We can assure a good quality of life for all

What are the elements of a good quality of life? Good, accessible and affordable health care. Being able to pay your bills. Living in a welcoming home. Having a job with a wage that reflects the value of your work. Knowing your kids can get a good education in our public school system, our community colleges and our universities. Knowing that when you have a child, or you adopt a child, you will have the time to care for these infants, and not worry about working for a while. Knowing that as they grow up, you will have the ability to teach them, instilling thoughtfulness, consideration, and, of course, love, into their lives and souls.

A good quality of life means that as you age, you don’t have to worry about having enough money for your groceries and your housing. You are able to have a community of friends and family, not isolated in worry, debt and poverty. A good life includes a vibrant and sharing culture, in which we talk, have eye contact, argue and drink beer and coffee in real time with real people.

How much does this good quality of life cost? When you add in housing, health care, child care, food, transportation, taxes and other necessities like your phone and internet, a very low-ball estimate is about $52,000 for a family with one adult and one child and $70,000 for a family with two adults and two kids. (And this doesn’t include savings for retirement.) In terms of wages, that is about two-and-a-half times the minimum wage for that single mom and her child, and about twice the minimum wage at full-time for both parents working with two kids. Here is the problem: The wage of the average worker is $25 an hour. That means that half of all workers make less than $25 an hour, which means that they are on the margins of insecurity, falling away from a good quality of life.

Could we in Washington state do something different and enable all citizens the ability to earn enough money for a good quality of life and be able to enjoy an peaceful retirement? Of course. This universal good quality of life, adding up all households in our state, would cost about $225 billion a year. Our current state personal income is $350 billion. The problem is that with money migrating to the very top, the incomes of the middle class have been stagnant. That is no way to have a mutually beneficial and good and healthy quality of life.

This increasing insecurity is the product of conscious public policy decisions to act and not to act. For example, there is a law on the books for gradually increasing the wages of child care teachers. Right now these wages hover around $11 an hour, enabling a child care teacher to work her way deeper into poverty! And she will continue to do this, because the Legislature fails to fund the policy for gradually increasing wages which they voted into law in 2005.

Similarly, there is no constitutional prohibition against taxing the income of the very wealthy. By not taxing that income, the incentives encourage piling money on top of money for the already privileged, and create a feedback mechanism that encourages employers to push down wages for their workers. At the same time, public services, such as higher education, are starved for tax revenue and priced out of reach for middle class families.

There are numerous similar acts and omissions of public policy that undermine a good quality of life in our state. It is not enough to get depressed at the insecurity of our neighbors, our children, our parents or ourselves. It is not the natural order of things. We do have the power to create laws that insure elemental things like health care, education, retirement security, a balance of work and family. Legislators won’t act if we cower in discontent and depression. We have to express ourselves and build a new reality, if not for ourselves, then at least for our kids and their kids. That’s possible, in a democracy, after all.

Originalinally published at Everett Herald

The Declaration of Independence says that Governments exist to secure our rights

The National Archives’ text of the Declaration of Independence reads as follows:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Notice that the sentence in bold is incomplete. It’s grammatical only if the preceding period and dashes are omitted and replaced by a comma. In short, the Declaration of Independence says it’s self-evident that Governments exist, in part, to secure our inalienable rights.  Notice also the final words quoted above.  Government has a positive role:  effecting the People’s Safety and Happiness.

In fact, earlier versions of the Declaration of Independence had a comma and not a period. In total, there are about 70 versions of the Declaration, some with commas, some without.

This argument was made in depth by Danielle Allen in Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.   “The Declaration of Independence matters because it helps us see that we cannot have freedom without equality.”

The issue is timely because revisionist libertarians want us to believe that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were founded primarily as a reaction against tyrannical government and thus on libertarian principles.  In fact, as is well known by historians, the Constitution was written explicitly to counter the failed experiment in small government embodied in the Articles of Confederation (hence the Constitution’s General Welfare clause, for example).  Even at the earlier time of the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, the founding fathers realized that government has a very positive role to play in effecting the People’s Safety and Happiness.  Federalists such as George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton wanted a strong federal government.   Members of the early Democratic-Republican Party — including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe — favored a smaller role for government.  The battle between small government proponents and big government proponents rages even today.

David Stockman on the corruption of capitalism and the GOP

I’m reading David Stockman’s book The Great Deformation — the Corruption of Capitalism in America. Stockman was Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He criticizes the GOP for its militarism and its whoring for the rich. He says there was no need to bail out Wall Street. The speculators who would have lost out deserved to lose and the contagion wouldn’t have spread beyond the canyons of Wall Street. The Great Deformation

Progressives would agree with much of what Stockman has to say.

