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New Ideas Needed -- Bitching's Getting Old. Guest Blogger Wayne Lively

My old friend Wayne Lively is prone to spontaneous outbursts with a political tinge. This one appeared in an email he sent and, with his permission (and some editing) it’s reproduced here. There’s a bit of bitching about Republicans (who can help themselves these days?) but, importantly, it takes a novel look at what a true Democracy can become and identifies the economic policy components needed. Enjoy.


Lately Salon has had some good posts, amid the usual Fox News bashing and standard liberal red meat. The two articles about libertarianism were a great example. This one by Bill Curry is about our President’s missed opportunities to change the course, but because of his desire to maintain the status quo, the help for the working classes was lost. We have a sputtering economy which sees a record NYSE record, banks bigger than ever, and the average wage going down. This, Curry points out, has never happened before. Democrats seem to have done something Republicans couldn’t. Democrats do tend to reinvent themselves. They shifted right which, of course, hasn’t worked. Here is what I believe is the proper course to take.

The new economy should defend our rights as stewards of our commonwealth, from the electromagnetic spectrum to the minerals buried beneath our public lands. It should expand the commons by means ranging from open source software to community land trusts. It must promote a real ownership society by promoting employee stock ownership and every kind of cooperative. It needs to seek ways to adapt the labor union model to a new world, seek alternatives to pell-mell growth and the greed that drives it. It must value and defend human-scaled enterprises against the inevitable predations of the big and powerful, prize economic as well as social diversity. Above all, it must cherish democracy in all its economic and political forms.

Democracy is about fairness. Is it also about compassion? Not really. Democracy is about majority rule. It exists when there are, metaphorically speaking, masters and slaves. The majority are the masters. The minority are controlled. There is nothing but a cold, hard number, 51%. There is no compassion in a pure democracy.

But there needs to be compassion in any workable democracy. Our system is set up to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, a principle that stems out of compassion and pragmatism. If a rising tide raises all boats, then focus on what is best for all boats, and ensure the little boats aren’t crushed by bigger boats. This makes sense; it’s also compassionate. 

I’ll be anxious to read Obama’s autobiography. I’ll be curious to see how he justifies the Wall Street gang he hoped would be right. He thought they were right. He probably still wishes they were right. But he’s still being held captive by his nature. His nature is to be cautious. He doesn’t want to lose the money men. Basically, Obama is struggling with the same thing Bill failed at: Compassionate conservatism.

Right now, we are not focused on what is best for those at the bottom of the middle class and up to those making $350,000 a year. Between $30,000 and $300,000 is where the meat of the country is. Every policy should be aimed at what is best for them.

Another article is a doozy. It looks at Barney Frank’s new autobiography. He says there was supposed to be money in the bank bailout for mortgage relief, but Obama didn’t insist on it. He let the money go to the banks without any promise to help those facing foreclosure. Katrina was ugly but this is what a true disaster looks like.

The builders of a new economy need to regard themselves as just that; conscious builders of a new economy not mere adapters to impersonal forces beyond their control. They should speak the language of micro, not macroeconomics, which will mean they will be less prone to abstraction and more apt to talk about how things you can actually see could actually work. They need to view many “defining challenges” for our generation, to protect our environment, revitalize our democracy and re-imagine our economy. Because they will have to think holistically they will see how things connect and know they can’t achieve any one of their goals without achieving all of the others.

We will need to develop an index for policies that fit this definition, ask concrete questions like “How does policy X affect the family making between $30,000 and $100,00 in income?” We need a separate tax system for personal income, money that a person makes in labor compared with passive income. How much does a Janet Jackson make for live appearances vs. how much she earns from passive income? How much does a business owner earn from the business vs. how much income is derived from investments? What’s the ratio? A progressive tax codes would treat these differently.

One last question: Why isn’t anyone on the progressive left talking about this stuff, these novel approaches? Why is it always and only about Republicans and Teabaggers and how they’re screwing everyone and everything? Even our own media spend most of their time and energy pointing and laughing at the boobs on the other side. Why is anyone listening to them? Why aren’t we talking about solutions, even on MSNBC? I’m getting very tired of pointing fingers and laughing. I want new and workable ideas.

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