Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Is To Be Done

Kevin Drum predicts that there won't be a string of big progressive victories after health care reform. I agree with the conclusion, but only because I expect Republican gains in the mid terms. He has an additional argument.

There's plenty of work left to be done, but when it comes to the big ticket items we've gotten about 80% of what we set out to get over the past century. The one major item missing has been national healthcare. And now, finally, we're on the road to getting it.


I respectfully disagree. This might be an overparsing of the number 80%, but I perceive a whole lot of huge things to be done.

First what about progressive taxation ? That was a goal of the progressives in the 19th century as well as in the 20th. The current tax system (including state and local taxes) is barely progressive at all . There is overwhelming popular support for a more progressive tax code. Try to remembe any poll anywhere on any issue in which less than 60% of US adults didn't support increasing the taxes of the rich. I am quite sure there is no such poll at www.pollingreport.com. Look under "social security" and "health care reform" as well as under "taxes." This is a huge winning issue for the Democrats and progressive taxation is uhm progressive.

Second would be national funding of schools. The inequality of school budgets is another US specific outrage. This is not at all like progressive taxation. Such a policy proposal would be extremely unpopular. This will require another century of struggle (probably more).

Third we had welfare but now we have TANF a program which just did not address the recession. The end of the entitlement actually mattered. I think that the entitlement AFDC was replaced by the fixed budget TANF, because people didn't like the word "entitlement." However, it means that TANF roles barely increaced during the recession at a time when more TANF is despearately needed.

Here the problem is that what is needed to prevent horrible suffering is to increase funding for a necessary but extremely unpopular program. Not going to happen any time soon.

Finally what about the rest of the world ? Remember foreign aid ? I'm not listing it because it is the only program less popular than welfare. I am listing it because it is the issue I care most about.

The reason there won't be a string of big victories which involve expanding spending programs is neither that we can't afford such an expansion, nor that American liberalism has achieved its goals. It is the remainng goal (you know elimination poverty) just doesn't have enough popular support to be at all feasible.

On the other hand, the radical idea of a progressive tax code would be good policy and good politics. The Democrats won't introduce such a code, but they could and should.

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