“[T]he Republican Party was hijacked by modern imperialists during the Reagan era. As a consequence, the conservative party cannot perform its natural function as watchdog of the public purse because it is constantly seeking legislative action to provision a vast war machine of invasion and occupation.” (p 688)

“The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility. They’re on an anti-tax jihad — one that benefits the prosperous classes.”  “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich”. Rolling Stone.

But Stockman is a true conservative.  He doesn’t believe the government should be involved in bailing out business or stimulating the economy.  He opposes Keynesian macro-economic policies and thinks that government does more harm than good when it meddles.  He also opposes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the minimum wage.

“At the heart of the Great Deformation is a rogue central bank that has abandoned every vestige of sound money. In so doing, it has enabled politicians to enjoy ‘deficits without tears’ by monetizing massive amounts of public debt.”

Stockman calls the bailout, the stimulus, and the Fed’s printing of money “a de facto coup d’etat by Wall Street” whose purpose was to re-inflate the financial bubble.

“The Detroit-based auto industry was debt-enfeebled house of cards that had been a Wall Street playpen of deal making and LBOs for years, including my own. ”  He thinks the there needs to be a rollback of the “preposterous $100,000 per year cost of UAW jobs.”

Stockman spent twenty years after leaving the White House in the leveraged buyout business.  He was indicted for fraud when a business he invested in went bankrupt. After a two year battle, prosecutors decided to drop charges. Stockman says the business failure was due to stupidity (his) and market decline, not fraud.

In the last chapter, Stockman proposes the following radical policy changes which, he admits, have almost no chance of being enacted in the current political climate.  Some of the changes (such as overturning Citizens United, the establishment of federally funded elections, and a wealth tax on the rich) would be eagerly welcomed by progressives. Other changes (such as the elimination of Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes) would be strongly opposed by progressives.

  1. An end to the Feds expansionist monetary policy and a return to a gold-backed dollar.
  2. An end to deposit insurance and an end to Fed’s lending federally insured money to speculating banks.
  3. Adopt “Super Glass-Stegall II”, erecting a wall between investment banking government funds (“insured deposits or access to the Fed discount window”).
  4. An Omnibus Amendment that limits Congress members to a single term of six years in office and eliminates the Electoral College (“bringing the nation into the modern world of one person, one vote”).
  5. Require Congress to balance the budget, except in case of a declared war.
  6. End Keyesian macroeconomic expansionism and allow the free market to set wages and levels of production.
  7. Abolish social insurance bailouts, and economic subsidies.
  8. “Eliminate the Departments of Energy, Education, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture, HUD, Homeland Security, the SBA, DOT, and the Ex-Im Bank.” Also eliminate Fannie Mae, Freddie Mae, the FHA, the homeowner’s tax deduction, and subsidies for Amtrak.
  9. “Erect a study cash-based means-tested safety net and abolish the minimum wage.”
  10. Abolish all forms of health insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, and replace them with “cash-based transfer payments.”  Also eliminate tax subsidies for employer-funded health insurance. All these forms of insurance, says Stockman, mostly serve to prop up the corrupt medical-industrial complex. “The cancerous growth of the medical care complex would be halted and reversed.”  He believes the free market will devise innovations to provide efficient care. “The one necessary concession to socialism would be a system of federally licensed catastrophic insurance funds would automatically cover the means-tested safety-net population.”
  11. “Replace the warfare state with genuine national defense.”
  12. Establish a 30% wealth tax on the rich in order to reclaim the trillions they extorted from the US Treasury and the middle class. “Needless to say, $14 trillion of national debt reduction could never be achieved under any known ordinary fiscal device; it would require a one-time wealth tax, essentially a recapture of part of the windfall wealth gain that has accrued to the top of the economic ladder during the age of bubble finance.”
  13. Repeal the Sixteenth Amendment (income taxes) and finance “the beast” via consumption taxes.

By the way, Stockman isn’t the only former Reagan economic adviser to argue against GOP tax policy. Former Labor Secretary Barry Bluestone thinks the GOP tickle-down economic policy is a failure. He says “The wealthiest people spend maybe 30% of their income. Poor people spend 100%, working people spend 98%, so as we move money away from working families towards very wealthy families, we take more and more consumption out of the economy, means slower and slower growth, means higher and higher an extended unemployment.”

A follow-up on why I became a socialist

Of the responses to my recent essay, “Why I Became a Socialist,” I received this one negative reaction.  I believe my reply to Mr. Wynman will help clarify the questions.  I believe we need a revolution, hopefully a peaceable one.  Unfortunately, those in control, when they feel threatened, will cause the violence when people get upset enough to protest and even act with civil disobedience.  I believe it has to eventually come to save our democracy from far right fascism.

J. Glenn Evans

16JUL14—Bob Wyman

With J. Glenn Evans’ 21 July, 2014

I doubt that whoever wrote this piece of junk was ever a capitalist or ever understood the free market.  (S)he claims:  “Then when I considered the injustice of the gross and growing inequality among people that is wrought by pure unregulated capitalism,”.  We’ve never had “pure unregulated capitalism”. 

Bob, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to my essay, “Why I Became a Socialist.”  There was a time in my life when I would have reacted with the same venom you have when you call my writing a piece of junk.  This was the time when I spent over 20 years as a stockbroker and investment banker raising capital for small companies and making markets in their stock.  During this time I served as a vice president of two brokerage firms and president of two others, first starting my own firm with $5,000 worth of junk securities and maybe a couple of thousand in cash shooting for ten million, reached three million in ten years, before I went bust from greed, over-expansion, too much success on a manual bookkeeping system and had my fill of bureaucrats so decided to go back to my earliest ambition to become a writer and publisher.  Also during this brokerage time I operated an exploratory mining company and a movie company that financed and co-produced a full-length movie co-starring Slim Pickens with a five star rating.  So I am hardly a wild-eyed idealist; I’ve had good grounding in the business world.

You are right; we have probably never had a totally unregulated capitalistic system.  Main Street Capitalism when there was true competition, the customer’s freedom to choose with whom they would do business served as a check on the unscrupulous.  On the state and national level when we had regulators who regulated for the best interest of the public, we prospered and the opportunity for folks to start a business and grow still had a chance.  When I referred to unregulated capitalists, I was referring to what we have today, where the  “supposedly regulated” are now with big money in control of Congress and the lobbyists for big uncontrollable corporations now write the laws for their benefit and playing musical chairs between government and business they have a tremendous effect on the regulators, and who and who not to go after.  How many Banksters have gone to jail?  So regulation is now reserved for the small exploratory mining company and a movie company that financed and co-produced a full-length movie co-starring Slim Pickens with a five star rating.

The USA has always been a mixed economy, part capitalist & part socialist & the socialist part has increased over the last 200 years as more & more “capitalists” climb into bed with the State bureaucrats and become part of the fascist State/corporate partnership that’s destroying our civilization.

I couldn’t agree with you more; we have become a fascist state, at least by Mussolini definition that Fascism is a marriage between business and government

The article doesn’t get any better; it’s filled with misrepresentations, untruths utter BS, such as “As a result of global capitalism and corruption, the socialist systems in Russia and China evolved into state capitalism with ruling coming from the top down”.  “State Capitalism” is an oxymoronic label for fascism, with nothing in common with free market or capitalism.

Bob, I would recommend that you read John Perkins’s Confessions of An Economic Hit Man.  He was on the inside and well aware of what our CIA and National Security outfit have been doing in the world, taking leaders out who do not take their bribes and do their will, how the World Bank, so set up to help third world countries has been used as a vehicle to get countries overextended debt-wise, doing projects that little benefit the people.  When they cannot pay, then putting the squeeze on and having our corporations take control of their resources and impoverishing their citizens to pay back the interest and principal of a debt, they little benefited from.  Only a few rich sycophants made out.

What started out as intended as Democratic Socialism, from the people up, in Russia and China, was taken over by bureaucracies ruled from the top down, with little input from the people for whom the productive resources were supposed to be owned.  Since the state owned the productive assets or capital, I don’t know what you would call it other than State Capitalism.  Fascism is a partnership between private business corporations and the government.

I don’t know of any free markets unless they are the local farmer’s markets.  Above that it is a myth put out by subsidized special interests.

No one who ever understood the free market could ever write:  “We also need progressive taxation and inheritance taxes above a certain level to prevent excessive inequality. ”.  In a free society, we all have equal opportunity to become as unequal as we are capable of becoming.

Unfortunately the statement, “In a free society, we are all have equal opportunity to become as unequal as we are capable of becoming,” is also a myth.  What if you are born black or poor and in a slum or handicapped or happen to be a woman?  When I went to college, my semester tuition was $45.  All I had to worry about was buying my books and earning food and shelter.  By working summers and after school I was able to work and earn some more money.  When I got out of college I did not own a big debt that our young folks are loaded up with today and most likely will be enslaved by such a debt for years.  Some of our greatest people came from the working class.  Look at Lincoln; look at Ben Franklin and thousands of others.  Would we deny these people an opportunity to serve their community by cutting them short on an education, while rich people waste money on the likes of George Bush and with their money put him in high places where such people can do so much damage.  Ask Iraq and Afghanistan what they think.

