For more information about this campaign for Congress in the Illinois 5th District, which has been endorsed by the Illinois Berniecrats:
“Poverty is not created by poor people,” notes the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus: “It’s created by the system we built. Poor people are like a bonsai tree. You take the best seed from the tallest tree in the forest, but if you put it in a flower pot to grow, it grows only a meter high. There’s nothing wrong with the seed. The problem is the size of the pot. Society doesn’t give poor people the space to grow as tall as everybody else. This is the crux of the matter.”
The simple fact is that we would all be better off if poor people had the same opportunities as everybody else.
When the great trade unionist and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph first proposed the idea of a Freedom Budget in the 1960s, the idea of a budget that would seek to finance progress toward social justice out of the resources of a growing economy, and contribute to its further growth, he was focused on abolishing poverty in the United States within ten years.
It is time to revive that idea of eliminating poverty with investments in public education, housing, infrastructure, the environment, and healthcare. It is time for a Freedom Budget for the 21
century. It is time to water the tree of economic growth in our country at its roots rather than its top branches.
Two recent studies by C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson, and Claudia Persico measure the long-term impact of court-mandated school-finance reforms (SFRs). Their work demolishes the old right-wing mythology that spending on public schools doesn’t matter. “In most states, prior to the 1970s,” they write, “the majority of resources spent on K–12 schooling was raised at the local level, through local property taxes. Because the local property tax base is typically higher in areas with higher home values, and there are persistently high levels of residential segregation by socioeconomic status, heavy reliance on local financing enabled affluent districts to spend more per student. In response to lawsuits that identified large within-state differences in per-pupil spending across wealthy and poor districts, state supreme courts overturned school-finance systems in 28 states between 1971 and 2010, and many state legislatures implemented reforms that led to major changes in school funding. SFRs that began in the early 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s caused some of the most dramatic changes in the structure of K–12 education spending in U.S. history.”
These scholars findings “provide compelling evidence that: (1) money does matter; (2) additional school resources can meaningfully improve long-run outcomes for students; and (3) increased spending induced by SFRs positively affects educational attainment and economic outcomes for low-income children. While only small effects are found for children from nonpoor families, a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for low-income children is associated with roughly 0.5 additional years of completed education, 9.6 percent higher wages, and a 6.1 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty.”
Public education, as social democrats have maintained for generations, is a path out of poverty and a worthwhile investment in our common future.
Now let’s look at housing. According to a recent NPR story: “Incomes have remained flat for many Americans over the last two decades, but housing costs have soared. So between 1995 and today, median asking rents have increased by 70 percent, adjusting for inflation. So there’s a shrinking gap between what families are bringing [in] and what they have to pay for basic shelter.” “And then we might ask ourselves: Wait a minute, where’s public housing here? Where’s housing vouchers? Doesn’t the government help? And the answer is, it does help, but only for a small percentage of families. Only about 1 in 4 families who qualify for housing assistance get anything. So when we picture the typical low income American today, we shouldn’t think of them living in public housing or getting any kind [of] housing assistance from the government, we should think of folks who are paying 60, 70, 80 percent of their income and living unassisted in the private rental market. That’s our typical case today.”
“For many poor families in America, eviction is a real and ongoing threat. Sociologist Matthew Desmond estimates that 2.3 million evictions were filed in the U.S. in 2016 — a rate of four every minute.” “Eviction isn’t just a condition of poverty; it’s a cause of poverty,” Desmond says. “Eviction is a direct cause of homelessness, but it also is a cause of residential instability, school instability [and] community instability.”
These, in turn, carry tremendous healthcare costs. Kaiser Permanente recently announced that it will be spending $200 million to help reduce homelessness because it has calculated that it is in its own corporate economic interest to do so in an effort to reduce hospital readmission rates, morbidity, financial penalties, and poor ratings.
The same point applies to our country as a whole: we would all save money if housing were more abundant and the social costs of eviction were avoided because housing was affordable.
It is high time that we adopt a Marshall Plan for America as part of the new Freedom Budget. We helped rebuild Western Europe after WWII and we can help rebuild ourselves. Our roads, our bridges, our railways, our mass transit systems, our airports, our water systems, our electrical grid—all are in need of investment. And the world is in need of our decarbonizing our economy. According to a recent study by the Brookings Institute, real federal infrastructure spending from 1940 to 2017 (in 2017 dollars) averaged about $102 billion per year over those decades and we are spending more than that currently.
