The Social Democrat makes no pretense to impartiality on the political questions of our times. Quite to the contrary, we are committed to building a society based on social democratic principles: representative democracy; a chiefly private-enterprise economy unapologetically supervised by the state to enable both the equal inclusion of every citizen in the economic, social and political life of the nation and a fair distribution of the nation’s economic product; and state responsibility for the meeting of basic human needs. In the interest of full disclosure, we outline here our a priori attitude toward some of the major controversies animating our current political discourse.
Work & Wages: A Cornerstone Proposal:
The historic core of the social democratic program has always been jobs for all who seek them at decent wages, and The Social Democrat likewise considers this a top priority. In addition to the prevailing system in the United States, which relies on passive, macroeconomic measures like fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate growth, hoping that the private sector will spontaneously create enough jobs at adequate pay scales, The Social Democrat believes in active labor market policies (ALMP) to assure that all who are willing to work are able to find jobs at living wages. Here we first present a comprehensive proposal for a truly inclusive model of work and wages. Following we will indicate our position toward programs and policy levers which are part of the current mix.
The fact is, our prevailing system regularly leaves many millions of job seekers unable to find work and tens of millions more working for wages which cannot sustain a decent livelihood. Even during good times, when the economy reaches “full employment,” millions are left out, since the U.S. government considers “full employment” to be reached when over four percent of job seekers are still without work. This “full employment” definition is somewhat warranted by the number of unemployed who are voluntarily “between jobs,” but it also includes millions whose skills don’t match the available jobs or who are not located where the jobs are. Though as of this writing, in July of 2017, the U.S. economy is considered at “full employment,” more than eight million of our fellow citizens are looking for jobs but unable to find them. Another five to six million of our fellow citizens are working part-time jobs but would prefer to work full-time. Further discouraged millions have dropped out of the labor force entirely and so are not counted among the official “unemployed.” The Social Democrat finds unacceptable and indefensible a social contract based on a game of musical chairs, where it is known in advance that not every job seeker will find a job, where when the magical “full-employment” number is reached, the government claims victory and the Federal Reserve raises rates to put the brakes on both job creation and wage increases. We believe that our civic contract requires a more honest bargain, one in which any adult citizen who is willing to work and/or undergo training should be fully included in our economic system and the rewards it affords.
The problem of inadequate wages is related to inadequate job opportunities (because unemployment, apart from being a grievous problem itself, drives down wages for those who have jobs). A recent Pew Research study estimates that over 20 million Americans over the age of 18 work for less than $10.10 per hour, which comes to about $1,737.20 per month, or $21,008 per year at a 40-hour week.
Contrary to the assumptions of many, these are not mainly young people: 50% of those earning only $10.10 per hour are over 30. Dr. Amy Glassmeier of MIT has developed a superb tool for calculating living costs for every county in the United States. According to Dr. Glassmeier’s analysis, the average hourly wage needed for a family of four with both adults working full time was $15.84 in 2016. However, there is a huge range between different regions. Speaking only of metro areas, two adults with two children would both need work 40 hours per week at $21.79 per hour to make ends meet in the Washington, DC metro region, while they would only need to take in $13.15 per hour in Knoxville. This great variance in living costs around the country (mainly due to housing costs) is why The Social Democrat takes issue with the national $15 minimum wage movement. It some areas $15 is inadequate, and in others, more than is necessary. A singleton living in rural Georgia would need $10.82 per hour to get by; if she moved to San Francisco she had better get a raise to $16.13. In short, many millions of Americans work for wages on which it is impossible to maintain what middle class Americans would consider a decent lifestyle. The reason for this egregious situation are manifold. At the low end of the skills scale there is always a “reserve army of labor”—i.e., a pool of unemployed ready to take your place—which removes most bargaining power over wages from the employee; meanwhile the decline of unions in most fields leaves workers without an advocate. As is widely reported, a large portion of the jobs being generated in the American economy today are precisely these low-skill service jobs, consequently increasing numbers of American workers are trapped in the low-wage sector. Finally, there is the simple matter of greed on the part of owners and managers. When unions are weak, workers easily replaced, self-centered business owners will pay workers the least they can get away with, without regard to whether the fellow citizens and fellow human beings who help them achieve a luxurious lifestyle can even sustain a modicum of what they would consider a decent living.
