Investing in America, and other ideas to put the country back on the right track

I’m a sucker for a new Robert Reich video. I can’t help but post them. Tonight’s comes by way of a letter that I just received from Van Jones, announcing the launch of his Contract for the American Dream initiative. (This, as you’ll recall from our last discussion on Van Jones, is part of the broader Rebuilding the Dream “movement” which he recently got off the ground.) Anyway, here’s the letter from Jones, which includes the video by Reich.

I trust my neighbors more than any Wall Street bank, hedge fund, or oil company. I think we all do.

But we keep letting the banks and multinational corporations, and their high-priced lobbyists, call the shots in our economy.

You know what? I think they’re doing a terrible job. Now it’s time for us, the American people, to come up with our own vision.

So today we’re launching a new effort. And we need your help.

Our goal is to help create a “Contract for the American Dream”—a people-powered plan for creating an economy that works for ALL of us.

When it is completed, this document will be very special. For one thing: thousands of us will have created it TOGETHER, as a community of friends and neighbors.

You are an important part of this community, and you have a key role to play in this effort: helping to choose the best ideas for fixing our economy.

It won’t take long, and you don’t need to be an expert. Just visit our new site and rate which ideas you think will make a real difference. We have some great ideas from progressive leaders. And you can add your own, too. No idea is too big or too small, too tame or too out there. We need your brain engaged on this.

To help get started, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich made a short video about how we can invest in creating more good jobs. Check it out, then help rate some proposals!

We’re building this Contract with a deep belief that folks like us—all across America—have enough wisdom and common sense to come up with workable solutions to our nation’s problems. By putting our heads together, and combining our best thinking on a national basis, we believe we can craft a plan that unites our struggles for economic fairness and opportunity.

The key to this idea working is simple: we need as many people as possible to participate. We need you to submit ideas and to give feedback. The more people who join in to help craft the Contract, the better it’s going to be.

This week we’re going to focus on four areas. We are starting today with good jobs. Over the coming days, we’ll look for solutions to problems in other areas—from education, to labor rights, to taxes.

Then, on July 16 and 17, thousands of Americans are going to gather in living rooms, community centers, and church basements across the country. In just ten days, people will discuss and help sort the top ideas we have generated together. Between now and then, it’s up to all of us to feed the very best, most creative, most inspiring ideas into the conversations.

Can you help right now—by rating ideas and submitting your own?

Thanks for all you do.

–Van Jones

I’m generally suspicious of large, community-wide idea-gathering initiatives like this, as I think, in most cases, the men and women behind them already have in mind what they want to move forward with, and are only going through the charade of soliciting ideas in order to give folks the illusion of having been somehow involved. But, even if that’s the case, and Van Jones already knows that his end result is going to be a document calling for higher taxes on the wealthy in order to help support the kinds of investments in research, education and infrastructure outlined by Reich, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise. I think, at this point, anything that causes people to think about our shared national priorities is a good thing.

I remember walking through New York a few years ago and being asked by some people on a street corner to consider how I’d like my tax dollars spent. They handed me a white circle of paper, and a few markers, and asked me to create a pie chart showing in what percentages I’d like my money allocated to various government functions. I can’t remember what they said they were going to do with the results of the exercise, but I believe their plan was to aggregate all of the responses and show that individual Americans favored, for instance, spending more on education than on the military. At least that was the vibe that I was getting. I didn’t fill out my pie chart, as I was in hot pursuit of dim sum at the time, but I recall liking the fact that these guys were out there, in their suits, on the edge of Chinatown, asking regular folks like me to consider our shared priorities.

Anyway, I’d encourage you to check out the site, and consider some of the ideas submitted by your friends and neighbors. It’s got to be a better use of your time than watching Nancy Grace go apoplectic tonight over the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial.

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25 Comments

  1. Edward
    Posted July 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how strictly they’re policing the Contract for the American Dream site, but I just saw that someone’s idea for how to fix the country involved repealing “Obamacare”. I wonder if the Tea Party will bomb the site, and, if so, whether their input will be incorporated into the final product. I can’t imagine that Jones went to all of this trouble to take a report calling for “the end of big government and public education” to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

  2. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted July 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s a nice site and we have to do *something*, right?
    What I’d like though is a list of talking points. For example, I have a friend who consistently hates on the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy or superwealthy . He gives reasons varying from “it’s not fair to punish them for succeeding” to “the higher taxes will chase them away”. I never really know what to say about that. To me, it just seems like we should all pay our fair share, but that is not the response that the anti-tax folks will grasp.