When I left the game of greed and took up my earlier ambition to be a poet and writer, where I have spent over 30 years and came to associate with people more concerned about the well being of their fellow citizens and others in the world in achieving economic, social and political justice for all, rather than gaining a lot of wealth and self-aggrandizement, I came to realize that resources of this world are here for all life, not for a few grabbers.  Why should one person accumulate enough for a thousand lifetimes and a thousand family go hungry and unsheltered?  Anyone earning over a million dollars a year does not earn it.  It is made from speculation or exploiting money from those who work for them.  In a world of diminishing resources hogged up by mega corporations owned by the 1%, progressive taxations and inheritance taxes are the main tools for maintaining an equitable balance.  

We have all seen how great wealth in the hands of the few has destroyed our democracy in their takeover of our government.  Without inheritance taxes what are we trying to do build up another aristocracy, with the Earls, Dukes and Barons just changing their names to Banksters, CEOs and Lobbyists?  Capitalism has had its day of inequality and constant wars just like the feudal system and it is time for change.  We must devise a new system of cooperate and share rather than compete and beat.  Socialism may not have all the answers, but they are in the forefront of human rights issues and standing up for economic and political justice and it works.  Look at the Scandinavian countries.  We better do something quickly; otherwise in time we are headed toward another French like Revolution

I quit reading at the point the big lie was repeated:  “There are certain functions too big for small companies, including transportation, public utilities and some industrial undertakings that would better serve the public by being community-owned.  Banking, insurance, health care and education can better serve the citizens by being community-owned rather than filling the pockets of private capitalists that seem to turn into monopolies.” … and should have quit reading much sooner.

–bob

Hardly a big lie when you see big pharmaceutical monopolies feasting on the sick, health care and assisted living corporations bankrupting our citizens, our industrial corporations shipping our vital industries to other nations with the decimation of our own local communities, financial and banksters sucking money out of the nation for their speculations and cannibalizing and plundering their competition.

 

Public interest must be basis of government

I was thirsty this morning, so I went to the sink, turned on the tap, filled a glass, and drank some water. We do this every day. We don’t worry about the quality of the water, the pipes that bring it into our homes, the reservoir where water is collected and stored, the water treatment so that it has no bacteria or viruses. We literally take our water for granted.

But it is not granted. It is the product of good public health, good regulation, good planning, good scientific research, good construction practices, good oversight, good taxes and user fees, and good public servants. All these things are the product of good government. The story of drinking water in Everett begins in the Cascades, with water collected in the Spada Reservoir, then channeled through the Snohomish County PUD Jackson Hydroelectric Plant to make electricity. The water then flows back through a three-mile-long pipe to Lake Chaplain Reservoir. Part of it is diverted and returned to the Sultan River to provide in-stream flow for fish. Most of it is treated at the Drinking Water Filtration Plant. Then it flows, via gravity into the homes and businesses of Everett.

When you get a glass of water, you are benefitting from decades of planning, dam-building, preservation of land and pipe-laying. You are benefitting from current expenditures for water monitoring, water filtration, and maintenance of transmission lines. You know your water is safe and is there for you.

Another thing we do in the morning, and, in fact, all day long, is breathe. Our health is dependent on air quality. That makes me happy to live in the Northwest. Our air is clean, the sky is blue when it isn’t raining, and you can see the Olympics to the West and the Cascades to the East. We take this for granted. But we shouldn’t. If we lived in some other parts of the world, we couldn’t see mountains five miles from our homes. Today the air quality index, which measures five major air pollutants, is 19 in Everett. That means that the air is “good.” Compare this to Hangzhou China, where today the air quality index measures 250 — officially this is “very unhealthy.” Hangzhou happens to have a beautiful lake surrounded by green mountains. But the lake is only to look at, you wouldn’t be caught swimming in it, and the mountains you can’t even see through the haze of pollution.

Fifty years ago Lake Washington was an embarrassment of bad water with sewage outflows, industrial waste and blue-green algae blooms. Thanks to voters’ approval of the metropolitan form of county-wide government for water and sewage treatment and growth planning, and thanks to federal regulations on allowable discharges, we cleaned up Lake Washington. Now we take swimming for granted, at least once the water warms up a bit. That piece of environmental good works was only possible thanks to good government.

A Republican President — Richard Nixon, and a Democratic Congress in 1970 partnered up to pass the Clean Air Act, regulating air pollutants, including auto emission standards, the adoption of catalytic converters, the banning of lead in fuel, and limiting and mitigating industrial “smokestack” emissions. The result: the number of days of unhealthy air has been reduced by ten-fold in Everett, from three weeks a year in 1985 to just two days in 2013.

