A major investment in public health would be a good place to start.
The biggest project, however, is to increase the resilience of American society. Generations of federal decision-makers have prioritized the pursuit of economic growth with little attention to stability or distribution. This moment calls for a restoration of the national commitment to a richer conception of freedom: economic security and equal opportunities. This is why Times Opinion is releasing this project over the next two months to consider how to transform the America we have into the America we need.
The goal of the federal government, wrote Lincoln to Congress on July 4, 1861, was “to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial loads from all shoulders and to give everyone an unhindered start and a fair chance in the race to the life. . The Homestead Act in particular was a concrete step in that direction: 10% of all land in the United States was ultimately distributed in pieces of 160 acres. But Lincoln’s conception of “everyone” does not include everyone: the Homestead Act was based on the expropriation of Native American lands.
Roosevelt shared Lincoln’s vision of government, but the industry had replaced agriculture as a source of prosperity, so he focused on a more equitable distribution of the country’s manufacturing output, although African Americans been treated as second-class citizens in many New Deal programs.
The United States today needs new measures to involve all Americans in the modern economy.
To give Americans a fair chance in the race for life, the government must start from birth. The United States must take up the basic truth from the fundamental decision of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education: As long as Americans are separated, their chances can never be equal. One of the most important steps the United States can take to ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive is to demolish persistent patterns of racial and economic segregation. One of the most significant structural barriers to a more integrated nation is the zoning laws that limit residential development in the very areas where good jobs are most abundant.
In this project, we will explore other ways to equalize opportunities early in life, as well as restore a better balance of power between employers and workers.
One of the clearest lessons from the pandemic is that many employers feel outrageously little obligation to protect the health and well-being of their workers, and that workers have few means to organize or to resist. Amazon, one of the country’s largest employers, fired a worker to protest the security conditions at the company’s warehouses on Orwellian grounds that its demonstration itself posed a security threat. A Uline call center manager told employees not to tell their colleagues if they were not feeling well, as this could cause “unnecessary panic.”
And the nation’s tattered social safety net is in desperate need of strengthening. Americans need reliable access to health care. Americans need affordable options for child care and care for older family members, a growing crisis in an aging nation. No one, especially children, should never be hungry. Everyone deserves a home.