Increasing Public Power to Increase Competition

The United States needs an economy grounded in justice and morality, where everyone, free of undue resource constraints, can prosper. The federal government should intervene by introducing public options that provide these essential goods and services–from medical and health care, to high-quality education, to a right to employment–in direct competition with private firms. Doing so will set “floors” on wages and quality and “ceilings” on price for private actors who are intent on providing important economic rights at a cost.

In this brief, the authors explore what public options might look like in employment, health, housing, education, and financial services. We argue that in these sectors, public options are necessary to combat high-cost, low-quality provisions by private actors and ensure universal and better quality access to all Americans.

Proposals

  • Employment: We propose a federal job guarantee (FJG)—a universal public option for employment—as a solution to the problem of quantity, quality, and access as they relate to the supply of jobs. Under a FJG, the federal government would compete directly with the private sector, particularly at the low end of the labor market.
  • Health Insurance: We advocate a system where the government provides universal health insurance, but individuals are not restricted from purchasing health insurance in the private market if they so desire. This proposal would not outlaw private plans; rather, individuals might choose to opt for private health insurance.
  • Housing: We propose that the federal government also become a direct supplier of residential properties of acceptable quality at prices that put downward pressure on prices offered by the private sector. Our proposal would ensure that house prices would be kept in check and that low-income residents would be able to afford adequate housing.
  • Education: Not only should more resources be devoted to bolstering public schools, but there should also be much greater standardization of funding, practices, and metrics for success—all of which should be determined at the federal level. Federal standardization would mitigate some of the concerns with the current model of decentralized financing: uneven and inadequate quantity, quality, and access.
  • Financial Services: Public and postal banking could eliminate predatory lending practices, including payday lenders and pawn shops, which target the nation’s most vulnerable borrowers.
  • Birthright to Financial Capital: The public sector could provide each young American with a government funded trust, the amount of which would be determined on the basis of their family’s wealth position: the larger the parental wealth, the lower the trust; the lower the parental wealth, the larger the trust. The objective of this plan would be to establish more egalitarian access to wealth—the paramount ingredient for economic security and financial agency—irrespective of a family’s financial position into which a young person is born.

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