A Call for Progressive Ideas (and Ideals)

There has been much talk in the last few weeks — with the collapse of Lehman, Fannie May and Freddie Mac, and now AIG — of an impending economic crisis that could potentially match the scale of 1929s total market crash. John McCain, of course, thinks that the structure of our economy is strong, that if we cut the wealthy capitalist fat cats running our “free market” economy some tax breaks, that we will recover as the saved money (say it with me) trickles down to the everyday American. Two GLARING issues with that position:

1. Free market institutions can’t be held accountable for their actions and speculative risk… even in their total failure. The market must be free!  The failures of giant financial corporations is clearly a result of elements beyond their control!  Therefore the government must ensure the survival of these short sighted, bloated, and broken corporations so that they can regain the trust of the American people… trust that pads the pockets of the rich — AIG’s CEO is getting an 8 million dollar severance package to reward him for his outstanding leadership — and watches the earnings of the rest of us trickle down the gas tank.

2. The goal of free market capitalism is to generate more profit. If you are the owner of a private, deregulated corporation, and the government cuts your tax burden, are you going to pay your employees more (which counters the very foundation of traditional desires for “low overhead” in market capitalism), or call it a successful quarter and pocket your additional profit?  Perhaps you will use the extra capital to invest in new assets, but in the financial world, seldom if ever, is the labor force recognized as an asset.

What we need to do is admit that present day American free market capitalism is systemically broken.

We need to dream it all up again. I’m not suggesting that substituting another contemporary system, like socialism for example, is the answer. But there clearly needs to be a New Deal approach to turning the country around. We need bold, progressive leadership that is unafraid to be strong in the face of blind tradition and habit. We need someone willing to tread new ground; to stand up and own up to the sad realities of deregulated free market ideology, and begin writing the next chapter in the history of the great ingenuity, leadership, and resolve of American democracy. It’s time to turn the page.

Some additional reading on the subject:

“The Fruit of Hypocrisy” – Joseph Stiglitz

“Obama’s Challenge” – Robert Kuttner

Kuttner discusses his book on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” NPR radio program. An audio link will be available after 3pm on Sept. 17.

Kuttner NPR Link


7 responses to “A Call for Progressive Ideas (and Ideals)

  1. Good thoughts, brother. I spend a lot of time thinking about the conditions of late capitalism. You should add me to your blogroll.

  2. Added. Thanks for reading Dan.

  3. Hey, it’s your old friend and radio co-host Matt here to commend your thinking…and critcize just a bit. I’ll accept your criticism of the free market. I don’t agree, but I can see that viewpoint so I’ll stipulate it for the sake of the argument. The problem comes in that your prince charming is Obama. He doesn’t HAVE progressive ideas. He’s not trying to rebuild and rethink everything. He wants to play the old, played out and equally unsuccessful left-wing financial perspective card.

    He WANTS a socialist kind of approach. So while you frame the question really well, your solution is lacking. And let’s be real. Your call to action sounds just like McCain’s acceptance speech. It’s time to rebuild everything from the ground floor into a post-cold war, post information age new approach to everything.

    Do you trust him? Probably not. But he’s the only one of the two at least saying what you’re saying.

  4. Matty,
    Good to hear from you. I’m not suggesting that Obama CURRENTLY has the aggressive progressive platform that Kuttner outlines, and neither does he. We are both essentially HOPING that he adopts measures like this if elected in November. The big difference between my call to action and John McCain is that he is full of nebulous political rhetoric that can mean whatever he wants it to mean when talking to different constituents. At a structural level, he supports the same economic policies of the current administration. I find them inherently flawed. He sees them as needing a bit of window cleaning. Also, I won’t deny that Obama’s economic policies are often heavily influenced by socialism. Yet I would argue that within the free-market capitalist society that is America, socialist policies can not, and never will be absolute. Obama won’t make us a socialist nation. What he MIGHT do is introduce socialist approaches that will NECESSARILY be framed within, and mutated by the dominant ideology of market capitalism. In that sense, we’re talking about a hybrid, not the difference between a bicycle and a chevy. And McCain isn’t saying anything that Obama isn’t. Both are pimping change, the difference is that Obama sees ways to invest in our own infrastructure, while McCain call workers to completely reinvent themselves as business/tech managers so that they can get jobs overseeing workers in other countries. That’s likely the next phase of American capitalism, but it is insane to assume the American middle to lower working class has the resources, the time, and the education to reinvent themselves that way. There is a difference between learning to manufacture windmills as opposed to automobiles, and learning to write code or getting an MBA.

    Obama may not be the answer. But he can be. He is charismatic enough to inspire the people to real change, and to keep them energized while the cleanup takes place. AND he will at least save us billions of dollars by curtailing our military industrial complex. McCain IS the military.

    McCain may clean up some of the garbage, but he will likely just resurrect broken systems that are doomed to repeat the cylce.

