A Platform for a Party of the Left

What’s a reasonable platform for a party of the left? This parlor game is all the rage in certain districts of the blogosphere, with good reason: the 2004 Democrats were hopeless, and the Green platform seemed to be Elect the Democrat.

Here’s my first cut at a platform I call “Full Employment, Fair Care”.

Full Employment

We should find satisfying employment for everyone. Sure, it’s a big order, but we’ve been to the moon. People want to work, and there’s plenty of useful stuff to do. Physical infrastructure, education, medical care, elder care: of this partial list of vital human needs, which area has too many workers, or more capability than it can use?

Available Workers, meet Tasks That Need Doing: in Tocqueville’s time, that was a fair summary of the American attitude, as I read him. But in those days the economic ladder was at least an order of magnitude shorter than it is today. Most Americans he met depended on their community as much as it depended on them, and benefited from that mutual dependence in many ways. The community needed everyone’s efforts, and everyone participated in the community’s progress.

These days, we drive past huge executive mansions on our way to work; lose our pensions in crooked stock schemes, for which a couple of executives spend a few months in a soft detention; read about record profits for corporations; find our health-care premiums increasing. This is not participation, this is exploitation. We all know it; but mostly we try not to think about it.

I think there’s a lot of pent-up desire for change in the US body politic. There’s also a huge potential to do good, to modify the world in ways that benefit everyone. The heart of the population is in the right place. People are, I believe, willing to work, and even to some extent sacrifice, to help others and to improve the world. Evidence of this is everywhere, right beside the contrary evidence. (Another post…)

Fair Care

With full employment, we’ll have a lot of productivity available. I propose applying this full-employment dividend to the problem of fair distribution of the care all humans require.

We should guarantee all citizens food, medical care, and education. When we prove that this method not only works, but is cheaper than our current market-based method, I hope we’ll make some provision for non-citizens as well. We’ll also want to include some provision for housing; that will take longer to organize, requiring some construction (but we’ll have plenty of construction workers).

Of course we can’t all eat caviar every meal, and we can’t provide the most extreme medical care for every individual in every circumstance. Whether we call this wealth allocation or triage, we can’t all have everything every time. We must allocate our care, but we can allocate it fairly.

  • We can feed everyone. To let people starve because there’s no profit in feeding them is shameful in the extreme. With full employment, we could have enough farmers to feed all Americans without restriction. (And we could feed everyone with the farmers we have now, if we chose to.)
  • We can provide everyone with medical care. With full employment, we’ll have enough health-care providers to do as Canada and most of Europe: treat pretty much everyone who needs it. Why don’t we have as good a deal as theirs? Okay, the US system’s better for the rich than Canada’s; but I’m not rich. Oh, and I don’t want health insurance, I want health care. Insurance takes eleven cents of every US health care dollar…
  • We can educate everyone. Information is power, and education tends to bring information along with it. Countries full of educated people, like the United States used to be, will flourish in the rapidly changing world of tomorrow. Providing free education for life for all citizens would be a historic accomplishment. With full employment, we’ll have enough teachers.
  • We can reward excellence. There’s nothing unfair about such a practice. Complete equality of circumstance is not the ideal; some people work harder, some are more talented, some make important discoveries, some make personal sacrifices; I’d even add, some people are luckier. Some people deserve privileges; I don’t think anyone would complain about the government providing medical care to veterans, for example, or giving discounts to senior citizens. So, how about the people who made the equipment the veterans depended on, then, shouldn’t they get a comparable deal? And so on. We could all be engaged in making the world better for each other.

Show Me the Money

Critics of government programs are always within their rights to ask, How is this program funded, and Are the results worth the cost? The cost of a program like the one I propose is naturally hard to estimate. For one thing, I claim it will save money in the long run by producing a healthier, happier, more productive population, less in need of emergency assistance and supplemental care of all types. But this is hard to measure.

In After the Empire, Emmanuel Todd predicts that the US standard of living will drop in the near future as we’re no longer able to borrow from other countries at the current rate ($1.85 billion a day in November 2004). He also talks about a pattern called Doyle’s law: that liberal democracies don’t attack each other. (They’ll attack damn near anyone else…)

As the world fills with more-or-less liberal democracies, the number of countries available to be attacked decreases. So should the budget for war in the US. We are threatened because we threaten. If we cease to threaten, for whatever reason, threats against us will decline precipitously.

If we reduce our expenditure on weapons in a full-employment economy, we’ll have a peace dividend at a time when goods and services are cheap. We’ll be able to provide each other with a high standard of living despite the fact that the US economy is headed south over the next couple of decades.

Selling This Platform

I wouldn’t attempt to sell this package as rights or entitlements. Instead, I would call these choices we could make as a society in our attempt “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,” and so on. This is something we could direct our government to do.

If someone objects to this as socialism, well, you know, tough grid, Mac, that’s who I am. If it doesn’t work, dump it. If it does work, improve it.

With full employment, we’d produce more. Even to those who still buy the trickle-down theory, making a bigger pie is positive thing. Only those who already have more than they need will object to this strategy, as one that reduces their influence. As a result they won’t be able to object very loudly, though of course they’ll fight tooth and nail behind the scenes. But they’re not likely to be voting for any leftist party anyway.

Welfare

I made Full Employment the first item in part because that additional productivity produces a gift certificate; and in part because full employment defuses the welfare issue.

The gift certificate is one we give ourselves. It isn’t cash, but it can be exchanged for a surprisingly large amount of useful goods and services in a full-employment economy. A huge majority of us would find our lives improved (and those who were hurt would only be hurt relatively: the gap between them and the rest of us would decrease).

Someone will argue, What about the cheaters? I don’t deny that there will be some. But my impression, which I think is supported (though not proved) by statistics from Scandanavia, the Netherlands, and so on, is that most people want to work, and enjoy doing things that improve the world around them. We’ll make rules to cover our benefits package. We’ll enforce them. A few people will try to cheat, and a few will even succeed. We’ll undertake this project because it would improve society as a whole. We won’t let the prospect of a handful of cheaters stop us.

Epilogue

I close with a quote from Ron Daniels (my choice for President four cycles ago). I’ve used this quote in previous posts, but I use it again because I think he’s stated something really important, and stated it very clearly. (The quote is from a discussion that was transcribed in the August, 2004, issue of Harpers.)

We need a transformative vision, one advancing the notion that America can be more than it is today for average, ordinary people. The Democratic Party should advocate a program of basic rights, like the one enjoyed by many social democratic countries in Europe. Americans really feel that they have the best standard of living in the world. They don’t, but they don’t know they don’t. Virtually every nation in Western Europe has universal health care. In Sweden, Norway, and Holland, the social benefits are so generous that poverty has practically been eliminated. Wages in most European countries now outpace wages in the United States.

We gonna do something about that?

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