Many columnists, commentators, and opposing politicians have been dismissively calling Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their fellow advocates “socialists.” I predict that we will hear some variation of that word roughly a million times between now and November 2020.
That will be unfortunate because the senators’ ideas are in essence proposed investments that will fundamentally, structurally and systemically change the way our nation employs the riches of being the wealthiest nation on earth; it’s not some Robin Hood redistribution scheme to rob from the rich to give to the poor.
These advocates are foremost warning against inequalities — especially of income, education and political influence — that are sharply diminishing the hallowed American dream that everyone who is willing to work hard has an equal chance to succeed.
That’s a stark, and to me correct, warning, not a call for a socialist state. Indeed, a better word for the champions of ideas to correct those increasing inequities would be “investors.”
The needed investments are many. Foremost is education in all its facets: universal early childhood education and its handmaiden, universal child care; more funding for elementary and high schools, starting with higher teacher salaries; more grants and low-cost loan programs for higher education; monies for greater service and technology training for those increasing numbers of relatively less-skilled, less-educated individuals likely to be displaced by technology.
Then there is: combating “food insecurity” (which seems like today’s preferred antiseptic term for people going hungry); universal health care; and action on the existential problem of climate control; and infrastructure funding.
But where will the needed trillions of dollars of investment come from?
Senator Warren has proposed several ideas for getting the funding needed by raising taxes. Not getting into the specific details, I’d say that the senator is “directionally correct.”
The wider concept needs to be that the individuals and corporations which have most benefited from prior public investments that afford workforce education, infrastructure and public safety should pay a small slice of those enormous benefits to fund future public investments that will provide both financial returns and, even more significantly, returns in the form of greater well-being for all.
Simply, those who can well afford to pay more should pay more.
In the most recent display of our current skewed system, reportedly over 80% of last year’s tax “reform” benefits went to taxpayers with the highest incomes. We were told that the tax savings would be used by the beneficiaries to dramatically boost productive private investments, but there has been little evidence to support that claim.
The evidence we do have is that the government deficit has increased significantly, a condition that is simply unsustainable. Adding to that shortfall problem is a report in Fortune that 60 of our country’s largest, most profitable ($79 billion net income in total) companies had in 2018 a negative effective tax rate — or in other words received tax refunds.
So what I hear Senators Sanders and Warren and their fellow proponents advocating are concrete ideas for, in equity and fairness, seeking money from those individuals and corporations most able to pay. Those proceeds would fund public investments that will generate material returns, both financial and in form of improved lives that will enrich the most people possible — especially those who will continue to pursue our long-standing American dream.
That to me is the definition of capitalism, not some socialist plot. There is no question we have in this richest country in the world the wherewithal and the means to generate the funds that are needed to make those investments.
The question is do we have the will?