  5. What I love about you, Jesse, is that you’re an intelligent guy. While I still disagree with you, you are for certain the only person I have talked to who supports Obama who can defend that position with something other than just repeating campaign slogans. Here’s my problem…could Obama inspire change? Absolutely. He’s a rock star to be sure and he has the power to inspire. The problem is, I dont think he WILL because that’s not his agenda. He will inspire people to get behind what he supports, not what you hope he’ll support.

    And I’ll be honest, while I agree with the right on economics, foreign policy, etc., my biggest issue as a religious boy is abortion. You once refused to work on a project with me cuz you knew I had porn in my house. That’s a mighty stand that has stuck with me to this day. Not that you CHANGED me, but you looked me in the eye and drew a moral line and I have respected you tremendously for it ever since.

    My issue…if you can’t write a Friends episode with me because there’s porn in my house, how can you hand Obama the keys to the kingdom knowing he’s ok with offing babies who are already half out of the birth canal? Seriously. In the end, I just can’t get past that no matter what else the left says. I’m actual pro gun control…I’m ok with gay marriage as a legal right…etc etc. I’m pretty socially progressive because I don’t feel it’s my place to demand non-Christians act like Christians…BUT…I cant get on the left wing train when they wont get rid of the kid killing car.

    Ya know? I honestly wanna hear how you balance that one out. Religious Obama supporters confound me. I’m not criticizing or trying to claim some higher moral ground. That’s not my bag. I’m truly CURIOUS.

  6. Matty,

    I won’t lie. That’s a very hard pill for me to swallow. But I ask you this: WWJB. What would Jesus bomb? It’s convenient and easy to demonize killing in the context of abortion. And I say that firmly against the practice. Why, on the other hand, is killing OK when it’s in the name of WMDs… no wait… connections to 9/11… no wait… oil maybe? How in the world can we turn a blind eye to leveling nations when it’s convenient for foreign policy? SERIOUSLY DUDE. And the argument that Saddam was killing and we intervened to stop him from killing is crap. Using that logic, the Bush administration should start bombing abortion clinics with tax dollars. Death is death. It’s not OK for Democrats to approve of it, and it’s not OK for Republicans to approve of it. So now we’re at a bloodied stale mate.

    What’s left is this. I don’t believe that a Republican president is going to end abortion in this country. I believe that science and the changing of the hearts of the people one at a time is the only way to cure this disease.

    So now I’m left with choosing an individual to run the country that best lines up with my beliefs about foreign policy, economics, education, health care, and poverty relief to name a few. And with those issues I fall squarely into the Obama camp. Referencing your comment from my other post: No. Obama’s current economic platform is not as progressive as I’d like. But it is MUCH closer to how I would like to see us proceed than any Republican platform from the last 30 years. I do support his platforms, and opponents who say he has no position and is merely riding the Bush sucks momentum haven’t done enough research. He has positions, they’re just not advertised on FOX News.

    SO there I stand. According to my convictions, Democrats currently approach alleviating the suffering of the poor in a manner that is closer to how I believe Christ would handle it in this political context. Ideally, the church should be taking care of these people… but they aren’t doing it enough. They’re doing it for sure… but I point to the scene where Christ commends the widow who gives out of her poverty, while chastising the rich who give off the top of their surplus. The latter more accurately portrays American Christian giving… once we’ve built our big church with a kick ass stage, light show and sound system.

    So I hope this helps you see that my position is ENTIRELY informed by my spiritual convictions.

  7. Love you, bro…and honestly I didn’t mean to imply that it WASNT entirely informed by your spiritual convictions. I was just curious HOW that played out…not IF it played out. The one thing I know about you for certain is that you are strong in your faith and willing to stand on it.

    And for the record, God DID authorize destruction and slaughter many times. Even Christ said to bring your sword with you on the road. Now do I buy into the right wing theory that this is God’s nation and therefore all wars fought in its defense are God-endorsed? No.

    But WWJB isn’t as cut and dry as you’re making it out to be. Apparently since God is unchanging thus OT God = NT God, there are times when he would bomb the hell outta someone if necessary.

    Having said that I’ve always thought a pro-life Democratic movement would be a force to be reckoned with, or a Republican subset that allowed for helping the mom who decided to keep the baby AFTER that baby was born.

    Your points are well taken. Again I disagree, but I enjoy (FINALLY!) meeting someone who could make reasoned arguments in support of this guy. Everyone I meet just treats him as if he IS Christ, unchecked, unquestioned…cuz he talks so sweet.

    I give him props for doing the O-Riley (sp?) interview. But not so much on the current issue of chillin’ on the debates til we lock down this bailout plan. I think the smartest thing EITHER guy has said so far this cycle is, let’s put this campaign a side for a minute and do our senatorial jobs.

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