The Social Democrat favors a simple but comprehensive solution to both unemployment and low wages. First, a simple principle: all adult citizens who wish to participate in the economy and are willing to both train and work should be able to participate, and this participation should be compensated at a pay scale equivalent to the living wage for the region in which they live and work, as calculated by the Dr. Glassmeier’s (or a similar) tool. On the issue of pay, to take into account widely disparate housing costs, we propose a national minimum wage pegged to the living costs in each area rather than a single figure. Such a minimum should permit a two-parent family with two children to reach Glass’s living wage for their region with 60 hours of combined work per week: a number of hours that allows for both parents working but not so much that childcare and supervision is impossible. (That same wage should allow single individuals to achieve an adequate standard of living for one person based on 35 hours of work per week.) For single parents with children, the single-person living wage would be supplemented with child allowances for up to two children which would take into account the additional costs associated with the child. One note: should single-payer healthcare become a reality, income needs would probably be adjusted downward to account for lower health insurance costs.
On the issue of unemployment, The Social Democrat proposes a nation-wide network of Inclusion Centers, with branches within proximity to all American citizens. Employers would be required to report job openings to their regional center so that the agency would be aware of all job openings in the area—and in other regions as well, through the national network. Citizens unable to find work on their own would apply to these centers for assistance. Employment specialists at the bureau would assess the applicant’s skills and attempt to find a match among available openings in the region. If this failed, the applicant would be offered training in fields which are in demand in the region. Alternatively, if the applicant had skills which were in demand in other regions and were willing to relocate, the bureau would facilitate recruitment as well as the geographic transition, with transportation and temporary housing assistance as needed. Any citizen who participates in the program, whether actively searching for a job or in a training program, would be compensated at the living wage for the region in question. Malingering would be countered by a requirement that all participants, whether in training or job-seeking mode, would be compensated only for time spent at the employment bureau or on approved training sites. Unlike unemployment insurance, where recipients must merely show proof of a certain number of submitted job applications, this program would require participants to be on-site, carrying out supervised job-seeking or training activities, in order to gain the compensation. Lifetime limits on time spent in the program, or training wage-rates pegged moderately below the living wage rate could be considered to further incentivize moving as quickly as practical toward participation in the “real” economy. On-site childcare and transportation assistance would be available to enable parents with small children to participate. Similar strategies have been attempted in various states as part of the federal TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—better known as welfare/workfare), but the system has foundered on inadequate levels of support for clients while they are trying to transition into work, as well as wages, once jobs are found, that are inadequate to lift participants out of poverty. The system we propose would overcome both of these issues by offering living-wage levels of compensation while unemployed, partially employed and/or in training and by assuring, through our regionally-pegged minimum wage, that all jobs provide a living wage.
Such a system possesses the great virtue of comprehensiveness. It solves the problems of both unemployment and inadequate wages. Since all citizens willing and able to participate will be offered a living wage, whether they be in work or in training, the caseloads of a welter of current safety net programs—food stamps, housing assistance, welfare (TANF)—will radically diminish. (Safety net programs will still be needed for those who are either unable or unwilling to participate—more on that under “Safety Net.”) Inclusion centers would further serve as “one-stop” hubs for a large range of government programs, like disability, child services and other safety net programs, increasing efficiency for providers and convenience for clients. Along with programs in schools and community colleges to foster more work-related training, this proposal rests on a belief in the development of human capital, society’s most precious resource, and fosters the social democratic values of both inclusion and solidarity, whose benefits to a well-functioning polity cannot be overstated. In geographic areas or in temporal epochs where unemployment is severe and persistent, and private job creation weak, The Social Democrat supports the government stepping in as an Employer of Last Resort, and/or using the power of the state to direct industrial and commercial development to those communities where people need jobs.
