What will it take to reverse unsustainable levels of inequality in this country?
1. Extreme wealth tax
Millions of people currently have little to no chance of rising above insecure jobs, stagnating wages, increasing debts, and diminishing opportunities, despite a “booming economy” for some. Raising living standards for these people is essential for reducing inequality, but scaling back some of the excess wealth of the extremely rich is also essential. A small number of millionaires and billionaires have reaped enormous profits from the US economy, and that money is needed to pay for services and infrastructure that will benefit the rest of the country.
A fair, progressive tax code helps to re-distribute excess wealth to the rest of the population. The Trump tax cuts of 2018 did the exact opposite of that, increasing the wealth of the wealthiest and widening the gap between rich and poor. Reversing unfair tax policies of the Trump administration is an important first step, but years of accumulating wealth leaves the wealth gap still getting ever wider.
Without taxing the accumulated wealth of the richest 0.1% of US-Americans, that gap will never get smaller. And that money is needed to fund the many programs that must now be implemented to redress the imbalance that has been growing for decades. These include universal access to health care, higher education, public transportation, childcare and many other programs.
Meanwhile, some of the biggest companies operating in the US, like Amazon and Netflix, pay no tax at all and many, instead of paying any tax, instead receive millions of dollars in rebates and other subsidies from the federal government. No plan to reduce inequality in the US can succeed without seriously addressing the tax code and returning to a fairer system that taxes excess income sufficiently to fund the public services and the safety net supporting the poorest members of our society.
The President must work with Congress to establish an extreme wealth tax and restore a top rate of income tax that ensures highest earners – and corporations – pay their fair share of tax.
2. Free, universal access to services
Everything the government helps to make more freely and universally available to the public, from public transport to health care to education, helps create a more level playing field for all. Unanticipated medical expenses, for instance, even for those with good health insurance, are an enormous burden on families just barely able to make ends meet. That’s why Medicare for All is a program that could substantially reduce inequality in this country.
Young people are looking for work without a college degree because they could not afford one, or are finishing college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. They are unable to buy a house or even afford rents because they have been priced out of the market. They are forced to work more than one job because wages are so low and jobs are so insecure. That’s why free college tuition and ending the crushing burden of student debt are so important for reducing inequality.
Other important services that can help level the playing field for all citizens include access to fast internet, childcare, public transportation, low-income housing, and free school meals…
The President must work with Congress to establish and fund programs that will increase universal access to healthcare, education, public transportation, energy, internet, childcare, housing, and jobs.
3. Create millions of decent, well-paid jobs
Addressing the grotesque and unsustainable levels of inequality and injustice in this country requires all kinds of policy changes that only the government can make. But the single most important way to address inequality is to make sure there are plenty of decent, well-paid jobs available. That is the core of any Green New Deal.
A Green New Deal is about addressing climate change, but it is also about creating jobs through government investment, and prioritizing those jobs in areas that will be hit hardest by decarbonization. These need to be decent, well-paid, union jobs to provide security and stability for families and communities.
When the government creates jobs that pay a living wage sufficient to support a family, this does more than provide a decent job for those who get hired. It also sets a standard that other private employers have to achieve, and raises wages and standards of living for other workers throughout the economy.
The President must work with Congress to establish and fund millions of decent, well-paid jobs in a Green economy.
4. Job guarantee and re-training
As well as creating millions of new jobs, the transition to a Green economy will also mean up to 1.4 million jobs lost in fossil fuel and allied industries. It will mean dislocation and hardship for families and communities affected by the closing of coal mines, power plants, oil refineries and other facilities. To address inequality means to also look after these workers, their families and their communities.
This means providing a job guarantee for every displaced worker, offering them a new job with equivalent wages and benefits, and/or early retirement. It means providing help with re-training and re-location as needed. It also means providing employers with tax incentives to hire displaced workers.
The President must work with Congress to establish and fund a job guarantee and re-training program for displaced workers in the fossil fuel industry.
5. Subsidize transition to fossil-free economy
Moving to a fossil-free economy without harming the poor requires incentives, tax credits and subsidies that will enable those with fewer resources to switch to electric vehicles, electric heating and cooking technologies and distributed electricity supplies such as rooftop solar panels and micro wind turbines.
Rooftop solar in urban areas and off-grid wind turbines in rural areas could lower electricity costs and provide an unprecedented level of energy independence for large numbers of people. A GND can also help ensure a fair distribution of the benefits of moving to electricity by subsidizing home battery storage.
The President must work with Congress to establish and provide grants, loans, tax credits and other incentives to enable low and middle income families to purchase EVs, convert to electricity for home heating and cooking, and otherwise make the transition to a fossil-free economy affordable.
6. Targeted economic development
To significantly reduce inequality in this country, there must be investment in the economic development of communities that have been left behind by this economy. This includes many rural communities all across the country, vast areas of de-industrialization and abandoned factory towns, poor neighborhoods and communities of color, and “frontline communities” who have already borne the brunt of climate disruption and environmental degradation.
Targeted economic development is needed to re-build crumbling infrastructure, clean up polluted environments, ensure drinking water is safe, regenerate community centers, restore family farms, open up opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurship, and provide training and other opportunities.
The President must work with Congress to provide adequate funding for regional economic development programs that target poor communities, communities of color, and other minority and socially disadvantaged communities.
7. Commit 0.7% of GDP to fund Sustainable Development Goals for 2030
Inequality within the US can only be adequately addressed by also addressing inequality outside the US, since wages in the US are suppressed and inequality increases when companies can hire or buy more cheaply from abroad. People flee to the US largely because of poverty and poor living conditions in Latin America and elsewhere, thus creating competition for scarce social services and fueling xenophobia and right-wing political movements which in turn increase inequality and worsen the plight of the poorest.
As the richest country in the world, the US needs to take a lead in reducing poverty and inequality globally. And without doing so, it will be impossible to stop global warming, since many of the countries now producing the largest emissions of carbon, such as China and India, are doing so in order to develop and improve their living standards.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to reduce poverty and inequality across the world and require major investment from wealthier countries like the US to be achieved. Other countries, including the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway, are already providing the UN target of 0.7% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to international development. With a GDP of nearly $20 trillion, that would mean the US contributing roughly $140 billion per year to the eradication of poverty across the globe.
The President and Congress must quadruple the current level of overseas aid, from roughly $35 billion to $140 billion per year, in order to adequately address poverty and inequality at the global level.