How will historians depict the year 2020? I have been pondering this for the last few months, perhaps as a way of processing all that’s happened in this tumultuous year.
And it’s no wonder. The events of the last 12 months – a deadly pandemic, a global economic freeze, a racial reckoning – are more than life-altering. They are history-disrupting.
I hope the story historians tell will be about how Americans came together to protect and improve our fragile democracy. I hope the story will be about how we not only protected the electoral process from corruption, but over the years that followed went further than any past generation in excising the metastasized racism that afflicts every cell in our system. I hope the story will be one about how we confronted chronic conditions like income and wealth inequality that make communities more vulnerable to crisis, as the pandemic has deftly revealed.
From my perspective, addressing economic inequality must be a priority, as it is from here that most of our current ills flow. Tackling economic inequality is critical to the long-term health of our democracy, because a system that works for only those atop the economic ladder ultimately undermines belief in every system, including our democracy. Economic inequality also stalls economic growth, limiting opportunities for those earning lower incomes and producing more anemic recoveries following recessions.
Economic inequality is the result of economic policies functioning, for the most part, as intended. These policies have mostly been designed and crafted by powerful special interests – corporations and wealthy people with political access to shape the opinion of policymakers. Simply put, this system is designed to maximize profits and wealth at the expense of greater societal interests like equity, justice and the environment.
To tackle this, let’s start with what we know: Oregon’s tax structure is regressive and does not create adequate levels of revenue to address the needs of Oregonians, especially historically oppressed groups. The many tax loopholes for corporations and special interests siphon resources that could go to providing every child in Oregon the benefit of a preschool education, lowering the cost of college tuition, improving public transportation, and more.
Perhaps we can start 2021 with a conversation about what those atop the income ladder who care about uplifting the marginalized and historically oppressed can do to help fix the tax code. We offered several options in our recently released legislative agenda. They include having the most-well off contribute more, asking corporations to pay their fair share, and advocating for the structural reforms that the moment demands.
The confluence of the events in 2020 has opened a door that could lead us into a new era. What we do now will help shape the story historians will tell.