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Thursday, February 07, 2019


A New Deal in every pot

by Tom Sullivan

Garment-rending was in full tear. The proposal weeks ago by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y., a.k.a. AOC) to raise taxes to 70 percent on incomes over $10 million had the private-jet set gnashing customized teeth from Silicon Valley to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

"Name a country where that's worked ― ever," demanded computing billionaire Michael Dell.

"The United States!" shot back panelist MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson.

Mark Elliott of Economic Mobility Corporation offered Dell a handy pocket reference of historic U.S. tax rates. AOC already has ideas on how to invest the additional revenue:

On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) unveiled a landmark resolution cementing the pillars of an unprecedented program to zero out planet-warming emissions and restore the middle-class prosperity of postwar America that the original New Deal helped spur.

Just three months after calls for a Green New Deal electrified a long-stagnant debate on climate policy, the Democratic lawmakers released the six-page document outlining plans to cut global emissions 40 to 60 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and neutralize human-caused greenhouse gases entirely by 2050.

The legislators scheduled a news conference at 12:30 p.m. EST Thursday.
Huffington Post adds:
Energy and infrastructure issues are the centerpiece of the resolution, with explicit goals of overhauling the transportation sector ― the country’s biggest source of climate pollution ― to expand public transit and high-speed rail and to spur a “clean” manufacturing boom with a particular focus on electric vehicles.

But, unlike most existing Green New Deal concepts, food and water are focal points. The resolution proposes “building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food” and “guaranteeing universal access to clean water.” To meet those goals, the document describes “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers” to reduce agricultural pollution with “sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health” and “supporting family farming.”
NPR has a copy of the document here, as well as background on the Green New Deal, an idea that has been kicking around as far back as 2003.

Markey and AOC have company this morning. Christopher Ali, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, offers another way to invest AOC's additional tax revenue.

President Franklin Roosevelt's creation of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1936 brought electricity and telephones to areas of the country within 20 years. Where the free market stepped away, America stepped up.

Ali explains the current situation, "In 2017, a full 30 percent of rural Americans (or 19 million people) and 21 percent of farms lacked broadband access." Broadband subsidies available from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, as well as monies provided as part of the 2009 Recovery Act have not gained enough headway:
Despite the large amount of funding coming from the Rural Utilities Service and the F.C.C., rural America has not seen broadband deployed and adopted at the same speed and effectiveness that it had with electricity and telephone service almost a century ago. The reason for this lag is a lack of coordinated federal policies, which in turn has allowed major telecommunications companies to receive a large portion of these funds without much regulatory accountability. An opaque set of grant and loan stipulations make it difficult for communities to apply for funding, and in some states, a series of laws actively prohibit or inhibit towns and cooperatives from wiring their own communities.
Big Telecom doesn't want competition. Even if it's unwilling to compete, it wants to sit on unwired areas of the country like undeveloped oil leases.

Almost every state has a broadband plan, Ali writes, but therein lies the problem:
With so many plans, however, come as many definitions of broadband, target speeds, eligibility requirements for grants and a host of unique priorities. To ensure that high-speed broadband is available for all rural Americans, regardless of state, we need a national rural broadband plan ... President Franklin Roosevelt and the Rural Electrification Administration did it in 1936 with electricity. We can do the same today.
Yes, tax rates were much higher in FDR's day. It got me pondering what sorts of things Uncle Sam did when rates in this country were that high. A short list required no Googling:
  • Won WWI
  • Irrigated the Central Valley
  • Created the Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Enacted Social Security
  • Began rural electrification
  • Enacted GI Bill
  • Won WWII
  • Built the interstate highway system
  • Enacted Medicare
  • Won space race
And after the U.S. halved marginal tax rates, what? What will generations X and beyond look back on with pride and say they helped do that? Some of their own in Congress have some ideas.