But as a percentage of GDP, we are currently spending less than 1%—a far cry from the nearly 3% that the New Deal reached, or even the 2% that came in the 1970s when the federal government supported new water resource projects alongside a continued highway build out. Relative to the size of our economy today, a New Deal level commitment would involve a peak of as much as $600 billion in a year and then average more than $200 billion per year for a decade. And that is what we need to do. Deferred maintenance is no longer an option.
Consider our shipping locks, for example, if we have a barge stopped on the Upper Mississippi because there is a problem with the locks what happens? Commodities just sit there until the problem is fixed. There are no detours, there’s no way to do anything but wait. And waiting costs a lot of money. If we can decrease the tremendous delays in our economy that are caused by poor infrastructure we can increase our productivity and with it the growth of our economy. Nearly eighty percent of lock sites with commercial traffic had an unexpected breakdown in 2016 according to one
Wall Street Journal
Half of these shipping locks are older than their intended fifty-year lifespan. According to the
analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data, the average delay caused by difficulties with the locks increased from 54 minutes in 1993 to 144 minutes in 2016. Our waterways carry about 14% of the nation’s freight and do so more efficiently, and with a smaller carbon footprint, than any other method of transport. Yet we are moving in exactly the wrong direction because of our failure to invest: “The tonnage of commodities shipped through locks, excluding coal, fell nearly 13% between 2002 and 2015 to 1.7 billion tons. By contrast, the combined shipments of goods via truck and rail, excluding coal, grew by 3.1% to more than 11.8 billion tons.”
When it comes to “decarbonizing” our economy, California is leading the way. According to a report released in November, “the state will get half of its electricity from renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, very soon—by 2020, to be exact, a full decade ahead of schedule.”
The commitment that California has made needs to be adopted, and intensified, by the nation as a whole. As renewables come on line, we need to phase out all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and then begin to impose new taxes on that industry to discourage its existence. Because of California’s commitment, the price of solar energy in the state dropped by 77 percent between 2010 and 2016.... Similarly, the price of wind dropped by 47 percent in the same time period. “We’ve got to realize that we are here today because of oil—oil and gas, to a lesser extent, coal,” California’s Governor Jerry Brown said back in 2015: “What has been the source of our prosperity has become the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don’t get off of it.”
Beyond the impact that massive infrastructure investment will have on the nation’s productivity and—through increased productivity—on future economic growth, such investment will help to generate millions of jobs, including in new fields such as wind turbine service and photovoltaic installation. Already in 2012, there were 14.2 million workers employed in infrastructure jobs—11% of national employment. And, as the Brookings Institute notes in another report: “More than 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure occupations typically have short- to long- term on-the-job training, but only 12 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and generally need less education to qualify for these jobs.”
These are jobs, moreover, that pay well on average. As part of the new Freedom Budget’s effort to abolish poverty, we should have affirmative action programs based on the economic class of the recipient designed to connect people from poor backgrounds to jobs in infrastructure.
The question is not whether we can afford this investment. It can be financed in a variety of ways and by a mix of taxes and borrowing. Personally, I favor a massive issue of “rebuild America” bonds. However massive infrastructure investment is financed, it must be done. The tax of doing nothing—the tax of deferred maintenance—would be far higher and further contribute to a downward economic spiral. It is time to get out of a vicious cycle and into a virtuous circle.
The struggle to insure that quality healthcare is guaranteed for all the inhabitants of our land—citizens and non-citizens alike—begins with building as strong a consensus as we can that, in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, people should not be crushed into bankruptcy by a chance illness, or driven into debt by excessive deductibles and co-pays, or completely denied the care they need by insurance company bureaucrats who are ignorant of the art and science of medicine, or by an inadequate governmental compensation system.
For most of the first decade of the twenty-first century, polls showed solid majority support (60+%) for the claim that it is “the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.”
Then—with the Republican assault on Obamacare—support declined to around 40+%. Now with the public having seen something of the successes of Obamacare (inadequate though it is), and of Republican mendacity in the fight over “Trumpcare,” we are once again seeing solid majority support (60+%) for the principle that everyone’s coverage should be guaranteed.
