On March 3, 2015, Robert Reich writes on The Huffington Post:
It’s seed time for the 2016 presidential elections, when candidates try to figure out what they stand for and will run on.
One thing seems reasonably clear. The Democratic nominee for President, whoever she may be, will campaign on reviving the American middle class.
As will the Republican nominee — although the Republican nominee’s solution will almost certainly be warmed-over versions of George W. Bush’s “ownership society” and Mitt Romney’s “opportunity society,” both seeking to unleash the middle class’s entrepreneurial energies by reducing taxes and regulations.
That’s pretty much what we’ve heard from Republican hopefuls so far. As before, it will get us nowhere.
The Democratic nominee will just as surely call for easing the burdens on working parents through paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave, childcare, elder-care, a higher minimum wage, and perhaps also tax incentives for companies that share some of their profits with their employees.
All this is fine, but it won’t accomplish what’s really needed.
The big unknown is whether the Democratic nominee will also take on the moneyed interests — the large Wall Street banks, big corporations, and richest Americans – which have been responsible for the largest upward redistribution of income and wealth in modern American history.
Part of this upward redistribution has involved excessive risk-taking on Wall Street. Such excesses padded the nests of executives and traders but required a tax-payer funded bailout when the bubble burst in 2008. It also has caused millions of working Americans to lose their jobs, savings, and homes.
Since then, the Street has been back to many of its old tricks. Its lobbyists are also busily rolling back the Dodd-Frank Act intended to prevent another crash.
The Democratic candidate could condemn this, and go further — promising to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act, once separating investment from commercial banking (until the Clinton administration joined with Republicans in repealing it in 1999).
The candidate could also call for busting up Wall Street’s biggest banks and thereafter limiting their size; imposing jail sentences on top executives who break the law; cracking down on insider trading; and, for good measure, enacting a small tax on all financial transactions in order to reduce speculation.
Another part of America’s upward redistribution has come in the form of “corporate welfare” – tax breaks and subsidies benefiting particular companies and industries (oil and gas, hedge-fund and private-equity, pharmaceuticals, big agriculture) for no other reason than they have the political clout to get them.
It’s also come in the guise of patents and trademarks that extend far beyond what’s necessary for adequate returns on corporate investment — resulting, for example, in drug prices that are higher in America than any other advanced nation.
It’s taken the form of monopoly power, generating outsize profits for certain companies (Monsanto, Pfizer, Comcast, for example) along with high prices for consumers.
And it’s come in the form of trade agreements that have greased the way for outsourcing American jobs abroad — thereby exerting downward pressure on American wages.
Not surprisingly, corporate profits now account for a largest percent of the total economy than they have in more than eight decades; and wages, the smallest percent in more than six.
The candidate could demand an end to corporate welfare and excessive intellectual property protection, along with tougher antitrust enforcement against giant firms with unwarranted market power.
And an end to trade agreements that take a big toll on wages of working-class Americans.
The candidate could also propose true tax reform: higher corporate taxes, in order to finance investments in education and infrastructure; ending all deductions of executive pay in excess of $1 million; and cracking down on corporations that shift profits to countries with lower taxes.
She (or he) could likewise demand higher taxes on America’s billionaires and multimillionaires – who have never been as wealthy, or taken home as high a percent of the nation’s total income and wealth — in order, for example, to finance an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy for low-income workers).
Not the least, taking on the moneyed interests would necessitate limiting their future political power. Here, the candidate could promise to appoint Supreme Court justices committed to reversing Citizens United, push for public financing of elections, and demand full disclosure of all private sources of campaign funding.
But will she (or he) do any of this? Taking on the moneyed interests is risky, especially when those interests have more economic and political power than at any time since the first Gilded Age. These interests are, after all, the main sources of campaign funding.
But a failure to take them on prevents any real change in the prospects of the bottom 90 percent of Americans.
It also robs the Democratic candidate of a potential public mandate to change the prevailing allocation of economic and political power — no less dramatically than it was changed by Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson a century ago, marking the end of that Gilded Age.
And a failure to take on the moneyed interests sacrifices the potential enthusiasm of millions of voters – Democrats and Republicans alike – who know the game is rigged, and who yearn for a leader with the strength and courage to un-rig it, and thereby give them and their children a fair chance.
