A Progressive Plan for Action

English: Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. ...
English: Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on December 24, 2009, by state. Two Democratic yeas One Democratic yea, one Republican nay One Republican nay, one Republican not voting Two Republican nays (Photo credit: Wikipedia)





A Progressive Plan for Action


Michael Lind’s article, The South is Holding America Hostage, strikes me as compelling. Certainly, the history of the South and my personal experiences living in that part of the country provides support for that point of view. And he is also right that like an army on the offensive, they have their opposition constantly fumbling around trying to set up some kind of last minute, patchwork, cobbled together defense.


Lind offers a set of goals to put what he calls the “Southern Autonomy Project” on the defensive. I find many of them good choices.


I would like to add as goals, a nationwide system of high speed rail, a system of free college education and implied in that a total and complete end to the student load system and a repair of America’s failing infrastructure.


James Pilant


The South is holding America hostage


The Tea Party’s not crazy — they had a plan. Now liberals and progressives need one, too





Setting political difficulty aside, it is intellectually easy to set forth a grand national strategy that consists of coordinated federal policies to defeat the Southern Autonomy Project.


A federal living wage.  At one blow, a much higher federal minimum wage would cripple the ability of Southern states to lure companies from more generous states which supplement the too-low present federal minimum wage with higher local state or urban minimum wages.  (Strong national unions could do the same, but that is not a realistic option at present.)


Nationalization of social insurance.  Social insurance programs with both federal and state components, like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), allow Southern states to be stingier than many other states, creating more desperate workers who are more dependent on the mercy of employers and elite-dominated charities. Completely federalizing Medicaid (as President Ronald Reagan suggested!) and other hybrid federal-state social insurance programs would cripple the Southern Autonomy Project further.


Real voting rights.  Using the authority of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Congress should completely federalize voting requirements for all federal, state and local elections, making it as easy as possible for U.S. citizens to vote — over the objections of kicking and screaming neo-Confederates.


Nonpartisan redistricting.  Partisan redistricting by majorities in state legislatures should be replaced by nonpartisan redistricting commissions, as in California, New Jersey and other states.  The redistricting commissions should be truly nonpartisan, not “bipartisan” arrangements in which incumbent Republicans and incumbent Democrats cut deals to protect their safe seats from competition. (Electoral reforms like instant run-off voting and proportional representation are struggles for a more distant future).


Abolish the Senate filibuster.  The filibuster is not part of the U.S. constitution. It has been used by Southern white conservatives from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first to preserve Southern white power and economic privilege. This relic of premodern  British parliamentary politics should be abolished. Democracy means majority rule. If the Southern Right loses a battle in Congress, it can try to round up allies and win next time. It should no longer be able to paralyze the Senate, the Congress or the federal government as a whole.


Abolish the federal debt ceiling completely.  The federal debt ceiling is another institution like the filibuster which has now been ruined by being abused by Southern conservatives. Now that the Southern right is trying to turn it into a recurrent tool of hostage-taking when it loses votes in Congress, the federal debt ceiling should be abolished. The federal government should be authorized to borrow any amount necessary to fund spending appropriated or authorized by Congress, if there is any shortfall in tax revenues.


From around the web.


From the web site,




The Progressive Liberal agenda has always

been about caring for and empowering the least among us (Matthew 25),

and setting a secure floor under our citizenry. Teddy Roosevelt’s Square

Deal: a living wage, a basic safety net; Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal:

Social Security; Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society: the elimination of

poverty and racial injustice, and Medicare/Medicaid. It’s been about

building America from the ground up using government only for what is

absolutely necessary and providing a basic standing point: free public

education, free medical care, and care for the needy and elderly as in

all other developed countries in the world. And, yes, tax the wealthy

and very wealthy more than the middle class folks who

are just working every day. Why? Because the wealthy benefit more from

the commons and thus should pay a higher percentage of their income for



Every positive step forward in this

country has been brought by the Progressive Left… and the Right’s agenda

has been to say No. Progressives brought us the 50-hour work week, then

the 40-hour work week. The Right said No. Progressives brought us the

Minimum Wage. The Right said No. Progressives brought us the right to

unionize the workplace. The Right said No. Progressives brought us

worker safety laws so people don’t die in factories or offices which

used to be one of the leading causes of death in the US, but not

anymore. The Right said No.



Why Is Unethical Conduct In Business So Common?

This is a re-publish of an earlier essay. I think it is on point for our current situation.

There are several factors. The first was the advent of the baby boomers to power and authority replacing the Depression and the World War Two Generations. Probably the best date for this transfer would be 1976 when Jimmy Carter became President. He was the first President to not have served in the Second World War since Truman. The significance of this was huge. The previous generation had solid memories of the failures of financial sector and the long hard times that resulted. The difference between study and experience are dramatic. It’s even worse when it’s collective experience. The new generation had stories, movies and television to remind them of the pain of those years, but it didn’t carry the power of the emotions involved, the collective helplessness of more than fifteen years when everything that generation knew was in peril.
The second factor I point to is the advent of the Chicago School of Economics and the doctrines of Milton Friedman. I point in particular to Friedman’s 1970 article in the New York Times Magazine, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits. This is my favorite quote.
But the doctrine of “social responsibility” taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book Capitalism and Freedom, I have called it a “fundamentally subversive doctrine” in a free society, and have said that in such a society, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”
I want you to understand that it appears to me that included in “the doctrine of social responsibility” is duty, honor, religion and patriotism, to name a few. (I like to tell my ethics class that the no religion agrees with this doctrine that doesn’t practice human sacrifice.) Here we have a rejection of those values that constitute Western Civilization. From Wikipedia:
The concept of western culture is generally linked to the classical definition of the Western world. In this definition, Western culture is the set of literary, scientific, political, artistic and philosophical principles which set it apart from other civilizations. Much of this set of traditions and knowledge is collected in the Western canon.
These things that make us human, these things that convey the values – the principles, that are the result of thousands of years of human experience are swept away in a simple doctrine that justifies any action within “the rules of the game.”
I want to point out one more thing: notice that the principles of “within the rules of the game” and “open and free competition without deception or fraud” are in many ways contradictory. If you can make or influence the rules why should you compete? Now get a load of this: Friedman tells businessmen that they are free of any restraint, every limitation of conduct, but they are supposed to hold to the duty of engaging in open and free competition without deception or fraud: Do whatever is necessary to make a profit but be good boys and compete.
The third element is the gradually increasing wave of deregulation which begins in a small way in 1971 when the Nixon Administration recommends the rail and trucking industries be deregulated. By the time, Jimmy Carter is elected the doctrine has gained enormous strength and much wider application. The basic implication that government regulation damages business success hampered any attempt at new regulation no matter what happened. This attitude is critical to what happens next.
The fourth element can be dated roughly as beginning 1981. Hostile takeovers and corporate raiding become regular parts of the business news. The basic significance of this is that it is a war. A war fought between manufacturing and finance, with manufacturing losing at every turn. The secondary effects were only a little less worse. You could make money at it. Not little money like people made from developing new products and making things, big money. T. Boone Pickens, one of the major corporate raiders of the period is worth three billion dollars and is rated currently as the 117th richest man in the world. Now let us add in a related development, the financing of these takeovers. Drexel Burnham Lambert paid Michael Milken 550 million dollars a year during its heyday. What did Michael Milken do to merit this: he created high yield bonds, junk bonds. The era of “financial innovation” begins here. Continuing to the present day, more and more bizarre mathematical creations will be used for investment, financing and speculation.
Now, let’s combine them. Those Americans familiar with the pain of the results pass on the reins of power to a new generation. The Chicago School of Economics will provide the philosophical basis for discarding societal responsibility. The government reacts with deregulation which makes it exceptionally difficult to re-regulate industries. The financial industry begins destroying manufacturing in its search for profits.
All the elements are now in place for what has happened and continues to happen. The American population without previous experience of the fruits of financial speculation have no common idea of what should be done. The ethic of the business world is converted from a complex set of factors motivated by religion, philosophy, the myriad other factors that tie us to one another as a people to one of profit as the only value. The government accepts this philosophy and applies it, making deregulation and not regulating pretty much the official doctrine of the government. The financial industry begins destroying healthy companies making hundreds of millions of dollars for what might kindly be described as little effort. The government does not intervene to stop this, which is a clear demarcation line in history that the power of that part of American that makes things is eclipsed by the power of the deal makers, the part of American society that moves money.
Out of this history we grew a generation of Americans who knew with certainty (and unfortunately with accuracy) that going into the financial industry, taking risks, and pushing the boundaries of the rules could make one a multi-millionaire in short order. The most capable of the students at the great universities many of them Ivy League schools went into finance. Those individuals were supposed to be a wide variety of things especially the keepers of the flame, the torch that is passed from one generation to another, the moral standards, the courage, the willingness to sacrifice for their country and their fellow man so that all can prosper. It is difficult to maintain a system of morals when the rewards are so extreme. My understanding is that ivy leaguers can start at a Wall Street firm for as much as $350,000 in salary. And after that if you are willing to do “what it takes,” the path to being a mere millionaire is quick and easy. These people were supposed to be crusading attorneys, publishers, politicians, administrators – all those things that make societies function. There is an ancient precept that nations succeed based on the wisdom of the learned, the courage of their soldiers and the efforts of the workers. Our best and brightest don’t go there. They go to make money in a moral vacuum.
We are going to pay for this for a long time. When the basic doctrine, the ethos of a country becomes devoted to the acquisition of wealth with not even a tiny lip service to virtue you get unethical conduct on a broad front across the business world. Everything that has happened since then, has grown out of these events that I described. The Savings and Loan Etc. (I was going to list them but you know as well as I do what they are and I find it too depressing to make such a list just at the moment) are all explainable out of these elements.
Well, I wrote this in two hours. It’s a quick and dirty summary of what I think. A lot of it is just a portion of my thought and I will probably develop the elements over time.
I wouldn’t mind hearing what you think and you can be brutal. When I was in grad school, I thought that if some teacher marked on my papers, I would be terribly offended. A professor named Don Hoover literally marked out more than a third of what I wrote in a quite lengthy article with great big red pen strokes and I discovered to my astonishment that it didn’t bother me at all. I made the corrections and turned it back in. So, if you find the time it what must be a very busy schedule to comment I will be pleased.
James Pilant