The American people are working harder than ever, but they aren’t being rewarded with the economic security they were promised. Meanwhile, our wealthiest citizens are raking in unfathomable amounts of money. It’s time to turn our backs on the harmful lie at the heart of our economy: that our free-market system guarantees that everyone gets exactly the amount of wealth they deserve. We need to rebalance the employer-employee relationship and build a new economy that works for everyone, not just those at the very top. Here’s where I’d start:
Empowering workers: While the stock market has rebounded from the Great Recession, the recovery has not led to rising income for most workers. In fact, much of the market recovery is due to the fact that companies have gotten so good at squeezing every last drop out of each employee. Companies’ profits skyrocket when they’re able to get one person to do the job of two, and many employees tolerate being mistreated because they’re happy just to have a job at all. But when we are willing to work 60-hour weeks, it both makes our lives more stressful and takes away work from someone else. We need to reverse the recent trend toward blaming unions for our widespread economic struggles. We should be doing everything we can to strengthen our unions and restore power to the American worker.
Empowering consumers: Like most progressives, I spend most of my time looking for solutions in the future, not in the past. But there is one area where things have inarguably grown worse over time, and winding back the clock is actually a smart approach: consumer power. In the middle of the 20th century, American workers could own a home, get married, and raise a family on a single middle-class income. People got most of their goods from local businesses, and the owners of those businesses and their customers treated each other with respect. It’s not like that anymore. Our local businesses have been replaced with faceless corporations free from accountability, who look at each of their millions of customers around the world as no more than a number on a spreadsheet. They mistreat us because each consumer’s individual power is negligible. I have yet to meet a single person in the 6th District who does not have a Comcast horror story. As we deregulate Wall St., more and more wealth funnels to the top, meaning fewer and fewer people are able to afford a stable middle-class life. We are constantly on the defensive from companies that strive to take advantage of us, bewildering us with fine print or deliberately overcharging us because they know most of us are too busy to notice. We need to invest more in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, restrict predatory practices, and regulate the size of corporations more proactively, thereby forcing greater competition and restoring power to the consumer. These policies will force companies to stop abusing consumers, or lose business to a thriving small-business community.
Closing the wealth gap: The richest 8 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. There are no words to describe that injustice. And the gap between rich and poor widens every day, as 95% of all new income goes to the wealthiest 1%. Not only is this morally reprehensible, it’s economically wasteful. We need to build an economy in which money is allocated where it can do the most good: in the hands of the struggling lower and middle classes who desperately need it. We need to reject the cancerous idea that those who are poor deserve to be poor. There are thousands of ways you can find yourself in dire financial straits in this country, and very few involve not working hard enough. As long as there are not enough good-paying jobs for everyone who wants one, it is morally repugnant to reserve all resources only for those who have jobs.
Investing in our people: In order to strengthen the American middle class, we need to raise the minimum wage, invest heavily in our crumbling infrastructure, vastly increase our financial commitment to public education and worker retraining programs, and guarantee healthcare for all. Not only do all Americans deserve to have these basic needs met, but by investing in our people, we will give all of our citizens the tools they need to contribute to, and succeed in, our new economy.
Paid for and Authorized by Ryan Huffman for Congress