What we really need leading up to and in the 2016 presidential election year is a national discussion on the topic of the importance of capital ownership and how we can expand the base of private capital ownership simultaneously with the creation of new physical capital formation, with the aim of building long-term financial security for all Americans through accumulating a viable capital estate.
Robert Reich attacks the “moneyed interests” as if private property is evil. It is not private property that is evil but the concentrated ownership of productive capital property that enables the few to OWN the productive power of our corporations and regulate the vast majority to wage slavery, welfare slavery, debt slavery and charity slavery.
Reich and other activist progressives and conservatives need to recognize that we should deliberately begin to broaden the capital ownership base in a way that is consistent with the laws of property and the Constitutional safeguards of the rights of men and women to own property and be productive.
Abraham Lincoln said that the purpose of government is to do for people what they cannot do for themselves. Government also should serve to keep people from hurting themselves and to restrain man’s greed, which otherwise cannot be self-controlled. Anyone who seeks to own productive power that they cannot or won’t use for consumption are beggaring their neighbor––the equivalency of mass murder––the impact of concentrated capital ownership.
What needs to be adjusted is the opportunity to produce, not the redistribution of income after it is produced.
The government should acknowledge its obligation to make productive capital ownership economically purchasable by capital-less Americans using insured, interest-free capital credit, and, as binary economist Louis Kelso stated, “substantially assume financial responsibility for the economy through establishing and supervising the implementation of an economic, labor and business policy of democratized economic power.” Historically, capital has been the primary engine of industrialization. But as used, as Kelso has argued, has, as well, “been the chief cause of the institutional deformities that have created and maintained two incompatible classes: the overcapitalized (the minority “moneyed interests”) and the undercapitalized” (the vast majority of government-dependent citizens).
We need to arrive at a new market economy structure in which on one level the employees of a corporation could walk into management and demand, in collective bargaining, the use of an justice-managed full-voting, full-dividend-earnings-payout Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)—not just to trade a single block of stock for wage concessions, but to redesign the future of the company and its employees. We need, as a society, the assurance that as a corporate employer grows, it builds ownership into its employees. All of them! When people are in a position to earn the income produced by their capital assets as well as the wages of their labor, their company is in a position to be more competitive through lower labor costs and increased technological invention and innovation, while achieving higher employee incomes through employee productive capital.
Once this goal becomes the national political focus we will see an unbelievable discussion of workable plans to realize the goal. Remember that planning begins with a vision and a goal. This is not rocket science but it does require national leadership. Implementation requires amending a few laws that basically authorize the transactions that will broaden capital ownership paid for with the future earnings of capital investment. Allowing such transactions will provide incentives for profitable opportunities to employ unused capacity and promote stable and robust economic growth.
Still, after a half-century, we have no leaders with a growth strategy that could restore the economic productiveness of the American economy. The growth strategy I have presented is not new, but it has not yet registered in the minds of leaderless politicians and their advisors from the left to the right of the political spectrum and a population of people who have been mis-educated and mis-led by conventional economists such Robert Reich and others from all the conventional schools of economics.
Reich is a practitioner of the one-factor-mindset-shackled economist John Maynard Keynes, whose Keynesian model is widely taught. Keynes falsely presumed that the only way to balance mass productive power with mass purchasing power is through a wage system––ignoring the possibility of democratizing future ownership of labor-displacing productive capital technologies and rising ownership incomes as a market-generated means of eliminating wage slavery, welfare slavery, debt slavery and charity slavery for the 99 percent of humanity. Kelso argued that the Keynesian model fails to recognize that “when capital workers [owners] replace labor workers as the major suppliers of goods and services, labor employment alone becomes inadequate because labor’s share of the income arising from production cannot provide the progressively better standard of living that technology is making possible. Labor produces subsistence at best. Capital can produce affluence. To enjoy affluence, all households must engage to an increasing extent in capital work”
It is imperative that leaders seeking new solutions cease the opportunity presented by the 2016 presidential election to implement effective programs for expanded ownership of productive capital, and address the problem of education on this subject.
