The New Progressive Movement
By JEFFREY D. SACHS
Thirty years ago, a newly elected Ronald Reagan made a fateful judgment: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Taxes for the rich were slashed, as were outlays on public services and investments as a share of national income. Only the military and a few big transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the squeeze.
Reagan’s was a fateful misdiagnosis. He completely overlooked the real issue — the rise of global competition in the information age — and fought a bogeyman, the government. Decades on,
Both parties have joined in crippling the government in response to the demands of their wealthy campaign contributors, who above all else insist on keeping low tax rates on capital gains, top incomes, estates and corporate profits. Corporate taxes as a share of national income are at the lowest levels in recent history. Rich households take home the greatest share of income since the Great Depression. Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated
The first age of inequality was the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century, an era quite like today, when both political parties served the interests of the corporate robber barons. The progressive movement arose after the financial crisis of 1893. In the following decades Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson came to power, and the movement pushed through a remarkable era of reform: trust busting, federal income taxation, fair labor standards, the direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.
The second gilded age was the Roaring Twenties. The pro-business administrations of Harding, Coolidge and
Following our recent financial calamity, a third progressive era is likely to be in the making. This one should aim for three things. The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in
None of this will be easy. Vested interests are deeply entrenched, even as Wall Street titans are jailed and their firms pay megafines for fraud. The progressive era took 20 years to correct abuses of the Gilded Age. The New Deal struggled for a decade to overcome the Great Depression, and the expansion of economic justice lasted through the 1960s. The new wave of reform is but a few months old.
The young people in
The new movement also needs to build a public policy platform. The American people have it absolutely right on the three main points of a new agenda. To put it simply: tax the rich, end the wars and restore honest and effective government for all.
Finally, the new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads. By lowering the cost of political campaigning, the free social media can liberate
Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of “The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.”
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs