Why Do We Idolize Wall Street Hustlers but Hold People Who Actually Make Things in Contempt?
Continued from previous page
In short we face both an economic and an environmental crisis. What do we do? Obviously, we have to learn to live within the constraints of our natural environment. But we also must fulfill the most fundamental employment needs of our social environment.
That is why we should embark on a modern day moon shot to lead the world forward in renewable energy and other green technologies. This would require massive public investments in research and development, and in ensuring the adoption of the best technologies -- not because the private system can't, in principle, do those things, but because in reality it can't do them as fast as they need to be done. We're talking several hundred billion a year for at least twenty years. And if we funded it by taxing Wall Street and the super-rich we could tackle two problems at once: make real progress on global warming and prevent the financial sector from wrecking the economy again.
I believe the fairest ways to secure funding is through windfall profits taxes on Wall Street profits, a small transaction tax on large and speculative financial transactions, and a very steep progressive income tax on the super-rich. (I'm an Eisenhower radical. In those days the marginal tax rate on millionaires was 90 percent.) This would move the money from the fantasy finance casino to the real economy and it could lead to a rejuvenated economy based on renewable energy and pollution prevention.
Such a massive commitment also would require border adjustment taxes on carbon to make sure the new green industries don't flee to nations with lower standards. It makes no sense to import windmills from countries whose steel plants put out three times the carbon as ours. It makes no sense to use up fossil fuels to ship green goods all over the globe, when those goods could be made much closer to their point of final use.
I know it's a very tall order to revamp Wall Street and to invent a green economy at the same time. But both the employment and environmental problems pose immanent threats. No free-market magic will make them disappear. It requires our human intervention. Let's hope we have the wisdom and will to get going -- now.
Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.
Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperityâ€”and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).