COMMENTARY Public options for a dual economy

The egregious economic crimes perpetrated by U.S. finance capital have compelled new positive change in the balance of forces in our country.

The swindle of trillions of dollars with its destruction of the hosing stock, the medical care-for-profit pillory of the health of millions, the crippling of the monetary system with its usurious interest rates and disruption of the vital credit system, the swindling of workers pension plans, the deliberate production for decades of automobiles that were gas guzzling junk, the theft of billions in extra profits by the oil monopolies at the gas station pump, plus the breakdown in the quality of the national food supply, environment and ecology – all have been major factors in the changing balance of forces.

In all the economic spheres, greed has been the driving force. Chicanery has been the method.

The most destructive result is the fact that some 50 million Americans are either unemployed, partially unemployed, or have never been able to find gainful employment.

The most important shift in the changing balance of forces is its ideological character. It is new, it is growing rapidly and it is a force to be reckoned with by U.S. finance capital. It is a strong and growing tendency. Twenty percent of the American people feel that socialism is better than capitalism and 27 percent more have positive feelings in that direction.

The American people have grown angry while Wall Street and Detroit quickly gobbled up over $2 trillion in bailout money. These same forces blunted a real bailout stimulus for the working people. Even now at the time of this writing only 10 percent of the $787 billion economic stimulus money has been dispensed as the jobless rate climbs and hunger grows.

The people are ready to try new economic ideas and arrangements as they were in the 1930s Great Depression. In every economic sphere where capitalism fails the needs of the people, the government must step in and act to protect the people. Therefore it is time to project new permanent public options to fill the public need.

Public options in any economic sphere need not be designed to abolish its capitalist counterpart. Its aim should be to provide a fair and equitable market arrangement to replace the capitalist void and make it possible for everyone to thrive at a decent level. Let’s look at the following economic public options to serve the people:

1. Health care: A strong public option health care system should be the guarantor of coverage for all-in, none-out through some vehicle at affordable or no-cost premiums. As Senators Edward Kennedy and Christopher Dodd said in their health care proposal: “We must not settle for legislation that merely gestures at reform. We must deliver on the promise of true change.”

2. Democratic Banking and Consumer Credit Bank: The federal government should establish a national public bank. Seventy percent of all consumer economic activity is done by credit. Consumers are the backbone of the economy. A people’s bank would extend credit at honest interest rates. This would stimulate economic sales in auto, appliances, housing, etc, thus creating jobs, jobs, jobs. This bank would not replace private banking. However, this would end their monopoly control of the economy. Credit Unions, Savings and Loan associations and small Main Street banks which did not get caught up in the mortgage swindle, already would provide a 50 state network for setting up a public option bank. A people’s public bank was established in North Dakota during the great depression and it still operates profitably today. The government has already proven that setting up a public option can be done by putting up $2 trillion to bail out Wall Street banks.

3. Manufacturing: The bail out process to save General Motors, Chrysler and other industries should be made into a national plan whose aim is to create real public ownership - of, by and for the American people. The American people have a right to own factories and sell products. Better, cheaper, safer, longer lasting cars, etc would compete in the open market with other private manufacturing. Instead of closing factories and leveling them into a pile of rubble as the private sector does, these plants should and can be converted to producing mass transit facilities, prefabricated housing, heavy construction equipment for shovel-ready projects, etc.

4. Energy: a. Oil: The government can set up a national gasoline station distribution system. The government can purchase petroleum on the open market, refine it in its own refineries and sell it at honest prices b. Electricity: Twenty five percent of the nation’s electricity is already publicly owned. Their consumer rates are substantially lower than private utilities. The government is providing billions of dollars for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Why should this be a give-away? The public should own a substantial share of these new sources. We are paying for it already. c. Natural Gas: The government should establish a national gas distribution system from its own resources.

5. Transportation: Build Amtrak into a uniform interstate and intrastate transportation system. This should be part of an integrated transportation plan of rail, bus, ferry, light rail and airports. This is an important contribution to addressing the question of the environment.

6. Housing: Re-housing America should be a permanent government feature. A national housing program should be financed through the public option bank and other such instruments that the government may find necessary to implement this program. Congress should establish a permanent commission to develop and carry out these plans. The program should take into account all aspects of life that impact on housing, such as demographics, climate, urban, suburban and rural needs, fair and equitable housing loans and/or rent. The type of housing should include single family homes, multi-family private homes, garden apartments, cooperatives, condominiums and low cost modern public housing. Such a construction program, would in and of itself end unemployment in the building trades and will require additional tens of thousands of construction workers. Every housing unit constructed requires a full complement of furnishings; therefore, such a construction program would revitalize a host of industries to provide the necessary consumer products for the new dwellings. This program would in no way prevent private capital from carrying on its construction programs for profit.

The struggle for public options won’t be easy but it can be won. It is on the order of the day; witness the struggle for the strongest possible public option in health care reform. The public option is simply a system wherein dual competing methods of economic activity compete in the same economic sphere. One system is operated by government, the other by private capital. An example of this is Medicare and Medicaid which are clearly superior to the private system.

The process of struggle for public options and dual economics will strengthen and deepen the mass ideological perception of collective ownership and social advance. For many it will create new understandings of socialism itself. The public option will give the 20 percent of Americans who think socialism is superior to capitalism new tools to advance their thinking. It will help crystallize the thoughts of the 27 percent of Americans who are thinking about socialism.

President Barack Obama said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Let’s fight for the public option.