Now is the time for Vermont to join Bernie Sanders’ political revolution: to go from the 1776 guaranteeing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, through the New Deal creating the middle class, to today’s delivering the American Promise to all. According to our Declaration of Independence, government is instituted to secure our unalienable rights, and in a democracy, government is guided by our cultural, social, ethical, political and economic values. Although no value is superior, at the expense of the others, a robust economy is essential to our Vermont revolution.
During the Eisenhower years, by intentional actions, we came close to a just economy: A shrinking gap between the upper and the middle class, decent paying jobs, strong unions, thirty-year mortgages toward home ownership, secure retirements, and a better future for our children. Many in the 1950s, however, were left out, including minorities, the poor, and the disenfranchised. And now, from the ‘70s, through Ronald Reagan to today, an ever widening income and wealth gap leaves most of us out.
Restoring the middle class will not complete the American Promise. As long as we acknowledge an upper and a middle class, we acquiesce to an abandoned lower class.
Capitalism is the servant of democracy, not her master. Arguments for free markets and limited governance contradict the active role our independence declaration assigns to government. An unregulated system, that institutionalizes unemployment, inequality, and poverty, or that sustains itself (particularly in the service and retail sectors) by under paying its workers, is ethically unacceptable, and demands corrective action. Our economic system does not determine our destiny; we, the people, do.
Consequently, in the first phase of our revolution, we will advance toward a prosperous Vermont with focus on three interrelated areas: Fair working conditions: No business has a right to exist, according to FDR, that does not pay its workers a livable wage, nor does any industry that reduces its employees to servitude. Given that 70 percent of our economy comes form domestic spending, mandating a livable wage for all Vermonters not only does right by our workers but also creates a cash flow crucial to business success. Added worker protections, health care, paid sick leave, and other benefits give the true creators of our economy (waitstaff, home health providers, domestic help, ski lift operators) the resources necessary for full and productive lives.
Job creation through infrastructure expansion: Arguably the greatest public works project in our history (the Eisenhower Highway System), did not come from a trickle-down, limited-government minded president. This bold, nation-wide infrastructure program, which contributed to the post World War II prosperity, can serve as a model to boost Vermont’s economy by employing prevailing wage workers to enhance our transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure, that will in turn attract businesses with good paying jobs to our state.
Progressive taxation: To promote the American Promise we must provide public safety, social services and cultural opportunities available to all Vermonters through equitable, progressive taxation. Income, whether from labor or investment will be assessed equally, tax exemptions will be based on the common good, and business incentives will go only to employers who create sufficient, livable wage jobs.
In these times of severe economic inequality, it is time for our revolution to make the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness real for all Vermonters.