The Church Of Progress

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You know, contrary to what you might believe from hearing the panicked commentary from the media, there are solutions to our economic problems.

Look at the report that came out this week from the New Bottom Line Campaign showing that at least 1,000,000 new jobs would quickly be created if we just forced the big banks to write down the mortgages of underwater homeowners to current market levels.

Look at Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s new jobs bill, which would immediately create more than two million new jobs and pay for it by just taking taxes on wealthier Americans up to the levels they were after the big Reagan tax cuts in 1981.

Look at the CPC's budget, which sensibly brings us to a balanced budget faster than anything else than has been proposed by Republicans while still making the desperately needed investments we need to make in our future.

Look at this report from The American Prospect on how the Obama administration could help rebuild the middle class through executive action, things they could do without waiting for Congress to act. CAF is doing a great new series of articles on how to create jobs. A task force I served on came up with a whole series of great ideas on how to rebuild America's manufacturing sector.

We have solutions to our economic problems, things that both help create millions of desperately needed jobs in the short run and lay the foundation for us, as President Obama likes to put it, to win the future. What we need is political leadership that stands up to the massive multinational conglomerates that are strangling our economy, and stops acting in panic and caving into the hostage takers willing to kill the economy in order to get what they want. Sometimes the hostage takers are politicians, and sometimes they are bankers, but either way, they need to be told no.

Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the IMF, likens America to a third-world country taken over by a handful of corrupt oligarchs who have stripped their country's economy dry, and don't want to give up their power even as the country desperately turns to the IMF for bailouts. He is right about where we are: a tiny number of gargantuan companies have way too much market power and a vise grip on our politics as well.

The problem with the sensible policy solutions to our country's problems is that many of them would cost Wall Street and the other oligarchs money. We could create 1 million jobs overnight if the banks wrote down these underwater mortgages, and our regulatory agencies and state attorneys general could make them do it. We could create millions of new government or government contractor jobs overnight doing desperately needed work by taxing big banks, big oil companies, wealthy CEOs, and other mega-wealthy Americans. And we could do everything else mentioned in the reports and ideas mentioned above, but most of them cost some powerful, wealthy special interest some money, so too many politicians don't want to do it.

These oligarchs have us in a vise grip.

So instead of talking about how to rebuild the middle class, we are taking about cutting money out of Social Security. Instead of talking about how to create good American jobs with good American wages and benefits, we're talking about making seniors pay more for their health care costs and students not being able to get Pell Grants. Instead of talking about building infrastructure and invest in green jobs for the future, we are laying off teachers and seeing class sizes balloon into the 40s.

And now in spite of all of our bailouts and all of our tax breaks and all of our looking the other way at their anti-trust and corporate fraud violations, companies like Bank of America are still in big trouble because of their own recklessness. Will we bail them out again because they are too big to fail? Will our solution to their failing be to help engineer another bank merger so that these too big banks get even bigger? Or will we once again help revive them rather than do what needs to be done and restructure them so that they become smaller and more accountable to all of us — their customers, their workers, and us taxpayers.

We know the answer to these questions if policymakers keep the attitude they have had the past few years; that saving the banks and funneling more money to the super-rich is what saves our economy. But it doesn't work: it saves the big boys' hides and bonuses for another few years, but doesn't do a damn thing for the rest of us.

The only way we are going to turn this around is to demand a change, to create a mass movement so big it can't be ignored, something my friend Wes Boyd calls a "revivalist Church For Progress". Like the populist movement of old, we are going to have to have speakers' bureaus and tent revivals. Like the student movement of the 1960s, we are going to need teach-ins. Like the labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights movement, we are going to need direct action and sit-ins and people in the streets. We are going to need to take this to the streets because those in the halls of government aren't paying enough attention. And we are going to need to take this to big corporate boardrooms and target them for action, because they clearly control government, so they need to hear what we are saying, too.

What we need are jobs, not cuts. We need good American jobs with good American wages, jobs that strengthen the middle class, not the kind of minimum-wage jobs politicians like Rick Perry are so proud to brag about. And we don't need any more cuts to things that middle-class and low-income folks rely on like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and public schools. Good jobs, not more cuts — and no more bailouts for bankers or loopholes for GE.

It's time for a revivalist movement that will revive America.

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