Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Modest Proposal for our Economy

So what about the “Occupy X” movement? Granted there seems to be all sorts of people there without a real focus other than ‘down with corporate greed’. I am not going to argue the merits or lack thereof of the variety of complaints and participants. But I do think the “Occupy” movement and the Tea Party movement considered together are signs of discontent not really seen across middle-class America in some years. The Republicans’ (partial) embrace of the Tea Party and disdain for the Occupy may be a serious political mistake. At the same time both movements don’t bode well for the current administration either. If the Republicans nominate someone who looks like he’s in bed with corporate/financial America, Obama will win a second term. If however they can come up with a viable candidate at this late stage who can come up with a jobs plan which isn’t merely an increase of taxes on the poorest and a decrease of taxes on the wealthiest (think “9-9-9” and “Flat Tax”) then they may capture the imagination of worried Americans. Under the current conditions, both parties will come out losers in the long-term regardless of the outcome of the 2012 election unless there is a clear break from the past.

America is discontented. We only know one system, and we know it is broken for most of us. The issue is jobs. Manufacturing jobs continue to go overseas. Trade jobs (with a few notable exceptions like plumbers and electricians) have disappeared as people will settle for cheaper but almost disposable goods, for example shoes. Small shopkeepers have disappeared as they can’t compete with big box stores who get cheap (and disposable) imports from overseas. Small farms have disappeared as government regulations and government subsidies for big Ag have made it practically impossible for small farmers to make a living. College education has become high class and high expense job training. In the current economy graduates carrying $40K to upwards of $100K of student loan debt can’t find jobs. Increasingly, the low paying service economy is the only remaining option for many Americans.

No national candidate is proposing a turnaround to this trend. Even if we pull out of the current recession, the future is not bright. But we can turn this around. It may take some time and struggle and sacrifice, but we can arrive at an economy where a family can earn an honest and rewarding living and have greater control over their life and destiny. The modest proposal is not a quick fix, but a journey, a process towards a more just economy.

Returning manufacturing to America can be achieved through the introduction of tariffs on imported goods. These tariffs must be steep enough to allow American manufacturers compete with cheap imports while paying living wages for workers. Some may argue that trade wars may erupt, hurting our economy. However, the loss of manufacturing in this country is a worse fate.

Encourage the creation of small businesses, both retail shops and manufacturing endeavors by tax policy. The lowest taxes will be levied on small businesses. If a business expands to multiple locations, surtaxes are levied. As a company expands to locations outside its original region, more surtaxes are levied. These measures will allow local and regional businesses. Employee owned businesses would also enjoy a lower tax burdens. These tax policies will encourage both small, local retail businesses and return viability to local craftsmen and trades. Small manufacturing endeavors will also be encouraged to flourish. Jobs will be created which provide real living wages to owners and employees and invigorate local and regional economies. As businesses grow and become more profitable they can expand, but will contribute more to the community as their profits rise.

End government subsidies to large (factory) farms and big Ag. Restrict FDA regulations to where they are needed, i.e. the large farms. Let the free market work locally. Locally grown food will be fresher, tastier and safer. There been numerous e coli or salmonella outbreaks in recent years which have affected millions of Americans, and which have been difficult to track because the infected food has come from miles and miles away from those who are affected. Local problems will affect less Americans and will be quick to track down. Enterprising small farmers will once again feed Americans good produce and meat while earning a living wage.

Government must begin to operate on the principle of Subsidiary. Federal and State governments should return control of education and other regulations to local communities and to the family. Surely there are areas where the State and Federal government has a role, sometimes a primary role, but family, town, and county authority should not be usurped unless necessary.

In all this local and regional economies can thrive. Trades can make a comeback and regulate themselves. Small shopkeepers and small farmers can make decent wages. College will not be the only ticket to be a property owner with a semblance of control over one’s life.

The local community will be strengthened. Small rural towns have seen an exodus of young people to cities where money and jobs are more plentiful. This weakens the family and thus the community and ultimately the entire country. One of our greatest challenges in America presently is the absence of fathers in family life. While there are many causes, one cause is the transient way we live with no job security and constant relocation. Extended family communities can be the glue to keep troubled families together.

Another benefit to more robust local and regional economies is a lower consumption of energy resources.

The modest proposal hasn’t covered all aspects of economy and society; it is a proposal seeking more ideas and discussion. There are aspects which may be hard for some to adjust to. The plan requires a national will to become less of a consumption society. While it proposes more and better jobs, with better wages and more control for most Americans, at the same time, many goods will be more expensive. However, these goods will be made to last.

In America we value the ownership of private property. This has become to mean that we own our own home. But few of us really do, as many have found out in recent years. Ownership of private property also should mean that we own the means to production, that is that we really own our homes and for as many people as possible our own source of employment, whether it be a private business or as a shareholder in a larger business. Our economic system has come to a point where workers are merely tools for greater profit, to be acquired or discarded as the quarterly numbers dictate. Workers have a dignity which is not respected by too many corporations. Corporations must remember that they exist not just for profits but to provide fulfilling work and wages for their workers.

This is not just an economic plan, but also a spiritual plan for the human person.

Oremus pro invicem!

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