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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – June 18, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Doe Crossing Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – June 2018 photo by JH Cleary

Now that the Supreme Court’s decision allowing Ohio Republicans to purge voter rolls solely on the basis of not voting, North Carolina Republicans have wasted no time trying to stop groups that vote Democratic from being allowed to cast ballots ahead of midterms: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The last time Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature enacted a law making it harder for some of the state’s residents to vote, a federal court said the statute targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision,” and threw it out.

That was last year. Now the legislators are back with a new set of election proposals, and an unconventional plan to make them stick:

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Republican Senators unveiled legislation that would eliminate the final Saturday of early voting in state elections, a day that typically draws a large share of black voters to the polls. That followed a Republican proposal last week to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require all voters to display a photo ID before casting votes.

In addition, party leaders say they are preparing a constitutional amendment that would curb the power of the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, over the state board that controls election procedures.

Since Republicans swept into power in 2010, controlling both the North Carolina Legislature and the governorship, the state has become ground zero for struggles over tightening election rules and weakening voting rights.

Democrats have recently made gains in the state, most notably with Mr. Cooper’s win of the governorship in 2016. That doesn’t mean the Republicans aren’t still trying to suppress votes. More from the NYT:

This time, however, the party’s tactics have changed. The voter ID amendment would require approval by citizens as well as legislators. The final Saturday of voting has been popular — nearly 200,000 citizens voted on that day in 2016 — and African-Americans turned out at a rate 40 percent greater than their share of the electorate. But the bill to eliminate that Saturday would apportion those lost hours among other early voting days, so the total hours of polling would not change.

Look for more states to adopt the tactic of putting voter suppression efforts into state constitutions the same way Republicans did with gay marriage 15 years ago. The Republicans are willing to be transparent about disenfranchising everyone who isn’t inclined to vote for them.

The Republicans know that about half the country doesn’t like their ideas, which is why they are trying to suppress voting. If they get their way, their messaging will appeal to everyone who still has the vote.

Maybe it’s time Democrats are brutally honest about what they are doing. Maybe Democratic candidates need to start by saying:

I plan to make it as easy to vote as possible. I want every eligible voter at the polls, no matter what we have to do

Time to wake up America, your voting rights are under attack by the Republican Party and the John Roberts court. To help you wake up, here is Twisted Sister with their only top 40 hit, 1984’s “I’m Not Gonna Take It

During this year’s teachers’ strikes, the song was used as a rallying cry by teachers striking in Arizona.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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We Won’t Manage Our Water Resources

The Daily Escape:

Louvre, Paris – 2017 photo by Brotherside

Let’s leave North Korea and the G-7 for others to worry about. Wrongo suggests that you read “Crisis on the High Plains: The Loss of America’s Largest Aquifer- the Ogallala” from the University of Denver’s Water Law Review. Here’s the key section:

The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture.

This isn’t new news. There were plenty of environmental writers in the 1980’s and 1990’s highlighting the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer as the biggest single threat to world food supplies.

The Ogallala is an interconnected series of water bodies, not one single geological water body. That implies that the last drop extracted from a New Mexico well will not cause immediate drought in Nebraska. But it is still possible that catastrophic depletion could occur over a tight enough timescale to cause a major disruption of US food supplies, especially in light of climate change. Here is a map of the Ogallala that shows the depletion of water from about 1950 to 2015:

Source: USGS SIR 2017-5040

Sadly, the prospect of the US managing our water resources seems well beyond our will and ability. We also see this in California, where the aquifers in the Central Valley are being depleted by farming.

Most of the time, the primary cause of water depletion is the decision of farmers to grow crops which are unsuitable for the local climate, invariably for financial reasons. The only true solution is a long term retreat from high water demand crops grown in semi-arid areas, in favor of growing them in more suitable areas.

And who are these farmers?  We know about the corporate farms in the Midwest, but some farmers are actually foreign countries. This from NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Outside of Phoenix, in the scorching Arizona desert, sits a farm that Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy uses to grow hay for cows back home. That dairy company, named Almarai, bought the farm last year and has planted thousands of acres of groundwater-guzzling alfalfa to make that hay. Saudi Arabia can’t grow its own hay anymore because those crops drained its own ancient aquifer.

More:

They got about 15 water wells when they purchased the property. Now, each one of those wells can pump about 1.5 billion gallons of water. It’s an incredible amount of water they’re going to be drawing up from that aquifer underground…

The remarkable thing about this Saudi Arabian company is that it did the same thing in Saudi until the water ran out. The aquifers they used to grow hay and alfalfa at home simply went dry, and the Saudi government told its dairy companies to start importing hay from elsewhere.

It turns out that hay yields in the desert are the best in the US. You can literally get three or four times as much hay growing in the desert because you have a very long growing season: It’s hot, so the hay dries really quickly once it’s cut. It turned out this was such a good idea, the UAE decided to buy a farm in Arizona too.

America has already given away our manufacturing capability, and thereby created the rust belt. Now, we’ve decided to “export” our water.

Saudi Arabia’s amber waves of grain. Because, “free trade.”

The Ogallala article mentions that, if everyone immediately reduced their usage by 20%, the aquifer should last another 100 years. That’s the generation of Wrongo’s great-great-grandchildren (as yet unborn).

Not much time if you think that the Ogallala has been with us for 10,000+ years.

If we believed that the water resource should belong to those who must pay to replenish and renew it, rather than to those who can monetize it most profitably, our property rights laws would have to be different.

But we don’t, and they aren’t.

Our culture is predatory.

When the spoils are eaten, there is no more. Who will we turn on then?

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Blue Grotto, Malta – photo by SingularET. Not to be confused with THE Blue Grotto on Capri, the hangout of the Roman emperor, Tiberius.

NewdealDemocrat over at Angry Bear raised a few excellent points about historically low unemployment and stagnant wage growth: (emphasis by Wrongo)

As I noted several weeks ago, even though we are at least closing in on full employment, the percentage of employers not raising wages at all has gone up in the last year:

(The blue line is the percentage of employers who have not increased wages. The grey shaded areas are recessions.)

There was more bad news from Axios , reporting on a meeting with the Dallas Federal Reserve about how big companies aren’t planning on raising wages at all:

The message is that Americans should stop waiting for across-the-board pay hikes coinciding with higher corporate profit; to cash in, workers will need to shift to higher-skilled jobs that command more income.

Troy Taylor, CEO of the Coke franchise for Florida, said he is currently adding employees with the idea of later reducing the staff over time “as we invest in automation.” Those being hired: technically-skilled people. “It’s highly technical just being a driver,” he said.

The moderator asked the panel whether there would be broad-based wage gains again. “It’s just not going to happen,” Taylor said. The gains would go mostly to technically-skilled employees, he said. As for a general raise? “Absolutely not in my business,” he said.

John Stephens, chief financial officer at AT&T, said 20% of the company’s employees are call-center workers. He said he doesn’t need that many. In addition, he added, “I don’t need that many guys to install coaxial cables.”

The Civilian Non-Institutional Population (those who the government tracks for jobs analysis), grew 21.3% between April 2000 and April 2018, yet, full-time jobs grew only 11.7%. This means that we can’t possibly be at full employment, despite the government’s headline unemployment rate of 3.8%, the lowest since 2000.

And if most employers are thinking like those at Coke and AT&T, wages won’t increase, despite the country’s nine-year economic recovery. If wages will not be increasing, where do employers think increased demand will come from? And, if companies are freezing wages during the supposed good times, what will happen when times turn bad?

Corporate policies are designed primarily to respond to the requirements of its management and its institutional shareholders, not employees. Employers’ profits have been increasing steadily, but the wealth keeps getting transferred upwards. And it’s the employers who are responsible for layoffs, and who use other methods to increase profits, such as automation, which leave the surviving workers in an increasingly poor negotiating position when it’s time for the annual raise discussion.

