Why we need new economic policies before we can fix trade deals
By STAN SORSCHER
(June 10, 2019) — In 2016, Donald Trump’s trade message was very simple: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the worst trade deal ever negotiated. He has renegotiated NAFTA, rebranding the deal as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). We never quite understood his objection to the original NAFTA, and we don’t understand how USMCA fixes it. You need to squint to see the difference between NAFTA and its replacement.
“I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me,” Trump has said. His gut instinct said NAFTA was bad. Unfortunately, gut instinct is typically simplistic, often impulsive, and by definition not strategic or coherent.
We need to think of our domestic policy and trade policy together. Tariffs, like trade deals, make sense only as tools within a larger coherent strategy. Trade policy should reinforce the principles in our domestic policy. If trade policy is not working, it’s a fair bet that our underlying domestic policies aren’t either.
Since 1980, the prevailing political messagehas been, “Markets will solve all our problems. Government is the problem.”
The term for this is neoliberalism. “Neo” means new. In the language of economics, “liberal” means “liberated” or free from regulation. Neoliberalism “frees” markets by shrinking government, dismantling social programs, and cutting investment in education and research-and-development.
Many of our biggest problems — climate change, growing income inequality, health care, food safety, and workplace safety — are textbook market failures. Neoliberalism responds with its universal prescription — make business succeed and well-being will follow.
Making Sense of NAFTA and Its Replacement.
by Harold Meyerson
In 1916, amid the carnage of World War I, the great German-Polish socialist Rosa Luxemburg wrote that humanity was facing a choice between socialism and barbarism.
Earlier today, speaking at the George Washington University, Bernie Sanders noted that we live in a time of rising authoritarianism, citing the regimes of Putin, Xi, Orban, Duterte and Trump as indices of the growing threat. His speech was billed as offering his definition of socialism, which, a la Rosa, was said to be the alternative to oligarchy and authoritarianism.
Socialism as Sanders proceeded to define it is indeed an alternative to oligarchy and authoritarianism. What his speech left hanging was whether his socialism was in fact socialism.
In 2015, as his campaign was just taking off, Sanders came to a different D.C. university—Georgetown—to deliver what was also then billed as his definition of socialism. Before a crowd of wildly cheering college students, he reeled off a series of social democratic proposals—the universal right to health care, to college education and the like – with constant reference to the great American leader who did indeed lead the successful war against barbarism in the 1940s: Franklin Roosevelt. His speech was so FDR-centric that I wroteat the time:
Throughout the 1930s, Republicans claimed that Franklin Roosevelt was really a socialist. Today, Bernie Sanders said they were right.
Then, as today, Sanders referenced Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union speech – FDR’s last great speech—in which Roosevelt proposed an Economic Bill of Rights. Today, Sanders formally proposed “a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights,” which included a right to a living-wage job, to “quality health care,” to “a complete education,” to “affordable housing,” to “a clean environment” and to “a secure retirement.”
As if citing Roosevelt were not enough, Sanders also cited Harry Truman, whose efforts to create a Medicare for All program in the 1940s were thwarted by conservatives and the medical profession. He quoted Truman, talking about his critics, at length:
Socialism [Truman said] is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
Nor did Sanders’s talk simply identify socialism with the social democratic reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal. It also contained two crucial omissions.
First, even as Sanders cited Roosevelt and Truman, but he also did not cite any avowed American democratic socialists, save, in passing, Martin Luther King Jr. He made no mention of his great hero, Eugene V. Debs. Nothing on Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party’s candidate for president in each of FDR’s four elections. Nothing on A. Philip Randolph or Bayard Rustin or Michael Harrington. No reference to Thomas’ line when asked if Roosevelt had actually carried out the Socialist Party’s program. “He carried it out,” Thomas said, “on a stretcher.”
Second, Sanders also omitted his own more socialistic proposals. His speech skipped over some groundbreaking social democratic reforms that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both advocated in the course of the campaign, including dividing corporate boards between shareholder and worker representatives. He made no mention of an American version of the Meidner Plan – a 1970s proposal never quite implemented in Sweden that would gradually transfer the ownership of corporations, through the yearly payment of profits in the form of stock to their employees’ organizations, to their workers.
In short, Sanders’s socialism, as he defined it, is an expansion of America’s semi-demi-welfare state to include more economic rights. It’s an effort to make us a more functional social democracy—which, of course, is no small proposal and by American standards, a great leap forward. But he could have made the same proposals and labeled them neo-Rooseveltian liberalism without straining historical accuracy.
By Max B. Sawicky
One way the liberal/radical divide manifests itself is in what might be called the distinction of outcomes from process. Radicals, for instance, tended to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq because we simply rejected the rationale for the policy. Liberals tended to criticize the process under which the invasion was launched – the failure of Congress to declare war, the inability to secure support from the United Nations, the aborted search for “weapons of mass destruction.”
