Silver lining of a very dark stormcloud

These days I work in China, so in winter I only have 4 weeks to spend with my family in California. These four weeks are overshadowed by the transition to a disastrous new American presidency. The first policies being imposed don’t even seem to favor conservatives; they seem primarily intended to aggrieve Americans who believe in equal rights, social justice, environmental protection, and respect for scientific research.

However there is also good news in this disaster. I am seeing Americans my age and younger becoming mobilized on a par with Tunisians and Egyptians! What I hope is that we can move forward, not just against the current buffoon-in-chief. Here are a few policies I hope for:

  • Equal rights for women. Equal pay, reproductive choice, and comprehensive free childcare so that those who choose to have children are not punished economically.
  • Equal rights for black men. At the very least, the right not to be killed arbitrarily by police officers with impunity. Equal indictment and sentencing for crimes. Equal punishment in school for the same offenses as whites. Equal investment in education. Release from incarceration for as many as quickly as possible, and restoration of rights to those whose were stripped by racially-skewed sentencing.
  • Desegregation. Laissez-faire markets are not just disastrous for sustained economic growth. Laissez-faire also enables residential sorting, which means US residential segregation has continued to increase non-stop since 1910. US communities are now far more segregated by race and class than they were during the 1950s. To prevent segregation-through-gentrification, we may need to partially socialize urban residential property. Or, at minimum, detach urban land-values from financial market speculators.
  • Public healthcare. Here is the business rationale: an entrepreneur is much more likely to take risks and face business-failure if she does not fear that she will lose health-coverage for herself and her children. For small business-owners, national healthcare would lift a massive paperwork burden.
  • Revisit Native American rights. The Five Civilized Tribes have claims to northern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia; the Lakota have claim to an area about the size of South Dakota. The United States will have far more moral authority in foreign-policy negotiations if we display the moral courage to honor the treaties we have broken in the past. What would it mean for mineral-rights in the Black Hills and oil-rights in Oklahoma? That is for respective Native American councils to decide.
  • Restore the Constitution. The rights and governmental constraints in the Constitution apply to all people under US jurisdiction and control. Guantanamo Bay Prison remains a violation of the 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments. Furthermore, we should never accept any suspension of any part of the Constitution during times of emergency. The Constitution was written during an emergency, and intended to govern even during times of warfare. We should never accept intimidation (‘terrorizing’) as a pretext for even a partial suspension of the Constitution again.

We knew that the election and re-election of Barack Obama did not mean that America had evolved past racism. Continued incidents of police brutality are only the most obvious indicator of persistent prejudice. White brutality needs to be addressed; but basic economic inequality is probably even more serious as a problem. As Martin Luther King Jr. once asked, what does it matter if a black man wins the right to sit at a lunch counter with his fellow Americans if he cannot afford the food on the menu? Achieving equal opportunity is a much more difficult task than landing a man on the moon. As a metric of achievement, America will deserve far more credit a thousand years from now if we eliminate the income-gap by race in this country.

In fact, this is a vision for America: a nation that strives for equality of opportunity. A nation that defends the right of all people to pursue happiness and fulfillment in their own terms. A nation tat defends that right not just for current citizens, but equally for all people who come to the US and seek to become Americans. A nation that defends that right for peoples who were brought here by force, or annexed into the country by force, or compelled to come as refugees—as well as those who have come seeking their fortune.

Furthermore, this vision of a land of opportunity is compatible with a vision of a land that cares for its own. Equal access to education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Freedom of opportunity does mean allowing risk-takers to fail; but if the consequences of failure are too disastrous, reasonable Americans will become risk-averse. If there is a firm, bottom-line platform to stand on, many more Americans would be willing to ‘push off’ from that baseline to do more; and that baseline also provides the educated, healthy pool of employees who can grow businesses. That business-healthy environment is the ‘return on the social investment’ of tax-expenditures. We need to tax-to-invest, and invest in the types of underlying social and infrastructure conditions which individual firms cannot provide. “Tax-and-spend” is a deceptively incomplete expression; we need to understand tax-expenditures as investments, so that tax-burden is weighed in relation to tax-investments.

Why blog about these long-term political economy issues in a moment of acute crisis?

Because politics is the art of shaping the public narrative. We need the phraseology to win over swing voters. Because our current very unhappy president will not be in office forever, and his are not the only policies that need to be resisted, redirected, or overturned. Because two pieces of advice from Barack Obama still pertain: (1) Don’t get caught up in the distractions, and (2) No individual, not even the president, can define the path of the United States. If we want change, we must push for that collectively. So: pushing back against the policies of a malicious president is a good place to start, and to learn how to push collectively. But we have goals that lie well beyond the scope of this specific moment. If we can learn to push collectively for those, then the current president’s efforts will not only be completely undone, but also truly erased under a much deeper shift in a humane direction.


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