July 30, 2018
“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”
— Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
The American Dream has always been a fundamentally economic promise. In our country, if you work hard, you should be able to get ahead. This is the multi-generational promise of our nation. This is American capitalism when the rules of human dignity, decency, and fair play are enforced. It is the reason so many work so hard every day to give their children a better life. It is the reason so many people risk their lives to come here.
But a stronger American middle class is not the result of a good economy — it is the cause of a good economy. Eighty-three percent of economic growth comes from consumer spending. Every business is more successful and creates more jobs when every business has more customers. In other words, the more our people earn, the more our people can spend, and the more inclusively our entire economy grows.
Therefore, building a stronger middle class is not merely a matter of free markets, it is a matter of intention, investment, and choice:
Equal pay for equal work.
A minimum wage that guarantees a living wage.
Freedom and support for collective bargaining and the right to join a union to bargain for better wages.
A basic winning education for all — because the more people learn, the more people earn.
This isn’t rocket science, it is American capitalism — when American capitalism is practiced with people at its center. But sometimes we forget.
Faced with the extreme concentration of wealth and economic power at the expense of the many in the early 1900s, Teddy Roosevelt said, “Our republic has no justification unless it is a genuine democracy — a democracy economically as well as politically — a democracy in which there is a real, sincere effort to realize the ideal of equal opportunity for all [women and] men.”
Whether Independents, Democrats, or Republicans, the vast majority of us still believe the same.
So how can we make our economy work for all of us again?
Throughout much of the 20th Century, America balanced its growing economic might with stronger rules of the road to prohibit bad behavior, and to guarantee safe work conditions and a basic minimum wage. These economic rules of the road were intentional. Our purpose was to make sure American workers benefited from the increased productivity and profits. Some of these rules safe-guarded the rights of workers to join unions and bargain for better wages. Some rules were designed to prevent or break-up the concentration of economic wealth into monopoly power.
We made investments in the infrastructure of our nation — roads, railways, ports, electric grids — that everyone citizen and business could use. We invested every generation to educate our children and our workers with the skills they needed to compete and win.
Taken together, these intentional economic policy choices put people first, and they led to the rise of the strongest middle class the world had ever known.
But beginning in late-1980s, we lost our way.
We undermined the ability of unions to organize and push for better wages. We stopped investing in our country’s infrastructure and the skills of our people. We let the minimum wage sink below the poverty line. We stopped enforcing rules against monopolies or risky behavior by big banks. College increasingly became a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. We stopped investing in our country’s infrastructure in order to give huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest 1% of our people.
With wages flatlining or declining for most Americans by 2004, consumer spending could no longer drive economic growth. Concentrated wealth had to find other ways to make money on money. So, in the absence of regulation, our banking system expanded rapidly into high-risk speculation on the stock-market. And when this reckless misbehavior crashed our entire economy in 2007, the rest of us had to bail it out.
Ten hard years after the crash — thanks largely to President Obama’s tough choices — we are told our economy has recovered. But wage growth and better opportunities for our kids have not.
We need a new compact for economic prosperity in the 21st Century: a new Bill of Rights for American Workers that enshrines equal pay for equal work, fair scheduling, collective bargaining, and other essential rights like health care and education into law. We need to restore a public purpose to the enforcement of our nation’s anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws. We need to repeal tax cuts for the super wealthy in order to make the investments necessary for a stronger country — transportation and high-speed information infrastructure, renewable energy, the talents and skills of our people. These are the ways we make our children winners in a fast-changing economy.
Growing our middle class is the cause of economic growth. It is both the way and the goal. It is the simple, honest formula by which Americans create an economy that works for all of us. An American economy where there exists the very real promise of opportunity for all — an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.
This, We Believe.