In our previous Making Millions post, we examined a number of areas of American life that are negatively impacted by large corporations and their leaders. These entities and individuals have successfully pressured Congress for decades to pass legislation that favors them; whatever their individual psychological make-up or motives, many very wealthy Americans frequently make exponentially more money than the vast majority of Americans by successfully preying on our fears, suffering and vulnerabilities. Here we will look more closely at how we can alter this reality, especially by examining alternatives that have been successful in dozens of other advanced nations.
It is important once again to review why American citizens and lawmakers should look to other countries for ideas about how to meet social challenges and solve problems. Contrary to what many Americans have been led to believe for several generations, European and other modern nations score higher on most quality-of-life measures and World Happiness Reports than the US has – for decades. Citizens of advanced nations enjoy longer lives, lower homicide and incarceration rates, better public transportation and other infrastructures, more generous paid vacation, sick and parental leave and unemployment benefits, shorter work weeks, more comfortable retirements, and less expensive but still excellent health care than we enjoy as Americans. These are just some of the reasons that Americans need to pay attention to what our peer nations and their leaders have done and are doing.
Therefore, looking again at the products and services provided at our expense by large corporations and wealthy individuals, we can see that our society could become extremely more streamlined, efficient, and humane if we had the political will. Our lives could become much less complex, and we could spend far less of our discretionary income because basic services would be provided through progressive taxation.
- We would not need health or dental insurance because the vast majority of medical services would be provided to us by the state, paid for by a revamped tax structure.
- We would not need to make excruciating decisions between food, rent and essential medications because necessary drugs and treatments would be covered by the health care system. CEOs of huge pharmaceutical companies would not earn outrageous salaries, at the expense of their employees and customers, because laws would be passed to serve the people, not corporations and their leaders.
- Credit cards and a related phenomenon, predatory lending practices (i.e., payday loans), would no longer be anywhere near as necessary because citizens would not need them to pay routine bills. A progressive combination of taxation, livable wages, an efficient health care system, free or low-cost education, paid leave, job security and generous retirement benefits would drastically change the contours of our society – as it has done throughout Europe and elsewhere.
- If our taxes were significantly simpler, there would be much less need for high-priced tax preparers.
- If pensions were guaranteed, at least in part, by the government, financial advisors and investment managers would not be as necessary.
Some of the ways in which American citizens can help bring about these solutions are obvious: support progressive legislation that resembles that of successful peer nations; educate ourselves on the issues as much as possible; and VOTE. In addition:
- Write to your legislators and participate in the political process whenever feasible.
- Write letters to the editor of your local papers, backing your opinions up with evidence.
- Help dispel the myth that European and other nations are “socialist” and can therefore be ignored. They have free-market economies like ours, but they have harnessed capitalism for the benefit of the majority of their citizens much more effectively than we have.
- Talk to our children, at their appropriate age level, about important civic and social issues. (Children can be amazingly perceptive when given the opportunity.) As adults, they will become the next generation of citizens, voters and taxpayers, so they need to begin to be aware of the world – and too many children are already inheriting an impoverished, demoralized society.
- Support high-quality public education for all Americans, not just those who live in privileged neighborhoods. We know that “what predicts how well a child will do in school is not a child’s aptitude or hard work, but the status of the child’s parents – which is to say, their own levels of education and wealth” (Partanen, 123). Until we find a way to fairly and robustly fund public schools so that all children receive a quality education, irrespective of where they live, we will continue to have higher child poverty rates than 28 of 29 developed countries surveyed in a 2013 UNICEF report (Partanen, 124; the only nation that did worse than the US was Romania). And poor children more often than not become poor adults…
- Patronize local businesses that support their communities.
- Write letters of complaint to companies when something you purchase breaks, fails, or disappoints you. Companies will continue to create inferior products if consumers do not speak up. Demand refunds unless you really need the replacement product. (Relatedly, think twice before making a discretionary purchase; your purchase, remember, most likely profits someone who is already much better off than you are.)
- Report fraud. Fraud drains millions of dollars annually – our tax dollars.
- Familiarize yourself with your workplace, renter, voter, consumer and other rights and fight for them if necessary, as much as possible. Large corporations and the politicians they support rely on citizens not knowing or taking advantage of our rights under the law.
If all this sounds too demanding for busy people, it may be. But that’s a significant part of the point. Our system – created and run largely by people and organizations that own and control far more than the vast majority of us do – is much more complex (and expensive) than it needs to be. We are torn this way and that by forces that want very much to keep us afraid, overly busy with trivial pursuits and material goods, powerless, ignorant and silent. The system must be changed, whether by incremental steps or revolution. As Reich eloquently points out:
“There is simply no way the American economy can be sustained if the richest 10 percent continue to reap all the economic gains while the poorest 90 percent grow poorer” (Saving Capitalism, 188).
Partanen, Anu. The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.
Reich, Robert B. Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.