up monopolies and end cronyism: To ensure that entrenched players do not shut out upstarts, we should revitalize our anti-trust regulatory regime and terminate crony-capitalist deals between government and industry.
  • Promote conservation and sustainable development. Throughout American history, the diversity and richness of our natural environment has served to stimulate economic and cultural innovation. We should conserve nature to ensure its continued use as a source of inspiration, diversity, and sustainable development.

Stay tuned to this section of ProgressiveAlternative.org to follow our work on building this Open Economy Agenda. To join the Open Economy Project, contact Pete@ProgressiveAlternative.org. To submit an independent post to this section, contact Macabe@ProgressiveAlternative.org.

Introduction to the Strong Communities Project

Citizens desire stronger communities, but are lacking in meaningful connections. Local communities throughout America have eroded as more and more people find the places where they live as spaces devoid of meaning and relationships. As American towns increasingly rely on distant corporate supply chains for their communal survival, a nation whose power grew from its multiple centers now feels centralized and managed from afar. Groups that could benefit from dense, varied, and empowering community networks are herded under corporate, media, and government bullhorns, unable to talk back in significant ways. On the national level, social solidarity is limited to cash transfers, as we pay the government to pay others who are in need, rarely meeting our fellow countrymen in authentic ways, and thus resenting the payments. The once-communal labors of caring, teaching, healing, feeding, sheltering, and serving have been bureaucratized and hidden from view.

The Strong Communities Project is researching policies that work to:

  • Revitalize Local Communities: Efforts should be made to transform meaningless spaces into meaningful places by developing initiatives that strengthen people’s ties to both their neighbors and towns.
  • Increase Communal Self-Reliance: We should work to better distribute industries and opportunities beyond major coastal cities so as to decentralize economic and cultural power throughout the nation. Local self-reliance movements, fromcommunity-sponsored agriculture to local green-energy initiatives, should be better funded and proliferated.  Special attention should be given to ensuring that the lives of rural communities suffering under de-industrialization are not wholly dependent on the placement and displacement of factories, stadiums, bases and prisons controlled by distant governments and corporations.
  • Create Participatory Counterbalances to Corporate and State Power: We should work to enable the routine organization of democratic counterbalances to undemocratic corporate and state forces. Through updated legal, funding, web, and media structures, we should fortify and promote the organization of such participatory interest groups, such as veterans organizing into federated societies, fans of sports teams organizing into fan unions, consumers of products organizing into consumer purchasing cooperatives, and tenants of public housing organizing into tenant associations. In addition, we should promote experiments in moving such counterbalances into full-scale alternatives, such as consumer groups moving from a product boycott to launching their own product.
  • Humanize the Caring Economy: We need to return to our heritage of participatory direct care. We should support projects that humanize the support for our sick, imprisoned, young, old, mentally ill, and destitute. The third-party bureaucracies that we currently pay to unburden us from responsibility towards one another should be supplemented with a culture of widespread participation in direct care for each other.
  • Build Programs for National Solidarity: National solidarity should be promoted through broader opportunities and stronger incentives to spend periods of one’s life engaging in American communities different than one’s own. Attempts to address national divides of race, culture, and class through the law and mass media should be supplemented with projects that encourage sustained, authentic in-person interactions in shared missions among individuals from divided groups. Such interracial, intercultural, and cross-class sports, music, conservation, education, worship, and service groups should be promoted and expanded.

Stay tuned to this section of ProgressiveAlternative.org to follow our work on building this Strong Communities Agenda. To join the Strong Communities Project, contact Pete@ProgressiveAlternative.org. To submit an independent post to this section, contact Macabe@ProgressiveAlternative.org.

Introduction to the Strong Citizens Project

Citizens’ spirits are strong, but we are not adequately equipped.Despite having generated enough per capita wealth to eliminate economic insecurity nationwide, the innovative potential of tens of millions of Americans is hampered by day-to-day fears for financial survival. A singular focus on ‘creating jobs’ has failed to address the fact that millions with jobs are dis-empowered at their workplaces, resigned to see work as only a paycheck rather than a means to innovate, create, and empower. Furthermore, those who try to improve their prospects through higher education become burdened with immense debt. Our school system is two-tiered: some Americans have access to high-quality education while others are closed out. One tier provides the analytical, problem-solving and imaginative skills that empower individuals to adapt to and reinvent the world. The other emphasizes rote memorization and specific technical skills, which trains children to reproduce a world that has already left them behind. Moreover, despite progress in recent decades, racial and gender stigmas still linger, inhibiting individuals simply for being who they are.

The Strong Citizens Project is researching policies that work to:

  • Fortify Economic Security: The struggle to satisfy the immediate needs of health care, food, shelter, and safety for oneself and family should not be a barrier to creative participation in our democracy and economy. Economic insecurity should not be a looming threat to an employee against asserting oneself at work or striking out on one’s own. Each individual should be afforded access to basic necessities and educational resources. Taking on insurmountable debt should not be a prerequisite of furthering one’s education.
  • Decentralize Capital for Productive Use: People should have a stake in our common economic resources for experimental and productive use. We should grant easy access to lines of credit and investment funds for the sake of innovation and creation.
  • Increase Revenue Streams for Security and Empowerment: For such security and empowerment, we should experiment with alternative public revenue sources, such as sovereign wealth funds and land-value taxes.
  • Broaden Educational Opportunities: Neither location nor age should determine one’s access to quality education. Educational opportunities should be delinked from property values, so that each American child, no matter their place of residence, has access to high quality public schools. Additionally, each individual should be afforded opportunities for lifelong learning, especially for those who want to make significant mid-life career changes.
  • Promote Empowering Pedagogy: Education should prepare Americans to think for themselves. It should equip us to challenge and change the world rather than simply reproduce it. It should develop the mind to not only navigate the present circumstance, but also to move against and beyond it. Education through rote memorization and training in static, specialized skills should be updated to reflect those skills necessary for entrepreneurship and empowered employment, like creative problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration.
  • Fight Entrenched Discrimination and Stigmatization: The on-going efforts of the past century to fight entrenched discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation should be supported and continued. Entrenched stigmas that have inhibited our neighbors with physical handicaps, mental illnesses, non-traditional families, advanced ages, and minority religions should be confronted and unsettled. Special re-examination should be given to stigmas created by the state, such as those which come with felony convictions and incarceration.

Stay tuned to this section of ProgressiveAlternative.org to follow our work on building this Strong Citizens Agenda. To join the Strong Citizens Project, contact Pete@ProgressiveAlternative.org. To submit an independent post to this section, contact Macabe@ProgressiveAlternative.org.