“If they give it to the poor, they call it a handout; if they give it to the rich, they call it a subsidy.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Beneath every issue in American politics lies a deeper one, and nowhere is this truer than with our economy. At this time in our history, our economic system doesn’t serve our democratic values. Instead, the government we founded to protect those values has become an instrument of service to an economic system.
Beginning in the 1980s, an economic perspective which deems market forces our most appropriate organizing principle, began to infiltrate both American politics and American consciousness.
According to this view, the fiduciary responsibility of corporations to serve short-term profit maximization of their stockholders – with no particular ethical responsibility to other stakeholders such as workers, community or environment - began to replace democracy as our primary organizing principle. Advocacy for the well-being of citizens and the planet was now to be brokered by market forces, which alone were deemed the appropriate arbiter of our social good.
This view represented a radical departure from a most basic value in our Declaration of Independence: that, “God gave all men the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that, “governments were instituted among men to secure these rights.” From now on, our government would function more to secure the rights of multi-national corporations to make more money for their stockholders, while We, the People, were to trust that so much money would trickle down to the rest of us that all would be okay.
All has not been okay.
Quite to the contrary, a small minority of Americans - called in today’s nomenclature “the one percent” – has become the recipient of extraordinary government largess, while the American middle class has been decimated. From huge corporate subsidies, to tax breaks for the very wealthy, to deregulation of even the most fundamental protections, to greater and greater permission given to moneyed interests to flood our political system, to the proverbial “revolving door” practice between corporate and government leaders.
American social and economic policy has acted like a vacuum cleaner, taking the majority of our nation’s economic resources and sucking them into the hands of a very few.
It was unreasonable to have expected an amoral economic system to practice ethical largess. Why would a huge multinational corporation - with no particular allegiance to the American worker - feel any remorse about closing an American factory and relocating it in another country? Or fighting an increase in the minimum wage? Or cutting the health benefits of its workers? Or fighting fair labor practices? Or fighting labor itself?
A person with no sense of ethical or moral responsibility is a sociopathic individual, and an economic system with no sense of ethical or moral responsibility is a sociopathic economic system.
Once billions, even trillions, of dollars started flowing within a system that deems itself responsible to no one but its stockholders – particularly when the Supreme Court of the United States has granted to that system the preposterous notion of “corporate personhood” – then a complete disregard of that system for the welfare of the least advantaged and the least powerful among us, and the planet itself, becomes inevitable.
For all intents and purposes, our government has become a handmaiden to a new corporate order – surrendering to those whom President Franklin Roosevelt called “economic royalists.” This is not just an economic debate or even a political debate; it is a philosophical and moral debate, challenging this generation to decide in our time whether or not a “government of the people, by the people and for the people" shall not perish from the Earth.
Just as an individual can dwell in denial, so can an entire group. Today, the American people are in denial if we think that the existence and perpetuation of our democracy is guaranteed. In order to override the tyrannous effects of an authoritarian corporatism that has now infiltrated the highest levels of our government, we must rise up en masse and elect a new wave of officials deeply dedicated to the democratic ideal.
A system that does not feel, which has no sense of ethical responsibility to people or planet, is a dangerous guide to America’s future. Living for our principles will provide more economic security than living for short-term corporate interests can ever provide. Our government should not be run like a business; it should be run like a family, where taking care of each other, and taking care of our home, are the values that guide us.
In an economic system that puts utility before humanity, two groups get most short shrift: children, and seniors. That is why we should not think in terms of running our country like a business; rather, we should run it like a family. Not only do I want a massive realignment of investment in America's children, I also want increased social security payments and services to seniors.
Short-term profit maximization, whether for corporations or for the government, is at odds with long-term economic planning. The $2 trillion 2017 tax bill - which gave 83 cents of every returned dollar to our richest corporations and wealthiest citizens - is not an economic stimulus, but rather an economic theft of resources that could have been directed toward genuine economic renewal in the form of a Green New Deal, universal healthcare, better education and free college tuition for those who cannot afford it, cancellation of college loan debt, and equal funding of all public schools.
Every dollar we invest in education, infrastructure, and healthcare helps unleash the spirit of the American people. Everything we do to make it easier for people to create, to work with dignity, to live safely and securely, helps unleash the spirit of the American people. Everything we do to decrease the chronic economic and personal trauma that an unjust economic system has created among millions of people helps unleash the spirit of the American people.
And that is sound policy. The American people have been mentally trained to expect too little from our government, to forget that it is there to work for us and not the other way around. The citizens of the United States have been reduced to saying, “Pretty please?” to forces that would withhold things from us that should be considered basic rights in an advanced society. To those forces, we should not say, “Pretty please.”
