Thursday, January 03, 2013

Open Letter to President Obama

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, California
January 3, 2013

The Honorable Barack Obama
White House
Washington D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

In their book What's the Economy For, Anyway?, John de Graaf and David K. Batker list 41 specific ideas, distributed among ten general areas, that would put our country on course toward the kind of enlightened society I am sure you agree with.

I write to ask you to provide a public response of your own to their specific points, indicating which you feel you might achieve through executive action, which should be remanded to Congress, and which might best be addressed at the State level, with Federal encouragement:

1: Give us time
a. Mandate three weeks of paid vacation time for every working American, prorate for part-timers.
b. Implement work-sharing systems, such as Kurzarbeit, to reduce unemployment without increasing working hours.
c. Require hourly pay parity and prorated benefits for part-time workers, as in Europe.
d. Ensure the right of workers to reduce their hours without losing their jobs, hourly pay, promotion opportunities, or health care, as in the Netherlands. Other benefits would be prorated.
e. Ban compulsory overtime and provide double-time pay for overtime, as in Finland.
f. Make federal holidays mandatory for all workers, or give greater compensation to those who must work on those holidays,
g, Provide tax credits and other incentives to allow small businesses to make these changes without suffering financially.

2: Improve life possibilities from birth
a. Provide prenatal and other care to aII parents-to-be.
b. Give six months of mandatory paid parental leave when a child is born, at a minimum of half the current salary levels, to be paid for by government, as in Canada, through small graduated payroll deductions rather than directly by the employer.

3: Build a healthy nation
a. Provide basic single-payer health care for aII Americans, with private insurance providing additional coverage, as in Canada.
b. Offer tax incentives for healthy behavior, while raising taxes on unhealthy foods and activities.
c. Carefully shift subsidies to encourage local, organic, and sustainable food production and away from unhealthy food and unsustainable agriculture,
d. Ensure physical education choses classes for students.
e. Protect children by banning television advertising aimed at those under twelve, as in Sweden and Qu├ębec.

4: Enlarge the middle class
a, Create a more progressive tax structure with fewer loopholes for the wealthy and corporations.
b. Establish a national living wage with variations for cost-of-living in different states and cities.
c. Restore limits on usury—restrict interest charged on loans to a certain percentage above the rate of inflation.
d. Provide greater government support to reduce the cost of education and make college tuition easily affordable.
e. Give more generous benefits to those losing employment while retaining business flexibility, as in Denmark.
f, Strengthen the Social Security system by ending the income limit for taxation and tax breaks for private pension programs, while increasing benefit levels to the European average.

5: Value natural capital
a. Change accounting rules and economic analysis to bring the value of natural capitaI into government and corporate investment decisions.
b. Adopt physical sustainability measures to inform decision making for air, water, land, and climate resources.
c. Set aside and restore sufficient natural lands for ecosystem services,
d. Use tools to identify, value, map, and model ecosystem services for land use planning and environmental impact statements, and create regional watershed investment districts to more efficiently invest in restoring natural systems and coordinate investment for potable water, flood protection, storm water, biodiversity, ports, navigation, and other water-related investments.
e. Reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps to restore natural capital and our environmental commons and provide a portion of public works jobs.

6: Fix taxes and subsidies
a. Increase the marginal income tax rate to 45 percent for the highest tax bracket.
b. Make work pay by ensuring that money made from money (e.g., capital gains) is taxed at a rate at least as high as that made from employment.
c. Use the tax system la correct market distortions, with new taxes on "bads,"' which inflict externalized cost, on individuals, communities, or the environment, and by removing taxes on "goods" with positive social benefits.
d. Remove subsidies for consumers and producers of nonrenewable resources and move these subsidies to renewable and nonpolluting or non-climate-changing industries.

7: Strengthen the financial system
a. Reregulate the financial sector (and enforce those regulations),
b. Implement financial and currency transaction taxes to shift money from risky speculation into productive investment.
c. Restore the separation between savings and loans, commercial banks, and investment banks.
d. Break up the largest banks and investment firms to achieve greater competition and provide public savings institutions at the slate or local level--a public banking option,

8: Build a new energy infrastructure
a. Ramp up $1 trillion in public and private investments shifting to local, low-carbon, renewable energy and off fossil fuels, funded by a carbon tax.
b. Aggressively promote energy efficiency in policy and low-interest financing to improve existing and new infrastructure and products.
c. Utilize lower-grade energy (e.g., cooling steam from a data center to warm greenhouses or provide district heating).

9: Strengthen community and improve mobility
a. Tax sprawl (which requires the extension of public services) and excessive home sizes, while incentivizing green building, small homes, public transportation, and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure.
b. Fund a modern railway system and increase the cost of driving autos to pay for it. Deprioritize road construction.
c. Electrify our transportation system with electric buses, trains, and other vehicles.

10: Improve governance
a. Ban corporate campaign contributions through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Limit television advertising in campaigns.
b. Require corporations to include codetermination policies, with at least one third of directors elected by the workers.


Charles Shere
The Eastside View

I send this letter also to my representatives in Congress:
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Barbara Boxer
Congressman Jared Huffman

Permission for the extensive quotation from John de Graaf and David K. Batker: What's the Economy For, Anyway? (Bloomsbury Press, 2011, ISBN 978-1-60819-510-7) kindly given by John de Graaf.


Curtis Faville said...


This is an interesting set of suggestions, but a bit too complex for political convenience. Policies these days tend to be built upon slogans, not complicated programs for society and its discontents.

I continue to believe that the primary problems for our planet going forward are excess population, and limited water and resource(s),

I note that societies that have a stable balance between numbers of individuals, and the available water and resource, will be subject to far fewer of the other kinds of problems that plague societies that don't. I subscribe to the ecological notions of moderation and mediation between man and the natural world.

We are (still) a planet of nations, for better or worse. We can only have that lawful jurisdiction.

Within each country's boundaries, its inhabitants (citizens) should have the right to dictate their own destiny, as long as it doesn't impinge upon the rights and security of its neighbors.

The natural limits imposed by water and resource are too slow to prevent the kinds of degradation that are occurring right now around the world. Eventually we'll be punished for overpopulating the earth and squandering its resources, but by that time the place will be a stinking mess. Nature's ruthlessness is very "clean" in the long run.

Why not start now to slow the pace of expansion? Not our science, not our religion, not our combined "common sense" can save us if we disrespect the environment. We can't hide. There are no walls high enough.

Charles Shere said...

Yes, of course. What must be achieved is a separation of planning processes and political processes. Our society must learn to trust planning. Political institutions and operatives are there to write and enforce legislation, not to plan — "engineer" — society. As Cage might have said, debating values is one thing; enacting law is another; planning society a third: what have any to do with one another?

Curtis Faville said...

Well, since debating values and making law and executing plans are all inter-related, there's no separating them. Without a representative government having jurisdiction over the whole of society, and the right of everyone to throw in their two cents, there's no possibility of change.

I think what we have now is the age-old struggle between wealth and numbers. The rich and the corporations are fighting against the will of the people. They have accountants and lawyers and representatives and lobbyists to represent their interests, while we have none. I'm not being "political" here, just expressing what I believe to be the central problem of our time.

In any time, men maximize their opportunities as well as they can, which is what you and I are doing. Posterity won't care who among us were rich or poor, or led good lives; they''ll only be interested in us as exemplars or theorists as interesting subject matter.

But we have to live first. Is the world tipping towards disaster, or will it save itself? As much as we may care about the balance, we'll have no measurable impact on the result.