If support for universal healthcare continues to develop, and if we elect enough candidates pledged to support an improved Medicare for All single-payer system, it should be possible to move to universal healthcare in the not too distant future—to recognize that healthcare is a right and not a privilege. To contribute to such progress was a primary reason for my campaign, although I also want to help us plan now to go beyond simply insuring that everyone has healthcare as a right by addressing workforce and compensation issues to help make sure that, when it arrives, Medicare for All means quality healthcare for all.
If there were one article on American healthcare that I could persuade everyone to read, it would be the physician Atul Gawande’s article, “The Heroism of Incremental Care,” in the January 23, 2017, issue of
The New Yorker
Gawande makes clear how and why the path to lowering health care costs over the long run is providing better quality care. We need to dramatically increase the number of primary care doctors in the country and the compensation provided to these doctors relative to specialists. The United States is 51st in the world in terms of doctors per capita. It is high time for that to change.
Gawande points to studies “demonstrating that states with higher ratios of primary-care physicians have lower rates of general mortality, infant mortality, and mortality from specific conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Other studies found that people with a primary-care physician as their usual source of care had lower subsequent five-year mortality rates than others, regardless of their initial health. In the United Kingdom, where family physicians are paid to practice in deprived areas, a ten-per-cent increase in the primary-care supply was shown to improve people’s health so much that you could add ten years to everyone’s life and still not match the benefit. Another study examined health-care reforms in Spain that focussed on strengthening primary care in various regions—by, for instance, building more clinics, extending their hours, and paying for home visits. After ten years, mortality fell in the areas where the reforms were made, and it fell more in those areas which received the reforms earlier. Likewise, reforms in California that provided all Medicaid recipients with primary-care physicians resulted in lower hospitalization rates. By contrast, private Medicare plans that increased co-payments for primary-care visits—and thereby reduced such visits—saw increased hospitalization rates. Further, the more complex a person’s medical needs are the greater the benefit of primary care.”
In a recent book manuscript addressing the need to restructure our compensation system to encourage doctors to once again make house calls—particularly for elderly patients with multiple medical issues for whom repeated visits to the emergency room are an extraordinary source of strain, expense, and danger—the physician C. Gresham Bayne also calls attention to the ways that providing better quality care is the best path to lowering healthcare costs.
Prior to 1930, encounters with physicians took place in the home about 40 percent of the time. By 1980, that figure was less than 1 percent. For patients with multiple illnesses—especially among the elderly—treatment in the hospital, and often in the hospital emergency room, is both very expensive and difficult and can be the source of further complications. There are more than 130,000,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year. Some 85 percent of these visits are for non-emergency conditions. It would simply be better for everyone involved to treat many of these patients in their own homes. The central problem is getting doctors paid for making such housecalls.
Bayne is part of the independence at home (IAH) movement that is advocating such change.
A pilot program within Obamacare has already proven successful. According to one of the Congressional Sponsors for IAH, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a national rollout of physician housecalls covered by Medicare, such as that demonstrated in the 15 cities with IAH sites, could save $300 billion over ten years.
We, the American people, need to insure that “everyone is included and no one left out of the risk pool”—in other words, we need an improved Medicare for All. But we also need to go beyond this to insure that there are enough primary care physicians in the country that everyone can have a doctor that they can turn to in need, and we must guarantee sufficient compensation to these doctors to encourage them both to enter the field of medicine and to provide such services as housecalls.
Getting rid of some of the administrative bloat associated with our current system of health insurance should help to lower costs, but these initial gains may be offset by the increased demand for services as more people have access to healthcare. Ultimately, the healthcare system can be expected reach an equilibrium that will be less costly as a percentage of our economy than our current system provided we focus on the provision of quality health care for all.
My favorite revolutionary among the founders of our country and the framers of our Constitution is the Pennsylvania jurist James Wilson.
Years before Thomas Jefferson, Wilson had written that “all men are, by nature, equal and free.”
Slavery, Wilson wrote—in contrast to Jefferson—is unauthorized by the common law. Indeed, Wilson argued, slavery is “repugnant to the principles of natural law.”
According to Wilson we—the American people—are “sovereigns without subjects.”
