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November 23rd, 2008 by Edward Miller

Obama and the Democrats have come sweeping in. Now what? All those fundamental liberal democratic rights which we have been fighting to maintain throughout these past dark years of GOP dominance now suddenly seem in much less danger. A good portion of the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration have already been promised to be rolled back.

Obama and the Democrats have already agreed to the following policies:

  • Prevent the militarization of outer space.
  • Prudent withdrawal from Iraq
  • Expand public service opportunities
  • United States Public Service Academy
  • Carbon Tax
  • Ease Transition to Single-Payer Health Insurance
  • Legalize and Fund Stem Cell Research
  • Protect NASA funding for basic research
  • Close Gitmo and End Torture
  • End Warrant-less Wiretapping
  • Repeal PATRIOT Act
  • Repeal Bush’s cuts on the Estate Tax and upper tax brackets
  • Re-regulate the financial markets
  • Limit the power of lobbyists and special interests
  • Government transparency
  • Protect Abortion Rights
  • Class-based, not race-based, Affirmative Action
  • Negotiate international environmental agreements (but not Kyoto, unfortunately)

Should we continue to rail about the same old stuff? Or just sit back and hope everything turns out ok without public scrutiny? Absolutely not.

I have compiled a list of issues which activists should pursue, some of which are taken from Charlie Stross’s list. However, my list is systematically ranked by priority. We want to prioritize issues of high utility, attainability, and obscurity. Obscurity matters because advocating for the same old stuff is of little marginal benefit, since one of the major functions of activists and bloggers is to spread awareness, not to complain about the same old stuff that everyone knows about.

Feel free to add your own issues and rank them accordingly, or critique this ranking method.

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U = Utility (1-10)
A = Attainability (1-10)
O = Obscurity (1-10)

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Prizes for Technology Commons (U=9 A=6 O=8) 23

Competition and rewarding innovation are the bedrocks of technological advancement under capitalism. However, some urgent areas are in need of a boost, such as fuel efficiency, biotechnology, alternative energy, and space technology. There have already been successful prizes through NASA and DARPA for robot cars and space elevators, why not ramp up and extend this idea? The X Prize Foundation is another good example of such an endeavor. Unfortunately, all of these competitions did not require the resulting technological breakthroughs to be open to all through the Public Domain, despite the public funding. Why not start a billion dollar prize for energy efficient motors, instead of paying vastly more down the road to bailout our environment?

We must create a similar prize for Cultured Meat, considering that the UN shows that the meat industry is more harmful on the environment than all of our cars put together. (PETA already made a million dollar prize, but it is not nearly enough, and doesn’t specify Public Domain)

Georgist Land Value Taxes (U=8 A=5 O=9) 22

The property tax is a crucial policy for boosting innovation and preventing land from going to waste, but it needs to be a tax upon the land itself and not improvements. As property taxes now stand, they discourage land improvement. A georgist land value tax would make hoarding land in unproductive ways unprofitable, thus boosting the efficiency of land distribution. It also limits the amount of hardship rent places on labor and productivity, and allows for a collective benefit from land, which is a common resource. This policy would likely entail increasing the proportion of taxation coming from property taxes and lowering all other taxes.

Tax breaks for PC vendors who distribute Open Source software (U=5 A=8 O=9) 22

Open Source software is the vanguard of the new revolutionary decentralized mode of production which will characterize post-scarcity society. The sooner it becomes the dominant platform for desktop users, in addition to its current stronghold in the server sector, then the sooner this new model will become more broadly understood. This will in turn decrease transaction costs and technology costs making society more productive, since we will have even better software than before, yet pay no money for the software itself.

Stronger Overtime Laws (U=8 A=7 O=6) 21

A good combination with the Basic Income. As productivity increases, we should all share in the fruits by reduced labor. After our first really massive boost in productivity, the Industrial Revolution, the US enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Yet, despite all the massive productivity improvements since then, there have been no further reductions in the workweek.

