“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing oriented’ society to a ‘person oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
These words from Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1968 speech at the Riverside Church in New York should serve as a framework for the vision and values of the liberal/progressive view of a socially responsible economy. At the core of the “revolution of values” that King so persuasively enunciated is the idea that we must be committed to a system which addresses the concerns, the interests and aspirations of people as the first and ultimate priority. While profit is obviously acceptable within America’s capitalist political-economy, it cannot take precedent over the safety, health and well being of people. If King were alive today, most assuredly he would extend this proposition to the earth/environment. This people over profit/property proposition is in direct contrast and contradiction to the conservative mantra that market forces are the end all and be all for ensuring the well being of all. Conservatives don’t believe there is a problem that profit-seekers in the private sector cannot solve. In reality, time and time again liberal/progressive forces have had to advocate for and enact legislation and regulations to restrain the greed driven, avaricious behavior of corporate/business and financial interests, willing to exploit the marketplace to maximize profits despite the adverse impact on people. Wall Street has always bristled at government regulations to restrain its behavior.
Contrary to the Tea Party and conservative pretense, the Great Recession was not caused by “big government” but big business and financial institutions run amok. Hence, there should have been huge “Tea Party” demonstrations on Wall Street instead of angry denunciations of President Obama and the government for adopting policies to halt the free fall of the economy. To a degree, the misguided perceptions and actions of Tea Party Patriots were the result of the failure of liberals/progressives to relentlessly remind the American people of the real culprits who caused the near catastrophic collapse of the economy. While conservatives are once again shamelessly attempting to loosen regulations on Wall Street and punish workers for the deficit crisis prompted by their behavior, liberals/progressives must courageously fight for a socially responsible economy which rests on people and earth centered values, principles and priorities that hold Wall Street accountable for its behavior. We must emphatically make the case that the fate of workers, the middle class, people of color minorities and the poor is more important than the crass fortunes of the few!
This notion of a socially responsible economy or something akin to it must form the foundation for a three to five point popular platform that liberals/progressives advance in the stretch drive of the 2012 election season. While a case can be made for a comprehensive platform that covers issues and concerns in a variety of areas, since “it’s the economy stupid” which is legitimately causing great anxiety in the wake of the Great Recession, it would be wise to avoid presenting a long litany of progressive proposals to the electorate. The organizers/conveners of PNC should present a theme and platform focused on what matters most to the majority at this critical moment in history – jobs and economic security. And, this theme and platform should challenge head-on the conservative assertion that debt and deficit reduction and extending tax breaks for the wealthy is the formula for reviving a stalled economy. Liberals/progressives must articulate and explain proposals that mobilize public opinion in support of programs that put the unemployed back to work now.
It is not that liberals/progressives should dismiss the long term danger of out of control deficits and debt; rather it is that the first priority is to act boldly to alleviate the pain of the millions of unemployed. And, we must repeatedly make the case that people with jobs are consumers who pay taxes. Reducing unemployment/joblessness is a stimulant that will contribute to reducing the deficit and debt. In that regard, whatever other measures progressive economists put forth, it is my view that the idea of funding at least one million public sector jobs should be on the table. Liberals/progressives must re-introduce and defend the idea that government can act directly to alleviate joblessness in times of economic disaster like the Great Recession. The values, principles that formed the underpinnings of the New Deal are not dead. We must unapologetically revive and update them to be relevant and useful in our time.
We must make the case for an end to the obscene expenditures on wars and “nation-building” abroad and call for reductions in military/defense spending. At the end of the day there can be no “national security” without “economic security” for the majority of workers, the middle class and the poor. Therefore, a rational national defense must include defense against unemployment/joblessness, defense against poverty, defense against mortgage foreclosures and defense against crumbling infrastructure, decaying inner-cities and alarming climate change. Economic security for families and rebuilding America is a moral and political imperative! This is the message which the theme and platform of liberals/progressives who gather at PNC should convey to the American people – a message which will compel Republicans/conservatives and Democrats to act to create jobs, foster economic security and rebuild America as the first priority.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
This is the second part of a series Dr. Daniels has written that examines the possibility of organizing a progressive agenda in America.