Thursday, May 11, 2006

Boiling Up From The Fever Swamp

With the Republican party in near full retreat, now is a good time to look at where to take progressive politics in the next ten years or so. The Democrats have kept their platform close to the vest and rightly so, for why should we give the Republicans an easy target for their slash-and-burn politics? They wanted control of Washington, they got it and now they can use their own ideas to govern. The fact that those ideas have resulted in a disaster is both frightening and unsurprising. Hopefully America will finally wake up and realize that the governing policies of the conservative movement are an abject failure and, worse, have done real damage to our nation.

As an antidote to six poisonous years of Republican failures, it's high time to get some progressive ideals back into the country's dialogue. Control of the "conventional wisdom" is essential in getting our country back on the progressive track for which it was once known throughout the world. Digby, as usual, has an astute take on moving progressive ideas back into the mainstream:

I have long felt that one of the things the right does well is prepare the ground for ideas that are not considered mainstream. The ideas themselves ... well, that's another story and their ideas often fail on their own merit. But they are very good at bringing their ideas into mainstream dialog and making them sound comfortably familiar. And with each success, they move the goalposts farther to the right.


I just think there is merit in thinking about the right tactics for advancing big ideas that may not be on the radar screen right now, but could be if we are tactically intelligent about advancing them. And I think the blogosphere may be a good place to get these ideas percolating.

An excellent idea! There are plenty of great progressive ideas just floating around out there that are really not getting talked about much in the media or even the blogs. In fact, in our media's current deplorable state, progressive ideology is almost non-existent. Time to change all that. What I lack in "tactical intelligence" I can make up for with verbosity and enthusiasm! So let's look at one of my favorite progressive ideas and see if we can't start to nudge the CW in the proper direction once more.

The Maximum Wage

The unequal distribution of wealth is a huge problem for capitalist countries and ours is no exception. While the problem here has not reached the level of Mexico, for example, it's still a nagging problem which doesn't get addressed nearly often enough. In fact, almost all of Bush's economic policies, supported by his Rubber Stamp Republican Congress, have helped to exacerbate the problem. Most economists agree that one of the keys to economic success for a nation is a thriving middle class, which is something a maximum wage would help insure.

I've heard several ideas of how such a program might be implemented and here's the method I favor. First, set the maximum wage at a multiple of the minimum wage. I think 20 is a good multiple personally. Under such an indexing program, keeping the current minimum wage at $5.15 per hour, $10,712 annually, would force a maximum wage of $103 per hour, or $214,240 annually. Any income, be it salary, bonuses, interest, capital gains, dividends, whatever, above the maximum, is taxed at 100% by the federal government. The only way to raise the maximum wage is to raise the minimum. With our money-driven electoral system, this puts the entire impetus for tax relief and income enhancement on those with the most political clout: the wealthy.

Now, I realize some glaring problems jump out with the implementation of a maximum wage, so I also suggest a few other changes to smooth the road. First of all, I would recognize a few exemptions to the 100% tax. I would allow the overage to be donated to charity in its entirety to avoid the maximum wage overage tax. I would also allow an unlimited exemption for paying down debt. Being wealthy doesn't mean it's impossible to build some tremendous debt problems (in fact, it might be even easier than when being poor). I would also allow limited exemptions for building retirement funds and college funds, the details of which could be worked out later.

Once the overage tax is collected by the federal government, I would have restrictions on how it can be used. The whole purpose of the maximum wage is to help improve the overall well-being of all Americans, not give Republicans economic fuel for more pointless invasions and corporate giveaways. The revenue from the overage tax must be used first to fund government obligations, such as Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, Universal Health Care (I can dream...), etc. After that, the remaining funds must be used to retire federal debt. While I do think the government should be allowed to borrow under very certain circumstances, such as the Katrina disaster, that debt must be retired as soon as possible. Borrowing to support tax cuts and corporate welfare is fiscally irresponsible and should be abolished. Any remaining overage tax in a given year should be refunded on a per capita basis to all taxpayers, with those paying the most receiving the largest refund.

The beauty of this program rests in keeping the multiple low. That way, in order to raise the maximum, the minimum must be raised as well. This forces the income distribution to remain the same, while also giving those with the most political power, the wealthy, every incentive to fight for a higher minimum wage. It would also act as a dampener on inflation by holding down the highest incomes. I realize that such a program would require massive shifts in the way wealth is held at the top of our economy. It would require a slow implementation over a number of years to avoid some serious economic problems, and even then the going would be rough. The alternative, however, is a society where 1% live in luxury while the remaining 99% struggle to make ends meet. That's a sure-fire method to insure political instability and unrest. With a maximum wage, everyone benefits more equally from American innovation, and labor is valued in relation to the commercial success achieved by industry as a whole. It just might work...

So, how wrong am I?

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