Work & Wages in the Current Context
The Social Democrat realizes that our Cornerstone Proposal is not likely to be promulgated any time soon (or perhaps ever). Within the context of the current range of government strategies and programs in the U.S, The Social Democrat supports the following:
1) any legislation, whether minimum wage or Earned Income Tax Credit, which will insure that every American working full-time can be self-supporting (a living wage);
2) expanded support for workers displaced from their livelihood for any reason: international trade, regional economic shifts or technology; unemployment compensation should be more supportive and transition to new employment enabled;
3) more active state involvement in helping troubled employers keep their doors open; more active state involvement in combatting outsourcing;
4) more funding for training programs that upskill American workers and help connect them with jobs;
5) unions’ right to represent workers, including worker representation on corporate boards; we are against so-called “right-to-work” laws, which weaken unions;
6) “looser” monetary policies to promote greater job growth and higher wages.
Under The Social Democrat’s “Cornerstone Proposal,” the need for much of our current safety net for working-age adults would diminish radically, since all citizens willing to either work or train would be afforded a living wage (and healthcare under a single-payer system—see below). But even were something like our Cornerstone Proposal to be put in place we would still need a safety net of some kind. There are those who due to physical, cognitive or psychological disability are not able to participate (or participate fully) in the job economy as well as those who would simply be unwilling to participate (or participate adequately) in Inclusion Center programs. The Social Democrat supports accomodations wherever possible so that those with disabilities can be included in the nation’s economic life. Where disability is so severe as to make this impossible, we support government support. The Inclusion Centers, in our proposal, would be positioned to help those with disabilities find appropriate work activity or to determine the supports most appropriate to the individual.
We strongly believe that all who are able to work should be willing to work or, where jobs are not available or do not meet an individual’s skills, undergo training to prepare for available jobs. At the same time, we feel that a wealthy and humane nation cannot allow its citizens—even those who are unwilling to participate in our economic life—to starve. For those unwilling to work but who are otherwise able, The Social Democrat advocates a level of government support sufficient to provide rudimentary shelter, food and clothing, chiefly in the form of vouchers. Parents with resident children who are able but unwilling to participate in either work or training would present special problems, as The Social Democrat strongly feels that no child should be deprived of the full range of material resources necessary for developing her/his potential, or particating fully in our common life because of the economic status of his/her parents. The vast majority of parents would certainly be willing to participate in work or training to insure a living wage for their families. For the small number who would refuse to make this effort, we are frankly are uncertain how to proceed. Group residences offering rudimentary living arrangments for parents with on-site programs to insure full developmental options for children, perhaps?
Within the current economic regime (absent a comprehensive commitment to inclusion, such as our Cornerstone Proposal), safety net programs even for many adults who are working are a vital necessity. TANF should provide better support for those transitioning from welfare to work. And if we are not to establish living wages for all who are willing to work (or where work is not available, train) the current regime of supports for those working below a living wage (housing vouchers, food stamps, the child nutrition program) should be funded at levels to insure that our fellow citizens do not undergo deprivation.
It is self-evident to The Social Democrat that property exists only by virtue of the state: that is, none of us “owns” anything except by virtue of the fact that the state (government) has (1) defined what property is and (2) protects our right to have exclusive use of what we call our own. Who, after all, issues the title to your house, your car? If a gang of thieves were to decide to move into the back yard and set up camp, who would you call? The answer in both cases: the state. Therefore we are deaf to the cries of those who resist taxation on the grounds that the government has no right to take “their” property. How can the state “take” something the existence of which it alone is responsible for?
The Social Democrat supports progressive income taxes sufficient to meet legitimate social needs and feels that the top 20% of Americans can contribute more without doing harm—instead doing a great deal of good—to Americans’ overall prosperity. Top marginal income tax rates were more than twice as high as they are today during the 1950s and 1960s, the boom years of the American economy. Based on solid social democratic research [Wilensky] we also support higher value added taxes on non-essential and luxury items and progressive property taxes (taxed at a higher rate the more expensive the property holdings).
As social democrats, we support a private enterprise economy both for the unparalleled feedback mechanisms of markets and because we believe that such a system incentivizes myriad private citizens (bottom-up, lateral organization) to figure out how to use their particular talents to best make a contribution, whether by training for and engaging in a trade or profession as an employee or by starting business enterprises as entrepreneurs. We believe that such a system, at its best, puts economic resources in the hands of those who have demonstrated a capacity to use them for the benefit of their fellow citizens. We are therefore supportive of the “meritocracy” elements of private enterprise-based systems.