Basic Income (U=10 A=3 O=8) 21

The single highest-utility government policy that could be enacted. A Basic Income helps promote a post-scarcity society. It invigorates civil society and frees us from wage slavery. Along with any other policies which combat wage slavery, this would also serve to incentivize the automation of menial tasks, which will help free us from dehumanizing toil in the long run. It also obsoletes the current pay-as-you go Social Security set up and removes the perverse incentives created by need-based welfare. It could be paid for through some of the other policies recommended here which cut spending or boost tax revenue, along with the money that otherwise would have been spent on needs-based welfare and Social Security. All citizens over the age of 18 and all immigrants who have resided in the US for longer than 18 years should receive the Basic Income.(Obscurity increasing as the Palin “spread the wealth” issue fades from memory)

Intellectual Property Tax (U=9 A=3 O=8) 20

All revenues from Intellectual Property must pay a fee to register with the government, and then must pay a flat tax upon all revenue from that intellectual property. If the government is going to defend one’s state-sponsored monopoly, one must expect to pay for this privilege. Clearly this would change copyrights from an opt-out to an opt-in system. Also, this must be coupled with Intellectual Property reform to get rid of ridiculous “business method” patents, algorithm patents, obvious patents, and other such abuses of the system.

Boost Estate Tax (U=7 A=6 O=6) 19

Estate taxes prevent the inter-generational centralization of wealth. Taxes are horrible, but if someone has to be taxed, rich dead people are surely at the top of the list. Even Warren Buffet, the richest man in the world, recognizes this. There was a time when there were whole countries controlled by a class that existed purely through inherited wealth, rather than productive activity. This was known as the aristocracy. Let it remain in the dustbin of history. This requires going further than just repealing Bush’s cuts.

Stop Subsidizing Unsustainable Agriculture (U=9 A=3 O=6) 18

The subsidized corn industry in the US is harming the economies of other countries, resulting in food crises, and diverting the use of perfectly good food towards the production of horribly unsustainable “biofuels.” Furthermore, it is keeping unhealthy fast foods at artificially low prices since most of it contains corn syrup or corn-fed animal products. It is shameful that we use our political power around the world to force open markets abroad, and yet subsidize our agriculture at home resulting in food riots abroad and the destruction of foreign economies.

Ethical Consumerism in Government (U=7 A=5 O=5) 17

The government has enormous buying power and virtually a monopsony in some markets. Why not use this power to mandate strict energy efficiency standards and promote sustainable modes of production? All newly purchased government vehicles, even aircraft, should meet very strict fuel standards. All government computers should use Open Source software and all government agencies should release all information in open formats. Strong human rights standards for employees must be met for all government suppliers and contractors. Healthier foods in all publicly owned facilities is also urgent.

Cut Military Spending (U=8 A=5 O=3) 16

The United States accounts for 50% of all military expenditure, and most of it goes toward bloated and useless programs like SDI. Attaining significant cuts in the most blatantly unnecessary programs is quite feasible. Yet, these expenses could be cut in half, freeing up enormous amounts of money for social programs and infrastructure which are currently decaying from lack of funding. The attainability on this issue is variable though, depending on how much cuts are desired.

Single-Payer Healthcare Insurance System (U=9 A=5 O=2) 16

The collective bargaining power of government can reduce medical costs considerably and also immensely reduce the paperwork mess that is the US medical system. Canada has proved vastly superior to us in both those respects, and is considered to actually be saving money through their system. By taking profit out of the equation, this will this stop insurance companies from denying coverage for any reason or no reason at all. For those who wish to use private supplemental health insurance, such as for cosmetic surgery, that would still be possible. A single payer system will also encourage preventative treatment, since it would save the government money. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Progressive Taxes (U=5 A=4 O=5) 14

The poor and middle class should pay a lower percent of their incomes to the government than the rich. This is already true formally, to some extent, but it has been formally eroded through the years. Yet, informally, it is widely known that there are numerous legal loopholes such as stock appreciation and offshore accounts which the rich take advantage of to avoid taxes. Warren Buffet noted that his receptionist paid 30% of her income as taxes, while he only pays 17% even without tax shelters.

Speculation Tax (U=5 A=7 O=3) 15

Day traders and hedge funds can play all sorts of games with stocks and ignore any sort of value investment strategies, by buying stocks only to dump them immediately. This causes all sorts of financial havok and can even ruin smaller companies. Creating a speculation tax would encourage long-term investing and tax the externalities caused by speculation. It would only need to be set at a rate below 1% in order to achieve the desired effects and generate a considerable revenue. This type of tax is often called the Tobin Tax, in honor of James Tobin, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has advocated for it.