So too in the current political situation, liberals tend to focus on the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president, while radicals prefer to center their appeals on behalf of concrete ‘meat-and-potatoes’ demands for Medicare For All, the Fight for 15, or they emphasize foundational social-justice demands in the fights against racism, sexism, and gender-identity bigotry.
There is really no reason for this divide. Liberals can be won to democratic socialist goals in health care and the like. The question is whether democratic socialists can wrap our heads around impeachment.
The likelihood of continued disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voting constituencies, and the increasing extent to which a minority of mostly white, older voters in rural states can outvote a majority of the nation in the Electoral College, not to mention the U.S. Senate, is a grave threat to any elected Democratic president, not to mention to his or her prospects for a fair election.
Imagine that a genuinely progressive Democrat wins the White House in 2020. The chances of a Democratic Senate right now look slim. Of the Democrats’ xxx seats in the House, over a hundred have identified with the so-called “New Democrat” label that was mainstreamed by William J. Clinton. Not a few Democratic senators are of a similar ilk. Relatedly, the prospects for a liberal majority on the Supreme Court are also dim.
The Socialist Majority Caucus of DSA is proposing the following national convention resolution:
This is the North Star Caucus's proposed resolution on the same subject:
Here is one view:
There is nothing objectionable in the Socialist Majority Caucus resolution, but there is something crucially important missing – the necessity of defeating Trump and Trumpism in the 2020 elections. This makes the resolution radically incomplete, an ahistorical discussion of electoral politics that avoids the most central issue of electoral politics of this moment. There is a deference to the political fundamentalism of Momentum/Spring/Bread and Roses and its rhetoric of class struggle electoral politics, even as that caucus absents itself from the decisive class struggle election battles of our day, that leads Socialist Majority to duck the question. And yet there is no more important question for the future of American democracy, the left, and all of the popular forces. The debate over this issue will only take place if we take the lead in making it happen. Leo Casey.
A second view.
I favor Leo’s view above on Trump and Trumpism, It is difficult to imagin how much damage the Trump cartel has already caused, See, for example, Paul Krugman’s opinion piece in the NYT today on how starting many trade wars: Iran, India, China, Russia, Mexico, the EU has set back our global system. (That avoids the question of how our global system was used to further neoliberalism). And see Michael Lewis, the Fifth Risk, on how the Trump brigades have set back science and the feeding of children, among other items,
I do, however, see a reasonable middle ground.
We can put all of our efforts in Defeating Trump and Trumpism and electing Democratic Socialists and Progressives. However if Sanders or Warren do not get the nomination, DSA as a national organization does not need to endorse a neoliberal. - like Biden. That does not mean we will not be active in the elections.
Today Warren posted a platform on trade that criticizes Trump’s trade wars, argues for fair trade, and critiques neoliberal trade. This is a step ahead on trade.
DSA can encourage political participation along a broad spectrum of electoral campaigns. For example, here in California there will be an initiative _ Schools and Communities First- to tax the rich to fund schools and community development, . There will be various Medicare for All campaigns. DSA can engage electorally and lead politically to defeat Trumpism without endorsing a neoliberal Democrat.
What do others think?
DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, will be:
Proposed amendment to the DSA Constitution re Number of NPC Members
These resolutions have each received the required number of supporters and have been submitted to the appropriate convention committees. Delegates. Please support these resolutions.
Rather than submitting a resolution on number 2 climate change, we chose to support the forthcoming resolution from the Eco Socialist Committee.
The National Political Committee (NPC) has announcedthat it will not submit an organizational priorities resolution to the 2019 DSA National Convention. If the National Convention were to acquiesce in the NPC’s failure to present proposed organizational priorities to it for its consideration, the result would not be that DSA does not have organizational priorities, but that they will be determined in less democratic and less transparent ways, by subordinate bodies such as the next NPC or by the national staff. This is NOT how a healthy democratic socialist organization should function.In the absence of an organizational priorities resolution from the NPC, the DSA North Star Caucus is submitting such a resolution, so the National Convention can debate and democratically decide the direction of the organization over the next year. Our resolution reflects what we believe should be DSA’s priorities, but we would urge other caucuses and individuals who have different priorities to prepare amendments reflecting their views of DSA's priorities, so the National Convention can consider the full range of perspectives in our ranks, and make a democratic decision.
