Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Missing Left Agenda.


In the United States today the right has a more or less coherent political program: the centerpiece is the call for small government which includes abolishing Obama care, lowering taxes especially on the rich, abolishing legal support for labor unions. The other part of the right wing program consists of various culture-war issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Compared to that, the left has no program. This is illustrated dramatically in the current debates occasioned by the demonstration and riots in Baltimore. Public discussions come up with the same old tired and pretty pointless recommendations: 1. education, 2. conversations about race, 3. Resolve the economic problems of inner-city neighborhoods.
Education. The idea is that poor young men and women should be encouraged to get a college education or at least a job training certificate from a two year college so that they can then find work. But several hundreds thousands of college graduates are already earning no more than $7.50 an hour. Expanding the educational access for the poor is not a promising plan.
More important is the question why there are not enough jobs—never mind decent jobs that support a family—to go around. Everyone insists that unemployment in the poorer parts of town is excessive and we need to create more jobs. The Right is going to do that by cutting taxes on the rich. The Left is going to do that . . . . how?
The closest anyone on the left comes to having a sensible thought about the lack of jobs goes roughly as follows: We need to raise taxes on the very rich, we need to make sure that the large international corporations pay the taxes they owe—rather than not paying any taxes at all as some of the global oil companies and others have been doing. In addition we need to cut the military budget severely.
These three measures would raise significant amounts of money which could then be invested in fixing roads and bridges, replacing old school buildings, training more teachers and retraining the teachers already working.
We are doing very poorly by our veterans as we have seen documented in the last year in the scandals at the Veterans Administration. Atul Gewande, in Being Mortal, documents how facilities for the elderly are mostly quite inadequate. It would take significant investments to provide cheerful final years for all the old people in the US.
These investments would create significant numbers of new jobs.
The thought behind this proposal is very clear. Private enterprise is not interested in services that are not money makers. For-profit education is on the whole a failure except for schools for the children of the very rich. Witness the recent collapse of the Corinthian Colleges. Care for the old, except when they have plenty of money, is not a money maker. Home Care, visiting nurses, child care facilities are of not interest to capitalists because they only yield modest profits. Public roads and bridges do not produce profits, neither do public parks, public art museums, symphony orchestras and other cultural institutions.
Large areas of a good life for all citizens are of no interest to the businesses whose main goal is to make as much money as possible. But America has forever placed its faith, and continues to do so, in private enterprise. As a result our public infrastructures, our educational system, our ways of taking care of young and old, who need help leading a decent life, are in deplorable shape. Many of our cities are ugly, public transportation does not function.
A minimal goal for the left is to acknowledge the serious limits of private enterprise and the incapacity of the much praised “free market” to provide a good life for all. There is a place for private business, but that place is actually quite limited. We need to focus on all those areas of social and economic life that have been neglected because our leaders believe with Calvin Coolidge that “America's business is business.”
It is quite clear that the opposite is the case. Consider only the environmental crisis, brought about and daily aggravated by energy companies, automobile producers and other large companies. They cause environmental disaster. They do not reduce it.
America will continue to descend into progressively more serious domestic crises until we are ready to say boldly that business practices need serious regulation. Businesses, and those who profit from them, must pay fair taxes so that the rest of us can have the jobs and the amenities that business does not provide.
American politics will be a powerless side show unless we have a serious Left. We cannot have a serious Left without admitting publicly that large businesses are not the benefactors, but the ruin of America.