To those forces, we should say, “Hell no.”
40% of all Americans are having a hard time earning enough to pay for rent, food, healthcare, and transportation costs, and 62% of Americans cannot be deemed members of the middle class. Such statistics did not come out of nowhere; rather, they were the inevitable result of the systematic movement of major resources over the last few decades into the hands of a very few. Only a few Americans can now easily afford health care, only a few Americans can now easily afford higher education, and so forth. For those of us who make it “into the club” in America, there truly is no better place to live. But not enough people can make it into the club today, and that is an unsustainable reality.
In the long term, we should massively realign our investments in the emotional, social, health and educational wellbeing of children eight years old and younger. The greatest source of America’s future economic vibrancy lies in the entrepreneurial spirit alive in any American kindergarten. Our problem is not that we don’t have enough creativity to fuel our economy for centuries; the problem is that we cap it through under-education and a lack of proactive care for our young. An Economic Council of Advisors should include as many experts in child psychology and education as it has economists.
With the US economy, it is the best of times, and it is the worst of times. Our country enjoys tremendous wealth, but the vast majority is owned by the few, while millions of people struggle financially. In too many areas there are pockets of prosperity in a sea of destitution. Fully 40% of adults could not pay an emergency bill of $400. Although the unemployment rate is low, millions of people who have given up finding work are not counted. Financial desperation is contributing to a rise in stress, bad health, opioid addiction, and suicide. For the first time, the next generation is likely to have a lower standard of living. For the first time, the average American lifespan is getting shorter. As financial disparity leads to financial desperation, people are dying.
These problems will intensify as automation, Artificial Intelligence and robots will replace millions of jobs in the next 5-10 years. Some job dislocation has occurred already in areas such as manufacturing. Millions more people will lose their jobs and be unable to find new jobs. Job loss will hit professionals as well as blue-collar workers. Any job that involves repetition is at risk; even lawyers and doctors, including some surgeons, will be displaced. More wealth will be created, but it will increasingly go to the top 1%.
We must address this crisis of wealth inequality and financial insecurity.
The way to have a vibrant society, and an abundant economy, is to help people thrive. To uncap their dreams. To unleash their spirits.
Yet for millions of Americans, dreams are dashed and spirits are left broken every day.
Nothing is more emotionally, psychologically or societally debilitating than poverty. Yet according to figures from the US census bureau, over 38 million Americans live in poverty — almost 12 per cent of our population. Over 93 million live in near-poverty — almost 30 per cent of our population.
Let's take moment to take that in: in the richest country in the world, almost 30 percent of our people live in near-poverty.
Almost 12 million American children live in poverty. And where this is poverty, there is hunger.
As if all that isn’t enough, let’s remember: our political and media establishment have the audacity to say that our economy is “good!" Really? Really?? Whenever someone says, “The economy is good,” you might want to think about what the word “good” should actually mean.
In the 1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson waged a War on Poverty. Since that time, our government has not only moved away from that kind of thinking; it has moved away from the kinds of policies that work toward the eradication of poverty.
I’m running for president because it’s time to bring it back.
Johnson established the Office of Economic Opportunity to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty. Johnson believed in expanding the federal government’s role in education and health care as poverty-reduction strategies, continuing the basic philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Yet starting in the 1980’s, such governmental largess was demonized. According to the trickle-down economic theory that became the order of the day, government was seen as the problem - not the answer. The Office of Economic Opportunity was abolished in 1981, replaced by a system of insidious “block grants” to states. That way, forces within individual states could obstruct the application of anti-poverty funds to the purposes for which they were intended. And thus we are where we are today.
Trickle-down economics hasn’t “lifted all boats,” as was promised. Instead, it has left millions without even a life raft.
It’s time to set again a national goal of eradicating poverty. It’s time to reestablish the now-defunct OEC, change the current system of block grants, and put anti-poverty funds back to Community Action Agencies to eliminate poverty, expand educational opportunities, increase the social safety net for the poor and unemployed, and tend to the health and financial needs of the elderly.
Helping people is not “wrong.” Serving people is not “codependency.” And strengthening people is not “enabling” them. It’s time to reclaim the core principle of the United States: that this country should belong to its people.
The massive transfer of wealth into the hands of only one percent of our population, begun in the 1980’s and taken to its penultimate expression in the 2017 $2T tax cut in which 83 cents of every dollar went to the highest earners and corporations, must be called what it is: a massive theft from our public treasury. While wealth inequality did not even exist in the 1970’s, today it is worse than it has been since 1929.
