I know everyone, including me, is writing pieces along the lines of ‘if Democrats want to win, they’ll do X’, so I’ll add my take. Admittedly, I have no idea if Democrats were able to do what I’ll propose they would win, but this is apparently the acceptable form of proposing policy, so here we go: Democrats need to fix all of the public things (and some of the private things, or make some new/nationalize private things). We need nice things–and not just for poor people (though they deserve nice things too!).
Nice things is really a two-part, erm, thing. First, basic services like transportation should work better. That’s not really a nice thing, as much as it is ‘this thing won’t suck anymore.’ It’s essentially like getting back to normal after fixing your car–you didn’t make any progress, but at least things stopped sucking. Second, we really should have nice things, like parks, schools that are well-equipped, better libraries, museums (cheaper, open longer, more of them, more research ‘in the back’), cheaper housing (imagine getting 10-20% of your pre-tax income back), and so on. Sure, one can quibble about what is a basic service versus a nice thing, which will depend on where you live, your economic circumstances, and so on. But we also need more cool stuff that’s accessible to more people.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards (boldface mine):
There’s a verbal tic particular to a certain kind of response to a certain kind of story about the thinness and desperation of American society; about the person who died of preventable illness or the Kickstarter campaign to help another who can’t afford cancer treatment even with “good” insurance; about the plight of the homeless or the lack of resources for the rural poor; about underpaid teachers spending thousands of dollars of their own money for the most basic classroom supplies; about train derailments, the ruination of the New York subway system and the decrepit states of our airports and ports of entry.
“I can’t believe in the richest country in the world….”
This is the expression of incredulity and dismay that precedes some story about the fundamental impoverishment of American life, the fact that the lived, built geography of existence here is so frequently wanting, that the most basic social amenities are at once grossly overpriced and terribly underwhelming, that normal people (most especially the poor and working class) must navigate labyrinths of bureaucracy for the simplest public services, about our extraordinary social and political paralysis in the face of problems whose solutions seem to any reasonable person self-evident and relatively straightforward.
It is true that, as measured by GDP, or by the size of the credit and equity markets, or even just by the gaudy presence of our Googles, Amazons and Apples, the United States is the greatest machine for the production of money in the modern history of the world.
But this wealth is largely an abstraction, a trick of the broad and largely meaningless aggregations of numbers that makes up most of what the business pages call “economics.” The American commonwealth is shockingly impoverished. Ask anyone who’s compared the nine-plus-hour train ride from Pittsburgh to New York with the barely two-hour journey from Paris to Bordeaux, an equidistant journey, or who’s watched the orderly, accurate exit polls from a German election and compared them with the fizzling, overheating voting machines in Florida…
American liberals and leftists tend to over-valorize the Western European model, but there is no doubt that the wealthy countries at the core of the EU have far more successfully mitigated the most extreme social inequalities and built systems for health and transportation that far outstrip anything in the U.S…. Meanwhile, in our ever-declining adversary-of-convenience, the Moscow subway runs on time.
The social wealth of a society is better measured by the quality of its common lived environment than by a consolidated statistical approximation like GDP, or even an attempt at weighted comparisons like so-called purchasing power parity. There is a reason why our great American cities, for all of our supposed wealth, often feel and look so shabby. The money goes elsewhere.
Spend some money on giving people nice things. No idea if ‘they’ will vote for you, but this Democrat would.