French economist Thomas Pikkety recently noted that if current economic trends continue, by 2030 the United States might very well “set a new record” for economic inequality. Fifteen years from now, “the top decile,” according to Pikkety, “would…claim about 60 percent of national income, while the bottom half would get barely 15 percent.” Those on the very bottom would get next to nothing at all.
This state of affairs is unconscionable and, given the pain and suffering it creates – hunger, homelessness, poor health, greater social marginalization, segregation, and physical violence – the concentration of wealth constitutes a real war against ordinary people.
Moreover, in this economic climate we can expect that our current divisions and conflicts will only deepen and intensify. As the top decile continues to accumulate the nation’s wealth; and as more people compete for fewer resources, find themselves working from paycheck to paycheck with no hope of economic security, discover that their options about where to live and work and send their children to school have become increasingly narrowed, and see that those who are responsible for crashing and pillaging our economy do so with impunity, more will turn to hate, violence and tribalism for security. Unrest will be the rule of the day.
What is needed now more than ever are policies that both narrow the economic chasm between the haves and the have-nots, and reframe economic prosperity as the complete eradication of poverty.
A Nonviolent Alternative
- We must end oligarchic control over our political institutions and the “flow of corporate money into our electoral process” by passing a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and rejects the “personhood status” that the U.S. Supreme Court has conferred on corporations. A weapon of war against the poor, Citizens United is and must be also viewed as also an expression legal violence.
- We need to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reverse our current trade agreements (NAFTA, PNTR, and CAFTA) and negotiate international trade agreements on the basis of strengthening human rights and labor organizing, eradicating poverty, and promoting nonviolence and peace. Any trade pact we negotiate with Central and South America should include terms that address and help to rectify the human and economic costs of the proxy wars we conducted in that region – costs that we have yet to acknowledge and that underlie our immigration challenges.
- The time is long overdue to abolish “right to work” laws and remove impediments to collective bargaining and organizing. We must therefore adopt the Employee Free Choice Act.
- We should revive the Glass-Steagall Act and thus prevent banks from engaging in investment banking and derivatives transactions, as well as from offering insurance. Such legislation should include setting limits on executive pay and bonuses – key determinants in the creation of income inequality.
- We must increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2018.
- We must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and thus rectify male-female income disparity. When we improve the status of women economically and politically, we create the conditions for a peaceful and nonviolent society.
- We need to put people to work by investing the funds necessary to rebuild our bridges, airports, roads, railways, ports, and other parts of our infrastructure.
- We must invest in universal child care for working families and pass legislation that provides for 12 weeks of paid family leave.
- We need to go beyond Obamacare and sever health insurance from employment altogether by adopting single-payer health care. No one should have to choose between getting health care and purchasing food for her children.
- We must invest federal funds in youth employment programs, particularly for youth who live in areas of concentrated poverty.
- We must pass legislation that would make tuition free at public colleges and universities.
- We must expand Social Security and shore up its coffers with an excise tax on cross-border currency transactions (Tobin Tax).
- We must confront the persistence of segregation by directing federal education funds disproportionately to school located in areas of concentrated poverty.