This must stop now.
And when I'm president, it will.
Here’s how we can pay for these programs:
1. Roll back tax cuts to the wealthy, including restore the estate tax to estates over $5 million.
2. Roll back tax breaks to big business. Why are taxpayers subsidizing Big Oil?
3. Add a fee to financial transactions like buying stocks. Charge a small fee each time someone buys stocks or exchanges currency. There would be no way for the wealthy to dodge the transaction fee which would be charged automatically for each such transaction. This could add trillions of dollars to pay for the above programs.
See The New Operating System for the American Economy by Scott Smith.
4. Cut waste in the military. Big business dominates our military as it does so many other sectors. Corporate lobbyists push for expensive weapons systems of dubious value to our defense. While I favor a strong defense, I oppose wasting taxpayers’ money on boondoggles. Force projection to every corner of the globe is expensive and counterproductive.
We urgently need a plan to relieve financial distress, to create jobs, and to increase prosperity. It is only by doing this, that the United States can unleash the incredible ingenuity and productivity of the American people. And – we can afford to wait no longer to get started on this path.
Responses by Marianne Williamson
Recent decades have seen the distribution of America’s income and wealth become significantly more concentrated, both compared to other nations and our own previous history. Many factors — from changes in tax policy to trade pacts and attacks on worker rights — are driving this growing inequality. If voters choose you in 2020, how would your administration address our grand economic divides?
Q1. Most all candidates for the White House agree that the rich should pay their “fair share” at tax time. In your mind, what top marginal tax rate for the federal income tax would rate as “fair”?
I support a return to the 70 percent top marginal rate to be applied to income over $10 million. The 70 percent rate was in effect most of the years from the mid-1960s through 1980.
Over time, the tax burden has been shifted away from corporations and the wealthy, and onto the backs of working people. For example, business funding of the federal government has fallen dramatically, from over 33% of all federal revenue in 1945 down to only about 6% in 2018.
I would reverse this trend, so that corporations and the very wealthy pay their fair share.
Restoring the top marginal rate to 70 percent for income over $10 million – the income under $10 million would be taxed at a lower rate - would be one way of shifting the burden back to those who can best afford it.
Q2. The majority of Americans support higher taxes for the rich. But policy analysts differ on who exactly rates as “rich.” At what level should the highest federal income tax rate kick in?1
I support the AOC proposal to restore the 70% top marginal tax rate on income over $10 million. Income people earn below that level would be taxed at a lower rate; the 70% rate kicks in for dollars earned over $10 million.
Q3. Inequality in household wealth — the difference between what families own versus what they owe — runs even greater in the United States than inequality in income. How much wealth in the pockets of its richest 1 percent do you believe a healthy democratic society can accept?
The country does better when wealth is more broadly shared. Currently the top 1% of American households own 42% of the wealth . That’s unfair and needs to change. It would be more balanced if the top 1% owned no more than the 23% of the wealth as they did in 1978.
Q4. Average Americans pay an annual property tax on their homes, the asset that makes up the bulk of the household wealth most Americans hold. But wealthy Americans pay no annual tax on the assets that make up the bulk of their wealth, everything from stocks and bonds to fine art and yachts. Would your administration support an annual wealth tax on the assets of America’s wealthy?
Yes, I support Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax of 2% on wealth over $50 million and 3% on wealth over $1 billion.
Q5. Back in 1980, top corporate CEOs in the United States took home about 40 times the pay of the nation’s average workers. That gap now averages over 300 times. In 2018, 50 U.S. corporations paid their CEOs over 1,000 times their median worker pay. What do you see as the appropriate ratio for the pay that goes to CEOs and their own company’s workers?
I want economic justice, and I believe financial incentives have value. I think the CEO pay should be no more than 100:1 compared with the median worker pay. Portland, Oregon is the first jurisdiction to tax excessive executive compensation, and set the 100:1 ratio as the place where excess begins.
Q6. A century ago, Congress enacted an estate tax, to put a brake on concentrations of inherited wealth and power and raise substantial revenue from our nation’s richest. Since 2000, Congress has subverted that original intent. Lawmakers have lowered the estate tax rate and exempted millions in personal wealth from any tax. Fortunes worth up to $22.8 million can now face no estate tax at all. Which of these steps to limiting intergenerational transfers of wealth do you support?
The estate tax may be the fastest way to reduce wealth inequality. Andrew Carnegie, at the time the richest man in the world, supported 100% estate tax, believing that would encourage each generation to earn its own way in the world and would reduce laziness. While I believe people should be allowed to leave some of what they earned to their loved ones, the levels that can be transferred upon death tax-free should be reduced.
