Growing up in the United States, each American child is taught
that everyone is created equal and therefore has an equal chance
to get to the top. The ideological glue that binds this promise
is the myth of the "level playing field," a concept of our democracy
as a system that rewards the individual based on merit.
Regrettably we do not live in a country where everyone is born
equal. One's gender, ethnicity, family income and other individual
circumstances shouldn't make a difference, but they do. We shouldn't
abandon our egalitarian ideals, but we need to speak the truth.
To achieve a society based on fairness we must make a number of
major changes in our current system.
Once upon a time there was a social contract in this country (mostly
negotiated by FDR) where the rich accepted that they would pay considerably
more taxes in order to benefit the less fortunate in society. They
understood that their money not only helped level the playing field,
but also helped to preserve public safety. But times have changed.
Conservatives have replaced this social contract that emphasized
the common good with a "winner- takes-all" morality that has at
its cornerstone a "free market" ideology.
This can be seen most recently in the current Bush tax cut proposal,
which will unashamedly provide 43 percent of the benefits to the
richest 1 percent of Americans. When queried about this, Republicans
respond, "So what if they get the most benefit? They pay most of
the taxes." In effect saying, "So what if the prosperity of the
past few years has disproportionately benefited the wealthiest 1
percent? That's they way the free market system works."
Conservatives never mention redistribution of wealth as a social
goal and do not support those programs that have this as a feature,
such as increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. But to preserve
the concepts of fairness, we could begin by providing fair pay for
those who work. That means raising the minimum wage so it becomes
a living wage. That some corporate executives receive salaries in
the millions while many of their employees are paid wages that put
them below the poverty line is obscene and antithetical to democracy.
We also need to guarantee that all families have food, shelter,
health care, childcare, education and the other essentials of a
life with dignity. We should legislatively mandate that corporations
provide health insurance for all employees, including part-time
and temporary workers, and that they provide all workers with childcare
benefits, since in most American families both parents need to work.
For those who cannot work, a real safety net should be in place.
It's immoral that so many of the members of our society live in
poverty (one in five children). Some of the adults in this group
either can't find work or for valid reasons can't work.
Where they are present, unions represent a strong countervailing
force to the power of corporate executives. Union members have better
pay (typically 30 percent higher), benefits and job security than
their nonunion counterparts. But the national membership in unions
has steadily declined over recent years--and now hovers around 10
percent of the work force. This tide must be turned: The ability
of unions to organize needs to be strengthened with an overhaul
of the nation's labor laws.
If our goal is the creation of a system based on fairness, then
we need to take action to ensure that life, liberty and the pursuit
of happiness is an option for everyone and not just for the well-connected
few. We must make reforms that really level the playing field, democratize
corporations and regulate the marketplace. If we value human rights
over property rights and the rule of law over the marketplace, we
need to democratize our economy so it operates for the good of all
We can start by vocally opposing the Bush tax cut.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you at [email protected]