Living, as I do, on the internets, I am regularly mansplained by the liberal blogger bros. One of the things they keep telling me is that it’s not enough for Democrats to “just” be against Trump.* No, in order to be elected, Democrats must also be “for” whichever particular cause said blogger bro has adopted. (Oddly, that’s more likely to be “free college” than it is to be “free childcare” or “free birth control.” Go figure.) Only by advocating for the blogger bro cause can Dems hope to win this November.
And, well, that’s interesting, although it’s mostly interesting for how indicative it is of the speaker’s privilege. Women about to lose access to birth control (including abortion), Hispanic workers too terrified to speak to voter registration workers for fear that they’re really ICE (I’ve personally experienced this), soldiers and their families drinking contaminated water — those and so many others — would be quite happy to “just” get rid of Trump and to make the terrorism and torture stop.
But the blogger bros’ mantra also chooses to ignore the many very good proposals that Democrats (albeit many of them Democrats with vaginas, which makes them immediately suspect to the blogger bros) have put forward and could enact if they had even small minorities in the House and Senate. So why should you vote for the Democrats on Nov. 6th rather than simply vote against Trump?
OK, maybe you remember how banks screwed over modest-income people during the 2008 financial crisis that those same banks created. Maybe you remember how
Well Fargo, for example, created fraudulent accounts in the names of its customers, causing many of those customers to have overdrafts and credit issues. Well, New York’s Democratic Senator, Kirsten Gilibrand, has proposed legislation that would establish postal banks. This idea has worked well in other countries and in the past.
Postal banking is a pretty straightforward solution to a nagging problem: Today, too many Americans are cut off from run-of-the-mill financial services. As of 2015, 7 percent of households were unbanked (meaning, they had no bank account at all) and another 19.9 percent were underbanked (meaning they had to rely on expensive and often predatory alternative options like payday lenders or check cashers to deal with their money needs). Some people who lack any kind of account say they simply don’t trust banks; others complain that fees are too high, they don’t have enough money to deposit, or that there aren’t convenient branches. Having a familiar local post offices provide checking accounts that don’t require a minimum balance, debit cards, and other services [including small loans] would be an easy fix that could save Americans a great deal of money. A Postal Services Inspector General report exploring the idea pointed out that, in 2011, the average underbanked American spent $2,412 getting financial services. That’s a lot of money needlessly flowing to companies like ACE Cash Express.
Faced with such competition, even the big banks would have a motivation to clean up their acts.
Or maybe you’re strongly in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and ending the for-profit prison pipeline that depends on incarcerating people of color for using marijuana. California’s Democratic Senator, Kamala Harris, has signed on to proposed legislation that would would legalize cannabis and:
direct federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions and allow people punished under disproportionately enforced cannabis laws to file civil lawsuits against those states.
Money withheld from states with discriminatory marijuana policies would be used to fund job training and libraries.
(She joins Democratic Senators Corey Booker and Kirsten Gilibrand on this.)
But those are piecemeal proposals. Normally, there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s how the moral universe slowly bends towards justice. But these times seem to call out for more drastic measures, especially if you listen to the blogger bros. So, OK, let’s say you want big changes. Why should you vote for Democrats this fall? I want to give you two good, big, reasons.
First, one of the most important problems we face is the control that large, international corporations exercise over every aspect of our lives. The Supreme Court has held that corporations have the same rights as human persons (See, e.g., Mitt Romney announcing that “corporations are people, my friend.”) That’s problematic for a number of reasons, but one big reason is that corporations aren’t subject to the same rules as human persons. If a human person murders someone, they can be put to death or imprisoned (rendered ineffective) for life. But a corporation that murders people can’t be put to death or put in prison.
Massachusetts’ Democratic Senator, Elizabeth Warren, has a far-reaching solution :
The conceit tying together Warren’s ideas is that if corporations are going to have the legal rights of persons, they should be expected to act like decent citizens who uphold their fair share of the social contract and not act like sociopaths whose sole obligation is profitability — as is currently conventional in American business thinking.
Warren wants to create an Office of United States Corporations inside the Department of Commerce and require any corporation with revenue over $1 billion — only a few thousand companies, but a large share of overall employment and economic activity — to obtain a federal charter of corporate citizenship.
More concretely, United States Corporations would be required to allow their workers to elect 40 percent of the membership of their board of directors.
Warren also tacks on a couple of more modest ideas. One is to limit corporate executives’ ability to sell shares of stock that they receive as pay — requiring that such shares be held for at least five years after they were received, and at least three years after a share buyback. The aim is to disincentivize stock-based compensation in general as well as the use of share buybacks as a tactic for executives to maximize their one pay.
The other proposal is to require corporate political activity to be authorized specifically by both 75 percent of shareholders and 75 percent of board members (many of whom would be worker representatives under the full bill), to ensure that corporate political activity truly represents a consensus among stakeholders, rather than C-suite class solidarity.
It’s easy to imagine the restrictions on corporate political activity and some curbs on stock sales shenanigans becoming broad consensus points for congressional Democrats, and even part of a 2019 legislative agenda if the midterms go well. But the bigger ideas about corporate governance would be a revolution in American business practice to undo about a generation’s worth of shareholder supremacy.
Data from other countries indicate that such a plan can work:
Studies from Germany’s experience with codetermination indicate that it leads to less short-termism in corporate decision-making and much higher levels of pay equality, while other studies demonstrate positive results on productivity and innovation.