Do workers “deserve” an annual increase? By performing their jobs, workers produce value for the company. If a company is profitable, workers should get a cut, and if profits go up, so should their share.

If a particular individual isn’t performing well, then in an efficient/well-managed company, they’ll be replaced. If the job itself is not structured to produce effectively, in an efficient/well-managed company, the job will change. And if the company fails to do either, then in an efficient/well-managed company, the company will change, or it will fail.

It appears that with their paltry increases, workers are losing ground. Rents are rapidly rising in most cities. Wrongo saw a story about a New York City couple who moved from Brooklyn, NYC to Westport, CT for cheaper housing. It wasn’t many years ago that Westport was substantially more expensive than Brooklyn. In fact, it was once the home town of Paul Newman and Martha Stewart.

Many workers are fighting for a 2% raise. (Remember, 2.6% is the average, which means many workers are getting less than that). Factor in the rising rents, food costs, and health care insurance, and you can see that the average hourly worker has little chance of upward mobility.

Is this an inevitable outcome caused by Mr. Market? Not really. Our government has its thumb on the scale via tax benefits to corporations, combined with a Federal minimum wage that is impossibly low.

Time to wake up, America! We must stop letting corporations hoard the profits! Capitalism is institutionalized avarice. Its purpose is concentration of power. And one outcome is the spreading of economic misery.

To help you wake up, here is the Soup Nazi who, says, “No soup for you! Come back 1 year!” Just like many employers say when hourly employees ask for a raise.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Public Schools Are Hiring Immigrants As Teachers

The Daily Escape:

Another view of spring flowers in the Tejon Pass, CA – May, 2018 photo by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel

While it appears that the teacher walkout in Arizona is over, red state education cuts are bad enough that teaching jobs are now being outsourced. The NYT reports that many US schools are filling low-paying teaching jobs with immigrants:

Among the latest states hit by the protests is Arizona, where teacher pay is more than $10,000 below the national average of $59,000 per year. The Pendergast Elementary School District…has recruited more than 50 teachers from the Philippines since 2015. They hold J-1 visas, which allow them to work temporarily in the United States, like au pairs or camp counselors, but offer no path to citizenship.

The NYT reports that according to the State Department, more than 2,800 foreign teachers arrived in America last year through the J-1 visa program, up 233% from about 1,200 who landed here in 2010.

Are public school teachers a new class of migrant workers in America? Is teaching becoming another category of “jobs Americans won’t do” in the Trump era?

Arizona has a reported shortage of 2000 teachers state-wide. This is a direct result of Arizona’s low teacher salaries, (43rd in the nation), and poor funding for public education. More from the NYT:

According to the State Department, 183 Arizona teachers were granted new J-1 visas last year, up from 17 in 2010.

Trump opposes immigration because he says it takes away American jobs. Yet, here we have an immigration program designed precisely to take away American jobs, and it is growing, because there is no alternative but higher taxes, which is not an acceptable solution to Republicans.

Poor school funding and low teacher salaries are a direct result of tax cuts that then require government expense cuts. Local governments can’t engage in deficit spending for very long without ruining their bond rating, so when tax revenues go down, salaries are frozen, maintenance is deferred, and expenses are slashed.

Wrongo’s home town has this very issue in front of us. Our student population has declined by about 11% over the past few years, but the town’s school budget has steadily increased, despite the declining student census. When the budget goes to voters in a few days, it is likely to be voted down, because so few people are willing to see their taxes increased.

This should be a wake-up call to all of us. Tax cuts do not create revenue growth in our towns, states or the country, regardless of what the faux economists say about trickle-down economics.

There is no “teacher shortage” in America. Do we say there is a shortage of Corvettes because we’ll only pay the dealer $25k for a brand new one? We are seeing across many job categories that fewer skilled individuals are willing to work for the low pay offered in both the private and the public sector.

It seems like a simple concept. The people who you entrust your children to for learning and personal growth should earn an adequate wage, and be able to remain members of the middle class.

