I have a broad line of issues that I will attack when I go to represent the 14th District. My first and primary platform item is bringing prosperity back to our struggling middle class. I will accomplish this by allowing EVERYONE to benefit fairly from our economic system, not just the shareholders and the wealthiest 1%.
The basis for accomplishing this is what I call the employee/shareholder balance. The CEO’s, who work for the shareholders and who have been highly compensated, have been pushing the benefits of our increasing productivity toward the shareholders and away from the employees as both benefits and pensions have been disappearing over the past two decades. My parents were immigrants from Europe, and my father worked his entire career on an assembly line in an automobile engine plant. He provided us with a middle-class lifestyle and was able to retire at a reasonable age with a pension. I experienced the same opportunities and was also able to retire at a reasonable age with a pension.
My children and their generation will not have the same opportunities unless something changes now. We face a number of major problems:
- Our middle class is struggling as it has not in decades. A country without a middle class is a third world country.
- We have a retirement crisis coming up where most people will have to work into old age. This is not acceptable.
- The shareholders who are benefiting from our increasing productivity represent the very few. About 25% of U.S. stocks are owned by foreigners, and the wealthiest 10% of Americans own more than 80% of the rest.
- Our GDP growth has been stuck at around 2.5% since 2010 because the majority of our wealth is concentrated with the very few richest Americans who do not spend a large portion of what they have. Based on history, wealth does not and will not “trickle down” as claimed by the GOP.
To solve these problems, we need an active, open-minded government to develop policies that are based on sound facts, economics, and science. We also need to develop a fair tax policy which is just the opposite of the GOP plan. Finally, we need to strengthen our unions so that they can assist us in pushing the employee/shareholder balance back to where it was when most people in our country were prospering in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Retirement – We need to assure the strength of our existing Social Security system into the future. But, Social Security is a safety net and not a retirement plan. We need to recreate, in some form, the pensions which have all but been eliminated, but which provided a secure retirement for previous generations. We need to develop a new portable, mandatory retirement savings system which improves on the 401(K) and includes specified employer contributions to supplement Social Security. Right now only about 45% of Americans even have a 401(k). I will fight to solve our coming retirement crisis by providing us and coming generations with the same opportunity to retire at a reasonable age that many in our parents’ generation had.
Minimum Wage – In addition, we need to raise our minimum wage. Between 1970 and 1980, it was equivalent to about $10 per hour, adjusted for inflation to present day dollars. Today’s minimum wage provides a standard of living about $8,000 below the poverty line for a family of four. It needs to be increased to $12 per hour. This is not some “welfare” or “entitlement” proposal. 73% of people on government assistance are working at low paying jobs but cannot make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage will improve the quality of their lives and also serve to reduce the number of those requiring government assistance. However, raising the minimum wage will, no doubt, increase the rate at which automation is implemented.
Automation – Our government needs to make sure that the benefits of automation, a huge issue on the short-term horizon, are realized throughout our society and not just by the shareholders. Studies indicate that 38% of jobs will be replaced by automation in the next twenty years. It is important to remember that automation is actually a good thing as long as the benefits are fairly distributed. However, this is not now the case, as companies benefit from cheap AI or robot labor and employees get laid off. The Europeans are already looking into how to fairly distribute the benefits of automation; we are not. This needs to and will change for our labor force to be competitive.
Jobs and Vocational Training – I will also fight to provide access to good jobs through better education and vocational training. We have about six million jobs out there waiting to be filled right now. We need to better fund advanced education, especially in fields where there is a shortage of workers. For example, Germany spends about six times what we do as a function of GDP on job training, and about 53% of high schoolers there split their time between school and apprenticeship programs. And we need to help those with debt due to education expenses pay them off with lower rate loans.
Plank Two: Resolving Our Easily Solvable Problems
My second major platform item is to fight to resolve our easily solvable problems (easily solvable because we already know what the solutions are):
- Providing the U.S. with the same great, inexpensive universal coverage healthcare system that Canada and the European countries already have. Based on studies, such as that done by the Commonwealth Fund, these countries all have much better systems than we do and pay about half of what we do for healthcare. Their average cost for healthcare per person is about $4,000 to $4,500 per year (2013 data) and ours is about $8,500 per year. This is because their systems are so much more efficient than ours. They are all also universal coverage systems; we are one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not have universal healthcare coverage. It should be noted that the healthcare systems in the countries studied are all run differently, with some being a combination of public-private systems and some being government run or single-payer systems, as is the case in Canada. Overall, 60% of Americans now feel that the government has the responsibility to ensure health coverage for all. Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information being spread around by people who don’t want the change the status quo when it comes to healthcare. We need to do and will do a better job of marketing the real facts about healthcare systems to the American people, especially those who are still not on-board, to finally get our healthcare situation fixed and allow the U.S. join the rest of the developed world.
- Paying off our national debt just like we did after World War II. Over the years, the Republicans have excessively cut the taxes on the wealthy to the point where we now have a huge debt to pay off. It is interesting to follow the changes in the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans over the last 100 years. The top tax bracket was 25% before the Great Depression. Due to the Depression and World War II, the U.S. ran up a huge debt. By comparison, our debt is now at about 105% of GDP, almost as large as it was after World War II when it was at 119% of GDP. To pay off this debt, the highest marginal income tax rate was raised in stages up to 94% immediately after WW II and then varied around an average of about 90% between 1946 and about 1964. At that point, it was reduced in stages to the point where President Reagan reduced it to a low point of about 28% in 1988. This was when the debt, which had been reduced from 119% of GDP after WW II to 31% of GDP in 1981, started to increase. President Clinton increased the tax rate back up to 40% in the 1990’s, and we had a balanced budget for a short time during his presidency. In 2002, the second President Bush reduced the tax rate to 35%. It increased back up to 40% in 2013. The debt relative to GDP has been growing since 1981. We need to follow the example that our government set seventy years ago to start reducing the debt again. Unlike trickle-down economics, which does not work as has been proven again recently in Kansas, raising the tax rate on the wealthiest has been shown to have no negative impact on the economy.