    OTOH, it might just come down to a difference in life views…do we want to have a “I got mines and not you get yours” country or do we want to help our fellow humans?

  3. Posted July 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Irving Berlin — who was a pretty wealthy man — said he enjoyed paying his taxes because he loved his country. What happened to that attitude?

  4. EOS
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Patti and Doug,

    What’s stopping you? If you want to help fellow humans and enjoy paying taxes because you love your country, then pony up two or three times what you owe. I’m sure the Feds or the State wouldn’t return your donations. Lead us by your example. If every taxpayer paid an additional $117,982 we would be out of debt. (At least until we overspend again next year.)

    Or is investing in America only a good use for other people’s money?

  5. Mr. X
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    EOS,

    Why don’t you move to Somalia and show us all how successful you’d be, unfettered by the Big Government of the United States? I’d love to see how you fared in a true open market.

  6. Posted July 6, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    EOS wouldn’t like Somalia. There are too many black people there.

    Then again, she might like it. Not paying any taxes, she wouldn’t have to worry about any of her hard earned money getting wasted on stupid poor people and minorities.

  7. Posted July 6, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    AND, she gets the added benefit of watching homosexuals getting beaten and stoned to death, fulfilling God’s will.

    Come to think of it, this is a great idea for EOS. We should buy her a ticket.

  8. Elf
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    EOS, what’s stopping you? Please lead by example, move to Africa, and demonstrate what a truly free man is capable of when unfettered by the shackles of socialism. We are looking to you for guidance. Please lead us.

  9. EOS
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Hey Peter,
    I you had any thoughts, you could speak for yourself. I think I manage pretty well without your assistance in posting my personal point of view. I’m sure I’d do well regardless of any location, but I don’t define my success by the same definition as many in this world.

    As far as Somalia being a true open market, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Where the government is functional there is Sharia and there are warring factions and civil war throughout. Uganda is the country in the headlines where homosexuality is outlawed. But to your credit, it is on the same continent, and I’m sure it’s easy to get confused with your limited IQ and addlepated mind.

  10. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    EOS,

    Why are you an apologist for rich people? Why are you so protective of their money? *That’s* the attitude that I am trying to understand.

    I don’t make anywhere near what rich folks do and I *do* give a portion of my income to my synagogue, local charities and such. If I ever make a large salary (easy for me to say, mainly because I won’t ever, but go with me here), I would pay it because like my man Irv, I love my country.

    The problem is that middle class folks are getting eaten away little by little. I make $xx,000 per year, less $500 per month into the “incentive plan” that Rob Bobb dreamed up, less the new 10% pay cut that is coming (presuming I get called back), less about $100 for insurance, less $50 into the state retirement plan, less union dues (which I don’t mind paying), less money that I have to put into my 403b (okay I guess I don’t *have* to but TeacherPatti gotta eat when she retires)…the ultra rich don’t have to worry about 403bs, 401ks and such. They aren’t slugging it out in Detroit Public Schools. They have money to fall back on, which most people in American don’t.

    For the record, I don’t necessarily hate rich people; I do hate them using their power to keep the rest of us in a perpetual state of getting eaten away at little by little until we end up fighting each other for the crumbs that are left. I’m not greedy and so I don’t understand that “I gots mines not you gets yours” attitude.

  11. EOS
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Patti,
    Most Americans today work for some level of government. We aren’t being exploited by wealthy tyrants under sweatshop conditions. I advocate for the individual regardless of their economic status. If someone makes 10 times my salary, it is only fair that they pay 10 times more in taxes. It’s equitable because it is proportionate. But if someone makes 10 times my salary and has to pay 50 times more in taxes, then they are being punished for their efforts. It is a disincentive to further productivity and has a negative impact on all of us. If a person stops working at the point where government takes more than they are allowed to keep, then future revenue streams from that personal taxation stop. When tax rates have been lowered on the wealthy, tax revenues have increased. Its a win-win situation. They keep more of the efforts of their labor and government reaps larger revenues via taxation of their extra effort that would otherwise be lost.

