Defeating supply-side economics with supply-side democracy

C-GRID BLANKOne of the terms with which Republicans couch their conservative views is supply-side economics. It sounds innocent enough, but history since the “Reagan Revolution” has shown us that it tends to benefit the 1% (only in the short run) and stagnate growth for the remaining 99%.

Ironically, one of the ways in which we might be able to fend off those advocating supply-side economics is to take a tactic that we’ll call supply-side democracy.

First, let’s clarify our definitions of these terms. In the case of supply-side economics, Wikipedia has a good and somewhat concise definition:

Supply-side economics is a macroeconomic theory which argues that economic growth can be most effectively created by investing in capital and by lowering barriers on the production of goods and services.
According to supply-side economics, consumers will then benefit from a greater supply of goods and services at lower prices; furthermore, the investment and expansion of businesses will increase the demand for employees and therefore create jobs.
Typical policy recommendations of supply-side economists are lower marginal tax rates and less government regulation.

In a nutshell, what supply-side economics does is to have the government directly or indirectly give more money to the wealthy with the hope that it will trickle down to the middle class and poor. Perhaps that would be so if the captains of industry and finance were altruistic in their business practices, but that is not the way in which they became profitable nor the way in which they would utilize incentives from the federal government. In supply-side economics, the government gives breaks to the suppliers of goods and services, not to the consumers or “demanders.”

Supply-side democracy (which we are somewhat inventing here) is designed to take power from the entrenched and put it in the hands of individual citizens. In this case, think of supply as being the supply of voters in a democracy. In the United States that is now over 240 million people. The “demanders” would be the well-funded politicians who place demand after demand on the American people. First they want your money, and lots of it. Next they want your attention, and with the help of the mainstream media which is always in a position to make money from politics, they nag you day and night.

The politicians set the agenda and the ones who often get the furthest are those who have the most money, either in their own campaign coffers or through the “generosity” of PACs and Super PACs that support them. This is not new or news. But what would be different with supply-side democracy is that there were be a fundamental change in tactics in working to reduce the role of money in politics. While it certainly would be helpful to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and perhaps more effective for Congress to pass new meaningful campaign finance reform with public funding of campaigns, these changes would have to be made by the already entrenched. Do not expect any quick action.

What would happen with supply-side democracy is that the voters (the supply) would simply say that they would not vote for the candidates who are backed by large sums of money.  Voters frequently say that they want a candidate who “is like them,” but how can any man or woman who spends months begging for money and kowtowing to those who have the money actually be like you or me? The fact that politicians need so much money morphs them into people who are fundamentally different from the people whose votes they seek.

This would be a good time for a new “just say no,” campaign, one that could be much more effective than the ones designed to reduce drug use or to promote sexual abstinence. Using information about campaign finances that is available through the Federal Elections Commission, Open Secrets, and state ethics commissions, voters can learn which candidates are funded by the wealthy and powerful rather than citizens of modest means. If voters stand up and refuse to vote for the very well-funded candidates, the following things can happen:

  • More candidates in play who are “more like the people”
  • Less time spent by office-holders begging for money
  • Less offensive negative political ads on TV.
  • More citizens would consider running for political office
  • A better functioning democracy

There are obvious hurdles to this approach, most particularly how does this idea get disseminated to the American people. But because the other solutions to limiting money in politics also seem to be long-shots at the moment, it would be worthwhile to consider an idea like supply-side democracy.