If we denigrate a profession enough so that people are wary of investing their time and money to get an education and meet the needs of the job, we will have a teacher shortage. If we then hire foreigners who are willing to do the work for peanuts, we will complete the job of making teaching a low income profession.

This is a plan designed by the right and their hedge fund billionaire buddies to privatize and ultimately, break public education.

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Teacher Strikes Are Pointing the Way to Change in 2018

The Daily Escape:

Baltimore Oriole in crab apple tree – 2014 photo by Wrongo

Happy (or unhappy) tax day!

Yesterday, we talked about two red state revolutions led by teachers who are demanding better pay and funding to address educational needs. We also talked about the shameful reactions of the governors of Kentucky and Oklahoma to the demonstrators.

But the governors are not the only local officials with tin ears. Valerie Vande Panne, writes in AlterNet:

In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) is the primary teacher’s membership organization. It recently announced that the strike is over. But, Oklahoma teachers continue to strike, and are seeking a new union that would actually represent their interests. Meanwhile, legislators are seeking ways to punish the striking teachers, and have accused them of bussing in protesters, and local police call the teachers “terrorists.”

2018 is a gubernatorial election in Oklahoma, in addition to seats in the House and Senate. There are rumblings in the state to replace every single elected official this year.

Wrongo is indebted to Ms. Vande Panne’s article for the facts about Oklahoma below.

Despite the common view that Oklahoma is Republican red, most voters in Oklahoma are registered Democrats or are unaffiliated. Bernie Sanders won the 2016 presidential primary. Bernie got more votes in the 2016 primary than Trump. A third of Oklahomans are African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, or are of mixed race.

And the demographics are changing rapidly: In Guymon, a small town in the Oklahoma panhandle, just north of the Texas border and hours from the nearest shopping mall, 37 languages are spoken in the public school system of 3,000 students.

Everyone knows that Oklahoma should be a wealthy state: Oil, gas, and coal are kings of the economy, but decades of sweetheart deals have left the state paying those industries more than those industries pay the state.

There seems to be a lot of red state unrest right now.

Are people finally getting fed up? Is the right wing’s mantra of too much government and not enough freedom starting to lose its grip? Has social media ended that mass media’s control of the narrative so much that opinion can easily be mobilized?

The strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma are “wildcat” strikes. The rank and file basically decided to advocate for their own interests, and when “leadership” in WV (and apparently in OK) made an agreement with the legislature that was less than what the strikers had demanded, the rank and file defied its own union “leaders”.

These states have right-to-work laws, and few protections for labor, but when the teachers act together, they have political power. Without strong unions, labor has nothing to lose, if they mobilize enough of their rank and file. The union leadership has for years cozied up to local politicians, and now seems to have lost control over their own rank and file.

These reliably “red” states have a very different political history than we might expect. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Oklahoma, Kansas and much of the Confederate South were hotbeds of populist uprisings, from the Farmers’ Alliance and the Peoples’ Party. These parties even elected Members of Congress, and Senators. The Peoples’ Party merged into the Democratic Party in 1896.

This sets the stage for the 2018 elections. Those who want change on the local or national level shouldn’t run simply as anti-Trump. They need to address local issues that are resonating, like teacher pay and school funding. At the root of these issues is the continued cutting of taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Without revenues, schools cannot be improved, and teachers’ pay will stagnate.

Fight for equal pay for the same jobs, work to eliminate the barriers to voting, and end gerrymandering.

Run on these issues. See what happens.

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 8, 2018

Another week of news from the teacher’s strikes, to the unjustified shootings, to Trump’s tariffs, Pruitt’s condo deal and sending troops to the southern border, there was plenty of room for fun.