Proposed National Priorities for DSA for 2019-2020
WHEREAS for a membership organization to be truly democratic, it is essential that the important decisions about its political positions and its political work be made as close as possible to the membership, with the widest possible discussion and participation;
WHEREAS as a democratic socialist organization, DSA has among its first principles the importance of collective action, informed by a strategic assessment of the historical moment in which we find ourselves and what it demands of us, and the necessity of deciding how we act collectively through the most democratic processes;
WHEREAS in DSA, the National Convention is established “highest decision making body” in our Constitutions and By-Laws, and has the widest participation of rank-and-file members from across the country;
WHEREAS the democratic venue for establishing DSA’s organizational priorities must therefore be the National Convention; if the National Convention does not act, the important decisions over organizational priorities will necessarily devolve to subordinate decision making bodies with less participation, such as the National Political Committee (NPC), or to the national staff, and be less democratic;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED:
THAT this 2019 National Convention of Democratic Socialists of America do hereby establish the top three priorities for our organizational work for the period until to our next annual Convention:
"Only direct action—or the threat of it—will move the boss." Sara Nelson, the flight attendants union president whose strike threat ended Trump's government shutdown, on building a fighting labor movement.
On May 10, 2019, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson gave a speech to the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America’s annual Eugene Debs–Lucy Gonzalez Parsons–A. Philip Randolph Dinner. Jacobin reproduced the speech here in full, lightly edited for online publication.
That spirit is what led flight attendants to declare we wouldn’t work flights that facilitated the Trump Administration’s evil policy of immigrant family separations. And it’s that spirit that led us to take a firm stand during the government shutdown, when millions of people were out of work, others were forced to work without pay, all of us were increasingly unsafe, and our entire economy was on the line. With access to 360 million voters in our workplace, we intend to continue to use the spirit of our union for good.
And let me tell you I’m proud to be with you, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. You have won some great victories here in this city this year. You have helped elect some incredible leaders.
Still, some ignorant political hack or media purveyor of hate is likely talking trash right now about democratic socialists. And here’s what I have to say. Helen Keller was a democratic socialist. And so was Albert Einstein. And so was George Orwell. And Bayard Rustin. And the Reuther family.
When Nazi troops came to the Warsaw Ghetto to kill the last Jews left, the men and women on the rooftops who met them with gasoline bombs were democratic socialists, and democratic socialists stood up against dictatorship throughout the twentieth century, they filled Stalin’s camps and Siberian graves.
The minimum wage, national health care, worker safety rules, Social Security — before the Great Society and before the New Deal, this was the democratic-socialist agenda.
And of course our democratic-socialist working heroes, Eugene Victor Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and Lucy Gonzalez Parsons. The police called Lucy Parsons “more dangerous than a thousand rioters” because of her skills as an orator, organizer, and rabble-rouser.
Her cry that only direct action — or the threat of it — will move the boss is a lesson we can all do well to remember. Read more.
Defeating Trump, Trumpism, and Electing Democratic Socialists and Progressives
Submission to the national convention. We need your endorsements. Use this form. Include your e mail and telephone number.
Whereas, our first priority is the electoral and political defeat of Donald Trump, the Trump-dominated Republican Party and the authoritarian forces aligned with them. The white nationalist, patriarchal,authoritarianism of Trumpism poses a ‘clear and present danger’ to working people and their unions, to people of color, to women, to LGBTQIA people, to immigrants, to members of minority religious faiths and to democracy itself.
And whereas, a Trump victory in the 2020 elections would consolidate an authoritarian state with the most reactionary politics, expand imperial aggression abroad and shrinkthe political space for democratic and left forces at home.
And whereas, failure to prioritize the defeat of Trumpism would be nothing less than the abandonment of the struggles against the racism, sexism, white nationalism and bigotry against immigrants, Muslims and Jews that are central to Trumpism:
Be it therefore resolved that the defeat of Trumpism is a strategic imperative, the most important political task of our time.
Be it further resolved that to defeat the Trump regime, the Democratic Party and candidates for office running as Democrats must adopt a progressive platform that breaks decisively with neoliberal politics and economics, rejecting the policies of austerity, privatization, economic deregulation and ‘race to the bottom’ free trade under corporate hegemony.
Be it further resolved that DSA should promote the development of such a progressive platform, which places the interests of working people and their unions over corporations and the 1%, that takes on the economic impact of institutional racism and sexism in employment and social services, that addresses increasingly catastrophic climate change, protects abortion rights and reproductive justice and promotes the well-being of the great mass of U.S. working people, especially in the provision of fully-funded, universally accessible public goods in health care, education, housing and mass transportation.
Be it further resolved that DSA will vigorously support publicly avowed democratic socialists such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib (both DSA members), as well as other progressive elected officials. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for President deserves our support precisely because it can advance this progressive platform, even if he does not win the Democratic Party nomination.
