In a major speech Monday outlining her economic policy, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton effectively illustrated the contrast between progressive priorities and those of her conservative counterparts.
In her address, Clinton focused not just on economic growth, but on fair growth that benefits everyone. Her emphasis on public investment and an increased role for the federal government in aiding struggling workers and families, she said, would strengthen the middle class and achieve durable, lasting growth.
Meanwhile, her Republican competitors are sticking to their faith in trickle-down economics, arguing that a rising tide will lift all boats, while ignoring the reality that for the past 30 years the vast majority of economic gains has gone to those at the very top of the income ladder.
Jeb Bush, perhaps Mrs. Clinton’s most likely rival for the general election, provides a perfect example of the conservatives’ warped ideology.
In a speech last month, the former Florida governor claimed that as president he could achieve a 4 percent annual growth rate (compared to 2.4 percent annual growth in 2014), which would solve the economic woes of the middle class. Setting aside the question of whether any president could produce sustained growth at that level, there are two major problems with his assertion.
First, while Jeb has yet to produce a detailed economic agenda, the policies that he has indicated he will support are unlikely to lead to any significant growth. Second, even if they were to produce an economic boom, the vast majority of the country would be left behind while those at the top would continue to reap virtually all the benefits.
Jeb is echoing the same noise that Republicans have been making for decades, arguing, without any empirical justification, that deregulation and tax cuts for the 1 percent will cause an economic boom and actually result in an increase in tax revenue. Even Jeb’s father, President George H. W. Bush, recognized the ludicrousness of this claim when in 1980 he dubbed Ronald Reagan’s similarly wishful thinking “voodoo economics.”
We’ve tried these policies under Jeb’s brother, President George W. Bush, and what we witnessed is clear: inequality increased as the wealthy benefited disproportionately from tax breaks, deficits soared as a result of decreased revenue, and a financial crisis ensued in part because of the administration’s contempt for regulation.
Add in the drastic social spending cuts that conservatives have been advocating for decades, and it’s easy to see how these policies would just further increase the already devastating level of economic inequality in America. While corporations and the super-rich may profit in the short run, deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy are unlikely to grow the economy, and slashing public aid would inflict terrible harm on those most in need.
By claiming that these policies would help all Americans, rich and poor, Jeb and his fellow Republicans are either demonstrating their extreme naiveté, at best, or intentionally misleading the American people to benefit their wealthy supporters, at worst.
But there are actually basic measures the government can take to improve the economic prospects for the majority of Americans – to achieve fair growth – and Clinton is incorporating nearly all of them into her economic platform.
One such idea would be increased public spending on infrastructure and green energy. Substantial government investment would provide millions of Americans with middle-class jobs while yielding much-needed improvements to our roads, bridges, rails, and energy production systems (not to mention tackling the mounting problem of climate change by curbing fossil fuel emissions).
Another would be improving our public education system through simple policies such as providing free pre-kindergarten education to every child in America – an action that has been proven to have huge positive economic effects.
Finally, Clinton is pushing for specific policies to ensure that the nation’s continuing recovery is felt by all working Americans. Increasing the minimum wage and guaranteeing paid family leave and sick days to all employees would make certain that all Americans, not just executives and shareholders, benefit from rising corporate profits.
While paying for some of these programs would be costly, it would not be impossible. Increasing the capital gains tax or the top marginal rate would go a long way in paying for these crucial investments, and wouldn’t wreak havoc on the economy as Republicans would have you believe. Alternatively, with historically low interest rates, our government could borrow large sums of money to be spent on investments that will pay off in the long run.
Ultimately, even a brief look at Clinton’s policies compared to those of her Republican competitors should clarify whose interests each side really represents. Despite what conservatives say, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that deregulation, tax cuts for the 1 percent, and major reductions in social spending will only help corporations and the super rich – not the vast majority of the American people.