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January 04, 2014 4:59 PM Jesse Myerson throws down: five ideas that (may?) represent the left wing of the possible

By Kathleen Geier

Can I tell you how much I love this Rolling Stone piece by Jesse Myerson? It’s called “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For.” Myerson’s reforms are the following:

1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody
2. Social Security for All
3. Take Back The Land
4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody
5. A Public Bank in Every State

All right, settle down, these proposals are hardly as far-out as they may sound on first hearing. Number one is a public works program, number two is a universal basic income, the third is a land value tax, the fourth is collectivizing wealth ownership by having the government buy up private sector assets and paying a dividend to all citizens (Alaska has a program similar to this in place), and the fifth is pretty much what it says: i.e., a public bank that doesn’t rip off its customers or rape the country.

As Digby points out, the wingnuts are having a meltdown over Myerson’s article — that’s how you know it’s having an effect. Conservatives tend to be made seriously uncomfortable when someone on the left dispenses with the tired script pundits have been reading from for the last 30 years and throws out some ideas that threaten to unsettle the terms of the debate.

Myerson’s program may or may not be, in the words of Michael Harrington, “the left wing of the possible” — at least not yet. They are too visionary for that. But that’s not to say that what he envisions does not exist in the world, and could never exist here. The reforms he outlines are your basic social democracy — you know, society as it exists in uncivilized hellholes like Denmark and Sweden — spiced with some classic American populism. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or in the next five years. But I think it’s important for progressives to have a long-term plan that is truly aspirational and idealistic — in other words, something other than fending off further cuts and praying the Republicans don’t get re-elected in the next two or four years. Without boldness and imagination, a political movement will fail. It will lose its power to inspire, and it will end up at best barely holding steady, and at worst, seriously losing ground.

I’m excited that economic inequality is, at long last, on the national political agenda. But one thing I worry a lot about is that political leaders will mostly just pay lip service to the issue, and that no real changes will take place. For example, when President Obama made his big economic inequality speech recently, he disappointingly left out some essential items on the inequality agenda, such as a tougher regulations, trade and intellectual property reform, and a more progressive tax system.

I fear what we may be left with is what I call “inequality lite” — the kind of inequality agenda that will sit all too comfortably with the Robert Rubin/Goldman Sachs gang. In other words, policies not unlike those Rubin’s Hamilton Project proposed recently: a marginal increase in the food stamp program and some fiddling with tax deductions. Oh, and perhaps an increase in the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living, if we’re lucky.

But anything that might actually rein in capital and especially the financial sector, empower labor, significantly redistribute wealth or expand the welfare state — well, we can’t have that now, can we? Virtually unregulated markets with a little welfare capitalism penciled in — some midnight basketball, perhaps? That’s Rubinomics in a nutshell. Unless the Democratic Party can find a way to free itself from the iron grip of the Wall Street types, we’ll be left an economy in which high rates of unemployment and soaring levels of inequality continue to ruin the lives of millions of Americans. Progressives need to dream bigger and bolder. Myerson provides an example of how to do this. Progressives may argue about the particulars of his plan, but I strongly suggest emulating his basic approach.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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