May 23, 2018
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Solutions to big problems don’t fit on a bumper sticker

By Richard Trumka and Don Berry, Special to the BDN

Maine’s working people need comprehensive and proven policies that will build shared prosperity for everyone in America who works hard and plays by the rules.

It can’t be a nip here or a tuck there. We need policies with the scale and boldness to turn around our economy, so it isn’t run by and for the richest Americans any more.

We are not facing small problems. We lost over 10,000 jobs in the last ten years thanks to U.S. trade with China alone, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Our unemployment rate is still hovering at 7.6 percent. Yet our governor’s solution for our economy is to find new, unprecedented ways to cut Medicaid.

We can do better. Good people can disagree, but America has not had honest and meaningful debate for a long time. Here are some ideas to consider.

There’s a blueprint to work from. It’s called “Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All” and was written by two professors from Yale University, Jacob Hacker and Nathaniel Lowentheil. The core idea that underpins each of the policy recommendations is that broadly shared prosperity produces better long-term economic strength than inequality.

“Prosperity Economics” contrasts sharply to the austerity urged by leading Republicans for the past 30 years and endorsed wholeheartedly by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Austerity is a failure. It has lowered wages and degraded the wealth of our families.

Decades of government cutbacks have decimated the agencies that protect us. Oil spills and other environmental catastrophes are too common and too destructive. Too many people are being hurt and injured on the job. Food safety has suffered. And austerity endangers core American programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Why have we followed this path? It’s not a noble mission, we can promise you that. We did it to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and to allow Wall Street and corporate CEOs to enrich themselves at our expense.

Our vision is different. It offers a solid program for a bright future. We can rebuild a healthy economy by reconnecting wages to productivity. The key and best way to do that is by protecting the right of working people to organize and bargain collectively through a union on the job.

The time for action is now. Our economy is sagging. To turn this slowdown into growth will require ambitious workforce training and huge investments in basic research in emerging technologies. We’ll need to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges and airports. And we’ll need to restore U.S. manufacturing by reforming our trade policies. We’ll ending tax incentives for outsourcing and give states the financial help to hire back teachers, first responders and other public service workers.

Our main goal should be a path to financial security for everyone in America. Every student must have an opportunity to attend college or acquire the skills needed to reach his or her full potential. We must strengthen Social Security and commit to a secure and dignified retirement and access to quality health care for all Americans.

We can do all of this, and we can clean up our economy. We have the resources. America remains a fantastically wealthy and productive nation.

We can break the lock that Wall Street and the richest one percent have held on our democracy.

Our policies offer a chance for today’s young people — and the generations after them — to inherit good jobs and a growing middle class. These are the solutions that offer a light at the end of our long economic tunnel.

Those seeking the support of working people in November and beyond should take notice. The American public is smart and tough. We have a vision. Will you embrace it?

It’s time for real solutions to the real problems we face. America wants prosperity, not another round of austerity.

Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. Don Berry is Maine’s AFL-CIO president.

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