A Modest Proposal: Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy, Step 1

A Modest Proposal: Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy

by John J. Fitzgerald

I propose Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy. Starting with this column, I would like to explain and defend my proposals. I invite commentary and analysis.

1. The Right to a Job ““ Every person should be guaranteed a job. If the private sector cannot help them, then a public sector job should be available. This could include working on a mass transit system to replace the interstate highway system. Maintenance of public parks, fully staffing public schools and public hospitals could be other areas of employment. We should also publicly fund an alternative energy policy to end our dependence on foreign oil. The model to follow here would be Sweden.
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Every person who is not significantly handicapped should be able to work for a living. I define a decent job as one that pays at least $10.00 per hour, for a 7 hour day, 5 days a week, with decent working conditions, health care and Social Security coverage. If the current market can not supply those jobs, then the government should. This program would be similar to what Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal meant in the 1930’s, except it would not wait for an economic depression to get it started. I would like to see this expand and contract as the situation required. For example, maintenance of public parks and recreation areas would be an ongoing effort. Maintenance of public buildings, schools and hospitals which are historically neglected because of budget concerns would be fully funded, thereby creating a supply job market that will always be present to match demand. Creating a mass transit system would require a huge workforce just as the interstate highway system of the 1950’s and 1960’s did. Converting from an automobile based transportation system would ease global warming and end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. Converting from petroleum and natural gas to wind power, solar and increased hydro would also require new construction and manufacturing jobs.
Shortening the work week to 35 hours will also create more jobs. It would increase leisure time and thus would promote jobs in that sector. We would also have to make over-time illegal. One should be able to survive and flourish on the income generated by one job. The goal is to create more jobs. The whole idea is to get away from a profit making system to an economy that puts people first. Another name for this is democratic socialism.
To attain this goal we need to start discussing it as a goal. Some people are already close to doing this. This past month, [December, 2006] AFL-CIO President John Sweeney outlined his federation’s vision for stopping what he called, “the senseless slaughter” of good American jobs.
In a speech to the National Press Club, Sweeney described how America’s workers have struggled over the past 25 years as “a perfect storm of outsourcing, off shoring, tax evasion, layoffs, work speedups, wage cuts, health care cuts, pension cuts, shifting risks, bashing unions and short-changing communities”
has swept across the economic landscape.
Sweeney talked about some of the immediate actions Congress and President George W. Bush can take to stop the erosion of good jobs in
America, including:
“¢ Guaranteeing America’s workers the freedom to form unions and
bargain for a better life.
“¢ Giving workers the same protections as corporate interests in
our trade policy.
“¢ Making it illegal for companies to buy or sell products made
in sweatshop conditions.
“¢ Repealing tax laws that encourage companies to send jobs
“¢ Passing universal health care coverage.
“¢ Telling corporate America to rejoin our national community by
investing more in workers and less in their executives.
“¢ Doubling the money we spend on education and job training.
“¢ Raising the minimum wage.

Sweeney is making proposals within the context of a corporate-capitalist-labor union system. I think we need to move beyond this approach and for that we will need to get involved with political parties and political campaigns. A good start might be found in a progressive movement within the Democratic Party.


  • Providing a job for everyone? It’s a good idea, the employer of last resort being the government. In the last chapter in William Grieder’s book the Soul of Capitalism he briefly touches on L. Randall Wray’s identical idea from a 1998 book. Also Jeff Madrick has an article about Demand-led growth in Challenge Magazine related to the idea. Madrick also published an article in the Nation, October 22, 2007. And the best writing on the topic I would bet is the book by Frank Stricker, Why America Lost the War on Poverty and How We Can Win It. He has an article on the web somewhere explaining it. He says there are not enough good paying jobs and the government can make them. My thought is that in the late thirties unemployment was at 9,500,000 (over 10% I think but I can’t tell you) and then the war came. Roosevelt and Congress raised the highest income tax rate to 90% and started buying money by selling bonds, using the money to put everyone to work, the unemployment fell to 500,000, a 90% drop, by 1943. Money flowed out of the holdings of the private, wealthy corporate bond and stock portfolios and into the paychecks of working Americans, and as a result purchasing power flourished in the 1950s to propel broad-based growth across all income levels of the economy. The bonds were paid back by the year 1965 or so. Those details are close to accurate. But I have not read any economist who agrees with this theory about the 50s. Aggregate demand is the key to demand-led growth, and your ideas about the government provided job are promoted by others too.
    Something’s going to give. Good post.

  • The problem with a ‘right’ to a job for every individual is that it opens the door to ‘make-work’ jobs that create no social value, which everyone resents.

    That’s not to say there aren’t lots of jobs to be created by public investment in infrastructure or new sustainable energy technologies. These are fine and needed, and should be implemented in any case.

    But here’s a different approach.

    Instead of a universal ‘right’ to a job–the flip side of which is someone, private or public, being compelled to hire and pay someone for doing nothing worthwhile at $10 an hour, I’d rather see a social wage at that rate for all who create value, where ‘creating value’ could be a parent raising kids, students learning skills or elders teaching sports in a park. Combine that with single-payer health care, no-individual-cost life-long schooling for all who want to learn, and a sliding scale reducing the social wage proportionally so it’s always in someone’s interest to seek employment or start a business, and you could even do away with the minimum wage.

    Anyone who can’t work for medical or health reasons gets covered by the safety net, of course, save for addicts, who get support but no cash.

    This, I think, could get wider support, because there’s no one getting something for nothing, and anyone deciding to exercise their ‘right to be lazy,’ does so on their own dime.

    My solution may sound ‘utopian,’ but even so, I still think it’s an easier sell than yours. And it gets us outside the liberal ‘redistributionist’ framework and into wealth creation and social entreprenuership as a path forward for popular control of the economy.

  • Thank you for your comments.
    I think there are a number of public service jobs that are not being filled today. We have not been keeping up with maintenance of roads and bridges. We could be building better mass transit systems, rail systems and bicycle paths.
    Some recreational areas can be left in a “wild state,” but some recreational areas need field maintenance, mowing, watering, fertilizing,etc.
    In public schools across the country, custodial staffs have been cut to bare bones. This is an area that could provide needed employment and at the same time make public schools and public buildings more attractive to the publics which they serve.

    John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about this back inthe 1950’s in his still great book, _The Affluent Society_.