Accounting for Externalities (U=4 A=7 O=4) 15

The most-discussed untaxed externality is currently CO2. Many have proposed a Carbon Tax, or more convoluted schemes that amount to the same thing. A Carbon Tax would be a great idea, and Obama has actually agreed to this, but there are many other examples. Simple policies like taxing plastic bags, say a nickel a bag, could cut down immensely on the unsustainable packaging that is used. If a single-payer healthcare system is enacted, “sin taxes” upon cigarettes would be seen as more justifiable, and other taxes upon alcohol and so forth could be considered. If marijuana was legalized, the same could be true for that.

Prosecute White Collar Criminals (U=6 A=5 O=4) 15

All predatory lenders, insider traders, fraudsters, corrupt bureaucrats, and those who improperly funneled bailout money should be put on trial and imprisoned.

The End of Poverty (U=10 A=2 O=2) 14

Cost-effective and decentralized solutions for eliminating extreme poverty like vitamins, iodized salt, condoms, and mosquito nets are at the top of the list for those interested in alleviating extreme poverty and suffering. Other good ideas like the LifeStraw are being put forth. The Democrats actually have talked about this and consulted with Jeffrey Sachs and other experts. Furthermore, there is tons of non-profit attention given to this. Yet, considering the low commitment to previous “Millenium Goals” perhaps more activist prodding is required, though compared with other goals, which can indirectly aid this goal, activist resources might be best utilized elsewhere.

Corporate Taxes (U=6 A=4 O=3) 13

As reported here, “A 2004 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that 61% of American corporations, including 39% of large companies, paid no corporate income taxes between 1996 and 2000. Last year, corporations shouldered just 14.4% of the total U.S. tax burden, compared with about 50% in 1940.”

Corporations receive personhood and limited liability protections, and those privileges necessitate they take on the responsibilities of a person. Namely, they must pay taxes. I imagine closing these loopholes would be difficult.

Legalize Pot (U=5 A=5 O=3) 13

The time has come. The war on pot is a horrible waste of resources, prison space, border patrol, and so forth. Let it become a regulated industry like tobacco that can generate taxes and legal economic activity, as opposed to breeding an outlaw culture. Considering the low but increasing attainability, I think this is more of a long term goal.

Prosecute War Criminals (U=4 A=3 O=2) 9

All warmongers and torturers should be put on trial and imprisoned. This includes Bush. If we don’t… talk about a Moral Hazard. It would be worse than Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Yet, the amount of persistent pressure needed, in light of strong special interests pushing the other way, is immense. Perhaps other policies which attack the root of special interest power would be more effective.

Gay Marriage (U=3 A=5 O=0) 8

Homosexual couples should be allowed to have all the same rights, but honestly, this issue is used as a wedge by Republicans to scare voters away from all liberal causes, and Karl Rove and company have been amazingly effective at doing just that. This issue will likely resolve itself as time goes by, and trying to speed it up while there are significant segments of the population with archaic beliefs only endangers all the more fundamental issues such as the ones listed above.

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We certainly still need to keep tabs on the policies which the Democrats have already agreed to, and perhaps the next good project would be to calculate the likelihood each of these Democrat promises will be kept, and the amount of pressure that needs to be consistently maintained. Given limited activist resources, knowing this information is urgent.

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(02/11/2010) UPDATE:

Seems the Democrats predictably didn’t keep their word on their promises, but to a much larger extent than I had imagined. Here is a recap:

Prevent the militarization of outer space.
Prudent withdrawal from Iraq – FAIL
Expand public service opportunities
United States Public Service Academy – FAIL
Carbon Tax – FAIL
Ease Transition to Single-Payer Health Insurance – FAIL
Legalize and Fund Stem Cell Research
Protect NASA funding for basic research – FAIL
Close Gitmo and End Torture – FAIL
End Warrant-less Wiretapping – FAIL
Repeal PATRIOT Act – FAIL
Repeal Bush’s cuts on the Estate Tax and upper tax brackets – FAIL
Re-regulate the financial markets – FAIL
Limit the power of lobbyists and special interests – FAIL
Government transparency – FAIL
Protect Abortion Rights
Class-based, not race-based, Affirmative Action – FAIL
Negotiate international environmental agreements – FAIL


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