And, be it further resolved that DSA’s electoral work is most effective and has the greatest impact when we work cooperatively with other progressive organizations on the left – both mass organizations such as unions, civil rights organizations and community groups, and political organizations, such as Our Revolution, the Working Families Party, and Justice Democrats.
And, be it finally resolved that the DSA Electoral Committee shall report to the membership their proposed strategy for achieving the above objectives.
DSA members may endorse the resolution here.
Submitted by Duane Campbell for the North Star Caucus
Proposal to national DSA Convention; 2019.
WHEREAS one of the first principles of democratic socialism is the importance of collective action;
WHEREAS our political work should be informed by a strategic analysis of the political economy of U.S. capitalism and the cutting edge issues of the day, with an eye to identifying the critical points of system leverage where we can collectively intervene to maximum political effect; and
Whereas DSA individuals, chapters, and the Immigrants’ Rights Working Group have been actively engaged for over six years, and continue to engage in the defense of immigrants and refugees from racists attacks, and promoting
and the promotion of comprehensive immigration reform that would secure their place in the U.S., putting an end to corporate induced competition between native born and immigrant workers, and between U.S. workers and workers abroad. ( See resolution #41 from the 2017 convention).
And, whereas, In the last half century, there has been a major restructuring of the global economy, conducted largely on the terms of transnational corporations seeking ever greater profits. Neo-liberal ‘free trade’ agreements, such as NAFTA I and II and CAFTA, have produced a global ‘race to the bottom,’ with capital flight sending good paying union jobs away from workers in the U.S. to countries with low wage employment, many of which are ruled by authoritarian states that ban independent unions. In the Americas, this global ‘free trade’ economy has devastated entire sectors of the economies of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, leading millions of people attempting to migrate to the U.S. in search of food, jobs, and security. Many also flee the ruthless violence of criminal groups in nations with ‘failed’ states, as well as the effects of climate catastrophes, from drought to increasingly vicious and destructive storms.
And, whereas, the racist nationalism of Trump and his cohort seeks to exploit the anger of U.S. workers by scapegoating immigrants and refugees, projecting racist fears and resentments on them.
And, whereas, only a politics which breaks with the neo-liberal paradigm can successfully counter the racism of Trump and the nationalist right wing, bringing a measure of justice both to immigrants and refugees and to workers in the U.S.
Be it therefore resolved that:
We invite you to join us as members of the North Star caucus of DSA.
You can find our complete Statement of Principles here.
We are committed to democracy as both a means and an end. We believe that socialism cannot be achieved except through democratic struggle.
Our current political priorities include:
We find this an exciting time to belong to DSA. We’re growing both from some of our electoral victories in 2018 and from the momentum of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign, where Senator Sanders forced his opponents and the media to deal with his self-identification as a democratic socialist. We anticipate that DSA’s participation in the 2020 Sanders campaign will continue our growth and the development of democratic socialist politics.
DSA has grown to more than 50,000 national members, with organized groups in nearly every state in the union. In many locations, DSA chapters have developed great programs of activity, ranging from Medicare for All advocacy, to electoral engagement, to defense of immigrant communities, to tenant organizing and more.
So why organize a caucus within DSA at all and why now?
Unfortunately, we saw unhealthy developments in the organization. Nearly 40 percent of the delegates to the 2017 National Convention voted to reject any joint work with Our Revolution, the group explicitly organized by Senator Sanders’ supporters to carry on the work begun in the 2016 campaign. What was the objection to Our Revolution? It’s not pure enough. It doesn’t exclusively support explicitly socialist candidates. That stance of political purism isolates DSA from the very people we need to reach. There remains a tendency to deny political participation to the broader, less active DSA membership. DSA is currently not doing enough to engage with our natural allies in coalition work or movement building. Electoral engagement is still criticized by some members as a waste of time. Political purism continues to distract from socialist organizing, even as some members openly reject the principles and tradition of democratic socialism.
Even more disturbing, we saw a trend of people, often operating anonymously through social media but sometimes identifying themselves openly, behaving in a manner that can be only described as toxic. They demonstrated a willingness to scrap any hint of due process or democratic deliberation and to organize digital mobs to enforce some sort of orthodoxy. The toxicity in DSA has not dissipated. If we continue down this path, the least damaging outcomes would be driving good people away from DSA and a descent into irrelevance; a much worse outcome would be that an organization with a toxic internal culture infects the broader progressive left.
North Star exists to challenge these tendencies and make DSA a better organization. We also dismiss the notion that DSA should exist without caucuses.
