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Populism Needed to Shovel Out the Old Economy

by Donna Schaper

Attach fair and just policies to the "emergency" economic stimulus bills and you will find a powerful anti-depressant, the kind that brings people up enough to truly be active citizens again in building a new world.

Economically, this moment of great difficulty is also a time of great possibility. Isn’t it great news that the old economy is dead? It benefited the few and ignored the many.

I have full hope and support in my heart for Obama as President. Nevertheless I need to criticize his starting with the banks and working down. I want a leader to start with the people and work up. There is nothing like a good solid catastrophe to drive us back to first principles.

Let me name four principles that should morally and usefully attach to any bailout or stimulus policies as we go forward.

One is to reduce the difference between the highest paid and lowest paid employee. Think 15 – 1. No one can make more than the minimum wage times 15. That still gives room for what Karl Marx thought was the actual value of creativity, indispensability, talent and incentive. Figure that everybody gets $30,000 at the "bottom" and, going up, nobody gets more than $450,000. This policy will bring a lot of change, especially if it is attached to every nickel of government bailout or stimulus money. Culturally, we should stigmatize people who make more – instead of praising them, or worse, making them cultural heroes to be imitated.

Secondly, guarantee universal health care. Drive medical costs down by doing this. Attach price limits on procedures. Use digitalized medical records, but with strong privacy policies on their use. Institute wellness programs from kindergarten years and all the way up.

Third, start every child in America off with benefits in a Social Security account at age one. This will take the teeth out of a Harvard education versus a community college one. People will have money already invested in them, which they can use to buy education, start a business, see the world, support themselves while they paint for a decade.

Fourth, institute national service for every 18-year-old for two years at a low salary. Don’t let them go to college until they have learned how to drink, how to do something with their hormones and been in an extended summer camp with their peers from every walk of life.

The people in my world are shovel-ready. They are ready to shovel the manure out of the barn and clean political and economic house. They don’t want to be trickled down upon any longer. My people are ready for a new economy, a new idea, a new way, not just a mop up of the old way.

March 9. 2009

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The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City and author of Grass Roots Gardening: Rituals to Sustain Activism.

Also see Putting Our Money Where Our Causes Are by Marion Banzhaf in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Health Care 'Reform' Is Not Enough" by Susan Yanow in this edition of On The Issues Magazine


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