The first hundred days offers the Biden administration an enormous opportunity to pursue a number of measures that improve the lives and well being of all Americans. They don’t raise taxes, and at the same time, they improve lives and financial security, help protect American democracy, and take steps to stop and reverse climate change.
The Jan. 6 insurrection was fed by a stream of media lies and conspiracy theories polluting radio, television, Internet and social media, now still filled with calls for civil war in the name of an election “stolen” from Donald Trump.
Two steps can help calm the waters and reassert the value of truth in media.
First, restore the equal time rule and fairness doctrine for all television and radio, both broadcast and cable. Cable companies under existing law must offer opposing candidates the opportunity to purchase time if the opposing candidate does. The FCC should be given authority to enforce the equal time and fairness doctrines thus presenting diverse and opposing views that indicate the big lie is just that, the big lie.
The FCC rescinded the fairness doctrine in 1987 on the basis that it was chilling debate and there was a wide diversity of opposing views on other media outlets. This has encouraged the self-selecting echo chamber for people who share the same views and news. Restoring democratic discourse and truth can be advanced by the fairness doctrine.
Second, the Internet and social media should be treated as publishers, not platforms that have no responsibility for what they broadcast. It is clear that entities like Facebook, in pursuit of more clicks and more data and advertising to sell, helped the creation, expansion and networking of extreme and violent groups like Q-anon and Proud boys and smaller leftist elements like Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association promoting armed struggle.
Globally social media has served as a reliable conduit for extremist and violent organizing. Their financial model is based on “free” use by people in exchange for the right to use their data for the sale of advertising worth many billions. As a solar developer, for example, I can reach out to Facebook to identify and reach particular landowners in a number of solar-friendly towns. That’s not evil. But micro-targeting can and has been used nationally and globally by politicians promoting racist and violent messages.
To be re-classified as media publishers, the Internet companies become responsible, like any publisher, for what they publish. They are subject to liable and slander laws and need to exercise due diligence to verify the truth of what they publish. This can be accomplished by simply repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which exempts online platforms from liability and defamation consequences for their users’ defamatory, fraudulent, or otherwise unlawful content.
The rich have been getting richer for a generation or more. In the last two financial meltdowns, the Great Recession in 2007-8 and the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic led to millions of workers losing their jobs, homes and small businesses, or are about to do so again in 2021. Meanwhile the rich got much richer with federal support.
Three steps can help remedy the situation.
The first is to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour indexed to inflation. An American worker with a full-time job should be able to support a family. A $15 minimum wage is a start.
The second, is to help stop evictions during economic downturns and discourage predatory lending to the poor by allowing the interest rates and principle of residential mortgage loans to be reduced to market in bankruptcy. In practice, what this means in times of financial collapse lenders will write down home mortgage interest and principal to market before foreclosure as they do with commercial real estate. This will discourage foreclosure and mortgage-based securities packed with sub-prime loans peddled as investment-grade securities by making those mortgages renegotiable and avoiding easy foreclosure.
The third, is to remove from credit card companies the right in bankruptcy court to make customers above median income forced to repay their bad loans.
Fourth is the ability to discharge college loan debt in bankruptcy court. We have created a perpetual and usurious debt machine afflicting millions of students.
Stopping climate change
While the talk is of trillions in climate investment, there are two ways this can be accomplished without major government expenditure.
First is a national RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) that mandates that sellers of electricity must have a yearly increasing percentage of renewable resources in their power portfolio. If we want zero carbon emissions by 2040, then increase the RPS yearly. The good news is that the cost of solar and wind and batteries keeps dropping like a stone, and will soon become the cheapest alternative in all markets. Solar costs have been decreasing at a spectacular 18% a year rate which means prices being reduced by 45% every three years.
Second is the creation of Sustainability Credits (SCs) as a new regulatory asset that values sustainability. A Sustainability Credit is equal to the ecological value of displacing one metric ton of carbon dioxide by renewable energy, now set at $100 per metric ton by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). This is a regulatory asset like current Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). But unlike SRECs, which raise the price of energy, SCs are an investment tool designed to lower prices and create long term ecological value.
The SC gets monetized, turned to money, on the books of banks as paid-in capital and as cash. For example, if a solar farm, or group of homeowners and renters, offsets 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year they have created $1 million dollars of SCs for bank investment. Using the ordinary magic of banking, the $ 1 million becomes $ 10 million in loans for more solar every year.
Given the current 37 gigatons (billion tons) annually of global carbon emissions SCs can create the trillions of productive investment dollars needed for building an ecological civilization from business and pollution as usual. We are in discussion with Congressional staff on the next steps.
The Biden presidency has the opportunity to push a number of tax-free initiatives that can help address some of the pressing problems at hand. The first 100 days is an appropriate time to act. Time to step forward.