Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society
Appendix A: Some Positive
Near-Term Policy Changes
In This Chapter:
- Steps Toward a Good Society
- Citizen Access to Information
- Employment and Poverty
- Personal Income Taxes
- Corporate Taxes and Subsidies
- Other Taxes
- Conflict Resolution
- Corporate Accountability
- International Agreements
- News Media
- Childrearing Assistance
- Health Care
- Community Development
- Domestic Violence
- Gun Control
- Drug Policy
- Law Enforcement and Prisons
The society described in Chapter 2 is quite different from our current society. To get from here to there will require many intermediary steps.
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Below are listed some examples of specific policy changes that I believe would begin the shift toward a good society. Though they would be significant steps forward, these policy changes would not alter the basic nature of current institutions, nor would they require large changes in our culture or the U.S. Constitution. Most could be enacted now by federal, state, or local governments. I believe these measures would serve well as near-term, achievable objectives of progressive change movements.
Note that these are only my ideas about near-term progressive goals. Other progressive activists may seek to move in other directions.
- Eliminate barriers to voter registration.
- Establish a national Voting Day holiday to encourage maximum voter turnout and participation.
- Send a pamphlet containing detailed information about each initiative and candidate on the ballot to every registered voter several weeks before each election. This pamphlet should include the candidates’ positions on at least ten important issues.
- Provide free media (TV, radio, and newspapers) for in-depth debate among candidates for office.
- Heavily tax all other political advertising (at perhaps a rate of 25%) to discourage blatant propagandizing.
- Prohibit any media coverage of candidates or advertising by the candidates for the last few days before an election and on the day of the election.
- Cut the power of special interests by limiting campaign contributions to $100 from each person who is a permanent resident of the candidate’s district. Alternatively, ban all private financing of political campaigns.
The business of politics consists of a series of unsentimental transactions between those who need votes and those who have money… a world where every quid has its quo.
- Prohibit contributions and other political activity by businesses to ensure we have a government by citizens, not interests.
- Ban all gifts to office-holders and candidates. Prohibit office-holders from accepting any honoraria.
- Reduce the salaries of all office-holders to no more than five or ten times the minimum wage.
- Establish binding initiative, referendum, and recall votes in every state so that concerned citizens can pass and rescind laws directly and remove wayward representatives. Establish a national referendum procedure.
- In some arenas, replace winner-take-all elections with proportional representation or preference voting. For example, an enlarged U.S. Senate (with 200 or 300 members) might be filled by members of each party in proportion to the number of citizens voting nationwide for their party. The Senate might then choose the president from among its ranks. To avoid too great a concentration of power, a panel of three independent “Judicial Appointers,” with only the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and other federal posts, might be elected by nationwide majority vote. Members of the House of Representatives might continue to be elected by majority vote in local districts.
Citizen Access to Information
- Rewrite laws in easy-to-understand language.
- Require all government data (except personal information about individuals) to be freely and easily accessible via the Internet.
- Protect government and corporate whistle-blowers from intimidation and job loss.
- Require all users and generators of toxic chemicals to provide full information about the chemicals to workers and the community.
Employment and Poverty
The child was diseased at birth, stricken with a hereditary ill that only the most vital men are able to shake off. I mean poverty — the most deadly and prevalent of all diseases.
- Set a minimum income that meets basic human needs. Raise the minimum wage so that it provides this income (a “livable wage” of perhaps $10–15/hour) and index it so that it automatically rises with the cost of living.
- Provide a job for everyone who can work. If the private sector cannot generate enough jobs, then the federal government should establish a Job Corps that can hire people to fix bridges, build housing, restore the environment, provide childcare, provide nursing care, or perform other socially beneficial work.
- For those who are sick or disabled, establish a refundable tax credit to bring their income up to the minimum.
- Shorten the standard workweek to 32 hours. This would mean businesses would hire more workers, reducing unemployment. It would also provide people with more time for childcare, leisure, and civic activities.
- Prohibit mandatory overtime. Prohibit more than 150 hours of overtime per year.
- Mandate six weeks of paid vacation annually.
- Mandate six months of paid maternity and paternity leave. Mandate leave for parents to take care of their sick children.
- Mandate periodic paid sabbaticals — perhaps a six-month sabbatical every eight years.
- Provide identical Social Security benefits to everyone regardless of individual work history.
Personal Income Taxes
- Raise the amount of the combined standard deduction and personal exemption to a level equal to the poverty level so those living in poverty pay no income taxes and no one is taxed on the income necessary for basic living expenses.