In an organization of 50,000 members, many if not most new to democratic socialism, the old DSA without caucuses is no longer viable. The organization needs organized factions – caucuses – that put DSAers who think alike and do similar work in touch with each other, allowing members to develop and present their political views and strategies to the organization as a whole. Interaction among such caucuses is the essence of democracy in any large organization. Without public caucuses, cliques will still form underground to deliberate, organize and push their politics. However, the vast majority of the membership will be left with no access to this decision-making. Insiders ‘in the know’ should not be allowed to make all the important decisions without real accountability in the form of organized dissent.
What does need to be addressed is how caucuses conduct themselves: do they operate in a factional way, putting the interest of the caucus above the interest of DSA as a whole, and even more importantly, above the interest of the movement as a whole? We have organized a caucus to pursue our vision of democratic socialism and we welcome other caucuses that have formed in a democratic manner.
We’d appreciate your response to this invitation, to our Statement of Principles and to content on our blog. If you support our Statement of Principles, please sign on as a member of our caucus. If you disagree, we welcome participation and dialogue.
DSA North Star: The Caucus for Socialism and Democracy
See who we are: www.dsanorthstar.org
We are proposing a constitutional amendment to DSA to increase the NPC from 16 to 24 members while retaining the allocation to various categories of members. The proposal is virtually identical to the 2017 resolution that received about 63% of the vote - not the 2/3 necessary to pass.
To get this on the 2019 convention agenda, we need co-sponsorship from 50 (or more) DSA members - and we need it by May 2.
If you agree, RESPOND DIRECTLY TO ME,
If you wan to sign on, your response should include:
(2) email (try to use the one you gave to the NO);
(4) zip code
return to this address
Resolution below the fold
WHEREAS one of the first principles of democratic socialism is the importance of collective action;
WHEREAS our political work should be informed by a strategic analysis of the political economy of American capitalism and the cutting edge issues of the day, with an eye to identifying the critical points of system leverage where we can collectively intervene to maximum political effect; and
WHEREAS to accomplish this objective of effective collective action, it is critical for DSA to develop organizational priorities, determined through democratic processes, to drive our work;
Be It Resolved:
THAT DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, will be:
2. Addressing Climate Change and Promoting the Green New Deal
See prior post.
3. Addressing Immigration Policy and Defending Immigrants and
Our third priority is the defense of immigrants and refugees against racist attacks, and the promotion of comprehensive immigration reform that would secure their place in the U.S., putting an end to corporate induced competition between native born and immigrant workers, and between U.S. workers and workers abroad.
In the last half century, there has been a major restructuring of the global economy, conducted largely on the terms of transnational corporations seeking ever greater profits. Neo-liberal ‘free trade’ agreements, such as NAFTA I and II and CAFTA, have produced a global ‘race to the bottom,’ with capital flight sending good paying union jobs away from workers in the U.S. to countries with low wage employment, many of which are ruled by authoritarian states that ban independent unions. In the Americas, this global ‘free trade’ economy has devastated entire sectors of the economies of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, leading millions of people attempting to migrate to the U.S. in search of food, jobs, and security. Many also flee the ruthless violence of criminal groups in nations with ‘failed’ states, as well as the effects of climate catastrophes, from drought to increasingly vicious and destructive storms.
DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, should be:
2. Addressing Climate Change and Promoting the Green New Deal
Our second priority is the promotion of the Green New Deal (GND) to address climate change, through political, educational, direct action, electoral and legislative campaigns.
The environmental ravages of unbridled global capitalism have led to increasingly dramatic climate change, with humanity headed toward the brink of planetary ruin. In this crisis, the U.S. has been among the world’s leading polluters, in large measure because corporate interests have put their profits before the health of the environment. Under Trump, the US has even withdrawn from the limited Paris agreement to address climate change with modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Without quick, dramatic and far reaching action, climate change could soon become irreversible, with disastrous effects on humanity and life on earth.
The negative effects of this environmental crisis are not limited to the environment. Climate change impacts the economically vulnerable global South in ways that are more severe, with greater cost in human suffering, than the global North. The growing refugee crises out of the global South are inextricably linked to climate catastrophes that are triggering and exacerbating desperate scrambles for safety from many of the poorest areas of the world. While climate change is not the only cause of these refuge crises, it is a central factor: these crises cannot be solved without taking on the cause which is increasingly fueling them.
Defeating Trumpism and Electing Democratic Socialists and Progressives.
A proposed priority policy developed by the North Star Caucus.
Be It Resolved:
THAT DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, will be:
Our first priority is the electoral and political defeat of Donald Trump, the Trumpist Republican Party and all of the authoritarian forces aligned with them. The white nationalist authoritarianism of Trumpism poses a‘clear and present danger’ to working people and their unions, to people of color, to women, to LGBTQIA people, to immigrants, to members of minority religious faiths and to democracy itself. Trumpist victories in the 2020 elections would mean the consolidation of an authoritarian state with the most reactionary politics, the expansion of imperial aggression abroad and the collapse of the political space for democratic and left forces at home. The defeat of Trumpism is thus a strategic imperative, the most important political task of our time.
