Progressives need to tell a compelling story about the American economy, and it shouldn’t be hard. The rich have spent decades rigging the economic and political systems to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else. Fortunately, without any factual knowledge at all, most voters already understand that this is true.
If progressives fail to tell this story to non-college educated White voters, they will listen instead to the conservative economic narrative—that people of color (especially Latino, Muslim and Black Americans) are taking not only their jobs, but also “welfare” financed by their tax dollars. This bigoted narrative worked for conservatives in 2016.
We cannot allow that to happen again. Progressives need to make a strong, factual argument that right wingers favor the rich while we support the interests of typical working families.
To give that narrative credibility, progressives must demonstrate that they we are introducing and arguing for powerful economic legislation, which conservatives virulently oppose. The most effective tactic is to craft progressive economic agendas that are targeted to specific cities, counties and states. As a practical matter, this would require a caucus of officeholders and stakeholders to agree to a platform of about five or six policies that fit the politics of their state or locality.
So, here are ten politically compelling economic policies to choose from. Keep in mind that—to make any impact with average residents—each policy needs to be easily explainable and fairly bold. The idea is to: (1) directly address what’s upsetting people about the economic system; (2) organize policymakers and activists around the platform while forcing conservatives to publicly oppose popular ideas; and (3) appeal to average residents’ economic interests and emotions.
1) Minimum wage/living wage increase: In such a bill, the amount of increase depends on the state—but it should be bold.
2) Paid sick days: A bill to allow all workers (including part-time workers) to earn paid time off to take of when a worker is sick, or care for a child or elderly parent.
3) Equal pay: A new anti-discrimination law addressing the gender gap.
4) Fair Share Tax Reform: A bill to increase taxes on the rich while at least marginally lowering taxes on everyone else. The bill might also earmark new revenues to fund popular priorities like public education.
5) Close tax loopholes for wealthy individuals: Such a bill depends on the state or locality. It might increase the capital gains tax rate, increase the carried interest tax rate, or limit deductions for very expensive assets.
6) Close corporate tax loopholes: Such a bill depends on the state or locality. It might implement Combined Reporting, direct that there is no deduction for government fines or for the expense of moving out of the jurisdiction, end the “single sales factor” or investment tax credits or special tax credits adopted for one industry or another, or adopt an alternative minimum tax (AMT) stronger than the federal AMT.
7) Curtail government subsidies: A bill aimed at stopping “corporate welfare” by strictly limiting or sunseting giveaways to wealthy corporations.
8) Corporate influence disclosure: A bill to require full and timely disclosure of any corporate money spent on election campaigns or lobbying.
9) End “Pay to Play”: A bill to prohibit campaign contributions to candidates for any state office by any registered lobbyist, and prohibit any contributor to any state-level campaign from winning any state contract or subsidy (or a contributor to any local-level campaign from winning any contract or subsidy from that locality).
10) Make willful wage theft or safety violations a criminal offense: A bill to subject corporate managers who willfully engage in wage theft or safety violations subject to criminal penalties and provide punitive damages to their victims. This might be accompanied by a “three strikes and you’re out” criminalization of serial violation of other employment law.