- Increase the range and number of personal income tax rates. Lower the bottom rates and raise the top rates to make the rates more progressive. For example, lower the bottom personal income tax rate from 15% to 5%, add a 50% tax bracket for families with income over $200,000/year, add a 75% tax bracket for income over $500,000/year, and add a 90% tax bracket for all income received over $1 million. Index these rates to compensate for inflation.
- Alternatively, add a 100% rate for all income higher than ten times the minimum wage (the Ten Times rule).
We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
- Tax capital gains at the same progressively graduated rates as normal income.
- Eliminate all itemized tax exemptions including mortgage interest and retirement funds to prevent tax dodges and subsidies to the wealthy.
- Reduce or end the tax exemption for municipal bonds (which are held primarily by the rich). To compensate state and city governments, allow them to tax U.S. Treasury securities.
- Alternatively, restrict use of funds raised from tax-free municipal bonds to socially responsible contractors.
- Re-introduce income averaging so that a windfall in one year is not subject to an overly high tax rate.
- Impose income taxes on the capital gains of all holdings at death (capital gains are now exempted).
- Raise inheritance and gift taxes — perhaps to a rate of 50% of the value of estates and gifts over $500,000 and 90% of the value of estates and gifts over $1 million. This would reduce the amount of unearned wealth passed down through elite families and would help to create a “level playing field” among young people.
- Institute a wealth tax on all personal assets over $2 million — perhaps at a rate of 10%/year — to help redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.
Corporate Taxes and Subsidies
We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.
- Base corporation taxes on gross receipts in addition to net income to reduce tax avoidance schemes. For multinational corporations, use a formula based on the percent of the firm’s property, payroll, and sales within the United States compared to its global property, payroll, and sales, to prevent transfer pricing scams.
- Eliminate all subsidies and tax breaks to corporations including oil depletion allowances, road building in national forests, subsidized foreign sales, exemptions for pension funds, and so on.
- Lower the Social Security tax rate and remove the cap on taxable income. Exempt the first $15,000 of income from the Social Security tax. If this depletes the Social Security fund, refill it with income tax revenue.
- Replace the standard property tax system with a split-level tax system as advocated by Henry George with high property taxes on the value from area-wide property appreciation and low taxes on the value derived from improvements to the particular property.
- Standardize the rate of sales, property, and state income taxes across the country to eliminate the downward spiral of competition for business.
- Scrap local and state property taxes and replace them with an income tax.
- Institute a tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, options, derivatives, and other financial entities at a rate of perhaps 1%. This would raise significant revenue from one of the few commodities whose sale is not now taxed. It would also discourage rampant speculation.
Here are three Constitutional changes that would forever change the scale of politics and economics in America. Three four-word amendments that could change the shape of our future. “Corporations are not people.” “Money is not speech.” “Waste is not commerce.” If the Supreme Court had interpreted the Constitution as they should have, and if they had adhered to the will of the people, these amendments would not be necessary. But it didn’t and they are.
- Institute a tax on advertising at a rate of perhaps 10%. This would raise significant revenue from another untaxed commodity and would discourage propagandizing and the inducement of unnecessary desires.
- Institute a tax on the broadcast of commercial programming as a way to pay for public-interest programming.
- Raise taxes on resources extracted from the environment (oil, natural gas, minerals, and timber), but not on recycled or re-used resources.
- Sharply raise gasoline taxes (until gasoline costs perhaps $4/gallon) to discourage urban sprawl, long commutes, and pollution. Use the income to subsidize public transit.
- Increase the tax on cigarettes by $0.50/pack every year until no one smokes anymore.
- Increase the tax on alcohol by $0.50/drink and use the revenue to discourage alcoholism and irresponsible behavior after drinking.
- Institute a tax on guns and ammunition as a way to discourage killing and encourage nonviolence.
- Cut the military budget sharply — perhaps from its current level of about $300 billion/year (in 2000) to about $25 billion/year.
It is the habit of every aggressor nation to claim that it is acting on the defensive.
- Shift to a “non-offensive defense” strategy with the goal of eventually employing a strictly defensive civilian-based nonviolent defense.
- Close U.S. military bases abroad.
- Restrict U.S. intervention into other countries strictly to nonviolent efforts conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. Stop all covert action.
- Support non-governmental groups that train volunteers to nonviolently witness and intervene in military conflicts.
- Dismantle all currently stockpiled nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and prohibit their manufacture.
- Develop and promote international treaties that abolish nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
- Stop the sale of all military equipment to repressive countries.