China doesn’t regulate industrial emissions. Their industry and homes depend on coal-fired electricity. As a result, they are literally suffocating their own citizens. People are getting fed up. Protests against air and water pollution are even escaping through the censors’ scissors.

We expect good air and clean water and we should. It’s only possible through a government that is of, for, and by the people. We have had those governments in the past, at the city, county, state and federal level. The elected leaders from both parties took their responsibilities as public servants and public leaders seriously. They made decisions for the public interest. So when you drink a glass of water from the tap, take a deep breath, and resolve to hold our elected representatives accountable for governing in the interests of all of us. We did it before, and we can do it again.

Originally published in the Everett Herald 

Pay the Price

The Bellevue Reporter published my letter-to-the-editor about King County voters’ recent rejection of Proposition 1.

With gas prices at $3.75 a gallon, the cost of filling up a tank of gas ranges from $63.75 for a Toyota Corolla (gas tank capacity 17 gallons) to $116.25 for a Chevy Suburban (tank capacity of 31 gallons).

But a majority of King County voters were unwilling to pay $60 once a year to fund public transportation and fix roads. I guess they’d rather sit in heavy traffic, breathe filthy air and ignore the plight of the many people who will now have trouble getting to work and school. Have Americans become that selfish and short-sighted?

Finland’s model shows respect for all

I just returned from a trip to Finland to visit old friends. I brought home a bill from a hospital.

You may wonder how these two things connect. The bill from the hospital was for a friend of mine. She needed a new hip. So for five days in the hospital, the surgery, the surgeon’s salary, the artificial hip, and all the necessary care and medicine, she paid $224. That’s it. Period. No co-insurance , no donut hole for prescriptions, no premium, no co-pay.

The Finnish government takes care of the health care bill, and insures secure retirement pensions, at about 60 percent of your best five years of income. The government enables family leave to care for your kids for their first years of life, as well as child care with well-paid and educated teachers and caregivers. Of course there is free universal K-12 education, which is ranked the best in the world. University education is paid for, and includes a living stipend. As a worker, you get at least five weeks of vacation. Everyone gets universal paid sick days.

Some people would argue that such a system would push down economic activity. In Finland, this foundation of security enables private business activity. The World Economic Forum ranks Finland as the third most competitive economy in the world, ahead of the U.S. Grant Thornton, a worldwide giant in business auditing, ranks Finland fifth in the world, thanks to its “business operating environment, economics & growth, science & technology, labour & human capital, and financing environment.”

Human values have helped to create this state of happiness, work and progress. Respect is one such value, universal in Finland. Respect for each other, from the person who settles your bill at the store, to the taxi driver, to the school teacher, to the small business entrepreneur, to the member of parliament, to the elite of big business. Respect is apparent and expected and it crosses occupations, income and education. Another element is a Finnish word which we seldom use here anymore: “yhteistyötä,” which means cooperation, community, coordination, solidarity. Listen to Finns talking, and “yhteistyötä” comes up over and over again. They know that they are all in this together.

Solidarity and respect are expressed in national policies for which everyone pays, with taxes, and through which everyone gains a certain strong sense of economic wellbeing. The uncertainties of life that we shoulder in America are replaced with the knowledge that everyone’s basic needs — be that health care, retirement, child care, university, technical school — will be there, for you, for your neighbors, for your children, for your brothers and sisters.

Finns know that this kind of system is not free. Pretty much everyone pays 20 percent of their income in taxes, and this can go up to 50 perecent for incomes above $100,000. Everyone pays sales taxes, as much as 24 percent for things like televisions. Health insurance payments are 1.1 percent of income. Social security payments are about 5 percent. Add all these payments together and the average Finn pays more in taxes than the average American. And gets a lot more back in return: the certainty of health care, retirement income, day care for young children, family leave, care for the old and ill, early childhood education and university as well. It is not all completely paid for by taxes, but the public portion makes the private costs much lower. Child care costs about $300 a month for an upper-income family. Mothers and fathers receive 80 percent of their compensation when they care for an infant. That partial compensation drops to 60 percent if the parent continues to care for her child at home for a second and third year.

Respect, cooperation, paying taxes and having a government that works for you. We can achieve all this in our own state and country as well. We have the history, knowledge, income and economic dynamism. We started the New Deal for Social Security. We enacted the GI bill so soldiers could gain higher education. We established Medicare so old people would have health care. As Americans, we value family, hard work and looking out for each other. If we just stretch ourselves some, we can realize life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for all of us. We won’t have to look across the ocean.

Originally published at the Everett Herald