Suddenly Americans are debating big ideas that used to be off the table.
New ways to raise taxes on the rich and big corporations have been proposed by candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.
A Medicare-style public health system to expand coverage and cut costs has the support of millions and many Presidential candidates – even as we defend Obamacare.
The Green New Deal has been swept onto the national debate by the dynamic grass-roots Sunrise Movement and by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and colleagues in Congress. With new urgency, sponsors call for massive public investment to retool our economy to stop global warming and create the next generation of good jobs.
Perhaps because of the huge public support for these big ideas, Donald Trump has tried to tar them with the old Cold War scare word: Socialism. This is likely to backfire – just as the Southern racists’ attacks on civil rights workers as “Communist agitators” just helped spread the movement. SNCC organizers were greeted at Mississippi doorsteps with “We are so glad you Communists have come to help us vote.”
Some cautious Democrats have greeted these big ideas with a warning about the dangers of going too far. “Stick to attacking Trump and his policies,” they lecture, “that’s what helped us win in the Congressional campaigns 2018.”
But over 90 well-known veterans of the successful 2018 campaign have signed a bold new Pledge to Fight for Good Jobs, Sustainable Prosperity and Economic Justice. And these initiators (including myself) have now been joined by 20,000 (and growing) grass-roots activists. Our message is “Yes, fight Trump – but Americans also want to hear big solutions to the large economic problem our country faces.”
The Pledge document declares:
We will (continue to) resist Trump. But resistance is not enough. We therefore pledge that:
- We will fight for good jobs, sustainable prosperity and economic justice.
- We will work to build a movement that can make that agenda a reality.
Real change begins with a clear and coherent vision of a better America, and with citizens’ movements dedicated to bringing that world into being. We offer this agenda for economic change in that spirit.
The group challenges the inside-the-beltway idea that Democrats need to choose between candidates that are “electable” and those who champion a bold agenda for change. Our signers make the case—and cite extensive polling—that the voters want candidates who know how the system has been rigged against working Americans. They argue that the most electable candidates are the ones with a plan to “un-rig” our government and to grow the economy and reverse inequality.
Note: I was one of the authors of the Pledge, and we found a great deal of enthusiasm from leaders we invited to join us, including the following leaders and thinkers:
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; economists Thea Lee, Robert Pollin and James K. Galbraith; African-American activists Rashad Robinson, Janet Dewart Bell, and Dedrick Asante-Muhammad; feminist leaders Gloria Steinem, Nita Chaudhary, and Toni Van Pelt; think tank directors Heather McGhee, Dorian Warren, Chuck Collins, and Angela Glover Blackwell; environmental leaders Bill McKibben, Annie Leonard, and Michael Brune; labor leaders Leo Gerard, Larry Cohen, Randi Weingarten, Chris Shelton, and Bonnie Castillo; business leaders like Leo Hindery Jr. and Charles Rodgers; activists and public intellectuals Manuel Pastor, Robert Borosage, Maria Echaveste, Jeff Faux, Heather Gautney, Eddie Glaude Jr., Zephyr Teachout, Richard Eskow, and Naomi Klein. Signers also include leaders of “resistance movement” groups, including MoveOn, People’s Action, Democracy for America, Solidaire, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Center for Popular Democracy Network, Public Citizen, Working Families Party, Ultra-Violet, Progressive Democrats of America, and Our Revolution. See all 90 initial signers.
The group will not endorse candidates. Individual signers will make those decisions on their own. But the group will ask candidates to tell Americans where they stand on the 11 planks of our economic agenda. And we will publish those positions on the website. Here is the Agenda that all signers of the Pledge have endorsed.
I. Jobs for All - by Investing in Rebuilding America and a Green New Deal
The first two planks of the group’s agenda call for a strategy for economic growth and job creation that grows out of large-scale public investment to address real and pressing needs of our economy. They represent a dramatic contrast to the perpetual Republican “economic growth” plans which always involves tax cuts for the wealthy (and shredding important regulations). Progressives, often characterized as “redistributionist,” clearly have a plan for sustainable economic growth.
1. Jobs for All by Rebuilding America
This plank takes seriously the warnings of the American Society of Civil Engineers, who have been ranking our infrastructure with marks of D or worse for decades. It also allows progressives to show they have a plan to achieve one of the major promises of candidate Trump, who has failed to deliver on infrastructure because he capitulated to the billionaire corporate wing of his party by giving away the revenue he needed in order to give them massive tax cuts.
