With the 2016 presidential race already at full steam, and the unexpected rise in the popularity of Bernie Sanders, politics has been on my mind a lot recently. Conversations, debates, and personal attacks based on political beliefs are starting to take over Facebook. This article is intended to be a simple and straightforward presentation of “how I see it”. I’m not a political expert, but as usual I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve also been involved in politics at the local level here in the state of Washington, and spent time talking to a friend of my family who was on the city council of a nearby town and ran for Congress a couple times.
Everyone has different ideas of how the government should be run, what they should do, and so on. I would like to propose ideas that transcend petty divisions like party, left and right, conservative and liberal, and instead get to the heart of the real problems with our country, and some possible ways they could be fixed. One of the most important things we must do in order to survive, I believe, is learn to work together and eliminate the divisive “us vs. them” mentality that has become such a fundamental part of politics these days.
First, we need a government that represents the interests of the people. Nothing else will work if we don’t get back to the principle of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I think just about all Americans can agree that we want a government that represents the entirety of the citizens, not a handful of super-rich business owners. Currently, public support for a policy has almost zero effect on whether or not it will be established as law or discarded. However, eliminate data from the bottom 99% of Americans, and suddenly you find a correlation between the likelihood of a law being passed and whether or not it is supported by the top 1%.
To create a government of and by the people, the democratic system needs to be fixed so that people can vote for candidates who actually represent what they believe in. The two-party system needs to be abolished, and money needs to be removed from the equation. Any qualified presidential candidate should be given the same reach as any other; they should not be able to dominate simply because they are rich, or have the backing of a lot of rich people (like those who own most of the media). We the people need to pick our own candidates, not settle for the “lesser of two evils” just because those are the only options given to us.
A government for the people should, I think, hold the well-being of its citizens as its highest priority. This means that there must be a focus on eliminating poverty, providing high-quality education to everyone, and caring for the sick. Military is important, of course, but only as far as is needed to protect the country from outside threats. Helping other countries that are suffering is a good cause, but it cannot be a priority if our own country is falling apart. We need to stop being the world police and stop sending money to foreign countries to help them fight wars while our own people struggle.
We can all agree that poverty is a bad thing and we should be working toward ending it. The only way to get people out of poverty is to give them more money. What we tend to disagree on is the method in which we should help them get that money. Some say we need to provide jobs, but a huge number of people in poverty are already working, often multiple jobs. If a job is going to get someone out of poverty, it needs to pay them enough that they can afford rent and food and the other essentials of life. Furthermore, elimination of poverty cannot happen without some way to support people who are unable to work for some reason, so a welfare system, a “social safety net”, is still required.
But how can we guarantee good paying jobs and welfare as a backup, while holding onto our precious free market? There are elements of socialism that provide the answer. First, trickle-down economics has proven ineffective. Policies that help the rich get richer do not also help the poor. We need to look at it from the opposite direction. Putting just enough regulation in place to make sure that everyone who works a full time job is above the poverty line will result in more wealth in the hands of common citizens. It’s well-established that if you give more money to a poor person, they will spend it. That money goes straight back to the companies that provide jobs in the first place, raising their revenue and enabling them to hire more people. If we are going to have any sort of capitalism, it needs enough socialist policies mixed in to reward business owners not for mistreating their employees, but for paying good wages. You can still have the incentive of getting rich, as long as it’s driven by the well-being of the working class.
Second, tax rates should reflect the ability of the people to support themselves. Take a person earning $1 million a year, and one earning $20,000, who both live in the same area. Their basic cost of living is the same…they both face the same minimum cost of renting or buying a place to live, the same cost of food, and so on. Suppose it costs at least $18,000 a year for one person to live comfortably. This means that the person earning $20,000 has $2,000 left over, while the person earning $1 million has $982,000 left over. Now, we don’t want to tax the rich so much that they end up with as little left over as the poor (probably what a lot of Americans think of as “socialism”). But at the same time, in order to take care of all our citizens, we do need to tax them at a higher rate, because they’re earning money that otherwise could be used to employ a lot of other people. Some CEOs make so much money that half of their salary could pay thousands of people working full time at more than minimum wage. I struggle to understand why a CEO could possibly be worth as much to a company as several thousand employees. Without the employees, there is nothing for the CEO to do.
Speaking for myself, I would have no problem paying $500,000 in taxes if I was earning $1 million a year. It’s an amount I could very easily afford, while the person earning $20,000 a year would never be able to afford $10,000 in taxes. I would probably give away even more on top of that, because I simply don’t need it. I would buy a nice house and some things that I wouldn’t otherwise buy, but the purpose of my earnings is to first support me and whoever might be living with me, and secondly to support the country I live in. If the government actually represented the people, our taxes would be used to provide things that people need but can’t get for themselves. I would be able to live very comfortably and also know that if by some freak accident I lost everything, I wouldn’t end up starving on the streets. Also, by paying taxes I would be contributing to the well-being of people who otherwise would be starving on the streets.
Some argue that helping the poor should be handled by private organizations and individuals, not the government. But what is government for if not protecting the well-being of its people, even the poor ones? If we fixed our government so that it could efficiently help people, it would be by far the best way of eliminating poverty. We need to change our view of money, from something to be gained and hoarded to a tool that is meant to be used. Money is for spending, and it’s only through spending that our economy will remain strong. By allowing extremely rich people to take massive amounts of the country’s wealth out of the economy, we are leaving less and less fuel for economic growth.
The second big issue is education. In order to be successful in a global economy, our workforce needs to be well-educated. The future of our country depends on giving the next generation the skills and knowledge they need to contribute to economic growth. Thus, free public education needs to be extended through college. Currently many people are too poor to get a college degree, and it doesn’t help that college tuition is rising much faster than inflation and wages. It is insane to tell a poor person that they need to help their own situation by getting a better job, when all the better jobs require them to have a college degree, which they can’t afford to get without first getting a better job. It’s a catch-22 that’s only getting worse. Overall, the cost of making public college tuition free is very small compared to what we already spend on our military. We can afford it, we just need to make it a priority.
The third issue I mentioned is healthcare. We can all agree that it is a human need as important as water, food, and shelter. Part of eliminating poverty hinges on making healthcare affordable for all people. Currently, there are many Americans who are simply unable to get the healthcare they need because they have no money for it. So either healthcare needs to be free, or we need to eliminate poverty and reduce healthcare costs to a level that anyone can afford without ending up in debt or back in poverty. Since poverty still exists, the only morally right option at the moment is to provide free healthcare, at least for people who are unable to afford it themselves. The other goals, such as reducing the insane cost of healthcare, should also be pursued in order to reduce reliance on government funds and make it easier to ensure that all people have the healthcare they need.
These are the basic issues that our country must address if we are going to prosper. Exactly how we address them may still need to be hashed out, but things are only going to get worse until we fix our priorities and start working together on the problems we all agree need to be solved. I don’t know for sure if Bernie Sanders has the right answers, but at least he is addressing the real issues that are hurting our country. Conservatives should forget about fighting gay marriage and abortion for now, because if we keep going as we are and plunge into a new depression, they’ll suddenly seem like really insignificant issues.