This was—and is—a succinct way of stating the most basic ideal of the American Revolution. It took the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, to even begin to make this true for African Americans. It took the suffragists, and the women’s rights movement, to even begin to make this true for women. And it took the organization of trade unions, and the labor movement, to even begin to keep this true for working people: to keep the power of the state from being used on behalf of corporations to make subjects of workers. In our own day, it will take a moral and political revolution to keep the 1% from making subjects of the rest of us and destroying the promise of the American Revolution. And it will take repentance, on the part of the American people, to cease attempting to rule over the native peoples as if they were in any way our subjects or subject to our jurisdiction.
Campaigning for Congress in the Illinois 5
District, I sought to make a major issue of the ongoing injustice in our relations with the native peoples of America—to help awaken the moral conscience of the nation to the need to begin to help heal the brokenness of our relationships with the Indian nations by—at the very least—ceasing our illegal conduct. I had recently completed a book manuscript on the fight against Cherokee removal in the 1830s—the fight to try to prevent what became the Trail of Tears and Death—and I knew not only that the vote in the House of Representatives in 1830 had been very close (102 to 97), but that the issue had been wrongly decided by the Supreme Court when the issue reached it in 1831. I knew, as a matter of American Constitutional law, that the native peoples have all the rights of foreign states, that treaties are part of the supreme law of the land, and that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in all cases arising under treaties. In several speeches, and in a joint statement with Jeff Ballinger, a friend of mine who is running for Congress in the Massachusetts 3
District, I sought to stir our sense of justice both because there is much that needs to be changed in our conduct toward the native peoples and because an awakened American conscience is a necessary first step toward our own salvation.
According to A. Philip Randolph, “Salvation for a race, nation, or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted. Freedom and justice must be struggled for by the oppressed of all lands and races, and the struggle must be continuous, for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationships.”
I want to take most of our remaining time to say something more about what I mean by salvation and about the moral revolution that I believe can both strengthen and be strengthened by a new Freedom Budget.
The global Charter for Compassion—google it when you get home—is a worthwhile interfaith effort that includes among its signatories Christians, Muslims, Confucians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and secular folk all seeking “to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”
I commend the Charter for Compassion to you as an expression of convictions that should be, at least as a matter of principles, completely agreeable and acceptable to secular folk, including atheists. “Compassion,” the Charter declares, “impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”
The Charter for Compassion is an expression of what is best in globalization, an expression of the moral foundations of a movement toward human unity that is always under threat by the centrifugal forces of the nationalisms it both helps to cultivate and to erode. A close examination of globalization’s dynamics reveals a tension between seeking to advance the modern moral order—with its affirmation of ordinary life, proscription of violence, ideals of equality and freedom, and its competing economic ethics of liberal capitalism and social democracy—and seeking to be loyal to the demands for justice of the oppressed. From one angle, this is a tension between civility and compassion. By civility, I mean the virtue of the citizen—the virtue of concern for the common good—and not merely good manners; I mean the virtue on which civilization is built.
Yet the accomplishments of civilization will never live up to the needs discerned by compassion. The most civil society possible is radically inadequate to the demands of justice. And a serious outbreak of love in any society would be deeply unsettling to the social order.
From another angle, there is a tension within compassion between an urge to fight for justice and a willingness to offer mercy and forgiveness, even to oppressors, especially as part of a nonviolent campaign to transform hearts and minds.
In his book,
Love, Law & Language
, the Dominican priest and liberation theologian Herbert McCabe asks whether humanity is unified not only genetically, as a single species, and to some extent linguistically, but also in terms of a common story and, if so, how?
Glancing at some of the most widespread stories that are shared across the planet, there is a tendency in many of them toward finding the meaning of human history in an idea of progress and an End or goal toward which humanity is allegedly moving. For the last couple of centuries, the dominant trend in these stories has conceived of that End in secular terms—nationalism, liberalism, and socialism have all done so—and have made themselves, in effect, into secular narratives of salvation. In the nationalist narrative, a world in which every nation has its own strong and sovereign state has been the End. In the liberal narrative, it has been a world in which every society is a liberal democracy, or at least in which every society has a liberal capitalist economy. And in the socialist narrative it has been the variously defined triumph of the working class in every country. As social democrats, we know that for any of these narratives to be associated with helpful and positive developments, there must be a commitment to genuine self-government of, by, and for the people on the part of their narrators.
