What Is a Good Economy, Really?

“It’s the economy, stupid,” is a slogan that has guided campaigns for decades. It makes a good point; voters certainly do care about the economy, and just about everyone can agree we want the economy to be good. It also leaves us with important questions: What do we mean by the economy and how do we define how “good” it is?

Individuals might offer any number of answers ranging from stock market growth to low unemployment, to a favorable balance of trade, but it’s also important to dig into what our elected officials and candidates for office really mean when they talk about improving the economy. We also need to acknowledge economic processes and impacts are not a mystical force—they are the result of decisions made by those in power. Economic policies can create a system that works for everyone, or one that allows the rich to get richer, and it’s on us to elect people who will fight for all of us, not just corporate interests.

Republicans have long preached the importance of economic growth achieved through tax breaks to corporations, which they claim will spur job creation and wage growth for all Americans. Last year’s so-called tax reform is a perfect example. Republicans promised tax breaks for the wealthy would produce benefits for the middle-and-working-class, but real wages actually fell in the following six months.

The reason why is simple: Corporate CEOs could, in theory, use money from tax breaks to invest in their employees, but they consistently choose to prioritize their own profits. Under these circumstances, stock market figures and other economic indicators might show growth, but growth in corporate profits that comes at the expense of the working class should not be equated with a good economy. Until we acknowledge that fact, power will continue to shift into the hands of a few wealthy individuals–power they can use to keep funding Republicans who create these policies.

It’s time for us to break that cycle and work toward an economy that is fair and equitable. That means raising the minimum wage, fighting for earned paid sick time, and prioritizing workers’ rights to collective bargaining. It means using our voices in the democratic process to elect progressives who will work to ensure everyone can afford food, shelter, and health care instead of enacting corporate tax breaks in the name of growth–because economic outcomes that are truly good are the ones that make ordinary peoples’ lives better.

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