Conversely, we see no reason to support access to economic resources which is gained without merit: that is, money derived from activities (or in many cases, with no activity at all) which make no contribution to society. As such, while those on the right want to end the inheritance tax, we have a different idea: end inheritance. The Social Democrat believes that dynasties of wealth are repugnant to American values and belie the chief rationale advanced in favor of private enterprise/market systems: that they are meritocracies which reward those who make a contribution (not those whose great-grandfather made a contribution). The much-heralded work of Thomas Pikkety has demonstrated a major weakness in capitalist societies: left unchecked, over the course of generations wealth will ineluctably concentrate in the hands of fewer and fewer people. We are witnessing this in America today, and recent analyses reveal the most egregious inequality we and other nations are experiencing is a result of inheritance. The Social Democrat advocates for legislation making it impossible to bequeath anything more than token, sentimental property to one’s children; further laws would make it impossible to gift one’s property to one’s children before death. If we are to be a meritocracy, let us all be given access to economic resources based on our contributions to society.
By like reasoning The Social Democrat sees little justification for income earned through the appreciation of real property (real estate) except for any appreciation due to improvements made to the property. Methods of valuation, taxation or ownership should be developed to recapture for the state any appreciation solely based on increased value of land. Likewise, appreciation on such items as precious metals, to which the holder adds no value, should be very heavily taxed.
The Social Democrat, as noted, believes it just (or in any case not “unjust”) that those who provide services to their fellow citizens beyond the average are rewarded for their contributions with greater levels of personal comfort and convenience. If the society’s offer of a better-than-average living compels a Steve Jobs to create Mac computers, it is probably a good bargain for society—to a point. It is not however necessary, in the opinion of The Social Democrat, to give away the store. The Social Democrat sees no useful reason that any private citizen should have access to $81 billion (Bill Gates); $74 billion (Warren Buffet); $67 billion (Jeff Bezos); $15 billion (fracking magnate Harold Hamm); or, for that matter, one billion dollars worth of resources. While we believe in incentivizing high-valued-added individuals, we think it wholly likely that Gates would have created Microsoft and Hamm fracked even if the ultimate stakes had been in the millions, not the billions. After a certain amount of money is made, the rest is nearly inevitable and is typically not an indication of any greater contribution to society. The Social Democrat advocates tapping these vast amounts of resources held in private hands through wealth taxes to be used for important social needs.
Environment and Public Spaces: the Commons
The Social Democrat advocates the strict enforcement of environmental laws and regulations to insure that our air and water remain (become) pure and healthy.
The Social Democrat believes that access to open spaces and wilderness is necessary for healthy human functioning. We therefore support regional development plans that prioritize open spaces and the protection of scenic landscapes and wilderness areas. Loss of scenic and wilderness areas to extraction or other economic activities (such as mining, logging) should be permitted under only the most extraordinary showing of national need.
A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences made it official: earth is undergoing a mass extinction event, caused entirely by homo sapiens. The Social Democrat believes that a future with far fewer animal and plant species will be a much poorer future for our grandchildren. We therefore support the protection of habitats and the establishment of migration corridors and other accomodations to keep America a place where species other than the human can thrive.
The Carbon Era is at an end. Carbon based fuels present dangers in their extraction (Gulf spill) and mar the environment (mountaintop removal), pollute the air, and are responsible for rising temperatures which will create significant (perhaps catastrophic) disruption in the lives of future generations. At the same time, proven green energy alternatives are available. The Social Democrat supports government programs that de-incentivize further fossil fuel production and those (including tax credits and R&D support) that incentivize sustainable, non-polluting energy production. Specifically, The Social Democrat sees no reason why the roof of every large building in the U.S. (excepting those of historic or artistic value) should not be covered in solar panels. The U.S. should vigorously pursue the commitments President Obama made under the Paris Accords and deepen them with the next round of negotiations.