In purely secular language, the political fight that is now before us turns on the question of whether the United States will uphold the vision of the most progressive framers of the Constitution—that the American people as a whole are sovereign
an international moral and legal order that also guarantees other peoples, and ultimately every individual,
rights—or whether we will slip further back into something more like the Articles of Confederation and the vision that the states are sovereign or, worse yet, into a new vision of a sovereign federal government in which that government is answerable not to the American people but to the whims of a demagogue or to what Bernie Sanders refers to as “a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists.”
The most progressive of the founding fathers saw the American people ourselves as ultimately answerable to God for our conduct.
That is what our self-government meant. This was a view of what it means to be sovereign that is profoundly at odds with the conception of sovereignty as a capacity to lord it over those who are somehow deemed not sovereign, who are somehow deemed inferior. The struggle between these two views of sovereignty has informed much of American and much of world history. If we are less likely than previous generations to see any authority as capable of embodying virtue, the challenge of holding all authority accountable remains, especially when that authority is our own.
While the self-confidence of its narrators was shaken by the grotesque horrors of the twentieth century, and to some extent by more recent developments, the story that finds the meaning of human history in progress towards a universal commonwealth of liberty—a world of democracies at peace—is still a popular story. The historian Akira Iriye has observed that an unprecedented sense of shared humanity emerged out of the common calamity of the two world wars.
Where the nineteenth century was the century of empires, and the twentieth century the century of sovereign states, he suggests that the twenty-first century may be the century of civil societies, and perhaps of a global civil society as well.
One aspect of these developments that is receiving increasing attention, Iriye notes, is the role of international organizations; institutions whose “only weapons are ideas, a sense of commitment, and voluntary service. They have not spent billions on arms, nor have they engaged in mass killing. They are civilized societies, and so they have a mission to turn the world into a civilized community.”
Without diminishing the civility or importance of many international organizations, it is worth noting in addition the changing strength of the civility of the world’s peoples and its influence on the politics of states and on the course of global history. But even if the civility of the world’s peoples has at times helped move the planet closer toward the establishment of a universal commonwealth of liberty, the fact remains that the times in which we are living are not one of those times and that the community of democracies as it exists is still rife with brutalities and injustices that are often hidden and sometimes masked with legality, as the Black Lives Matter movement has recently sought to remind us. Our civilization is far removed from what liberation theologians like Herbert McCabe, or for that matter I, myself, would call the Kingdom of God—what we see as a moral and ontological aspect of the creation which is both already here within us and among us at the same time still coming into this world.
When I speak of the promise of the Kingdom, I am not speaking of repudiating modern dreams of equality and freedom, but rather of seeing them realized on a deeper level—the level at which love drives out fear. Recognition of the existence of such a deeper level does, however, inevitably reframe the meaning of both equality and freedom. In such a reframing, I would suggest that truly free societies are those in which people enjoy a set of media through which they are able to be open to each other, to love one another, without fear—in which they can realize themselves by giving themselves—and in which they are all self-governing with the equality of each human being founded not merely on identity as citizens under the law, but on the fact that each is infinitely precious as a child of God.
“If God is love,” Joseph Stoltz told the Chicago Literary Club more than a hundred years ago in a paper titled “The Message of Judaism for the Twentieth Century”: then “man must deal with man in love and make of this earth a paradise, a kingdom of God, a fit habitation for man who is the image of God.”
For the day will come, as the prophet Habakkuk proclaimed, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
The promise of the Kingdom rises above the promise of the American Revolution, continually calling its advocates to aspire to greater things. In terms of equality, the words of the Apostle Paul from two thousand years ago are still striking: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Or, again, for those who would prefer a Confucian to a Christian or a Jewish formulation, consider the words of the Chinese philosopher Zhang Zai from a thousand years ago: “Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.”
We social democrats, I believe, need to build on and help cultivate an emerging global moral consensus. We need to champion the vision of a world of social democratic societies that cooperate with each other and live together in peace—a world of just, prosperous, and ecologically-sound societies that are all genuinely self-governed by their peoples. A new Freedom Budget in the United States—a new commitment to abolish poverty with massive investment in public education, housing, healthcare, infrastructure, and the environment—could help restore humanity’s confidence in its ability to build a better future on a firm foundation. Yet we must also know that if such an enterprise is not to be the kind of tower of babble that globalization has so often been in the past, its foundation must be love.
