On June 18th Van Jones gave a rousing speech at Netroots Nation, calling for a new effort to “Rebuild the American Dream”. Moveon.org and several other organizations have come together to build a new movement to rebuild the American dream, and this past weekend, 25,000 people went to over 1500 house parties to talk about a potential set of issues that could constitute a “Contract for the American Dream”. My wife and I headed down to Greenwich Village for one of the many completely filled house meetings. As one of our group summed up the meeting, it was a “good” meeting, one we were happy to attend.
The meeting was divided into three parts, and I was wondering how a bunch of New Yorkers would handle such “touchy-feely” questions for first part, such as: “Tell a story about you or a friend and how you were affected by the economic downturn”. Or: “What moment most made you proud to be an American?”. Our group wound up talking more about how much we had expected of Obama before he was elected, Andrew Cuomo’s presidential ambitions, and how we could possibly find candidates that might move in a progressive direction — which led us naturally to the main part of the evening, rating 40 ideas that might become part of the “Contract for an American Dream”.
The nice problem was that almost all of the ideas were very good ones. I hope that Rebuild the Dream and Moveon don’t overly narrow the focus of their efforts, and keep most of the 40 ideas in some form. I know Moveon has successfully used the strategy of focusing on a few key issues at a time. However, I think that for a serious, broad-based movement that might actually, like the Tea Party, back various candidates, it is important to have a longer list. Perhaps a few major ideas could be the focus, with a longer list of very important issues that could be linked with the larger themes.
We were directed to pick three out of 10 ideas, from four groups (you can see the full list several pages into this PDF). First up was what seems to be the overriding focus of Rebuild the Dream, that is, “good jobs now”. I think that this is the correct number one focus, since it is clearly the number one concern of the American public, and I think it is our number one economic problem. Our house meeting picked “Move toward a clean, green, independent energy future”, “Invest in America’s infrastructure”, and “Stop paying corporations to offshore American Jobs” as our top three. This list also included ideas about investing in transit, as well; I think the overarching theme here is to rebuild the infrastructure.
From the list called “We pay our share”, the meeting chose “Return to fairer tax rates”, “Make Social Security solvent”, and “Be sure corporations pay their taxes”. There were several other good ideas, such as stopping subsidies to dirty energy and higher taxes for capital gains and a tax on financial transactions.
For “Strong Communities”, the clear winners seemed to be “Medicare for all”, “Substantially reduce military spending”, and “Invest in public education”, with “Protect women’s rights and health” as a runner-up, and there were other good ideas like universal childcare and pro-family work policies.
Finally, “Working Democracy” elicited support for “Eliminate corporate personhood”, “Reinstate common sense rules of the road for Wall Street” – such as reinstating Glass-Steagall – and “Place elections into the hands of everyday people”, which seems to boil down to public financing of elections.
I heard that when the ideas are all tallied, the final mix will be discussed with various “liberal economists”. Hopefully these will include the economists associated with the Roosevelt Insititute, such as James Galbraith and Joseph Stiglitz – and then the final list will be presented in August.
I think that it is enormously important to start an effort such as this, something that can pull together the various strands of the progressive community, which will directly tackle the economic problems of our day. Progressives have tended to leave the larger economic questions to the Right, at least since the 1950s, and I think it is critical to take back this central social debate.
So my advice would be to think big – both in terms of ideas, and in terms of money. If Rebuild the Dream winds up advocating 10 billion to be spent here and 10 billion to be spent there, it won’t add up to enough to really turn the economy around. I would urge the organization to think in terms of trillions of dollars, not billions – say, a program of one trillion dollars per year for 10 or 20 years, to rebuild the infrastructure and thereby re-establish manufacturing.
The importance of manufacturing was not mentioned in any of the lists, but it can easily be a part of the infrastructure rebuilding effort, as long as domestic manufacturing is required for all of the trains, roads, buildings, wind turbines, and other physical structures and equipment that are required for a re-haul of the infrastructure.
The entry for “investing in the infrastructure” mentioned the idea of an Infrastructure Bank, an idea that I am sure President Obama would like to roll out in a big way. There has been talk of starting with 10 to 30 billion dollars for the Bank, but again, I would start off with one trillion dollars for the bank — which the Bank, like any bank, could simply create, while charging little or even no interest for the loans. As long as money is used to create more wealth, money creation does not lead to inflation. Quite the opposite, a rebuilt infrastructure and manufacturing economy would generate enough wealth to soak up, not only the loans, but much of the public deficit that Washington DC is, unfortunately, obsessed with right now.
Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science and is a Visiting Scholar at the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems.