Ideal platform for a presidential candidate

Stephen H. Unger
February, 28, 2019

I've been writing blog essays about the terrible things going on in the world. Now I'm going to turn around and specify what I think a decent society would look like. I will make this job easier by ignoring the big problem of how to implement my suggestions. Of course, some of these proposals may be controversial.

Freedom of expression

The right to express one's ideas, even ideas that most people might consider outrageous, is of fundamental importance. Here is where, at least from a legal point of view, our country has been, and remains, the world leader with respect to free speech and freedom of the press. Unfortunately, while, in the US, the law is not a barrier to free expression, access to the media, e.g. newspapers, magazines, radio and television is a problem, since these channels are owned and controlled by a tiny minority of wealthy people. An important exception, which I am exploiting to broadcast this essay, is the internet. While there is a large amount of nonsense and propaganda of various kinds on the internet, there are also a number of websites that operate in the spirit of a free press.

The H-bomb: the most critical problem

The very existence of humanity on earth is threatened by the stockpiles of thermonuclear weapons possessed by the US, Russia, and, to a lesser extent, by 7 other countries. Existing stockpiles of these weapons, in various forms and sizes, are adequate, if even a small fraction of them are used, to wipe our humanity and render the earth uninhabitable by humans. Starting in the early 1990s, the US and Russia began implementing a program to dismantle these weapons and use the basic materials to fuel power plants. Real progress was made, but the program was terminated around 2014. More recently, President Obama announced that the US would spend about 1.2 trillion dollars, over a 30 year period, to "modernize" our stockpile of these weapons [1][2].

What is needed is a treaty outlawing all forms of atomic weapons and prescribing a process whereby all nuclear weapons are dismantled in a systematic manner, with careful supervision by an international body of inspectors. (Note that 9 countries are known to possess H-bombs [3].) Obviously procedures for doing this must be very carefully designed to minimize the possibility of cheating, It won't be easy, but it is necessary.

Greatly reduce US armed forces

The current US military budget exceeds the sum of the military budgets of the 9 other countries spending the most on the military [4]. We should reduce our military spending to a fraction of what it is today. We should end our military actions and bring home all of the troops (roughly 200,000) fighting in, or just stationed in, countries all over the world. This should include, not only regular military units, but also the thousands of mercenaries that we employ. We don't need US warships prowling the waters of the world, for example off the coast of China, in the Mediterranean, or in the Black Sea.

End our role as the number one supplier of weapons to other countries

At present, we are selling huge amounts of weaponry to Saudi Arabia [5], the world's least democratic country. The US is giving Israel $3.8 billion in armaments annually [6]. We should end our role as the world's top supplier of arms [7].

Climate change due to human activity

The accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and some other gases produced by humans is reducing the flow of heat from the earth to outer space. This is increasing air temperature, and melting snow and ice in the polar regions. The result is a sea level increase to the extent that floods are occurring in many coastal areas. If nothing is done to interrupt this process, it is expected that hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas, perhaps well over a billion, will perish.

A major source of carbon dioxide is the use of fossil fuels by automobiles, airplanes, heating systems, and electric power plants. A key element in dealing with this problem is replacing the use of petroleum, etc. with solar energy.

Helping people in poor countries

A worthy goal would be to improve the lives of poor people in less developed countries. Some specific examples of problems that could be usefully tackled by a significantly enlarged Peace Corps are practical methods for dealing with mosquito-born diseases, introducing effective birth control methods, better ways of enriching soil, and better ways of coping with crop destroying pests.

Medical care

Medical treatment and medicines should not be considered as commercial products, available only at exorbitant prices. It is outrageous that a number of medications critical to the lives of those who must take them regularly, are priced at thousands of dollars per month. For poor and middle class Americans, a severe medical problem can mean inadequate treatment, permanent disabilities and premature death. [8].

Note that the problem is not with physicians [9]. Less than 10% of total health care costs in the US is due to doctor fees. The median debt accumulated by graduating medical students in the US is about $200,000. Most American doctors are now employees of big companies, and are under pressure to spend minimal time with each patient. They are generally overburdened with paper work having little to do with the actual treatment of patients.

Most American hospitals are now commercial, for-profit, enterprises, charging exorbitant fees for everything from aspirin tablets to the use of operating rooms . A medical system (physicians, hospitals, medications) should not be operated on a for-profit basis, as is the case in the US [10]. The pharmaceutical industry should be nationalized so that it operates to serve the public rather than further enriching the already rich.


Several generations ago, public schools did an excellent job educating Americans. People from poor families, such as my father, were able to get first class educations from elementary school thru universities. But the situation has been deteriorating steadily. In real dollars, the cost to students of a top quality university education in the US has risen astronomically. Average college tuition today is, in real dollars, roughly 5 times as much as it was when I was a student, over $58,000 per year [11]. Typical American college graduates start their careers in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. There are exceptions, in that many top notch students benefit from scholarships, and less prestigious colleges, as well as state colleges, charge much lower tuition.

The situation for students in other western nations is far better. In France, tuition for 4 years of college is roughly $1800; about 1% of the US cost, which, for top quality universities, is about $200,000. The numbers are similar in most European nations; in the Nordic countries tuition is zero. However, students do have to pay for room and board.

We need to beef up our public schools so that all American children get decent educations and, as they grow older, have access to higher education as is the case in such countries as Sweden. Money should not be an issue.

Benefits of technology

Due to advances in technology, productivity of workers has greatly increased over the past several decades. But, in the US, only the wealthy have benefited from this. The median real dollar income of American workers has barely increased over this period. In 2017 the median income per capita in the US was $31,786 [12]. A simple measure of the extent of income inequality is that, in 1965, the income of the CEOs (chief executive officers) of the top corporations was about 20 times the median income of employees in the same companies. In 2015, CEOs of the 350 largest US firms were paid 276 times the median income of the other employees [13].

Rather than having productivity increases used only to increase output, it might be better to utilize productivity increases in other ways. In 1900, the standard work week was about 60 hours. It was cut to 40 hours in the 1930s. Reducing work time to 30 hours per week would be a good way to utilize increased productivity without stressing the environment by expending more energy and materials to produce more "stuff".

Cooperation via co-ops

A worker co-op, or employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), is an organization, such as a supermarket, that is owned by the workers [14]. A worker in a co-op is likely to be better paid and treated better on the job. The chances of being laid off are less than they would be in a conventional employment situation. There are many thousands of worker co-ops in the US. Forming additional worker co-ops should be another national goal.

Consumer co-ops are businesses, often supermarkets, owned by the customers [15]. Since their objective is not to maximize profits, the customers are likely to benefit, and the employees are generally well treated. I don't know if there are any co-ops that are jointly operated by employees and customers.

De-riching the rich

Starting with the New Deal under FDR, the income tax was steeply graded, with the tax on the top tax bracket of 92%. No more. When Ronald Reagan was president, the tax on the top tax bracket plunged: 70% when he left office. It is now 37%. This largely accounts for the huge wealth and income of the super-rich today, as illustrated above. Indirectly it also accounts for the fact that relatively few Americans have benefited from progress in technology. The rich, becoming richer, use the great power of their wealth to become even wealthier, at the expense of the non-rich. Inequality has grown enormously in the US.

There is no obvious solution to this problem. We have seen that true democracy, where the will of the people is respected, cannot co-exist with billionaires. A substantial economic crash is likely in the near future. This might lead to violence by masses of people plunging from middle class status to poverty. Such a revolt would be futile, as the rich control the police and the military. What would have a better chance of success would be a non-violent revolt under leadership of the nature of Martin Luther King, and Mohandas Gandhi. []


[] , "", ,

[1] David E. Sanger, William J. Broad, "As U.S. Demands Nuclear Disarmament, It Moves to Expand Its Own Arsenal", NY Times, May 14, 2018

[2] Brian Wang, "US Nuclear forces costs $1.2 trillion til 2046 and yearly over half Russia's entire military budget",, November 12, 2017

[3] Elizabeth Chuck, "Fact Sheet: Who Has Nuclear Weapons, And How Many Do They Have?", NBC News, March 31, 2016

[4] Kimberly Amadeo, "US Military Budget, Its Components, Challenges, and Growth", The Balance, November 12, 2018

[5] Aria Bendix, "U.S. Approves $1.4 Billion Military Sale to Saudi Arabia", The Atlantic, June 6, 2017

[6] Oren Dorell, "U.S. $38B military aid package to Israel sends a message", USA TODAY, Sept. 14, 2016

[7] Paul McLeary , "US Arms Sales Overseas Skyrocketed 33% in 2018", Breaking Defense, October 09, 2018

[8] Jim Edwards, "20 Expensive Drugs That Could Bankrupt Medicare", MoneyWatch CBS News, June 29, 2011

[9] Statista, "Characteristics of U.S. physicians in 2018"

[10] Paul Craig Roberts, "Who Does Government Serve?", OpEdNews, 2/14/2019

[11] Wikipedia, "College tuition in the United States"

[12] Kimberly Amadeo, "", The Balance, January 22, 2019

[13] Anna Robaton, "Taking on income inequality with a CEO pay tax", CBS News, December 26, 2016

[14] Mark Koba, "Workers unite! (So you can become capitalists)", CNBC, Dec 13, 2013

[15] Wikipedia, "Consumers' co-operative"

[] , "", ,

Comments are welcomed and can be sent to me at unger(at)cs(dot)columbia(dot)edu

Don't forget to replace (at) with @ and (dot) with the symbol .

Return to Ends and Means to see other articles that you might find interesting.