The Democratic Party released a draft of their 2016 platform on July 1. It is subdivided into 13 sections. Here’s what I think about the first two (If I passed over an issue, I agree with it, or, at least, have no significant quarrel with it):
Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class
The platform supports raising the minimum wage to $15/hour and indexing it–making it rise with inflation.
I think this makes sense. I think it may need to be phased in and there might be some room for exceptions for workers under age 18 living at home–to avoid job loss for these workers. Overall, though, it’s a solid position.
The Democratic Platform unequivocally supports unions.
Unions were a significant contributing factor to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, and the corresponding loss of power made sense. However, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Employers have seized power, and current laws have helped them do so.
I like most of the platform in this area, with two minor exceptions:
- I’m not sure I like mandatory union dues. We have seen corrupt unions in the past, and one way to fight corruption is to allow workers to not pay dues. Yes, I know that union members can vote out leaders they don’t like, but that isn’t always effective. If workers feel like they are getting a good return on investment, they’ll pay dues.
- I understand why the Democratic Party wants to allow voluntary membership payments to be used for political purposes, but I would be happier if this died–as long as Citizens United is overturned and corporate political contributions are also curtailed.
Equal Pay, Paid Leave, and Caregiving
The United States is not the only country without paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea also doesn’t offer it.
Every other country has paid maternity leave.
We need to fix this. If anything, the Democratic Party Platform doesn’t go far enough.
I’m not entirely happy with the interventionist approach in the platform. I’m not necessarily opposed to the ideas in the platform, but it seems to me like the solutions may actually lead to an increase in real estate values–and costs–by creating an artificial government-supported floor in rents. However, I will freely admit that this is not an area where I have put much research.
I agree with the platform’s desire to tax Americans with incomes over $250,000 to properly fund the Social Security Trust Fund. I am not sure why they don’t want to tax incomes between the current limit of $118,500 and $250,000. (Could that be where the salary of Members of Congress lies?) Realistically, the cap should be eliminated entirely.
The platform is also adhering to the AARP directive not to raise the retirement age. When Social Security started, the life expectancy for Americans was 62. Now it’s 79. I think we would be better off allowing Americans to take partial Social Security if they wanted to work part-time, giving them the opportunity to remain active in a job they enjoy while not penalizing them for doing so. In the grand scheme of things, I would not be opposed to indexing the retirement age to the average life expectancy.
Create Good-Paying Jobs
The platform understands the importance of infrastructure investment, but misses what is perhaps the best selling point: return on investment.
Transportation projects vary wildly in their returns on investment, with some projects, frankly, being bad investments. Building new roads has a significantly lower return than repairing existing roads, for example. However, sewer and water projects are almost always good investments, with one study indicating a $2.03 return in tax revenue for every dollar spent. I think we need to prioritize investment based on expected return, so that, in effect, early projects fund later ones.
I hope the commitment to high-speed internet isn’t just lip service, but I’m cynical. The cable and telecom companies managed to shut down EPB’s expansion here via government intervention.
The only specific policy in this section is to “claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.”
You can do better.
Research, Science, and Technology
I would have liked to have seen a specific NASA call-out here. I like that they specifically endorse net neutrality. However…
Democrats value American innovation and believe it is one of our country’s great strengths. We will protect the intellectual property rights of artists, creators, and inventors at home and abroad. The entire nation prospers when we promote the unique and original artistic and cultural contributions of the women and men who create and preserve our nation’s heritage.
Democrats will fight against unfair theft of intellectual property and trade secrets. We will also increase access to global markets for American intellectual property and other digital trade by opposing quotas, discriminatory measures, and data localization requirements.
This sounds really good, but part of it isn’t. When the first copyright laws were enacted in the U.S., the term was fourteen years, plus an additional fourteen if the creator was alive to renew it. Now the term is seventy years after the death of the creator, or ninety-five years for a work for hire. This length of time is extreme, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty would make that length standard throughout the treaty signatories. Creative works need to enter the public domain in a more reasonable period. I recall reading a suggestion that called for shorter renewal periods–like five to ten years–but for a minimal fee. If the creator or the creator’s estate didn’t renew or didn’t feel the work was worth renewing, the work would enter the public domain. Probably 95% of creative works don’t make any money after five years of their publication, so we could see a huge boon in works available for adaptation or production. Instead, we have a country where almost everything published after 1923 is still under copyright.
Fixing our Financial System
Theoretically, this part is pretty good. It is very confrontational though: It would be nice if there were some middle ground here where cooperation with Republicans could achieve something. Breaking up the “too big to fail” institutions and committing to putting individuals in jail for financial crimes is refreshing, but I think it’s all talk and no bite. The weaselly sentence, “We acknowledge that there is room within our party for a diversity of views on a broader financial transactions tax,” does concern me, as it makes clear that there are some in the party who want to keep the status quo.
Stopping Corporate Concentration
Antitrust regulation is mostly ineffective, with the notable recent exceptions of Comcast/Time-Warner and AT&T/T-Mobile. The Democrats want to strengthen antitrust legislation and enforcement, which is critical to reducing income inequality.
I agree with what the Democrats want to do with taxes–I just question whether it’s politically feasible. I would like to see a focus on working with allies abroad at closing tax havens, rather than trying to solve the problem solely through legislation at home.
I think the Democratic platform is too protectionist, paying more attention to feelings than to facts. Of the twenty countries with whom the U.S. has free trade agreements, we have a trade surplus with sixteen. I agree that we need to include worker and environmental protection in free trade agreements to make sure that companies don’t move jobs overseas just to skirt U.S. laws. Most trade agreements cost some jobs while creating others, and lawmakers need to recognize that. I am happy with specifically calling out access to prescription drugs in this section, but the ambiguous statement about the TPP doesn’t please me.
Tomorrow, hopefully, I will address civil rights and voting rights.