Many of the problems in our world today can be traced back to an insufficiency of love—and especially to the American arrogance and mistaken judgment behind our invasion of Iraq—but we have been capable of learning from our mistakes in the past and must seek to do so again now. We are faced with a new deterioration in American and global politics, a new kind of demagoguery harking back, at best, to Huey Long and others like him in the 1930s.
Donald Trump’s claim in his inaugural address in 2017 that it is “the right of all nations to put their own interests first” is exactly wrong.
The first obligation of all nations, as of all individuals, is to respect the moral and legal order under which the rights of every nation and every individual are to be upheld. Putting “interests” before morality led to the Trail of Tears and Death and other genocidal actions against the Indian nations, putting “interests” before morality led the South to secede from the Union in an effort to maintain slavery, putting “interests” before morality is currently leading us to maintain an inhuman detention and deportation system and leading many people to view immigration as a threat to the nation rather than as what it is in truth: one of our greatest resources. Of course, the advocates of each of these “interest-based” positions have been capable of advancing “moral” arguments on their behalf. The attempt to claim a “right” to advance interests is merely an effort to avoid making moral arguments because one knows those arguments are weak. The United States, to its credit, has sometimes acted out of a deep concern for the common good—even at the sacrifice of some of its interests—in the correct belief that in the long run this would make everyone better off, including the United States. Now the world is faced with a Trump administration that wants none of this sort of civility—or “political correctness”—because it believes that we are entitled to more than we have received, and that seeks to be served by others rather than seek to serve them. Such an arrogant, greedy, and shortsighted approach to world politics cannot be expected to do the United States, or the cause of peace and justice anywhere in the world, any good.
James Wilson argued that in being answerable to God, the first and most necessary duty of nations, as well as of individuals, was to do no harm. But they were also commanded to do good to one another. Sociability was part of the law of nature for nations as well as for individuals.
“It may, perhaps, be uncommon,” said Wilson, “but it is certainly just, to say that nations ought to love one another. The offices of humanity ought to flow from this pure source. When this happily is the case, then the principles of affection and friendship prevail among states as among individuals: then nations will mutually support and assist each other with zeal and ardour; lasting peace will be the result of unshaken confidence; and kind and generous principles, of a nature far opposite to mean jealously, crooked policy, or cold prudence, will govern and prosper the affairs of men…. The love of mankind is an important duty and an exalted virtue. Much has been written, much has been said concerning the power of
abstraction, which man possesses, and which distinguishes him so eminently from the inferior order of animals. But little has been said, and little has been written, concerning another power of the human mind, still more dignified, and, beyond all comparison, more amiable—I may call it the power of
From Wilson’s perspective we—the American people—constitute a “moral person.” Reaching out to the other peoples of the planet in love is a joy as well as a duty. The most important aspect of this care—as far as I am concerned—is sharing the spiritual truth of the riches we are all entitled to inherit as children of God. God would have made the world for each of us as human beings and all the good in it is our rightful inheritance as individuals and as peoples. The world of the spirit is a world of abundance where to give in love is to receive more than one has given. One can be poor in material possessions and rich in spirit. And one can be, as the United States is, rich in material possessions and poor in spirit. Adopting a new Freedom Budget is an opportunity for the American people to repent and return to some of the convictions upon which our nation was founded. It is an opportunity to seek spiritual riches for all of us as well as the material enrichment of those who suffer poverty.
What can be expected to do our country some good, and the cause of peace and justice in the world some good as well, is a new Freedom Budget. There is much that a free people can and should do through government to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. There is also much that a free people must do for these purposes as individuals, families, neighborhoods, and other private institutions. Abraham Lincoln had it right when he said in 1864 that “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”
When Ronald Reagan said in his inaugural address in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” he was mistaken.
If he had meant to say that there are more important things in life than politics, and that politics cannot solve our most important problems, that would have been correct. Love, compassion, and civility enter our lives independently of the government. But that was not what Reagan said. For more than a generation—under the spell of his antigovernment rhetoric—we have pursued policies that have neglected America’s roads, bridges, railways, mass transit systems, water systems, airports, public schools, and electrical grid, as well as poor people and the common good generally, while favoring the 1%. Privileged treatment for the rich for more than a generation in the form of preferential tax cuts, preferential bailouts, and preferential access to credit generally have led to a situation in which the take home income of the 1% has gone from about 10% of the total of the country in 1980 to more than 21% of the total of the country in 2015—more than doubled.
