I believe the first thing we need to do if we want to have the representation we deserve, is change the way we elect Congress. We have to change our auctions for office into elections.
There are two parts to leveling the playing field and balancing the power of the Congress with the power of the people.
The first is to take the money out of politics- entirely.
Rootstrikers, are looking to get to the root of the problem- by introducing a new way to finance political campaigns. Their leader is academic superstar Lawrence Lessig who has a new book out: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It
1. Provide that public elections are publicly funded;
2. Limit, and make transparent, independent political expenditures, and;
3. Reaffirm that when the Declaration of Independence spoke of entities “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” it was speaking of natural persons only.
One of the proposals is to allow unlimited donations, but they have to be routed through the Federal Elections Commission so that candidates have no indication of who supported their positions.
Another brilliant solution is the so called “Patriot dollars:”
The best solution we have heard of is called the “patriot dollars” plan, put forth by Yale law professors Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres. Basically, it eliminates all hard contributions to candidates. Period. Instead, each voter is given a $50 ATM card so that he or she can literally vote with their dollars and contribute their $50, in part or in whole, to their choice of federal candidates. Simple enough. Let’s do the math. We spend about $5 billion to $6 billion collectively on all federal elections. If the approximately 131 million who voted in November also had voted with $50 worth of patriot bucks, the donations would have equaled — surprise — $6.5 billion! That money would cover presidential, Senate and congressional races.
Both of these solutions would transform our current system that creates a culture of congressional corruption- where our representatives spend at least half their time either begging for money- or spending it campaigning.
Once we’ve solved the influence-peddling conundrum, we need to look at bringing some sanity back to our economic ecosystem. There is wealth and there is greed. Having a nation with a small number of people who control most of the wealth creates a system that is unsustainable. This isn’t a new phenomena, Justice Brandeis talked about this at the turn of the last century- his thoughts have been revisited with another solution (and it also mentions the problems of bought elections):
Over the last three decades, income inequality has again soared to the sort of levels that alarmed Brandeis. In 1980, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans made 9.1 percent of our nation’s pre-tax income; by 2006 that share had risen to 18.8 percent — slightly higher than when Brandeis joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Congress might have countered this increased concentration but, instead, tax changes have exacerbated the trend: in after-tax dollars, our wealthiest 1 percent over this same period went from receiving 7.7 percent to 16.3 percent of our nation’s income.
What we call the Brandeis Ratio — the ratio of the average income of the nation’s richest 1 percent to the median household income — has skyrocketed since Ronald Reagan took office. In 1980 the average 1-percenter made 12.5 times the median income, but in 2006 the latest year for which data is available the average income of our richest 1 percent was a whopping 36 times greater than that of the median household.
Brandeis understood that at some point the concentration of economic power could undermine the democratic requisite of dispersed political power. This concern looms large in today’s America, where billionaires are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own campaigns or expressly advocating the election of others.
We believe that we have reached the Brandeis tipping point. It would be bad for our democracy if 1-percenters started making 40 or 50 times as much as the median American.
Enough is enough. Congress should reform our tax law to put the brakes on further inequality. Specifically, we propose an automatic extra tax on the income of the top 1 percent of earners — a tax that would limit the after-tax incomes of this club to 36 times the median household income.
Importantly, our Brandeis tax does not target excessive income per se; it only caps inequality. Billionaires could double their current income without the tax kicking in — as long as the median income also doubles. The sky is the limit for the rich as long as the “rising tide lifts all boats.” Indeed, the tax gives job creators an extra reason to make sure that corporate wealth does in fact trickle down.
Here’s how the tax would work. Once a year, the Internal Revenue Service would calculate the Brandeis ratio of the previous year. If the average 1-percenter made more than 36 times the income of the median American household, then the I.R.S. would create a new tax bracket for the highest 1 percent of income and calculate a marginal income tax rate for that bracket sufficient to reduce the after-tax Brandeis ratio to 36.
This new tax, if triggered, would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year. Our Brandeis tax is conservative in that it doesn’t attempt to reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years. It is not a “claw back” tax. It merely assures that things don’t get worse.
While any combination of the above ideas would be game changing, the real issue that needs to be addressed first and foremost is how to create living wage jobs in this country and get people back to work.
It’s not going to happen by lowering interest rates, government spending or by crony capitalism/corporate welfare, nor is a “payroll tax reduction” going to solve any long-term systemic problems.
What we need to look at is linking the ability to gain wealth directly to how many jobs you create in this country. It’s time to stop rewarding corporate raiders like Mitt Romney and the Wizards of Wall Street who think that owning a stock for less than 12 seconds is “investing.”
There are two ways to do this: one is to limit all compensation in publicly traded companies to a ratio of highest to lowest paid employees and or payroll. A formula would be put in place that requires at least 51% of your payroll be spent in America for you to have patent protection and other rights, and that the top compensation be directly tied to total payroll and a ratio. The more people you employ, and the higher their average wage- the more you can take home. No more billion dollar plus salaries for creating new financial junk paper- the only financial paper that would count is your payroll report.
The second option is that the Federal Government, the largest purchaser of goods and services no longer does business with any company that breaks the ratio. Things would change very quickly.
The costs of inequality and poverty will destroy our country. When people can’t find meaningful honest work, survival mechanisms kick in and crime kicks in as civility walks out.
Without approaching our problems in a new way with new thinking as outlined above, democracy as we used to believe in it, is doomed if not already dead. It’s why I’m running for Congress in OH-10, and hope that you will support me.