Barack Obama, Democracy, and the Next Progressive Agenda

Chris Satullo of the Philadelphia Inquirer encourages Barack Obama to turn to Democracy‘s recent “What’s Next?” symposium to find the blueprint for the next progressive agenda.

By The Editors

Chris Satullo of the Philadelphia Inquirer encourages Barack Obama to turn to Democracy‘s recent “What’s Next?” symposium to find the blueprint for the next progressive agenda. Satullo writes that he hopes Obama will look at the following five ideas in particular:

1. A “third-age” initiative. This idea from Gara LaMarche of Atlantic Philanthropies responds to a rising realization. Retirement at 65 in a society where most people who reach that age will live 20 more years is just stupid. Boomers won’t want to settle for the golf cart and the crosswords. But they will flee the Dilbert cubicles. They’ll seek work of social meaning, in schools, hospitals and nonprofits. LaMarche suggests a tuition-assistance program to help seniors train for these “third-age” careers, perhaps using community colleges as a focal point.

2. A progressive consumption tax. This one is wild, but it gets you thinking. Robert Frank, an economics professor at Cornell University, has written brilliantly about upper-middle-class discontent inside America’s culture of spiraling consumption. His idea: tax consumption, not income. Reward savings, to boost a puny national savings rate that is putting us scarily in hock to China. How? His idea is nearly as simple but a lot more progressive than that right-wing sacred cow, the flat tax. All you’d report to the IRS is how much you earned the previous year, minus how much you saved. The more you save, the less your taxable consumption. Most middle-income Americans would pay less. Corporate moguls who throw million-dollar birthday parties would pay a lot more.

3. Medicare for long-term care. One of the dirty little secrets of America’s middle class is how it relies on Medicaid, supposedly an insurer of the poor, to pay for grandma’s nursing-home care. This clumsy method invites abuse and will become unsustainable as the baby boomers age. Jeanne Lambrew, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, has a better idea. Use Medicare as the reinsurance backstop for long-term-care insurance plans that the feds would vet and monitor. This would make the insurance more affordable, understandable and attractive.

4. Pay-as-you-drive car insurance. This idea from Jason Bordoff of the Brookings Institution is startlingly simple. The more you drive your car, the more you’d be charged for insurance. This would pool risk as effectively as insurers’ current Byzantine rating systems. In an era of an oil crunch and global warming, it would be a powerful incentive to curb the number of miles you drive.

5. Middle-class schools for all. How can we get children from low-income households to learn? Liberalism’s past big ideas, from busing to blitzing high-poverty schools with resources, haven’t worked. Neither have school vouchers, the right’s ruling obsession. Richard Kahlenberg, a fellow at the Century Foundation, notes that one of the top predictors of academic failure is attending a high-poverty school. So why not make economically integrated schools your core goal? Wake County, N.C., is trying this, and it seems to be working.

Read Satullo’s full article here.

And if you haven’t yet, be sure to read the complete symposium.

Philadelphia Inquirer

The Editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas are Michael Tomasky (Editor), Jack Meserve (Managing Editor), and Delphine d'Amora (Associate Editor).

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Bernard Schwartz, 1925-2024

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