Democrats’ platform of opportunity

Party needs a coherent, future-oriented vision

THERE’S AN OLD QUIP that a camel is a horse designed by committee. In June, Massachusetts Democrats will affirm a new state platform – the camel meant to guide federal and state party officials from Massachusetts for the next four years, including the gubernatorial candidates. Like 2013’s version, it will be a laundry list, not a vision.

Here is the horse that Massachusetts Democrats should ride forward instead:

The Democratic Party stands for optimism and opportunity. The Republican administration wants to build walls – physical walls around the country and psychological walls between groups of Americans – because they are pessimistic. They see “carnage” everywhere, so they retreat to their tribal corners to preserve what is theirs instead of expanding opportunity for all.

The Democratic Party is optimistic about the future of America and of Massachusetts. Speaking to the median-aged Bay State resident, who is 39, we can tell you how we are going to expand opportunity for you, for your kids, and for your grandkids.

For you: Housing, transportation, and health care are curbing opportunity by reducing your economic mobility. The Democratic Party will reduce the cost of homes near good jobs by loosening zoning restrictions in suburbs and by subsidizing housing, instead of vehicles, in urban cores. One third of metropolitan land is set aside for parking; autonomous vehicles and congestion pricing will reduce that footprint and allow for more walkable, affordable development.

The revenue from congestion pricing, which is the only proven method to reduce traffic, and from an increase in the gas tax, will be directed towards multi-modal transportation improvements that aim for two metrics: reduce your commute to fewer than 40 minutes and your annual transportation budget to less than $8,000.

Improving housing and transportation reduces the geographic barriers for you to find good work. But employer-provided health care, if you have it, still reduces your economic mobility by tethering you to your job; if you don’t have it, you lack the basic security you need to take risks and seize opportunity. The Democratic Party will improve the Affordable Care Act so that every American, regardless of employment, buys health insurance through a regulated market that encourages competition without excluding the poor or infirm.

Still, not everyone can find a good-paying job. If you are working or seeking work, the Democratic Party will guarantee a decent standard of living by radically expanding the negative income tax, which economists on both the left and right agree is effective in reducing poverty and incenting work without burdening job creators. For everyone else, the efficient and equitable progressive consumption tax will replace the tangled US tax code.

These measures will increase opportunity for you and for your kids. For your kids to really do better than you did, though, they must be more productive than you are. Productivity – the value of output per worker per hour – is what drives standards of living.

In order to ensure that the next generation does better, the Democratic Party is committed to a program of productivity. We will increase public funding for research and development, while reforming the patent system to prevent trolling, so that we plant the seeds and harvest the fruits of innovation. We will invest in human capital during the cognitively critical early years by expanding early childhood programs; during K–12 by deepening STEM instruction and by promoting choice in education with more charter schools; during and after secondary education by widening the access and accreditation of technical and vocational education; and during college by limiting student loans according to future income and streamlining the online path to a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to investing in your children, the Democratic Party will charter a public-private infrastructure bank to invest in the public capital they need to be productive. Boston to Washington, DC, should take 90 minutes by train. Western Massachusetts should have the Internet access it needs to attract business. And Massport should be ready to handle the logistics of globalized e-commerce. Technology already clears the way to all three objectives; Democrats provide the will.

Meet the Author

Jake Auchincloss

City councilor at large, Newton
The next generation, moreover, will prosper without damaging the planet for their own children. The Democratic Party is committed to addressing climate change, primarily through the reduction of carbon emissions across industry, agriculture, and transportation.

Be optimistic. It is an age of accelerations, yes, but slamming on the brakes will put opportunity out of reach. The Democrats will put you in the driver’s seat.

Jake Auchincloss is a Newton city councilor-at-large. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

  • bumpasaurus

    Better, real progressive goals to greatly improve economic mobility: Medicare for all (or at LEAST a public option), and significant wage increases starting with a $15 minimum wage.

    The idea of a market being able to provide affordable, good care is impossible, as the history of health care in this country shows. We are the only developed nation who tries to force the concept of markets on health care, and it shows when we have the highest costs and not the best outcomes in the developed world. Health insurance is not a fungible good, nor will consumers ever have perfect information about plans and be able to shop in a real market. The only thing that will reduce costs and expand good coverage is strong regulations and the expanding the negotiating power of Medicare to anyone who needs it. This is perhaps impossible for a state to accomplish, but Massachusetts can be a leader in pushing for the only sensible solution for health care in this country.

    To tackle the costs of housing, we could try to “loosen zoning restrictions in the suburbs” but there are two big problems:
    1. Any time a multiple-unit development is proposed in the suburbs, NIMBYs oppose it for the usual reasons and we end up scaling things down. These people also by and large vote Democratic, so good luck convincing a significant number of inner core suburbs to loosen their zoning rules.
    2. The high cost of land and construction means there will be a cost floor for all units in new construction (even if no parking spaces are included) absent massive subsidy. Similarly, affordable unit requirements make it more difficult for market-rate construction to be built. But that’s not as much of a problem if we ensure wages grow. Increasing earnings for all people will allow working people to afford rental units, while not slowing the rate of construction or requiring massive public subsidies.

    Expanding to true single-payer and increasing wages should have broad support (Medicare and Social Security are still extremely popular, because they are truly universal, provide needed things, and are easy to get and easy to understand). Maybe the above aren’t realistic, but given the politics of achieving things in this list like congestion pricing, this is already a wish list. We may as well wish for real solutions.

  • jerost

    There is a structural impediment to the realization of many of the lofty platform goals enunciated by Mr. Auchincloss: the inordinate influence of moneyed interests who oppose those goals for various reasons on our legislators via their campaign contributions and lobbying. Let’s insert a commitment to action on serious Campaign Finance Reform of one kind or another into the state Democratic Party platform.

    Massachusetts has traditionally been at the bottom of
    the barrel nationally with regard to contested legislative primary
    elections. Last time I checked a few years ago, we around 47th or 48th in the
    nation. Talented potential candidates – who might be primed for action on housing, transportation, education, health care, etc. – are discouraged from
    running because of the excessive advantages of incumbency here. On ballot questions in 1998 and again a few years later, voters
    in Massachusetts passed the Clean Elections Law, a mechanism for public financing of elections. Two
    other states at that time, Arizona and Maine, also passed and
    implemented similar laws. It opened up elections in those states and
    they had many new people run and get elected. In Massachusetts, however,
    the Legislature delayed and ultimately killed the
    Clean Elections Law. They were even
    in contempt of the Supreme Judicial Court but managed to get
    away with it. I would like to see language in the platform something
    like: “The Massachusetts Democratic Party is committed to reducing
    prohibitive financial barriers that discourage otherwise qualified people from becoming candidates for legislative or statewide
    offices.”

  • Jordan Berg Powers

    This is a laundry list. And it is a laundry list of mostly half-measures. It is not the sort of bold vision to transform our commonwealth and country we need to move us forward. Not to mention it is a laundry list of economic issues that will greatly help the children of affluent suburbs like Newton. This laundry list has nothing on individual freedoms (ie reproductive or voting rights), protections like (Trans Civil Rights) and nothing about having a true Justice system. So beyond failing the standard this city councilor lays out and being a very narrow mostly marginal conservative approach to policy, the point is well taken.