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Want More Economic Freedom? Turn to the Democrats

The GOP has pulled off a long con, reducing economic opportunity and making Americans less free, while Democrats forgot to remind voters their own polices are aimed at economic security and opportunity.

Ed. note: the following column was originally published in Quorum Report.

Ever notice how Republicans describe institutions, policies, and programs they don’t like as a job killers?

Let’s make a list: Environmental protections, the Affordable Care Act, a path to citizenship for immigrants, unions, a mandatory living wage, equal pay for equal work, prohibitions on the use of taxpayer funding for elite private schools – all these things cost us jobs, according to the GOP.

The opposite, of course, is true.

Still, it should be acknowledged that there’s a dark savvy to the GOP message. It accomplishes multiple GOP goals. It casts them as the Party that cares about economic opportunity. It casts Democrats as the Party that doesn’t. It advances their war against environmental protections and other policies they disdain. It inhibits the adoption of policies that are critical to economic opportunity but that reduce income inequality, which the GOP thrives on.

You read that last bit right.

While posing as job creators who have the backs of a forgotten middle class, the party of President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott depend upon inequality. It makes folks economically insecure and willing to work for less. Wage suppression is good for big employers, after all. Combine that with voter suppression laws, and the GOP has created a disempowered underclass.

Like a snake eating its tail, growing income inequality and economic insecurity are real-world outcomes that also nourish the GOP’s core Big Lie message. See, they say, we told you environmental protections and health care reform make you less economically secure.

However, it’s the GOP’s wage suppressing policies, reduced education opportunities, regressive taxation and political disempowerment that are really behind our economic insecurities.

In recent years, Democrats kind of forgot James Carville’s heartland, grassroots message of the 1990s: “It’s the economy, stupid.” We’ve (I confess some complicity in the error) focused on the particulars, forgetting that among the reasons we support these particulars is that they are fundamental to economic freedom and security.  

Certainly, they grow from a progressive moral view which acknowledges that we’re all in this together. In the end, I can’t flourish at your expense. I might get rich poisoning the air, but it’s the air I breathe, too. Ultimately, our fates are interconnected. The better you do the better I do and the better everyone does.  

Beware Ayn Rand cultists like U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In the worldview of Ryan and his followers, there are the elite few in the boat and the rest of us treading water. We’re the unproductives. Best sail on without us. Ryan wants to repeal the ACA because he believes we haven’t earned good health. Tomorrow belongs to the privileged.

Think Progress economic editor Bryce Covert makes the interesting point that Ryan inadvertently calls up a more expansive idea of freedom when he speaks of repealing ACA to give us freedom to – emphasis on the freedom to – buy the health care we want.

That is nonsense, of course. We can’t buy what we can’t afford or what isn’t available. But the “freedom to” concept departs from traditional right-wing demands to be “free from” environmental or consumer protections, for instance.

Covert argues that our freedom to pursue full lives requires certain conditions, conditions we provide one another through the market and through action by government. After all, democratic government is of, by and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln pointed out at Gettysburg.

Covert quotes Franklin Roosevelt: “‘True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence…Necessitous men are not free men.’” Necessary for freedom are good jobs, good pay, a good home, a good education, a clean environment and good health.

The number of private sector jobs has grown every month since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Sen. Ted Cruz can lie and say it “is the biggest job killer in this country,” but it is anything but. Fears of the loss of health insurance no longer lock people into dead-end, low-paying jobs. Entrepreneurship and small business are flourishing as a consequence.

As a new study points out, environmental protections are not job killers.

The American economy is so massive and yet supple that job losses in one sector are offset by job growth in other sectors. That is one of the great wonders of capitalism. The less poisoned our air and water, the more productive we are. Duh.

Renewable energy sectors are now creating more jobs than coal, oil and gas, a U.S. Department of Energy study found in 2016.

Environmental protections create more jobs, ensure better health and reduce health care costs. When the seas rise because of global warming, the only economic growth will be in scuba gear, I guess.

Democrats need to remind voters that, ultimately, economic security and independence for all are values behind progressive policy goals. We shouldn’t forget that civil rights and equal protection under the law are also urgent moral necessities that by broadening economic security and opportunity make the world better for all of us.