Given the central role of racism, white nationalism and bigotry against immigrants and Muslims in the political agenda of Trumpism, and the echoes of the most shameful racist moments of past U.S. history in Trumpian discourse, a failure to prioritize its defeat would be nothing less than the abandonment of the struggle against racism.
To be best positioned to defeat Trumpism, the Democratic Party and candidates for office running as Democrats must adopt a progressive platform the breaks decisively with neo-liberal politics and economics, rejecting the policies of austerity, privatization, economic deregulation and ‘race to the bottom’ free trade under corporate hegemony. DSA should promote the development of such a progressive platform, one that places the interests of working people and their unions over corporations and the 1%, that takes on the economic impact of institutional racism and sexism in employment and social services, that addresses increasingly catastrophic climate change, and that promotes the well-being of the great mass of Americans, especially in the provision of fully-funded, universally accessible public goods in health care, education, housing and mass transportation.
- Bill Barclay, CPEG and Ventura DSA
The first two posts in this series described two proposals for attacking the overarching problem inequality by directly taxing wealth, one during and after the lifetime of the wealth holder. The first, Warren's proposal for a wealth tax, is new in U.S. political discourse and the other, Sanders' reform of the Estate Tax, draws on a longer history of assaults against obscene inequality. This post discusses a proposal, the "Jobs for All Act," (Act) that also has a long history as part of countering inequality through restructuring the market for labor but the proposed Act is new in its scope.[i] I'll begin by outlining the history of efforts to create a full employment economy in the U.S., then sketch the major features of the Act and finally discuss the class dynamics of the Act.[ii]
I. The Right to Work: Seeking Full Employment the "Jobs for All Act" (HR 1000)
At the 2017 convention, DSA passed - by an overwhelming margin - a resolution in support of legislation that would guarantee a well paid job for anyone "willing and able to work." This was the language of the "Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act" that that we in CPEG, as part of the National Jobs for All Coalition,[iii]had worked on during the Great Recession with Rep. John Conyers' (at that time the only DSA member in Congress) staff. It is also close to FDR's call, in his 1944 State of the Union, that Congress establish "the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation."
Since FDR spoke, there have been several efforts to assure jobs for anyone willing and able to work. The most important were the Employment Act of 1946 and the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978. A major component of both Acts was direct job creation by the federal government.[iv]
Neither Act, nor the policies of the Federal Reserve, have created anything close to full employment, at least in the usual English language meaning of the term. What has happened is the political redefinition, led by too many economists, of full employment as 4% unemployment - and only counting those people actively seeking a job. How much difference does the definition make? In January 2019 the official unemployment rate was 4%, or 6.5 million people. However, there were another 5.1 million people working part time who wanted a full time job but couldn't find one and 5.3 million people who wanted to work but were not actively seeking a job in the four weeks prior to the unemployment census so not included in the "unemployed." These numbers total to 16.9 million people or 10% of the U.S. labor force.[v]
II: The "Jobs for All Act" (HR 1000)
- Bill Barclay, CPEG and Ventura DSA
As I argued in my first “Taming Capital” post, the political landscape defined by the 2018 midterms has reinvigorated the discussion of economic inequality and what we can or should do about it. The problem of inequality was a focus of the Occupy movement. It was also the core 2016 campaign message of Bernie Sanders – who just announced he is running for president in 2020. Like Warren’s wealth tax, Sanders understands that the obscene levels of economic inequality in the U.S. today cannot be countered simply by raising the minimum wage or a more progressive income tax structure. The concentration of wealth must also be addressed. And Sanders has put forth an important proposal for doing so – but also one that has a long history in the U.S.
Making the Estate Tax Real: Bernie Sanders
The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes.
- Theodore Roosevelt, 1910
Over a century ago under urging from Theodore Roosevelt, Congress created the modern estate tax.[i] TR understood the need for an estate tax in terms that apply equally or even more so today: the problem of an inherited aristocracy based on private capital accumulation, arising from some combination of good fortune, innovation and, very importantly, coupled with institutional supports that allowed an individual to amass large amounts of wealth in a single generation. As TR argued, such inheritances were, for the next generation, free and unearned money. Not only were the inheritors of the next generation no more deserving of this wealth than any other citizen, TR believed that they would all too often fritter in away in lavish living – think of Paris Hilton, the $37 million dollar ranch that Bill Gates bought his daughter Jennifer because she likes to ride,[ii]etc.