- Oppose unsound tax cuts. The recent passage of the horrible GOP tax plan requires some comments. Everyone loves a tax cut. But the truth is that the GOP’s tax bill is bad for the people of Illinois and the U.S., both short term and long term. Under the bill, tens of thousands of our neighbors will lose their health insurance, and homeowners will have less ability to deduct their property taxes. As far as stimulating the economy, with the unemployment rate at an extremely low 4.1%, a tax cut will not reduce this rate much further. And our economic growth has been stuck below about 2.5% GDP growth since the year 2000. This is due to the fact that the average consumer in our consumer-driven economy has less and less money to spend. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1% are saving a majority of their money, earned mostly through stock market gains, rather than spending it on American goods and services that drive our economy. Worst of all, the bulk of the tax cuts in the GOP plan will go toward large corporations and the wealthiest Americans who already have plenty of cash on hand. Large corporations will not use this money to create jobs but will rather use most of the tax savings to benefit wealthy U.S. shareholders, and foreigners who own 25% of all U.S. stocks. Small businesses that create most of the new jobs in this country every year and the struggling middle class do deserve tax cuts, but the GOP’s tax bill puts its priorities elsewhere. That is just the short-term impact. Long term, the bill would add at least $1.5 trillion to our national debt, or more than $4,000 for every American. As mentioned before, our debt is now almost as large as it was after World War II. The problem now is that, based on past history, our economy is likely due to experience another recession in the near future. When that happens, we will be hard pressed to stimulate the economy if we’re already deeply in debt. This GOP tax plan makes almost no sense from any standpoint now and it will not be long before we end up paying the price for it.
- Regaining our leadership position in driving for the quick resolution of climate change. The average CO2 level in the atmosphere is now above 400 ppm, higher than it has been in the last 400,000 years and above normal climate cycles. Indications are that climate change is occurring faster than models are predicting. Luckily, solar power is 75% cheaper now than in 2009 and both solar and wind-produced power is cost competitive with fossil-fuel produced power, and the cost of clean energy is continuing to go down. Because of the dire consequences of global warming, we need to expedite the transition to clean energy. The best way to do this is to implement a carbon tax, which is a tax placed on fossil fuels based on their carbon content. This accomplishes several objectives: It puts a value on pollution which drives the highest polluters to go to cleaner sources of energy rather than imposing more regulations. Canada, Australia, Chile, and many of the European countries are implementing such carbon taxes. We are again falling behind the rest of the world because carbon taxes at the federal level are being blocked by Republicans. However, some states are beginning to look into implementing their own programs including Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and others. California has had a program in place since 2006, and it works great with 69% of Californians approving of it. Another issue is that rooftop solar power is taking off around the country, but some power companies are adding fees to home solar customers to limit the use their grid. Here again, we cannot allow anything to stand in the way of a transition to clean power. 64% of Americans are now concerned about global warming and about the same number want to put priority on alternate energy development.
Plank Three: Taking Back Our Government
My third major platform item is allowing the American people to take back our government and our political system. According to opinion polls, almost all of the policies being pursued by the Trump administration go against what the American people want. My first action in Congress will be to legislate away the Citizens United decision, which polls indicate approximately 80% of Americans are against. Yet, the bills that have been introduced to legislate this away were defeated in Congress. I will propose new legislation and then lead the American people in a fight against Congress until they pass it, and then continue on from there, one issue at a time based on what the American people want. For example, polls indicate that 75% of Americans want term limits for people in Congress, 63% want to do away with the Electoral College, 70% want independent commissions to develop Congressional districts and end gerrymandering. We can no longer allow gridlock to hold back our progress. We need to change the direction that this country is heading in by doing things that make sense, and we need to do it NOW.
Allowing the American People to Determine Their Priorities
I want to make one final comment about the metrics that we should be focusing on as a country. In the past, we have used GDP growth as a measure of how well our country is doing. However, some economists indicate that this is not a good measurement of economic and social progress because GDP growth is not fairly distributed and is not a complete measure of well-being. Two reports show that the U.S. is falling behind many other countries when it comes to a wider array of measures. The Social Progress Index, published by a U.S.-based non-profit, ranks 128 countries based on 50 indicators such as personal rights, health and well-being, personal safety, and tolerance, in addition to GDP. It is basically a measure of overall well-being. Unfortunately, over the past years, the U.S. has been losing ground, is now ranked number 18, and is regarded as a “second tier” country. A similar World Happiness Report, published by a United Nations organization, ranks 34 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries based on life satisfaction. In this survey, the U.S. has dropped from third to nineteenth place in the past ten years. This kind of information should be a wake-up call. I will use metrics such as the ones in these reports to better educate and motivate the people, and to market the policies that make the most sense for our country.
The United States is still the greatest country in the world but there is such potential to make this country a far better, fairer place for the sake of our generation and those to come.