The idea of “the commons” is an important one in social democracy discourse. The term refers to all those resources—material or even immaterial—that can be said to be the common property of all citizens. Among these are our national parks and other public spaces. For the social democrat, it is vitally important that the commons be managed for every citizen, not merely for an elite. As such, The Social Democrat strongly supports the use of public funds to create and maintain attractive and comfortable public spaces: urban or suburban parks, walkable commercial districts and bike/walking paths. We support zoning and development ordinances that prohibit ugly strip development and non-walkable environments. We likewise support fulsome public funding for mass transit. Our commons will only become more pleasant when we get many of the cars off our streets.
Trade, Globalization, Robotization
The debate over free-trade pacts and protectionism is complex, and thoughtful arguments have been offered on both sides of the issue. The preponderance of the evidence suggests to The Social Democrat that more open trade has benefitted the nationwide income and significantly boosted buying power for consumers, but that those whose livelihoods and wages have been affected by cheap-labor competition have borne the costs. The Social Democrat believes that mulit-lateral trade deals are desirable but that they must be carefully managed to reduce disruption. Where such disruption occurs, The Social Democart believes it is the responsibility of the state to make accommodations for affected workers: income support until they can be transitioned to other, equally remunerative work. These policies should apply equally to workers who suffer the effects of economic dislocations for other reasons: such as store and plant closings not tied to international trade.
It is the conviction of The Social Democrat that the U.S. needs at least the outline of an industrial policy, so we will have a basis upon which to decide which industries merit government support, whether it be in the form of tax credits or tariffs.
The Social Democrat supports a nationwide, single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system.
The Social Democrat supports equal education from pre-K through college for every American child, regardless of the economic status of the parents. We see a strong need for programs, such as vocational tracks, apprenceships and joint school-work programs, that help non-college bound high school graduates transition into an appropriate career. The Social Democat strongly supports after-schools programs, so that children of working parents have safe, development-focused places to grow and learn.
The Social Democrat is convinced that shortfalls in the Social Security Trust Fund can be remedied through a few simple measures that will not derail the American economy. The Social Democrat opposes any extension of the current retirement age or reduction in benefits.
With Americans dying at the hands of police at rates hundreds of times higher than other OECD nations, it is clear that we have a problem. The Social Democrat strongly supports greater accountability for use of force and any strategies which reduce the use of lethal weapons in police encounters with citizens.
The Social Democrat also advocates an end to all arbitrary stop and frisk procedures and calls for an end to the police state tactics ushered in with the Supreme Court’s 1968 Ohio v. Terry ruling. That ruling allows police officers to detain and harass citizens without the traditional 4th Amendment standard of “probable cause” and has led to an endless stream of disrespectful and abusive police encounters with citizens. If the Supreme Court will not overturn Terry, Congress should take whatever action is necessary, including a constitutional amendment, to return to all Americans the liberties they enjoyed before the Terry ruling was issued. An American citizen should never be detained by police against his or her will unless there is specific evidence that that citizen has committed a crime, is committing a crime, or is about to commit a crime.
The Social Democrat strongly believes that ordinary citizens will not be free of arbitrary and unconstitutional police practices until they are given greater oversight authority. We therefore support elected police review boards in every community with dedicated legal staff, subpoena power, and the authority to dismiss officers they feel are not interacting productively with citizens.
Criminal Justice Reform
The ridiculour war on drugs, which has led to the mass incarceration of too many who present no danger to their fellow citizens, must be ended. The Social Democrat supports the decriminalization of the possession of all intoxicants and the immediate release from prison, with compensation, for all who have been imprisoned on drug possession charges. Those intoxicants deemed at least as safe as alcohol and tobacco (marijuana, cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms) should be sold legally by authorized pharmacies so they can be subject to inspection for dosage and purity. Criminal status should be reserved only for the sale (not possession) of those drugs deemed too dangerous for public consumption (heroin, crack cocaine?). The sale of any intoxicant to minors should be prohibited and strictly enforced.
The Social Democrat supports electoral systems which promise a closer approximation to an equal weight for every vote. As such, we oppose gerrymandering for any reason. We also believe that our current two-party, winner-take-all voting system ought to be adjusted (via rank-choice voting , proportional representation, or some other variant) to give representation to those voters who don’t align with the two major parties.The Social Democrat supports public funding of political campaigns.