One intuitive way of thinking about the proposal is that under the American system of shareholder supremacy, an executive increases his pay by finding ways to squeeze workers as hard as possible — kicking out the surplus to shareholders and then watching his stock-linked compensation soar. That’s brought America to the point where CEOs make more than 300 times as much as rank-and-file workers at big companies.
Under a codetermination system, by contrast, an executive wins a pay increase by convincing shareholders and worker-representatives alike that he deserves it — something you can only do if workers are sharing in the benefits of growth. Consequently, German executives earn only about half as much as their US counterparts, even as major German firms like BMW, Bayer, Siemens, and SAP produce world-class results.
Of course, this kind of huge transfer of economic power from rich shareholders to middle- and working-class employees would provoke fierce resistance. But reform of corporate governance also has some powerful political tailwinds behind it.
Warren’s corporate accountability initiatives would have huge economic implications but zero [governmental] budgetary cost. At a time of low levels of public trust in institutions, Warren’s proposals don’t ask anyone to have faith that government officials are going to make good use of resources.
What’s more, while the codetermination aspect of Warren’s proposal does draw inspiration from Germany, fundamentally, the pitch for the overall package is a lot closer to “Make America Great Again” than to “make America like Scandinavia.” The basic notion is that the American private sector used to operate in a better, more inclusive way before the rise of shareholder supremacy and [that,] with a couple of firm regulatory kicks[,] we can get it to work that way again.
My late grandfather, who was an old-line [C]ommunist in his day, used to tell me[,] with mixed admiration and regret[,] that FDR had saved capitalism by entrenching institutions that guaranteed broadly shared prosperity. Those institutions, fundamentally, are what was undone in the shareholder value revolution.
Warren’s bet is that at a time when the political right is increasingly not even bothering to pretend to offer economic solutions anymore, America can pull off the same trick a second time — offering the public not a huge new expansion of government programs, but a revival of the midcentury stakeholder capitalism that once built a middle class so prosperous that the idea of surging mass interest in socialism was unthinkable.
So, while the blogger bros can complain that Warren’s plan isn’t “real” socialism (and, gee, there’s no free college there), it’s a radical, but not ahistorical, re-organization of American capitalism. It’s as good a reason to vote in the Democrats as you’re likely to see in the next quarter century, at least.
Second, another one of our major problems is that our system of electing representatives is broken. Between gerrymandering, the influence of toxic voices such as Fox, and the de facto exclusion of women and people of color from our elections, it can be difficult for elections to make a difference. Virginia’s Democratic Congressman, Don Beyer, has a plan to radically restructure our electoral system. As Beyer has explained :
First, it would allow voters to rank the candidates in order of preference, rather than simply voting for their top choice. Some version of this system is already used in many municipalities, and six states have adopted some kind of ranked-choice voting for congressional elections. If your first-choice candidate does not win, your second or third choice may. This spurs candidates to work to appeal to a broader swath of voters, which would calm polarization in many parts of the country.
Second, the Fair Representation Act would change congressional districts into “multi-member districts,” as used in many states for their legislative elections. Think of it as a hybrid between what we have today and Senate seats, in which two people jointly represent a larger area. States with five or fewer House members would elect all their representatives at large. Any state with six or more members would elect representatives in multi-member districts.
Let’s take Massachusetts. It is home to nine congressional seats, all held by Democrats. Although 24 percent of Massachusetts voters with party registrations are registered Republicans, no Republican has held a seat in the House of Representatives — in 20 years. This means that the Republican quartile of the electorate rightly feels left out and disillusioned, and Democratic candidates largely run and govern from the left, knowing it is the source of their only true opposition.
Now divide Massachusetts into equal thirds, apply ranked-choice voting and elect three candidates in each district. A few things happen. For one, no district is a gerrymandered, partisan swath of the state. Rather, each district represents a larger and therefore more diverse array of voters. This is likely both to attract more candidates and to entice those candidates to speak to the middle of the spectrum. In turn, more citizens would feel that someone spoke to their issue or viewpoint, which would encourage voter participation.
Beyer’s bill has another advantage, albeit one unlikely to appeal to the blogger bros:
Results from local elections that use ranked-choice voting also show that more women would run and win and that minority voting rights would be strengthened by this change — all the more important today given that women make up less than 20 percent of Congress and that racial minorities are caught in legal fights over gerrymandering.
So there you have two really major reasons to vote for Democrats. One would restructure workers’ rights, our economic system, and corporate control of politics. The second would restructure our out-of-control voting system, allowing “smaller” proposals, such as postal banking and cannabis decriminalization, to pass. People who say that the Democrats don’t have big ideas are lying. They have them — those ideas just can’t get any traction as long as we’re faced with hour-by-hour bombshells thrown from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue towards our democracy.
Until Democrats have a majority in each House, sweeping proposals such as holding corporations to the same standards as other citizens and/or revising our unbalanced voting systems have zero chance of even coming to a vote. And smaller measures, such as postal banking, decriminalizing pot, and freeing the many people now sitting in expensive for-profit jails for pot offenses, have no chance, as well.
Me, I’m going to vote against Trump. But there are lots of good reasons to vote for the Democrats. Either way, you have to be registered to vote and, in many states, voter deadlines are coming up. Are you registered to vote at your current address?
*I do not dispute that, especially in some very red districts, it may make more sense for candidates not to focus exclusively on, for example, impeaching Trump, as that may energize his base. But I don’t know of one single, solitary Democratic candidate who is running even mostly, not to mention exclusively, on impeaching Trump.
Picture found here.