The GOP dilemma with the teacher’s strike:

Maybe the best poster from the March:

A too common a reason why Daddy’s gone:

Not everyone wins with Trump’s tariffs:

Pruitt was in bed with these guys before the condo deal:

The reasons why Trump wins with Evangelicals:

When he testifies, Zuck will try calling the kettle black:

Trump faces resource allocation decision:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 1, 2018

Hopefully, none of you brought any of these cute little babies home for Easter. Wrongo’s parents once brought home some baby chicks for the holiday. The family dog ended their stay very quickly. Just don’t do it!

Easter falls on April Fool’s Day. We’ve been invited to a family party. We’re hoping someone’s really home when we get there. The men’s college basketball championship is sandwiched around April 1st, and Wrongo will be watching. Sadly, the UConn women’s basketball team lost in their final four for the second year in a row.

We endured another week of non-stop foolery by our elected representatives, and this week’s cartoons show just that.

There will be new census questions, but its doubtful that these will make the cut:

The new questions come with a few new tools:

The Roseanne show reboot was cause for concern by Dan:

Trump has the best irony. Trump should pay more and so should Amazon:

We didn’t hear Bob Dylan at the #March for our lives, but Congress should have:

Trump’s legal problems actually have an easy solution:

Trump’s careful diplomatic approach will certainly win the trade negotiation with China: (from the Economist)

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Emma González during her silence at the March for Our Lives

From the NYT:

Emma González spoke for just under two minutes on Saturday before tens of thousands of demonstrators at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and reciting the names of classmates who had been killed.

Then she said nothing for four minutes and 26 seconds.

It was uncomfortable for many in the audience. Then a timer went off, and she said:

Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives, before its someone else’s job,

Wrongo likes this analysis by Melissa Byrnes at Lawyers, Guns & Money: (brackets by Wrongo)

[Her silence] It is the loudest call to action I have heard in a long time. We need to be unsettled. We need to question our assumptions about what is possible. We need pay attention to the silent woman who insists that we hear the multitude of silences of those we’ve failed. We need to recognize when that woman is commanding us to listen. We need to rethink what leadership looks and sounds like.

Because this is a woman I am ready to follow.

There is reason to hope that these kids will drive change in our politics. They have stepped into a vacuum caused by our divided politics. They shouldn’t have had to do this, it was our job, and we have failed.

Now, we can’t just become their passive admirers. We have to participate in this movement for political and social change. On the one hand, we are being led by an amazingly courageous person in Washington DC. And on the other, your titular leader, Donald Trump, chose to go golfing in Florida this weekend.

Remember this in November.

For the first time since Trump’s election, we are seeing how issues like gun control, #metoo, BLM and the frustration caused by economic inequality are melding together in a leftward political tilt.

It’s way past time for Trump and politicians on all sides, who purposefully make no progress on the great issues of the day, to wake up, listen and ACT!

To help them wake up, here is Ed Sheeran with his 2017 song “What Do I Know”? Sheeran says that his dad’s advice was to never mention politics, never mention religion and never get involved in other people’s battles. From Sheeran:

The song ‘What Do I Know’ was me looking at the world and being like ‘we aren’t doing too well are we?’ and writing a song about it…

Listen up:

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution’s coming, it’s a minute away

I saw people marching in the streets today

You know we are made up of love and hate

But both of them are balanced on a razor blade

 I’ll paint the picture let me set the scene,

You know the future’s in the hands of you and me

So let’s all get together, we can all be free

Spread love and understanding positivity

 Everybody’s talking about exponential growth

And the stock market crashing and their portfolios

While I’ll be sitting here with a song that I wrote

Saying love could change the world in a moment

But what do I know?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2018/mar/24/emma-gonzalezs-powerful-march-for-our-lives-speech-in-full-video

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 25, 2018

March for Our Lives  in DC – 3/24/18 NYT photo by Erin Schaff

The March for Our Lives took place yesterday. High schoolers led the rest of us, marching against America’s gun culture, and against politicians who do nearly nothing to solve the slow-moving disaster that is our government’s response to mass murders in our country.

Nobody knows where this will lead. It could be part of something big that changes our society, or it could lead to nothing. But, we can be sure that nothing can change without electing a different set of politicians.

