Friday, October 21, 2011

Spreading the Wealth

It is commonly reported now that at least one of our problems has to do with the terribly unequal distribution of wealth in the United States. That is, the fact that some one percent of the population controls forty percent of the wealth. It is difficult to deny this unpleasant fact about what has been happening in the United States, especially in the past two or three decades. Related to this is the shocking problem of unemployment, officially 9.1 %, but probably closer to 20%. What seems to be needed, rather desperately, is a more equal distribution of wealth and a reduction in the rate of unemployment. Assuming this is the problem to be dealt with, and further assuming that the goal of such action should be (1) a more equitable distribution of wealth, (2) a stronger and more productive nation, (3) higher employment, (4) opportunity for all, (5) the maintenance of some form of capitalism, and (6) the health and well-being of both the nation and our citizens, what kinds of changes might be useful? What would such a nation look like?

Now further assuming that technology has advanced to the point where fewer workers are needed to produce what we need, and therefore there is a surplus population of workers for whom there cannot be enough jobs, what sorts of changes might be in order to make this a better and stronger country? Here are some modest suggestions that will probably strike you as totally unrealistic and, granted, are unlikely to ever come about, suggestions that would solve the problems we face and help to make this truly the greatest country on earth.

We should reduce the work week to 30 hours a week from the current 40 hours. At the same time we should increase the minimum wage to the point where 30 hours of work would produce enough income for a normal family to live reasonably comfortably. Workers should be allowed longer vacations, probably at least one month a year, six months off for having a child, and paid medical leaves, no exceptions. This would allow more people to have jobs and spread the wealth more equitably.

The age of eligibility for Social Security should be reduced to probably 60 years from the current age, thus allowing more people to retire earlier, freeing up more jobs for younger people. Health care should be guaranteed for all, probably in the form of Medicare for all, thus insuring that no one would ever lose their home, savings, and security, because of catastrophic illness.

Education at all levels should be free, at least in the sense that there would be no tuition or fees for attending classes. Anyone who wishes to improve themselves should be free to attend, provided they have the necessary prerequisites, whether they wish to major or not. Those who wish to obtain a degree should have to complete a course of study leading to such a degree. Similarly, anyone who wishes to learn a trade should be able to attend a suitable school for the purpose and, again, to become proficient in a trade should have to complete an acceptable program of study. Students who display unusual talent or proficiency should be eligible for aid. No one should be allowed to drop out of school without attaining at least a High School diploma. All education should be funded by Federal and/or State taxes, tenure should be allowed only to guarantee free speech.

Where there are obvious needs for the improvement of the nation, roads, bridges, schools, housing, environmental protections, and so on, funds should be provided specifically for those purposes and citizens employed to provide the necessary labor at living wages. No jobs that can be accomplished by our own nationals should be outsourced, and companies guilty of unnecessary outsourcing should be punished. Buy American should be the rule, all other things being equal (that is, provided our products are not demonstrably inferior).

Our “wars” should be ended as quickly as possible, troops brought home from our far-flung and mostly unnecessary bases, and the national defense budget slashed probably by at least half. Our national security should be insured by strengthening our nation at home rather than attempting to police the world or maintain an “empire.” This alone would provide a great deal of money to help attain our goals here at home.

We should maintain our “capitalistic” economy at least in the sense that entrepreuners, innovators, and those who are unusually talented and hard-working should be rewarded for their efforts, but with limits placed upon how much wealth they should be allowed to keep. I don’t know what this upper limit should be but I would think half a billion should be plenty. Every several million or billion they acquire over this limit should be devoted to the national good and they should be recognized as “National Benefactors” and rewarded with prestige and great respect. They would not suffer and the nation and citizens would greatly benefit. This wealth, along with drastic cuts in the absolutely bloated national defense budget would together provide ample funds to do what is required to have a healthy, happy, strong, and confident nation.

Sure, I know some will immediately cry “socialism,” “communism,” “utopia,” or whatever. Why, they will ask, should we provide for deadbeats, hippies, the lazy and inept? Why should people be rewarded for not working? I would say, why not, we already pay people for not working. When, for example, there is a surplus crop (commodity) we pay farmers for not farming, not producing it. In a capitalistic economy, when labor is considered a commodity, why should labor not be subsidized like any other commodity? Besides, realistically, the alternative is what we have now, millions, including children, living in poverty, without health care, homes, or hope for the future, lives by the millions wasted, basically just thrown away by a system that cares more for profit than life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, or even common decency. If this be socialism, let me at it.

We have among us a class of mammon worshippers, whose one test of conservatism or radicalism is the attitude one takes with respect to accumulated wealth. Whatever tends to preserve the wealth of the wealthy is called conservatism, and whatever favors anything else, no matter what is called socialism.

Richard T. Ely

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