For our special issue on “Reimagining Capitalism” [June 27], The Nation asked sixteen activists and economic thinkers, “If you had the ability to reinvent American capitalism, where would you start?” We also posed the question to our readers, who readily flooded us with hundreds of thoughtful and creative proposals—a sample of which follows below. The enthusiastic response confirms special issue editor William Greider’s argument that “the nation is alive with fresh thinking and bold outlines for big change.” The challenge is to put them into action.—The Editors
If we want to fix what is wrong with American capitalism, the best thing we could do would be to reaffirm our commitment to US workers by passing a new Wagner Act. That will once again put government on the side of the workers and affirm its support for the principle that organized labor is critical to ensuring that all Americans share in the benefits that a strong, vibrant capitalist system can bring.
San Jose, Calif.
The one thing I would do to change capitalism to get it to work for the people (if that is even possible) is simple: the Constitution needs to be amended to declare that corporations are not people. The people who run corporations should not have the right or the ability to cause untold damage and harm to other people poorer (in money and rights) than they are, and then be able to hide behind the mask of “I didn’t do it; the corporation did—I’m just a shareholder.”
Reforming capitalism is about making the largest corporations, and their officers and directors, accountable to society and their stakeholders. This entails fostering a culture of social responsibility among these companies. I would achieve this by creating a classification system for corporations: “A” corporations would be required to meet the highest standard of social responsibility. In return, they would pay lower taxes, avoid double taxation, enjoy greater liability protections, access to financial credits, etc. “F” corporations—those with histories of poor or irresponsible conduct—would be subject to tighter regulation, higher taxes, decreased liability protection, etc. A national ombudsman would create a public record for each corporation and its officers and directors, including lawsuits, regulatory actions, complaints and business actions. This record would be used to rank each corporation A through F. I believe such a system is long overdue and would benefit all of society.
If we aim to create a more equitable and inclusive form of capitalism, we must find ways to overturn the legacy of free and cheap labor the United States has used to bolster its economy since slavery. Instead of functioning as an alternative to sweatshops and factory lines, prisons should serve as the rehabilitation branch of our criminal justice system. By overturning the for-profit prison system and creating public-private partnerships between the state and corporations, we can create training programs and services for prisoners that address many of our underlying societal problems like poverty, homelessness, and lack of resources and education. This model of employment and rehabilitation has already seen great successes among ex-convicts in nonprofits like DC Central Kitchen. Through the creation of these partnerships, we can overturn the exploitation of prison labor and change a workforce of indentured servants into responsible, skilled and employable citizens.
JAMILA AISHA BROWN
The German “co-determination law” is a great place to start: half of corporate boardrooms of companies with more than fifty employees must be representatives of labor. With that type of law, extra profits will mean higher wages; downturns will mean shared sacrifice; and an executive won’t be able to ruin a company, get a golden parachute and then lay off half the workforce. That will majorly change capitalism for the better.
Just as a ruined castle can be recycled and turned to better use, so we might think about transforming the military-industrial complex into an environmental-industrial complex. God knows global warming isn’t getting any better, and some very knowledgeable scientists predict that climate change will hit with an evil wallop sooner than many people think. Boeing, Rockwell, EE&G and Blackwater may have what it takes to save the planet if reconfigured correctly. What better thing to do than to turn all of that technological infrastructure around into retooling for solar, wind, geothermal or other sources of alternative low/no carbon power?
Normandy Park, Wash.
I would put great emphasis on achieving public campaign financing to reduce the influence of money in our elections and allow a wider variety of people to run for office. That would make our elected officials much more responsive to the public and interested in the common good.
All manufacturing processes should be required to be analyzed for sustainability. Those processes that do not meet the sustainability principles should have a surtax imposed in order to pay for the downstream costs that are not figured into the price of the goods.
MARY BETH MAUER
The proposal is simple: establish large tax benefits for the family (or small) business and remove tax benefits for other forms of capitalism. We are often told that the creative power of the economy is small business, so why do we structure our economy and government to benefit large business? We are taught family values, but then we create a situation where adults must work several jobs at near minimum wage to support their families. In the Netherlands such a system of tax benefits is accompanied by other family-friendly regulations: a family business cannot be open for more than about forty hours a week—there must be time for the family to nurture itself—and there are also limits to the number of employees.
I would start with sufficient on-the-job training (OJT). If the government made a substantial investment in various industries—such as finance, technology venues (many of which are currently outsourced) and green energy—a number of the unemployed, underemployed, working poor and recent college grads would be able to fill positions instead of wasting their talents and efforts. More candidates for OJT would gain more knowledge and competitive skills—which could alleviate the high cost of unemployment and a swelling sector of the working poor. Local governments can create policies that would make OJT positions available and compel college grads, younger and older, to apply for them. Unfortunately, there aren’t many OJT programs across the United States. Both big and small businesses would need incentives and support from government at the national and local levels to set them up. OJT programs would help an increasing number of young college grads get a jump-start on a rewarding career with a reasonable salary. And many older Americans, including those who are stuck with uncompetitive degrees and without much income to help pay for additional college study (especially those with student loans and defaulted loans), could get a second chance.
Lady Lake, Fla.
The current state of capitalism in the United States favors the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class. To alleviate this we need to redistribute wealth. The only feasible way to do this is through taxes, which should be levied based on ability to pay. For example: no tax for people earning less than $40,000; 10 percent tax for those earning between $40,001 to $80,000; 15 percent tax for those earning between $80,001 and $150,000; 18 percent tax for those earning between $150,001 and $300,000; 20 percent tax for those earning above $300,000. No deductions allowed for individuals or special-interest groups. Also, to ensure the financial health of Social Security, no cap on maximum earnings, so you would continue to pay Social Security no matter what your income.
Capitalism can work, but we need a decent safety net. If we could just fix the healthcare system alone (socialized or single-payer only), we could take away from businesses the burden of providing healthcare. This would allow them to hire more people. It would also allow more people to start their own businesses or work for small businesses that do not currently provide healthcare. My company outsourced most of the jobs that used to be here to India. I am sure that the cost of healthcare was part of the reason. We really need to fix this problem. Obama did not do it.
I would create a campaign finance regulation stating that no entity (corporate or otherwise) that is dependent on government funding via contracts, subsidies, bailouts or tax credits may donate to any political campaign, political organization, PAC or other entity, nor may it advocate directly for any candidate or in any other way attempt to lobby for the continuation or increase of the funding it receives.
The range of cogent ideas in the reader responses to “Reimagining Capitalism” demonstrates that the pulse for profound change is strong and general in our society, if not in the higher realms of politics. We have to find ways to continue this discussion and enlarge it. Generating a new agenda for the country begins here—determining what it is we believe, then making ourselves heard. That requires the self-confidence to believe in ourselves and the courage to oppose the indifference of those who govern. It is not an easy task, for sure, but this is how we will save the country if it is to be saved.