  12. dragon
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    There is no correlation between higher marginal tax rates and slowing economic activity. During the period 1951-63, when marginal rates were at their peak—91 percent or 92 percent—the American economy boomed, growing at an average annual rate of 3.71 percent. The fact that the marginal rates were what would today be viewed as essentially confiscatory did not cause economic cataclysm—just the opposite. And during the past seven years, during which we reduced the top marginal rate to 35 percent, average growth was a more meager 1.71 percent.

    And there are people making a million times what you are and paying at a substantially lower rate.
    Perhaps the proverbial poster child for the carried interest loophole is John Paulson. Paulson”s position as a hedge fund manager notably “earned” him $9 billion over the past two years. Tax bill? Zero
    What the news media missed is that hedge-fund managers don’t even pay 15 percent. At least, not currently. So long as they leave their money, known as “carried interest,” in the hedge fund, their taxes are deferred. They only pay taxes when they cash out, which could be decades from now for younger managers. How do these hedge-fund managers get money in the meantime? By borrowing against the carried interest, often at absurdly low rates—currently about 2 percent.

  13. josh
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    EOS,
    You are entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts.
    ~16% of American workers work for some level of government: http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cesbtab1.htm

    The highest marginal tax rate hit 94% in 1945, hit 92% in 1953, stayed high until ’64 when it was cut to 77% and has been getting cut pretty much ever since. It is currently 35%, which is basically the same as what I pay as a software developer before middle class welfare like mortgage and child deductions. I had trouble finding a good chart of GDP growth, but http://www.measuringworth.com/growth/ is useful for calculating aggregate statistics.
    Real per capita GDP growth by decade
    1940s: 5.22% (complicated by WWII of course)
    1950s: 3.62%
    1960s: 4.65%
    1970s: 3.57%
    1980s: 3.40%
    1990s: 3.32%
    2000s: 1.54% (wow, Bush’s tax cuts sure did wonders)
    See that huge correlation between GDP growth and top marginal tax rate? Yeah, me neither. Interesting to note that the era that conservatives have wet dreams remembering sported a top marginal tax rate of 80 to 90%.

    “When tax rates have been lowered on the wealthy, tax revenues have increased.” This is simply false. What you are describing is the Laffer Curve (just wiki it). Reagan’s tax cuts and subsequent massive deficits proved to everyone not blinded by idiocy or ideology that the United States is on the left hand side of the curve where tax cuts reduce government revenues directly more than they increase them indirectly through GDP growth.

  14. Posted July 6, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    It is ridiculous that people who engage in risky financial behavior pay less tax than those people who work a steady job.

    People should be incentived to do boring things, like lend money to small businesses who have solid business plans, or lend money to people who have the capacity to pay their mortgages at rates they can afford, not for a bunch of self-interested yahoos to play fast and loose with money on Wall Street for their own gain.

  15. TaterSalad
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Two of the biggest morons in the world and anyone who suports these hacks are nothing but morons themselves. Robert Reich and commie Van Jones are nothing but parasites living off the land and taxpayers while preaching a New World Order with open borders and pushing Agenda 21.

  16. josh
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    EOS hits all the Koch head talking points, but clearly sincere in her opinions. TaterSalad on the other hand is definitely in Poe’s Law territory.

  17. Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Appropriately, the context for the Irving Berlin reference was that he rejected his accountants’ suggestion that he set up a tax shelter, saying that he was happy to pay his share to the country that had made him so successful (he started out as a dirt-poor Russian refugee). So — good example or bad example?

  18. Meta
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Van Jones wrote to me today too:

    Yesterday I asked for your help choosing the best ideas for the new “Contract for the American Dream,” and the response has been amazing!

    All told, folks registered more than 1,400,000 ratings on over 6,600 new ideas for creating jobs and fixing our economy.

    Today we’re looking at how to get the money to pay for all those good ideas. America is the richest country in the history of world. But we can’t make the investments we need because giant corporations and the super-rich aren’t paying their share.

    Will you help craft our plan to solve this problem by helping to choose the best ideas for making sure we ALL pay our share? To inspire your thinking check out this new video from a group of self-made millionaires and billionaires who get it. They have a simple message of responsibility and patriotism that I wish every giant corporation and ultra-wealthy person shared: “Tax me.”

    Take a look at the video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtrg7nuajTU

    We, the American taxpayers, have put a ton of resources on the table, creating a stable and highly productive environment for businesspeople. If their businesses do poorly, they shouldn’t be expected to pay back much in the form of taxes. But if they do well, they SHOULD.