One of my favorite Kelso quotes is: “The low credibility of government and of all lesser institutions in America today is a consequence of our own increasingly hollow democracy. It is reflected in the rising domestic crime rate and the social and political alienation of people in all walks of life, except for the rich and their sycophants. The real collapse of American ideological leadership in the world can best be seen in the feebleness and confusion that characterizes American foreign policy. The handwriting on the wall is clear: America must rethink the meaning of democracy and set about within its borders to rationalize its economic policy into one that synchronizes the shift from labor intensive to capital intensive production, with universal capital ownership and the payment of the full wages [earnings] of capital to capital owners, so to restore economic democracy to our economy. We should democratize our plutocratic capitalist economy before we preach democracy to others.”
At one point in 1976, the discussion led to The Joint Economic Committee of Congress endorsing the two-factor policy to broaden capital ownership as an economic goal for America. The 1976 Joint Economic Report stated: “To provide a realistic opportunity for more U.S. citizens to become owners of capital, and to provide an expanded source of equity financing for corporations, it should be made national policy to pursue the goal of broadened capital ownership. Congress also should request from the Administration a quadrennial report on the ownership of wealth in this country, which would assist in evaluating how successfully the base of wealth was being broadened over time.” Unfortunately the Congress has never paid any attention to this policy, and the goal has subsequently been unacknowledged and unheeded by our plutocratic political leaders.
The stark reality is that we are in a depression reflected in rising unemployment and underemployment and instability that we will never escape from until we change our economic policy. Increasingly, more Americans will not be able to ever purchase a home, due to the packed inflationary wage and welfare base factored into the cost of building homes, which inflate prices, and will be forced to rent their entire life or depend on government living assistance––not able to accumulate equity that can help to sustain them in their retirement years. And this is the new reality now facing people in the middle class. The uncertainty of holding onto a good job is frightening to an increasingly wider base of middle-class working citizens. When you factor in the average non-salaried worker, even with a government-mandated minimum labor wage rate of $10.00+ per hour in some states, the outcome is grim. Never mind that consumer demand continues to dwindle because of insufficient income, solely tied to labor worker wages. The impact of the decline in consumer demand due to declining labor worker wages is that production will decline or desist without sustainable consumer demand.
This is all coming about because we have severely mismatched the power to produce with the possession of unsatisfied needs and wants. Those capital worker owners who have unsatisfied needs and wants have ready access through conventional finance to get as much or more capital as they want. Our tax laws are designed to further benefit the 1 percent by providing enormous write offs and credits to producers (corporations) who are owned by the few, who already produce more than they can consume. Those who have only their labor power and its precarious value held up by coercive rigging and who desperately need capital ownership to enable them to be capital workers as well as labor workers to have a way to earn more income, cannot satisfy their unsatisfied needs and wants. With only access to labor wages, the 99 percenters will continue, in desperation, to demand more and more pay for the same or less work, as their input is exponentially replaced by productive capital.
But if we change direction and systematically build earning power into consumers, we have the opportunity to reverse the depression perpetrated by systematically limiting the 99 percent to labor wages alone and through technology eliminating their jobs. We need solutions to grow the economy in ways that create productive jobs and widespread equity sharing. We need to systematically make capital credit to purchase capital accessible to economically underpowered people (the 99 percenters) in which the income from the capital investment is isolated until it pays for itself, and then begins to produce a stream of dividend income to the new capitalists. This can only be accomplished by enabling every person to have access to capital ownership and purchase the capital, and pay for it out of what the capital produces. It’s time good and well-intentioned people woke up and adopted a just third way beyond the greed model of monopoly capitalism and the envy model of the traditional welfare state. This will promote peace, prosperity, and freedom through harmonious justice.
As my colleague Norman Kurland argues, “The haves represent a tiny fraction of humanity. Our ideas will split them between those who see our point and understand that they would benefit everyone without taking anything away from them during their lives, and those who want to keep ownership in an exclusive club. The latter cannot publicly attack the institution of private property without threatening the legal foundation that gives them their monopoly over the money system and the ownership system.” Kurland is President of the Center for Economic and Social Justice (www.cesj.org).
We need leadership to awaken all American citizens to force the politicians to follow the people and lift all legal barriers to universal capital ownership access by every man, woman, and child as a fundamental right of citizenship and the basis of personal liberty and empowerment. The goal should be to enable every child, woman, and man to become an owner of ever-advancing labor-displacing technologies, new and sustainable energy systems, new rentable space, new enterprises, new infrastructure assets, and productive land and natural resources as a growing and independent source of their future incomes.