Economics 101 is all about the free market. Supply and demand. Profit and efficiency. Every subsequent course, however, is about how markets break down. They require legislation and regulation to function and, more importantly, to provide a moral compass.
Child labor laws, medical leave, and social security were not instituted because they forwarded corporations’ unquenchable thirst for more profit. They were instituted to make sure we value people. So that those who would break the rules have to play by the same standards as those of us who care about the consequences to their neighbors.
Providing great education for all children, housing for seniors, and helping those in need -- those are not things we do because they are profitable, we do them because they are right. That is why we should never confuse government with business. Government is an expression of our collective values and an exercise in shared sacrifice. Our government’s primary job is to allocate pooled resources towards the greater good; if it’s doing that job, it is inherently unprofitable.
Our Commonwealth is both one of the wealthiest states in the country, and home to the greatest income inequality. That means we have both the opportunity - and responsibility - to legislate sensible reform to improve lives. There’s no shortage of big ideas that would be worthwhile investments and commitments - paid parental leave, universal early education, affordable college, accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace, universal insurance, housing built according to community priorities not developer profits, and more. But lasting change also comes from the million little decisions we make every day. In life, and as a City Councillor, I’ve seen that doing enough of the small things can add up to more than one big promise.
First, we need to promote transparency and efficiency. Why is it that every infrastructure project we undertake - from the Big Dig, to the Green Line Extension, to bridge repair - is overdue and overbudget? It’s enough to make you wonder how we ever built anything in the first place. Massachusetts already has an open checkbook program so you can see how our government spends your tax dollars; let’s deepen that transparency. I propose that any contractor receiving more than ten million dollars should be required to disclose exactly how they spend our money. It won’t ensure everything gets built on time and on budget, but we will have a better idea where the waste is.
Second, we need to support our local economy. We’ve all lamented the replacement of a beloved local business with yet another bank or cell phone store. Local businesses are a cornerstone of community; however, they are at a disadvantage when bidding for government contracts due to the financial scale of large companies. If the City buys pizza from the local shop instead of the national chain, the local shop turns around and pays more of that revenue back to the city and state in taxes. I propose that locally owned and independent businesses should be able to discount their effective bid (for comparison purposes) based on how much they’ll pay back to us in taxes.
Third, we can’t bet against our own future. At the Department of Energy I saw that Massachusetts has more innovation and creativity per capita than anywhere else in the country. Subsidizing fossil fuels is essentially a bet against our own economic growth. We’re literally building the technology that will replace fossil fuels. The state recently failed to pass legislation that would have enabled divestment from fossil fuels; I propose starting with options for divestment at the local level, so leading cities are not left waiting for the state to act.
These proposals are about fair and transparent interactions between our government and the local economy that powers our communities. We need elected leadership that doesn’t just share our values, but understands how the new economy is affecting the job market and our communities at home. We need leaders who think about how autonomous vehicles will change traffic patterns, how the gig economy is replacing careers with contracts, how robots could replace service workers and devalue humanity, and how technology will change the way we live and work. If our leaders can’t ponder those questions, they have no chance of enacting thoughtful legislation. It’s not about fighting the future; it’s about making the future work for us.
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