That won’t happen unless the public gets behind the demonstrators. MLK Jr. knew this. Wrongo is sure that Emma Gonzalez, and the other activists from Stoneman Douglas know this too. We must support them, and demand that our politicians actually do something about gun violence, or lose their jobs.

On to cartoons. MLK approves:

Unlike Congress Critters, these kids seem immune to cash that comes with strings attached:

Austin TX is safe, but the bomber didn’t fit the stereotype:

John Bolton’s mustache grows even more alarming:

Facebook’s mismanagement of personal information makes Zuckerberg look bad:

GOP lost gerrymander case in PA. What’s next?

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It’s Past Time To Make Changes To Our Economic System

The Daily Escape:

2011 Art piece by Steven Lambert

Does capitalism work for you? Well, you certainly work for capitalists. The real question is whether capitalism still provides economic security to all of us.

Steve Lambert, the artist who designed the sign, engaged with people across America over a three-year period about whether capitalism was still working. He learned that people were split about 50/50 on the premise:

People usually first react to the piece by falling back on the comfort of abstractions and repeating popular myths. For example, the true/false dilemma is much easier to resolve when the only alternatives to capitalism are presumed to be failed communist dictatorships. It’s also much easier to pretend that the only “true” definition of capitalism is the kind of free-market extreme idolized by thinkers like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek

Or thinkers like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Lambert learned that people generally agreed with the concept, assuming “you are willing to work hard, or work smarter”:

I’ve always found the formulation “work hard, work smart” disturbing. When you invert the expression, it implies: if capitalism doesn’t work for you (that is, if you’re poor, out of work or have a demeaning job), it’s your fault. To put it more bluntly, you are lazy and stupid.

If we ignore the fact that until recently, wages have stagnated for decades, and that what most people earn in a lifetime is insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement, maybe you can say that capitalism is working.

We have been told that federal budget deficits impair our ability to grow the economy, or to put food on our individual tables. In fact the opposite is true. This idea makes us believe that our ability to earn a living requires some degree of suffering by other Americans.

As Claire Connelly says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“We can’t afford it” has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days….This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment….If their bottom line is stable.

This lie sets us against each other, implying that the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. And who wins? The beneficiaries of the newly lowered taxes, corporate America and its management teams. More from Connelly:

Do we really want to live in a world….Where most people will be lucky to earn minimum wage, or wait for months to get paid. If at all. A world where we are not entitled either to a job, or an education, or affordable health care or a social safety net?

We are likely to see a $1.3 Trillion budget pass both houses of Congress this week. It is deficit spending run wild. Wrongo knows that both parties believe that deficits don’t matter, and to a great extent, he agrees.

But these deficits are larger than they had to be, due to the massive corporate and wealthy individual tax cuts the Republican House and Senate just passed. And it’s not only the size of the deficits, it’s the mis-allocation of funds by our neo-con overlords.

This is what capitalism has delivered for America: More than 45 million of us (14.5%) live in poverty. In 2016, another 49.5 million Americans were age 65 and older, and half of them (24.75 million) had yearly income of less than $23,394.

That adds up to about 70 million (22%) of Americans.

One idea that is gaining attention is a Jobs Guarantee program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently released a paper arguing for a national jobs guarantee through a national infrastructure bank. The CBPP plan envisions an infrastructure bank that would fund vital projects and ensure that jobs are well-paid. The government would use this job-creating ability to expand jobs in sectors where the market won’t currently invest, like a national high-speed internet network.

Government guarantees of employment aren’t radical. They aren’t communism, or socialism. We did it before with the New Deal. It reinforces traditional American values around work, and it builds the tax base by taxation on the jobs created. Here’s a final quote from Steve Lambert:

My favorite response to the sign was from a 17-year-old high school student in Boston. She said: “Capitalism can’t work for everyone. If it did, it wouldn’t be capitalism.”

This is where the conversation needs to go: We have to change an economic system that fails so many.

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