At a recent Social Justice meeting, it was agreed that I would write again about income inequality, updating the subject of the Issue of the Quarter of July-September 2015. A copy of that paper is available on our web page and in the background, materials accompanying this report. Unfortunately, the inequality has increased since then and the present national government and many of our State governments are even more under the control of the wealthy. This has been made possible by a number of factors including great reductions in taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, a program to reduce checks on business practices, and more and more attempts to cut back on government spending for services for the middle class and especially for the poor. And, to make matters worse, the continued avoidance by our political leaders of addressing the impact of climate change, our fractured superstructure, and developing a workforce that keeps up with rapid technology changes only will make matters worse.
In the previous paper I listed nine changes that need to be addressed in order to have less income inequality. This paper will speak to those changes plus the following: raise the minimum wage, where will we get the money, how to handle international trade (tariffs vs. free trade), the impact of technological change, and budgeting for a better balance between “guns and butter”.
1. Support Move to Amend: Clearly, corporations should not have the same rights as individuals. Corporations should be providing useful services to people and be accountable to the people generally, not just to their stockholders. They should be required to openly report the amount of money, the name of the recipient and the benefits they are promised for any “gifts” they give to politicians, political organizations, or governmental organizations. These measures should make people more aware of how the very rich have so much control over elections and the priorities of those in charge of government spending as well as our countries economic priorities. By amending the constitution to separate corporate rights from human rights, it will help change priorities mainly to meeting the needs of the population rather that for additional income for the very rich.
2. Campaign Reform: Along with the above, we need to make political campaigns fairer through reforms in campaign spending. Ideally, public campaign funding would probably be best but, in any case, there should be limits on the contributions of individuals and groups and all major donors should be identified. Other areas that would help would be shortening the time for campaigns so that politicians do not spend most of their time in office campaigning for the next election and good public reporting on how politicians have voted on various issues.
3. Labor needs to Have a Say in the Work Place: Unions, outside 0f the public sector, have practically disappeared. Workers need to have a say on how they are treated, and, on the benefits, they will receive, especially after retirement. Without these benefits, it is especially essential that the government strengthen programs such as affordable health care, social security, Medicare, and – for the less fortunate – Medicaid.
4. Upgrade Our Infrastructure: We need to prioritize and not continue to politicize this great opportunity to provide more quality jobs for many folks who are unemployed or underemployed. As usual the rich see it as a bonanza for them, especially through privatization, rather than an essential and helpful program for everyone.
5. Break up huge conglomerates through tough antitrust laws: We need to do this not only because of the danger of them becoming too big to fail but to allow for more competition which will benefit the people through better pricing and service.
6. Overhaul our whole election system: The fairness of our election system is being undermined by outdated equipment and methods of counting votes. For example, the electoral system is not democratic and should be eliminated or adjusted so that all votes are equal and the states with low populations do not have an advantage in national presidential elections. Also, election machines could be manipulated, and we should return to paper ballots. Another possibility would be to devise ways in which ranked voting could be used if there are more than 2 candidates running for the same office. And we especially need to demand the elimination of gerrymandering.
7. We need to make the tax system more progressive: The recent tax reform has, no doubt, contributed to the increases in income inequality. Middle income people had a small income raise but the very rich and especially CEOs of the major corporations have had a huge increase in income. Tied with our America First policy and tariff increases, prices are increasing for those commodities and services required by the poor and the middle class, especially the elderly. This, together with huge national budget deficits, has resulted in calls for reduction in programs to help the poor and those who are living on the edge. The only foreseeable fair solution is to call for higher taxes on higher incomes.