    They’re benefiting from our public schools, our roads, our courts and so much more that America provides to help them succeed. But they aren’t paying us—their real anchor investors—back. Simply put, it’s unpatriotic. Those who do well IN America, should do well BY America. That’s what made America great, in the first place.

    Instead we just keep seeing more tax shelters, tax breaks, and tax loopholes. Now some of these folks are even willing to put our entire country’s financial future at risk by using the debt ceiling crisis to push for more cuts to critical government programs—while refusing to consider closing some of those loopholes or raising tax rates on the wealthy.

    This has to stop.The question we have to figure out now is how to turn things around. How can we stop tax dodging and make sure all of America’s giant corporations and super-rich folks help us invest in a prosperous future for our country?

    We can best answer these questions when we put our heads together. So it’s up to all of us to take part today. It’s easy, and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Just click here to visit the new Contract for the American Dream site. Help choose the best ideas:

    http://contract.rebuildthedream.com/rate/?id

    Thanks for helping make the American Dream a reality.

    And I very much appreciate the Irving Berlin anecdote, Doug. Thank you for sharing it. The author JK Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter books, has said much the same thing in England. She was on the dole for a few years, and now pays her taxes quite happily.

  19. Maria
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    EOS is completely entitled to be incorrect, let he/she be.
    I was taught a complacent population was one that had a sizable amount of its population employed by the government in my first poli sci class too many years ago. A government hires a chunk of it’s population not just to run the country, municipality etc but also to avoid civil unrest due to unemployment, or at least that’s what the Romans thought.
    Food for thought.
    I didn’t like that website, it was manipulative.

  20. Maria
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Os under ideas that should be propagated to improve our country…

    bloggingformichigan.com/2011/07/06/devos-walmart-and-the-end-of-public-schools/

  21. EOS
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Josh,
    I think we are comparing apples and oranges. I was referring to how marginal tax rates effect Federal revenue while your post examines how they correlate with GDP growth. Individual Income Taxes contribute about 80% of Federal Revenue but make up only 8% of the GDP. And there are a lot more factors contributing that both of us have neglected, e.g. the post war baby boom and Johnson’s Great Society. Revenue from excise taxes was significantly higher in 1950 than today and payroll taxes are a much larger source of revenue today than in 1950. Here’s a link that supports my view in greater detail:

    http://blogs.marketwatch.com/fundmastery/2010/07/02/does-hiking-tax-rates-raise-more-revenue/

  22. EOS
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Josh,
    I was wrong in stating that most Americans work for some level of government today. You are correct. I should have claimed that more Americans today work for some level of government than work in the manufacturing sector. But when you include those who work in the public education and the public hospital sectors and those who work under government contracts, I think the percentage of Americans working for some level of government is higher than the 16% you stated.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704050204576219073867182108.html

  23. TaterSalad
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Getting the country back on track begins in November 2012 and believe me, it will happen. The commie-in-chief is a one termer and all of his commie pricks who he appointed will become unemployed and living off “entitlements” which they so rightfully enjoy with their Saul Alinsky ideology.

  24. TaterSalad
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, and Van Jones wrote me also. S.O.R. !

    1. Van Jones onboard with Al Qaeda: http://weaselzippers.us/2011/03/31/van-jones-leads-91201-anti-american-rally-supporting-the-terrorists-as-heroes/

    2. Van Jones at a rally “after” 9/11 and telling the audience that America deserved this one!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZjD-Km1C6Y&feature=player_embedded

    3. Van Jones……the avowed communist:
    http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfile.asp?indid=2406

    4. The moonbat is exposed again: http://weaselzippers.us/2011/04/18/former-obama-green-czar-van-jones-our-civilization-is-fueled-by-death/

    5. http://weaselzippers.us/2011/04/26/former-obama-czar-van-jones-behind-un-push-to-grant-mother-nature-same-rights-as-humans/

    6. Remember, Barack Obama appointed this communist to a “czar position” in the White House: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/ryan-worst-than-al-qaeda-van-jones-says-politics-of-hope-patriotism-means-gop-is-a-red-white-and-blue-wreaking-ball-paul-ryans-budget-does-more-damage-then-al-qaeda/comment-page-8/#comment-1237971

    7. George Soros funding Van Jones: http://www.aim.org/aim-column/soros-money-financed-communist-van-jones/

  25. TaterSalad
    Posted July 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Sugar Daddy has run out of sugar!

    http://therealrevo.com/blog/?p=50267

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