Taming Capital? - Part 1
- Bill Barclay, CPEG and Ventura DSA
The midterms have not simply given the Democratic Party a majority in the House; they have visibly expanded the range of political discourse, the so called "Overton Window". This impact is particularly marked in terms of the issue of economic inequality. In the past few weeks, three major progressive - perhaps even socialist? - initiatives have been proposed. In chronological order, these are Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax, Bernie Sanders changes to the Estate Tax, and HR 1000, guaranteeing a job to all willing and able to work, a true "right-to-work." Each treads on what has been seen by the right as the prerogatives of capital. For those of us on the left, each raises the question of to what extent it is possible to intervene in the market allocation of wealth and income in a capitalist political economy, perhaps even altering the dynamics of capital accumulation and use the resulting revenues for social rather than private ends.
In this first post I'll look at Warren's for a wealth tax. The next two posts will analyze Sanders Estate Tax revisions and then HR 1000.
An Annual Tax on Wealth: Elizabeth Warren
Because it is unique in U.S. political discourse - and probably doomed whatever small chance she had of being the Democratic nominee for president - Warren's wealth tax proposal
could be considered the most radical of the three. The idea behind the proposal is conceptually simple: she calls for an annual tax on wealth with two rates: 2% on household wealth over $50 million and less than $1 billion and 3% on wealth over $1 billion. This is an unprecedented proposal for a nationally known political figure, because it places wealth, rather than income, at the center of the problem of extreme and growing inequality in the U.S.
There are several things to like about Warren's proposal.
National DSA, through the NPC, has initiated a process to begin considering the endorsement of a candidate for U.S. President. The process seems structurally sound and open. Here
North Star welcomes DSA’s new caucus, Socialist Majority. We agree with you on many issues and look forward to working with you to discover new strengths and then build a diverse, democratic, DSA.
Yours in Solidarity,
DSA North Star
The caucus for Socialism and Democracy
AOC’s Achievement: Making Americans’ Progressive Beliefs Politically Acceptable. Of all the reasons that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is driving the right crazy, one of the most important is this: She’s advancing presumably radical ideas (by the right’s standards, anyway) that actually have massive public support.
Green New Deal? Fuzzy though its meanings may be, it brings together regional development policies for the huge region of the country that private capital has long since abandoned, climate change policies in a nation where climate-change apprehension is at an all-time high, full employment and decent wage policies for a nation where even voters in Republican states are casting ballots for higher wages and better jobs. Before AOC, whose radar was a Green New Deal even on? Since she joined the protestors in Nancy Pelosi’s office, a far-flung majority of Americans now see it as a way to address all manner of problems.
Likewise with taxing the rich. When AOC made the case for a 70 percent tax rate on annual income over the $10 million threshold, CNN’s Anderson Cooper responded as if she’d just called for collective farms. Now that Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a wealth tax that would compel the rich to pay an even fairer share of their bounty to support the common good, pundits are beginning to notice that the public has been supporting much higher taxes on the rich for a very long time. Since 2003, Gallup has annually asked the public whether they believe the level of taxes the rich pay is too high, too low or just right. The percentage saying “too low” has been in the 60-percent-to-70-percent range every year.
So it’s not hard to see why AOC is driving the right crazy. Forget the dancing, not to mention the racism and sexism that underpins many of the right’s complaints. It’s that she’s giving voice to progressive ideas that the public actually supports but that have long gone unvoiced by nearly everyone in power who has a megaphone they could use. She’s game-changingly brilliant at promoting progressive public policy. To the right, if I may steal from the Bard, such women are dangerous. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON
Photo Credit: Gretchen Dohart
If there is a heaven, and it reserves a place for virtuous skeptics, I imagine the late Michael Harrington looking down with celestial satisfaction at the recent growth of Democratic Socialists of America, having played such an essential role in its founding 35 years before.
Harrington, who would have turned 90 in February 2018 but who died too young at age 61, was born in St. Louis and moved to New York City in 1949 to become a writer. In 1951, he began a life-long commitment to radical politics when he joined Dorothy Day’s anarchist-pacifist Catholic Worker movement.
Mike soon shed his anarchism as well as his parents’ Catholicism, and in 1952 left Day’s community for the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), youth affiliate of the battered remnant of the Socialist Party (SP). YPSL counted 134 members nationwide that year. And it was about to get smaller, because Mike joined a faction that split away to form an even fringier group, the Young Socialist League (YSL), whose adult mentor, Max Shachtman, had a long history of radical in-fighting.