- Eventually, prohibit the sale of all weapons to other countries and strongly push other countries to do the same.
- Eliminate military alliances like NATO and work through the United Nations instead.
- Make nonviolent conflict resolution part of the core school curriculum at every grade.
- Support community programs dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution.
- Strengthen international mediation and legal bodies like the International Court of Justice (World Court).
- Abolish laws that make corporations legally “persons.”
So the question is, do corporate executives, provided they stay within the law, have responsibilities in their business activities other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible? And my answer to that is, no they do not.
- Require corporations to re-apply for corporate status every five years. Revoke the charters of corporations that engage in repeated wrongdoing (illegal activities, unfair labor practices, massive polluting, and production of unsafe products). This would dissolve these corporations.
- Re-establish strict personal civil and criminal liability for corporate officers and agents.
- Rewrite corporate law to require democratically chosen worker representation on corporate boards of directors.
- Establish publicly owned “yardstick” companies to serve as positive role-models and compete with privately owned corporations in important industries: utilities, communications, banking, and perhaps insurance, automobiles, chemicals, oil, air travel, and computers.
- Provide easy means for citizens to join consumer action groups that can watchdog corporations and advocate for the public interest.
Goods produced under conditions which do not meet a rudimentary standard of decency should be regarded as contraband and ought not to be able to pollute the channels of interstate commerce.
- Establish international standards for minimum wages, labor practices, consumer safety, and environmental regulation. These should be set to the highest level currently in effect in any country — not “harmonized” to the lowest common denominator in the name of “free trade.” Prohibit imports from any country that does not adhere to these standards. This would force countries to either raise their wages and standards or stop exporting.
- Prohibit the export of toxic and hazardous substances that are banned in the United States. Pressure other countries to establish similar rules.
- Prohibit trade with countries that allow banks and corporations to keep their accounting books closed or secret (such as “secret Swiss bank accounts”).
- Adjust international aid programs to encourage renewable energy, appropriate technology, organic farming, and food production for local needs (not export).
- Track down the funds stolen by dictators and use these funds to pay off debts.
- Write off Third World debt to First World countries and corporations — consider the debt more than paid by colonialism, neocolonialism, and usurious interest rates.
- Repeal laws requiring a majority vote to form a bargaining unit — permit minority unions.
- Repeal the anti-labor provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act.
- Strengthen the Labor Relations Board and require equal representation from business and labor.
- Change the Federal Reserve System so that it is publicly controlled.
- Regulate banks and insurance companies more closely to eliminate redlining and other discriminatory practices.
- Use public monies to provide low/no-interest loans for homes.
- Build enough good housing for everyone to have a decent place to live. If the private sector cannot build enough living units, the federal government should build or upgrade housing.
- Subsidize community-controlled and -supported TV, radio, and newspapers.
Every man has the right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal chords.
- Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine that required every TV and radio station to provide equal time for opposing viewpoints and free time for public interest announcements. Extend this practice to any daily newspaper that has a monopoly in its area.
- Bar any individual or corporation from owning more than one newspaper, magazine, radio station, television station, or publishing house.
- Provide programs like Head Start and Hawai‘i’s Healthy Start to every poor child and to those at-risk of family neglect or violence.
- Create after-school programs at every school.
- Provide quality childcare close to the parents’ places of work for every parent who needs it. If the private sector cannot provide enough childcare at reasonable cost, federal, state, or local government should provide it.
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life — the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
- Fund schools using state or national income taxes instead of local property taxes to help ensure equal funding of schools.
- Ensure equal opportunity — good schools for everyone — from preschool to adult education.
- Through high schools or community colleges, provide free or inexpensive training in socially beneficial areas: basic life skills (cooking, health, birth control, time management), childrearing, critical thinking, citizen involvement and responsibility, participatory democracy, mediation, peer counseling, facilitation of cooperative meetings, overcoming racism, sexism, ageism, and so on.
- Provide job training to everyone who wants it.
- Publicly fund college expenses so that no one must forgo a college education for economic reasons.
- Establish a single-payer national health insurance program with universal coverage, as in Canada.
- Establish a community-owned, community-controlled public nursing home system.
- Produce informative health shows for television and radio and air them regularly on public stations.
- Greatly increase funding for mental health agencies, social services, and other support agencies so everyone can get help during their difficult times.
- Subsidize the cost of birth control of all types.
- Require all health plans to cover the cost of birth control.
- Increase the sale price of timber, oil, gas, and other minerals on public lands.
- Fund research for environmentally benign substitutes for wood pulp, timber, oil, and minerals.
- Institute taxes on dangerous chemicals — like pesticides — to reduce their use.
- Require cradle-to-grave management of all dangerous materials so that no toxic wastes are dumped in an unsafe manner.
- Tax every consumable item at a high enough rate to provide money for its safe disposal.
- Require government to use recycled materials whenever possible.
- Strengthen laws that protect endangered species and the environment.
- Pass and strictly enforce laws that ban discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, age, religion, wealth, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, immigration status, and political beliefs.
- Bolster affirmative action programs until every segment of society truly has equal opportunity.
- Institute regional planning that encompasses whole urban areas. Restrict development outside of the current developed area and support infill development.
- Allocate government spending on transportation infrastructure (roads, bridges, mass transit) according to population — more to urban areas and less to rural and suburban areas.
- Eliminate broad-based incentives that subsidize companies but only provide meager job development.
- Provide incentives and support for nonprofit and democratically controlled enterprises such as cooperatives, employee-owned firms, community land trusts, community development banks, community loan funds, credit unions, democratic unions, and so on.
- Increase subsidies for volunteer services, libraries, cooperative enterprises, and nonprofit organizations.
- Subsidize forums for public discourse.
- Require pension funds to be invested in socially responsible enterprises and require that they be controlled by community boards.
- Repeal federal laws that ban or restrict stronger health, safety, or environmental laws at the state or local level.
- Encourage parents to have fewer children and to be responsible parents.
- Outlaw corporal punishment (spanking).
- Revamp laws to protect everyone from domestic violence and to convict and rehabilitate abusers.
It is the duty of the government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right.
- Greatly increase funding for crisis lines and shelters for victims of spouse abuse, child abuse, incest, and rape.
- Greatly increase funding for victim and abuser counseling, for victim housing and job counseling, and for an improved foster home system.
- Allow children to choose to move to a foster home or shelter if they feel oppressed or abused in their family. This could greatly reduce the number of runaways and suicides.
- Greatly increase enforcement of alimony and child support settlements.
Some Recommended Programs to Prevent Violence
The National Academy of Sciences established a Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior, to review the status of research on violence. It found that “While sentencing for violent crimes grew substantially harsher between 1975 and 1989, the number of violent crimes failed to decrease. This happened apparently because the violence prevented by longer and more common prison sentences was offset by increases due to other factors and suggests a need for greater emphasis on preventing violent events before they occur.” It therefore recommended the following long-range preventative measures.
Child Development Programs
- Implement programs and materials to encourage and teach parents to be nonviolent role models, provide consistent discipline, and limit children’s exposure to violent entertainment.
- Provide regular postpartum home visits by public health nurses who make available health information, teach parenting skills, and give well-baby care, while taking the opportunity to detect signs of possible child abuse.
- Implement programs such as Head Start preschool enrichment and early-grade tutoring to reduce the risk of early-grade school failure, a well-known precursor of violent behavior.
- Provide social learning programs for parents, teachers, and children that teach social skills for avoiding violence, nonviolent means to express anger and meet other needs, and ways to view television critically.
- Provide school-based anti-bullying programs.
- Implement programs to reduce maternal substance abuse during pregnancy, children’s exposure to lead in the environment, and head injuries.
- Provide intensive alcohol abuse treatment and counseling programs for those in their early adolescent years whose behavior patterns include both conduct disorder and alcohol abuse, especially if alcohol dependence runs in their families.
- Develop pharmacological therapies to reduce craving for non-opiate illegal drugs, much as methadone reduces demand for heroin.
- Complete the development of medicines that reduce potentials for violent behavior during withdrawal from opiate addiction.
- Outlaw assault weapons and cheap handguns.
- Greatly restrict the sale of guns to limit access for criminals and gangsters.
- Establish planning agencies that can ensure a smooth conversion from military production, tobacco farming, and other socially undesirable production to beneficial alternatives.
- Establish a national addiction-treatment system that can provide adequate help for everyone who needs it.
- Classify cigarettes and alcohol as dangerous drugs.
- Decriminalize the possession of all drugs.
- Forbid sales of all currently illegal drugs except by nonprofit entities to eliminate the profit motive for sales. Tax all of these drugs to discourage their use.
Law Enforcement and Prisons
Distrust all men in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.
- Greatly increase enforcement of all laws. Devote special attention to ending violent acts (including political terrorism and domestic violence), corporate crime, and high-level corruption.
- For those accused of a crime and unable to afford counsel, pay court-appointed lawyers at a rate comparable to the going rate.