2. Invest in a Green New Deal
The Green New Deal plank calls for retooling the US economy to dramatically reduce carbon pollution and make our systems, from housing to transportation much more energy efficient. It sets a goal of dramatically reducing carbon pollution in order to meet (and exceed) the goals set by the UN Climate Panel in order to stop the disastrous warming of the planet. And, as the labor-environmentalist Apollo Alliance told Americans a decade ago, this transition can be a boon to the economy, creating a new generation of good jobs and putting us on the path to sustainable (not wasteful growth that will lead us off a cliff. If we act quickly, we can also become a global leader in the new manufacturing industries we need to create the green transition.
II. Fight Inequality
3. Empower Workers to Reduce Inequality
Lots of people (and candidates) are now talking about growing inequality and trends finding that the 400 richest Americans control more wealth than the bottom 60 percent. One essential key to raising wages and reversing inequality is strong unions. So signers pledge to fight for the right of workers to form unions and bargain collectively for better wages and benefits. Guaranteed labor rights should be complemented by action to lift the floor under every worker by guaranteeing a living wage, paid sick and vacation days, and affordable health care. We must curb CEO compensation policies that give executives personal incentives to plunder their own companies. And we should use the tax system to reward companies that pay their workers a decent proportion to what they pay their executives.
4. Opportunity and Justice for All – With Focus on Communities Harmed by Racism
In theory full employment and labor rights should provide opportunity for all. But we insist that special attention must be invested in those communities harmed by the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination, deindustrialization, and destruction of the public sector. Neglected urban and rural communities and working people victimized by the worst economic and social effects of neoliberalism must be given targeted attention and investment. We also call for a fair and humane immigration policy, fundamental reform of our criminal justice system, an end to mass incarceration and targeted investment in areas of need are all central to meeting the promise of economic justice.
5. Guarantee Women’s Economic Equality
Addressing women’s economic problems will improve our economy for all. We should guarantee that women earn the same pay, protections and opportunities as men in the workplace and in society – including strengthened laws for reporting and preventing sexual harassment. Women must also be guaranteed affordable health care and the right to make choices about their own health and reproduction. Families must have access to high-quality child care, and all women must be guaranteed paid leave from the workplace for childbirth, illness and vacation, and a secure retirement – with Social Security credit for work in the household.
III. A New Social Contract – for Economic Security, Healthcare, and Education
6. Medicare for All – And Shared Economic Security
The group declares health care is a right, not a privilege. And that requires moving to a Medicare for All universal public health care system. Our fight to defend Obamacare from Trump and his allies is a crucial first step to a promise of a high-quality and cost-effective health care for everyone. In addition, America needs a more robust social insurance system. Every worker deserves a secure retirement— and we will work to create new pension systems, while we secure Social Security by “lifting the cap” that now exempts wealthy people from paying their fair share of Social Security taxes. We will strengthen and expand America’s shared security programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, food support and housing assistance. No one in America should go hungry or homeless. Greater shared security makes the economy more robust by making our society more fair – and giving all people the confidence that comes from solidarity.
7. High-Quality Public Education – Pre-K to University
Every young person must have the right to high-quality, free public education from preschool through college. Public education must be controlled by the public, not by charter school hucksters. This requires that every community, in partnership with the state and Federal Governments must have the financing necessary to strengthen public schools, providing the necessary basics – preschool, smaller classes, summer and after-school programs, and skilled, well-paid teachers with rights on the job.
College education or skills training should be available without tuition at all public universities as a right of civic membership — as was the policy in many states in the 1950s and 1960s. Education should be a public good that benefits all of society, not a commodity that indentures students to debt. We call for a national student debt jubilee that will cancel the debt burden imposed upon several generations seeking an education. Free college and debt cancellation will not only allow students and former students to live their lives without that burden, but it will also stimulate economic growth and unleash new civic activism.
IV. Stop Corporations, Banks and the Wealthy from Controlling Our Economy and Our Democracy
8. Make Corporations and the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share
Our public investment/growth, green transition, and justice agenda requires tax revenues. Yet the corporations and the rich do not pay their fair share in taxes—even though they pocket the greatest benefits from public investments.
It is time for the rich and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. It is time to shut down the tax havens and tax dodges that enable companies to avoid taxes altogether. We should lift the cap on Social Security taxes, so rich people pay the same percentage of their income as the rest of us. We should tax the income of investors at the same rates we tax income from work. We need clear, simple, progressive corporate and individual taxes, closing loopholes and exemptions. And a tax on financial transaction can produce significant revenues. A fair tax system will allow us to invest in an economy that will work for all.
9. Close Wall Street’s Casino
Financial deregulation has devastated our economy, and it has protected banks that are too big to fail, too big to manage, and too big to jail. The financial casino fosters ever more dangerous speculation, while investment in the real economy lags. The resulting booms and busts devastate families and small businesses.
In a new age of corporate concentration, American must revive the concept of anti-trust action to reduce corporate power. We need to break up the big banks, levy a speculation tax, and provide low-income families with safe and affordable banking services. We should crack down on payday lenders and other schemes that exploit vulnerable working families, offering instead safe and inexpensive banking via the postal system.
10. Rescue Democracy from the Special Interests
Big money has corrupted our democracy. Some might say democracy is not part of an economics agenda. But the same financial elites and corporations that buy and sell politicians use that political power to rig the economy so the top .01 percent gets massively richer while incomes decline for the rest of us. We pledge to reverse the Citizens United decision which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited money in politics. We will stop the attack on voting rights which has escalated just as a new majority of people of color, young people and working women has begun to exercise new power. We will fight for public financing of elections that bans corporate and big money – and for electoral reforms, like public matching of small donations, so people’s candidates can compete with the candidates of the plutocrats. Finally, we pledge to change national and local political party structures so that progressive candidates get a fair shake in the nominating process and in general elections. And we will build a new progressive majority that can take back our democracy and our economic system.
V. A Global Economic Strategy for Working People
11. A Global Economic Strategy for Working Americans
Our global trade and tax policies have been created for and by multinational companies. We must renegotiate trade deals and rethink tax policies that benefit the already-wealthy, while they encourage the export of whole American industries, drive down pay and worker protections, and harm the environment. We need more but balanced trade, and global standards that protect the rights of workers, consumers and the environment. That requires a crackdown on tax havens, currency manipulation, and deals that allow corporations to trample basic labor rights here and abroad. Finally, we need new policies that allow us to help existing US industries, by having our government buy American, policies that are now outlawed by trade deals. And we need active investment policies that grow new cutting-edge industries, like green energy systems. Our current national security policies commit us to policing the world. The result costs lives and drains public resources. We need a real security policy that makes military intervention a last resort, and focuses on global threats like climate change, poverty and inequality. We should reduce military budgets and properly support humanitarian programs.
We will see what impact the Pledge/Agenda will have on the 2020 political debate. The multiple-candidate field will create a dynamic very different from 2016. But polling shows a wide spectrum of voters want politicians to talk about (and fight for) a bold economic agenda. Senator Bernie Sanders got historic support in 2016 because he talked about an agenda that challenged corporate power and put forward a plan for big economic change. And, because Hilary Clinton didn’t want to be crosswise with that progressive agenda, she took positions she might not have – and walked away from the TPP trade deal, which was very unpopular with the Democratic base. And, thanks to pressure from Sanders supporters, the Democratic Platform was more progressive than ever. Unfortunately, Clinton didn’t talk about it much.
Bernie Sanders just got into the 2020 race this week, rightly reminding interviewers that many of the ideas candidates are now discussing – and that our Agenda is promoting – first gained respectability and widespread support as a result of his pioneering 2016 Presidential campaign. This year many other candidates are embracing some of those ideas. Using and online comparison, we will publicly keep track of the economic agenda positions each of these candidates take. What the voters will have to determine how much each candidate really means his/her promises – and whether they are willing to fight for the jobs, wages, pensions – and their economic futures – of working Americans.
Who knows? Some of the best candidates may cancel each other out. Even if the eventual nominee ends up being the most conventional Democrat in the race, all progressives will work hard to get rid of Trump. And after that we will unite to organize to push the new President—and a larger Congressional majority—to fight for a plan for economic transformation. This Agenda will not go away, no matter who wins the elections. Because the growing number of Americans who are endorsing the Pledge to Fight for Good Jobs, Sustainable Growth and Economic Justice see themselves as enlisting for a long-term movement for change – not just for the next campaign.