In the late 1950s, the Shachtmanites rejoined the SP. As newly appointed YPSL national organizer, Mike hitch-hiked across the country, visiting campuses from Brandeis to Berkeley to recruit young socialists (among those who joined in those days was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago named Bernie Sanders). Tom Hayden and other campus activists, in the process of creating Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were among those Harrington influenced. Mike famously wound up quarreling with Hayden and other SDSers at their founding convention in Port Huron, Michigan, in 1962, over some serious issues (the Cold War, the Soviet Union, anticommunism), but also over unspoken generational tensions. It was a rift he later deeply regretted.
In the mid-1960s, following the publication of his book The Other America, Mike became famous as “the man who discovered poverty.” He was invited to take part in planning sessions for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964 and advised Martin Luther King Jr. on the civil rights leader’s plans for a Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. Like King, Mike wrestled with the political and moral dilemma posed by LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War, reluctant to sever ties with an administration that, domestically, had been so committed to a progressive agenda. King’s breaking point came in 1967, when he publicly denounced and marched against the war. Mike, for complicated reasons including ties to the comrades of his youth, the increasingly right-leaning Shachtmanites, took much longer to do so. It was probably the costliest political mistake of his life, among other results undermining any remaining influence he had over the New Left in the later 1960s. Mike never abandoned his opposition to communism as the antithesis of his own democratic socialist beliefs. But, through painful experience, he learned from King’s example that a morally consistent politics also proved, in the long run, a pragmatically sound politics.
By the early 1970s, the old SP was hopelessly divided over the war in Vietnam and other issues, and in 1973, Mike and others, breaking with the right-wing Shachtmanites, created the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which grew to several thousand members. Nine years later, in 1982, DSOC merged with the New American Movement (NAM), which had been founded some years earlier by former New Leftists. The new Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) represented a partial healing of old generational/political divisions.
Now that they are in Congress, both Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez will almost certainly develop broadened political bases largely independent of DSA. Organized labor and liberal advocacy groups will be in their camp now. The Congresswomen may, out of conviction or good will, continue to pay DSA dues, and show up for rallies, fundraisers or other socialist gatherings, as Dellums and Owens did. But it’s unlikely they’ll have the time or inclination to devote much more in terms of direct involvement. If they are going to do their jobs right, serve their constituents—and get re-elected—they are going to be very busy and in a much bigger arena.
Volunteer power from DSA, however, did help both Tlaib and, perhaps more so, Ocasio-Cortez, win their contested primaries. That involvement shows what kind of an impact the organization can have on electoral races, and will likely inspire other insurgent candidates to seek DSA’s endorsement in future races. And as more politicians begin to adopt the label of “democratic socialist”—while advancing the values and policy priorities of the group, DSA will continue to grow in power as a player in American politics.
It is this growth that is more important for the organization’s continued success than discussions of strict accountability to DSA. After all, as elected representatives, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez are accountable to a number of different groups that helped elect them, and first and foremost—and rightly so in a democratic system—to the voters of the districts they represent. And as a matter of practicality, DSA currently needs Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez more than either of them need DSA.
This reality is worth remembering if the newly reenergized DSA is to help expand the socialist caucus in the House of Representatives beyond the two it currently counts.
Maurice Isserman, a charter member of Democratic Socialists of America, is the author of The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (2000)
This post is dated. We intended to post it back in November, however our blog was not functioning at that time.
“Michael Harrington.” It’s a name that gets tossed around by members of DSA, sometimes in negative and derogatory ways. But simply put, DSA, as an organization advocating democratic (as opposed to authoritarian) socialism, that fights for free, honest and open elections for achieving socialism based on democratic self-determination and for transformative change for the here and now, is Harringtonist to its core. Harringtonism is the guiding ideology of democratic socialism in the US, and the basic set of political principles that separates DSA from the authoritarian, totalizing, and revolution-fantasy nostrums of anarchism and Marxism-Leninism.
by Leo Casey
1) How should the left approach the 2020 elections? Here are my thoughts. The paramount objective must be the defeat of Trump & the retaking of the Senate from GOP. This is the ‘prize’ on which we must keep our eyes.
2) If we do not win this ‘prize,’ the elections will be catastrophic for American democracy, those targeted by Trump’s authoritarian populism & the left. But much of the discussion on left twitter and facebook takes place within a political vacuum, as if context was irrelevant.
3) There will be a vigorous campaign over which presidential candidate would be the best standard bearer in that all important battle. But the very breadth of the current field means that there are many authentic progressives who are credible prospects.
4) Rather than rush to anoint a particular candidate as the one and only prospect, it makes much more sense for the left, at this early point in the campaign for an election two years down the road, to be focused on promoting issues that it wants the Democratic Party and whomever is the candidate to embrace.
5) Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’s ability to put the #GreenNewDeal on the agenda before she was even sworn in illustrates what the democratic left can – and should be – doing to advance an agenda that will address critical issues such as climate change and economic inequality & set the stage for 2020.
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.