Economics: Strategic Reforms


My views on economics go back to when I first learned about communes in the early 70s. As a Christian, I was totally enchanted with this model of living which seemed so true to what Jesus practiced. From 1986 to 1995, I lived as an “intentional neighbor” of a Christian Commune and learned from the inside what it’s like to redistribute wealth according to need.

This community had several admirers of Liberation Theology, a dissenting Catholic movement that emphasized the “preferential option for the poor” and often explicitly borrowed from Marxism. With this influence, I began to think about economics in a more global way. The Catholic Workers seemed to me to have the potential to create a global counter-economy through a network of parish-based communities. However, I also came to appreciate the importance of secular political alternatives to capitalism. This led me to take seriously proposals like parecon and socialism. I still see great potential in communal experiments.

My basic economic strategy begins with four strategic reforms. One, global secondary education – An educated worker is an empowered worker. Two, global unionization – A unionized shop is a secure workplace. Three, basic income guarantee – If a worker can simply leave a lousy job with no threat to basic needs, then the jobs will have to cease to be lousy. Four, universal healthcare – This last is not so controversial, even in the USA these days. I could add a few others, such as a functioning Labor Party or universal computer access, but these four seem to me to be truly crucial.

If I think about the strategic question of how to win these basic reforms, I think the progress the left has made on universal healthcare is instructive. In 1993, Hilary Clinton created a universal healthcare plan that was shot down by the Right and distrusted by the Left. for the next decade, universal healthcare languished as a dead letter. The passage of the  “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” this year in the U.S. hopefully marks the turning point for a revitalized economic progress movement.

I think universal secondary education is probably the second plank to begin organizing around, while continuing the advance on universal healthcare. Of course, we should also continue to support progressive and universal union organizing. I think that the final reform to see the light of day will be the basic income guarantee. Once that reform becomes worldwide, the real battle to abolish capitalism can get underway.

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