Nearly half of all Americans, according to a recent Federal Reserve study, couldn’t cover an emergency expenditure of $400 because they have so little in savings.
Ninety percent of the children born in 1940 ended up higher in the ranks of the income distribution than their parents, barely forty percent of those born in 1980 have done so.
And yet, rather than challenge the presuppositions of the ideology behind this deterioration of the American Dream, the Democratic Party has largely gone along with the claim, in the words of Bill Clinton, that “The era of big government is over.”
As the Freedom Budget will be attacked as big government by not only the Republicans but also by moderate Democrats in the Clinton mold, it is essential that we have a threefold response to that attack: the first establishing the strength of the moral claim for a program to abolish poverty and the second its economic viability—its practical ability to serve the economic interest of the country as a whole—and the third its political viability: our capacity as a society to prevent corruption, waste, fraud, and mismanagement; our capacity for making such a governmental program as a new Freedom Budget worthy of being adopted. Here I want to underline the fact that the rule of law that treats every citizen as equal is undermined by the Supreme Court’s mistaken decision in
. That decision rests on an explicit dismissal of the dangers of corruption, and the appearance of corruption, by big money of the nation’s political processes.
As a result of this decision we must either pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that Congress and the states have the power to regulate money in elections or else persuade the Supreme Court that its view of corruption is mistaken. Consider an example that everyone should know: In 1998, Citigroup acquired Travelers insurance, even though the law on the books—the Glass-Steagall Act—prohibited such mergers. Travelers’ CEO, Sandy Weill, explained at the time that this apparent conflict with the law would “not be a problem” on the basis of the conversations they had held with the Fed and the Treasury. The head of the Treasury at the time was Robert Rubin. Rubin lobbied the House extensively to gut Glass-Steagall and the day after it did so, by a bipartisan vote of 343 to 86, Rubin left the Treasury. Three months later, Rubin was hired at Citigroup at a salary of $15 million a year, without any operating responsibility.
We as a society must organize to say that this kind of conduct is unacceptable. And we must bust up the “too big to fail” to which this kind of conduct has helped give rise.
The social democratic economist Jeffrey Sachs, in his recent book,
Building the New American Economy
, notes the striking contrast between the relative economic inequality of the United States and the relative economic equality of Denmark: “How does Denmark end up with so much lower inequality of disposable income? The answer is its budget policies. Denmark taxes more heavily than the United States and uses the greater tax revenue to provide free health care, child care, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, guaranteed vacations, free university tuition, early childhood programs, and much more. Denmark taxes a hefty 51 percent of national income and provides a robust range of high-quality public services. The United States taxes a far lower 32 percent and offers a rickety social safety net. In the United States, people are left to sink or swim.”
It is time to return to Eisenhower era tax rates in the United States and build a more social democratic economy.
At the heart of the moral and political revolution we need is recognition of the fact that we are all in this together. As James Wilson wrote in 1790 of the moral consensus behind American progress: “all will receive from each, and each will receive from all; mutual support and assistance, mutually supported and assisted all may be carried to a degree of perfection hitherto unknown, perhaps hitherto not believed.”
We must rebuild the hope-filled moral consensus on which our nation’s accomplishments rest—the consensus that was fought for by James Wilson and Myra Bradwell and Ida Wells and A. Philip Randolph and Bernie Sanders and countless others—and transform our politics and our economics to serve the common good rather than the 1%.
http://www.prrac.org/pdf/FreedomBudget.pdf (accessed 11 October 2017).
See my father Hugh J. Schwartzberg’s paper, “One Founding Father, Invisible, with Liberty and Justice for All,” presented to the Chicago Literary Club, 28 April 1997, available for download in the club’s online archives at http://www.chilit.org/content.aspx?page_id=86&club_id=11539&item_id=25713 (accessed 18 December 2016); See also Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James Wilson
in two volumes (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007); Charles Page Smith,
James Wilson: Founding Father, 1742-1798
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956); and Nicholas Pederson, “The Lost Founder: James Wilson in American Memory,”
Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities
, Vol. 22: No. 2, Article 3 (2010). Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol22/iss2/3 (accessed 8 August 2016).
James Wilson, “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament,” 1774, text in Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James Wilson
in two volumes (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007), Vol. 1, p. 4.
James Wilson, “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals,” in Hall and Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James
Wilson, Vol. 2, p. 1077
Chisholm v. Georgia
2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419, 471 (1793). The only exception Wilson admitted were “African slaves” who might be considered as subjects. Wilson believed not only in the equality of citizens under the rule of law but also in the equality of all mankind under the rule of nature: “At last, however, the voice of nature, intelligible and persuasive, has been heard by nations that are civilized: at last it is acknowledged that mankind are all brothers: the happy time is, we hope, approaching, when the acknowledgment will be substantiated by a uniform corresponding conduct.” Nevertheless, he was willing to compromise over slavery in the constitutional convention. He may have thought that the Constitution’s implicit grant of authority to the Congress to end the importation of slaves in 1808 (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1) would bring slavery in the United States to a gradual end. James Wilson, “Chapter IV. Of the Law of Nations,” in Hall and Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James
Wilson, Vol. 1, p. 545.
Quoted in Bayard Rustin,
Time on Two Crosses
edited by Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise (New York: Cleis Press, 2003), p. 200.
See: http://charterforcompassion.org/ (accessed 18 December 2016). Signatories include Karen Armstrong, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Ali Gomaa, Sadhvi Chaitanya, Tu Weiming, and tens of thousands of others.
The Virtue of Civility: Selected Essays on Liberalism, Tradition, and Civil Society
(Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1997)
I am indebted to Herbert McCabe for this observation.
See Walter Wink,
Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
Law, Love and Language
(London: Continuum, 1968).
Bernie Sanders, “Announcement,” 25 May 2015, https://berniesanders.com/bernies-announcement/ (accessed 24 April 2017).
“[When] I say that, in free states, the law of nations is the law of the people; I mean that, as the law of nature, in other words, as the will of nature’s God, it is indispensably binding upon the people, in whom the sovereign power resides; and who are, consequently, under the most sacred obligations to exercise that power, or to delegate it to such as will exercise it, in a manner agreeable to those rules and maxims, which the law of nature prescribes to every state, for the happiness of each, and for the happiness of all. How vast—how important—how interesting are these truths! They announce to a free people how exalted their rights; but at the same time, they announce to a free people how solemn their duties are.” James Wilson, “Chapter IV. Of the Law of Nations,” in Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James Wilson
in two volumes (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007), Vol. 1, p. 532.
Bruce Mazlish and Akira Iriye, eds.,
The Global History Reader
(New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 12.
Akira Iriye, “The Role of Philanthropy and Civil Society in U.S. Foreign Relations,” in Yamamoto Tadashi, Akira Iriye, and Iokibe Makoto, eds.,
Philanthropy and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations
(Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2006), pp. 38, 57
Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 193
For a vision of the Kingdom—an introduction to how to think about its reality—see Traherene’s
Centuries of Meditations
This formulation is indebted to Herbert McCabe
Joseph Stoltz, “The Message of Judaism for the Twentieth Century,” (paper presented to the Chicago Literary Club in 1905), p. 78. Go to http://www.chilit.org/ and search under “Papers” for “Papers by Subject” and then for the category “Religion” and then alphabetically.
Quoted in Tu,
The Global Significance of Concrete Humanity
, p. 243.
For a sympathetic and insightful portrait of a fictional Huey Long type demagogue, see Robert Penn Warren,
All the King’s Men
(New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1946).
Donald J. Trump, inaugural address, 20 January 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/the-inaugural-address/, (1 April 2018).
James Wilson, “Chapter IV. Of the Law of Nations,” in Hall and Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James Wilson
, Vol. 1, pp. 532, 539-545.
Building the New American Economy
, p. 2.
Raj Chetty, et al., “The fading American Dream: Trends in absolute income mobility since 1940,” Science (28 April 2017), Vol. 356, Issue 6336, pp. 398-406 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6336/398.full (11 October 2017)
William Jefferson Clinton, State of the Union Address, 23 January 1996, https://clintonwhitehouse4.archives.gov/textonly/WH/New/other/sotu.html (1 April 2018).
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 310 (2010).
A Capitalism for the People
(New York, Basic Books, 2012), p. 46.
Jeffrey D. Sachs,
Building the New American Economy
with a forward by Bernie Sanders (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), p. 43.
James Wilson, “Chapter III. Of the Law of Nature,” in Hall and Hall, editors,
The Collected Works of James Wilson
, Vol. 1, p. 542.