I would restore the estate tax to the 2016 level of $5.45 million per person, or about $11 million per couple.
Q7. To effectively reduce inequality, many tax analysts agree, we need multiple new approaches to taxing the wealthy and the sources of their wealth. Which of these proposed approaches would you advance once in the White House?
Comment: We should not give preferential treatment to the stockholder class. The problem in America is not that people can get rich here; the problem is that not enough people can get rich here. I do not think the average person who creates wealth in America wants to feel that their doing so deprives another person of the opportunity. No socioeconomic group has a monopoly on values, and I believe economic justice is an American value that both calls to and serves us all.
Q8. Robust tax rates on the incomes and estates of America’s wealthiest helped forge a much more equal America in the middle of the 20th century. Robust protections for workers and their right to organize into trade unions played an equally pivotal role. Which of these initiatives would your administration work to enact into law?
Strong unions make America strong by reducing wealth inequality and strengthening economic security for working families. The right to organize is an essential pillar of a fair economy. I support many actions that will strengthen unions. For example, I support the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) because it will strengthen protections for workers’ right to organize a union and bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions.
I also support the Public Sector Freedom to Negotiate Act. Unions help workers earn good wages and be treated with dignity. The Act require states to allow public-service workers to join a union and collectively bargain. It also addresses the issue of fair share fees in the Janus decision by authorizing the voluntary deduction of fees to support the union. It gives 17.3 million public employees a national standard of bargaining rights. Public sector workers such as teachers, police officers, and sanitation workers provide vital services to our communities.
We should make it illegal for CEOs to be paid with stock options. It’s wrong.
I recognize that an assault on unions is a main weapon of the corporatist agenda. We must stop and reverse this trend, a goal central to my campaign.
Q9. Over a century ago, the famed newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer urged Americans to beware both “predatory plutocracy” and “predatory poverty.” The United States has made little appreciable progress against poverty over recent decades, and that failure has had a disproportionate impact on women and people of color. Which of these policies to “lift the floor” and expand the U.S. social safety net will your administration promote?
Comment: I want every American to have enough economic security to get a good education and pursue their dreams. Human creativity and productivity foster both peace and prosperity. We all win when we all win. So in addition to the above, I would eliminate the yoke of student debt that currently hangs around the neck of students. Additionally, I support a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 per month per person from age 18 to 65 (when Social Security begins). This would help unleash the creativity of the American people, and help people thrive.
Q10. Today, over a half-century since the classic triumphs of the civil rights movement, the United States still suffers from a staggering racial wealth divide, with median white families holding over 40 times more household wealth than black families — and over 20 times more than Latinx families. Which of these policies to narrow the racial wealth divide would your administration advance?
I am the first presidential candidate to advocate for reparations, and the only candidate with a plan for how to implement it. I propose reparations in the amount of $200-$500 Billion. This payment is to be made over a period of twenty years, to a Reparations Council made up of black leaders from across the spectrum of American academic, cultural and political leaders. The Council would be made up of 30-50 members, all descendants of slaves with some scholarly, cultural or political connection to the issue of reparations. It would be for this council, not for the American government, to determine how the money is to be disbursed. The only stipulation on the part of the American government is that the money be applied for purposes of economic and educational renewal. The Reparations Plan will go far toward ending a painful, horrific chapter in American history, and will give future generations of Americans a chance to begin again on the higher ground of true reconciliation.
There are many other ways we can improve conditions for people of color. I plan to fight to reinforce the power of the Voting Rights Act, to increase the power of the Justice Department Civil Rights division, and to increase funding for low-performing schools that service communities of color. I plan to provide universal health care, affordable college, and fair housing practices, in order to address some of the most essential needs of underserved communities. I plan to reduce our prison population, eliminate or at least actively regulate private prisons, and improve the quality of care and education in prisons, in order to reduce recidivism and help inmates be successfully reintegrated into our communities. I plan to appoint federal judges who have demonstrated careers of sensitivity and understanding regarding communities of color, and of course, appoint judges who belong to these communities.
Q11. Women in the United States now earn the majority of college degrees awarded. Yet women continue to be underrepresented in high-level, highly paid positions and overrepresented in lowpaying jobs. Which of these steps to narrow the gender divide will your administration support?
Q12. American children born in 1940, research shows, had above a 90 percent chance of earning more than their parents. Children born in the 1980s have had a 50 percent chance.6 Many of the proposals identified in previous questions would help restore much greater social mobility to American life. Which of these additional steps would your White House support?