• A baseline safety net so that small employers are spared the expenses of health care and retirement savings, possibly even replacing the minimum wage with a guaranteed minimum income
• Intercity high speed rail, interurban light rail and municipal streetcars anywhere the bones exist to support them
• The dollar coin replacing the bill, and just round everything up to the nearest nickel (and let the round-up difference feed the safety net above)
• Promotion and relegation in college football now that conferences are meaningless
• Rugby sevens is a thing
• Vocational education comes with an AA degree and is as respectable and remunerated as entry-level work straight out of college
And most importantly:
• The three political parties in this country are properly labelled and proportionally separated, so that Great Society Democrats, New Labour and the Confederates can be handled appropriately rather than shoehorned into two parties that result in distortion of actual political belief and disproportionate advantage for a ethnically and regionally homogeneous rump faction
This may all sound insane, but it’s all a logical response to the direction of the 21st century. Fifteen years ago, it was apparent – or should have been – that the combination of global free trade and information technology was going to radically reshape the way our economy works. And it’s not unlike what happened in the 1930s at a time of global depression and economic and political upheaval – we went from being a predominately agrarian society to a predominantly industrial one. At the time, it took a lot of government intervention to smooth the transition and a lot of money, because when that shift first happened in the Gilded Age a lot of people got stinking rich and a hell of a lot more got used as factory cannon fodder.
Consider the “gig economy” which everyone is so fond of – the techie types, especially the ones who don’t work at the tip of the spear, think it’s great that you can have all this flexibility and autonomy and work-when-you-want and…you can’t make a living at it. Ask your Uber driver. Hell, Uber is openly pitching this as “your side hustle” because so many people have failed at making a living wage doing it. Gig economy, contracting (1099 or otherwise), part-time, whatever: there’s a whole lot of work out there that does not fall under the traditional 9-to-5 Monday-to-Friday concept, even before you take into account that it’s 8-5 on paper and you’re realistically going to have to do some more on nights and weekends in a lot of places.
And yet, people still need to be able to make a living. How the hell do you go about that?
There are several projects kicking around concerning the provision of a minimum guaranteed income: that some entity, probably the highest level of government, will provide you a cash income of a certain amount, gratis. No strings attached. Spend it on what you want. When you stop flapping your jaw with the “HURRRR DURRRRR FREE GOVERNMENT HANDOUT” Fox News hillbilly dumb fuck yammering and actually think about it, this is kind of earth-shattering. Put this down in place of housing assistance, in place of food stamps, in place of WIC and TANF and an alphabet-soup of other welfare-type programs.
For the 48 contiguous US states, last year’s threshold for the poverty line for a family of 3 was $20,160. Assuming you work a 40 hour week EVERY week, with no vacation, that means that to support a family of 3, you need to make $9.70 an hour. For the record, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That’s what is known in this establishment as Bad Arithmetic.
If you get $100 a week from Uncle Sam – that’s it, that’s all it takes – then you can take that minimum wage job, but you’re still over the poverty line. Make it $150 a week and you might even be able to take Christmas Day off or get sick for a minute. Or take some other job that needs doing but never seems to pay like it should, whether it’s teaching or volunteer work in the community or what have you.
Now, get rid of Obamacare and all the chaos that goes with trying to make a shitty privatized health system somehow cover everyone. Instead, Medicare. The end. Everyone goes on Medicare the moment you’re born, and that’s an end of that. It’s already been well established that most every government insurance program – Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, VA, whatever – has lower administrative overhead and in turn lower costs than private insurance. That sets the baseline – if you want to purchase private insurance beyond that, feel free, as most Medicare patients have some kind of gap insurance for the rest of it, no problem.
But see, this is the thing we’ve done: we’ve taken the burden off your archetypal small business owner to cover the insurance costs of employees. No more part time, no more fretting over people who work more than 30 hours or trying to keep them below a point where you have to provide their insurance. That’s over, that’s done, it’s not your responsibility anymore. Will taxes go up to accommodate this? Possibly, but since your overhead is going down, it probably comes out in the wash. But here’s the point to all this: if your health insurance is not tied to your job, and if everyone – everyone AT ALL – is getting some sort of foundation income, it means that you CAN take whatever “gig economy” jobs are out there without starving to death. It means you can start your own business and not worry that you won’t have food on the table for a year or will be guaranteed to go bankrupt if you get sick. And it’s been destigmatized – no one is on welfare. No one is on Medicaid. Everybody, everybody from the bum on the corner drinking a Coke to Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump, gets the same foundation income and the same foundation health care.
More to the point – if you fix this foundation income nationally, you’ve suddenly created an economic stimulus program for the poorest parts of the country. If the federal minimum wage is the same everywhere and everyone gets the same foundation income, where is that money going to go further: San Francisco or Birmingham? Just like that, you’ve incentivized people to consider somewhere that isn’t a megalopolis, because your cash will go further no matter what you’re doing. And in a world of remote work – where you could be doing anything from sitting in a call center to using a VR headset and drones and robots to be a mall cop – there’s no reason you can’t do your job at Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, California from your comfortable cubicle in Knoxville, Tennessee – where there’s no state income tax.
The point of all this is: the nature of work in America has changed. The coal mines aren’t coming back. Labor intensive manufacturing isn’t coming back. The half-wits and slack-jawed yokels howling MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN are ironically arguing for an era when the US had peak participation in labor unions and the highest rates of personal income tax on record (but we can stop pretending that “economic anxiety” is anything but a euphemism) but one where there was precious little automation and no ability to ship things from around the world. If the textile mills could move from New England to the South, they were always going to move on to Central America and inevitably Southeast Asia, and for the same reasons. As we move increasingly toward the point where “work from home” is so ubiquitous as to be a girl-group euphemism (and a hit single), we have to start thinking about what that work looks like and how we cross the bridge without throwing people off it.
But here’s the thing: the time to start thinking about that was in 2000. And instead of crossing the bridge to the 21st century, we decided that it was okay if a jug-eared hayseed with fewer votes was handed the controls, and then spent years shitting ourselves in panic, and then – when we got a grown-up in charge again – enough people decided that adult reasoning was The Other Side and were against it no matter what. So you can basically draw a straight line from Florida 2000 to the reality-show charlatan that will be sworn into office in two weeks. And the 21st century is on the far side of that line. And there’s no telling whether America will ever be able to cross it.