Do You Still Want a Democratic Republic?
Yes, it is the Economy!
John M. Lane
Should you have to live in poverty if you work forty hours a week? That is a straightforward, basic, and fundamental question. The answer should obviously (I hope) be no. The pushback against the answer “no” will be that “of course, I am against poverty. However, shouldn’t we allow the hidden hand of free markets to determine the situation, since markets work best.” What if the deciding factor, however, was not “free markets,” what if it was societal decisions or choices, or as Economist Thomas Piketty calls it: Ideology. “Every human society must justify its inequalities: unless reasons for them are found, the whole political and social edifice stands in danger of collapse. Every epoch, therefore, develops a range contradictory discourses and ideologies for the purpose of legitimizing the inequality that already exists or that people believe should exist. From these discourses emerge certain economic, social, and political rules, which people then use to make sense of the ambient social structure. Out of the clash on contradictory discourses- a clash that is at once economic, social, and political- comes a dominate narrative, which bolsters the existing inequality regime”. (Piketty 1)
Over the past two centuries, the dominant Western economic narrative has been successfully challenged from time to time. When that has happened, inequality lessened, the safety net strengthened, and the condition of the working and middle classes improved (see Part II), as did all members of the society. The tide did raise all boats. However, the proponents of the dominant economic narrative have access to tremendous resources. They use those resources to push back to the dominant narrative at every challenge. Phony “populism” has always been a good tactic, as has been pitting the working and middle classes against each other (in the United States, racial polarization seems always to work). The best method appears to be calling for lower taxes, balanced budgets, “fiscal responsibility,” and living within our means. Their “information” efforts have been so successful that large portions of the working classes in the United States have become concerned about the unfairness of the inheritance tax, better known as the “death tax.” Most are unaware that the inheritance tax does not apply to over 99% of the working and middle classes. They do not have the income or the assets.
Returning to a rigid progressive tax structure, investments in education infrastructure, encouraging 21st-century manufacturing, responsible, far-sighted corporate management and executive pay, government regulation that “keeps the playing field” level,” along with the reforms mentioned in the two earlier essays of this three-part series, would strengthen democracy and the democratic republic against forces determined to destroy them. As an educator, I want to mention schools especially. After forty years of “school reform” (some of it very much needed), we are still a long way from the kind of classroom outcomes we would like to see. Maybe we should look at the foundation, that is economics. Families living in poverty, worried about medical care ( families/individuals should be able to own their comprehensive insurance coverage, available through private or public providers) , feeding, clothing, and housing themselves, will not be very successful, as a whole, in school. Hungry children have a difficult time learning. Economically stable families and children will be successful. Parents will be involved, and children will succeed. Combining this with the reform efforts already underway will go a long way in solving our societal, educational issues.
If you work forty hours a week, you should not have to live in poverty. Living wages will increase tax revenue, societal stability and increase consumer consumption, which means economic growth. A bulwark will be created, protecting us from demagogues and our enemies, foreign and domestic.
The question remains… Do you still want a democratic republic?
Piketty, Thomas. Capital and Ideology. Cambridge and London: Belknap Harvard, 2020.
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