- Institute civilian review boards to oversee every police force including state police, marshals, sheriffs, highway patrol, prison guards, the Secret Service, and the FBI. These boards must have the power to suspend corrupt or out-of-control officers.
- Change the orientation of jails and prisons from punishment to rehabilitation and protection of the public. Change sentences to emphasize restitution, reconciliation, counseling of offenders, and as a last resort, separation of offenders from society.
Programs Shown to Prevent Crime
Very few crime prevention programs have been evaluated using scientifically rigorous standards and methodologies. After evaluating 500 prevention program evaluations, researchers found only 15 programs with enough evidence to show that they work (listed below). All other programs have either not yet been evaluated sufficiently to determine their value or been shown not to work. This includes drug prevention classes focused on fear and other emotional appeals, neighborhood watch programs, storefront police offices, and correctional boot camps using military basic training. The programs that do work include:
- For infants: Frequent home visits by nurses and other professionals.
- For preschoolers: Classes with weekly home visits by preschool teachers.
- For delinquent and at-risk preadolescents: Family therapy and parent training.
- For schools:
- Organizational development for innovation.
- Communication and reinforcement of clear, consistent norms.
- Teaching social competency skills.
- Coaching high-risk youth in “thinking skills.”
- For older male ex-offenders: Vocational training.
- For rental housing with drug dealing: Nuisance abatement action on landlords.
- For high-crime hot spots: Extra police patrols.
- For high-risk repeat offenders:
- Monitoring by specialized police units.
- For domestic abusers who are employed: On-scene arrests.
- For convicted offenders: Rehabilitation programs with risk-focused treatments.
- For drug-using offenders in prison: Therapeutic community treatment programs.
Notes for Appendix A
Many of these ideas are suggested and further described in these references:
Holly Sklar, “Economics for Everyone,” Z Magazine 8, no. 7/8 (July/August 1995): 44, which is adapted from Holly Sklar, Chaos or Community? Seeking Solutions, Not Scapegoats for Bad Economics (Boston: South End Press, 1995, HC110 .I5 S57 1995).
Ronnie Dugger, “Real Populists Please Stand Up: A Call to Citizens,” The Nation (August 14/21, 1995): 159.
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994, HJ2381 .B37 1994).
Kevin Phillips, Boiling Point: Democrats, Republicans and the Decline of Middle-Class Prosperity (New York: HarperCollins, 1994, HT690 .U6P48 1994).
Ralph Nader, The Concord Principles: An Agenda for a New Initiatory Democracy, pamphlet, 1 February 1992.
Joel Rogers, “Turning to the Cities: A Metropolitan Agenda,” In These Times 22, no. 22 (Oct. 14, 1998): 14–17.
Michael H. Shuman, Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age (New York: The Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 1998, HC110 .E5S49 1998).
United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, annual (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, HD72 .H852). http://www.undp.org/hdro
An overview of the UNDP recommendations for the first ten years is here:
Don Tyson, Senior Chair of the Board, Tyson Foods, Inc. quoted in National Review, February 20, 1995.
For more on the Ten Times rule see Sam Pizzigati, The Maximum Wage: A Common-Sense Prescription for Revitalizing America — by Taxing the Very Rich (New York: Apex Press, 1992, HC110 .I5P59 1992).
David Morris, “Why is Local Self Reliance Important? A Conversation with David Morris,” interview by Michael Closson, Center for Economic Conversion, Positive Alternatives 8, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 7–9.
The Hawai‘i Healthy Start program, first begun in 1985, uses paid paraprofessional home visitors from the community to provide services to at-risk families. Its goals are to reduce family stress and improve family functioning, improve parenting skills, enhance child health and development, and prevent abuse and neglect. Workers visit the family from the birth of a child (or before) until age 5. They visit weekly for the first 6 to 12 months. They offer a range of services and arrange support from other social service agencies.
A preliminary evaluation found that the program cut abuse and neglect by a factor of more than 2.6 and improved the health and development of the children. Ralph B. Earle, Helping To Prevent Child Abuse — and Future Criminal Consequences: Hawai‘i Healthy Start, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, NCJ Report Number 156216, October 1995.
Albert J. Reiss, Jr. and Jeffrey A. Roth, eds., Understanding and Preventing Violence: Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993, HN90 .V5U53 1993).
The study also recommended three situational approaches and further research into social and community-level interventions.
Lawrence W. Sherman, Denise C. Gottfredson, Doris L. MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn D. Bushway, Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising, NIJ Research in Brief Series, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, Report Number 171676, July 1998.
The full text of the 1997 report and annual updates are here: