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A New Economic Bill Of Rights To Create National Happiness

If we’re going to remake our economy to increase well-being for all people, we would do well to include these 10 new tenets of economic freedom.

Addressing a nation at war and still recovering from the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt stated the economic goals of his administration and the New Deal on January 11, 1944:

"It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

"As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness .

"We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

"In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

"Among these [rights] are:
• The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
• The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
• The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
• The right of every family to a decent home;
• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to
achieve and enjoy good health;
• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
• The right to a good education.

"All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being (emphases ours)."

Roosevelt spoke of a standard of living higher than ever before. Of course, 1944 was an earlier time, when greater access to material things was essential for many millions of Americans. Roosevelt did not include "The right to a clean, safe, and accessible natural environment." We have every reason to believe he would if speaking today. And that he might have spoken of a "quality of life higher than ever before." But in the end, he spoke, as Jefferson had, of "happiness" and well-being. He did not suggest that our goal was growth or a higher GDP. He said they were new goals of "human happiness and well-being."

These are still the right goals, the goals we should be striving for today and tomorrow. To achieve them, we suggest a holistic pattern of policy changes. They are not exhaustive. But we think it’s necessary to propose some first steps in an effort to rethink our economy so it can give all of us what we need in this new era.

You might think of our ideas as an economy of life, liberty, and happiness. Some of what follows includes the very ideas our founding fathers and Roosevelt spoke of, unfinished business that—after massive increases in our national wealth—remains to be completed. But some of them are new and could not have been imagined earlier in our history. So here we go:

1: Give us time

  • Mandate three weeks of paid vacation time for every working American, prorate for part-timers.
  • Implement work-sharing systems, such as Kurzarbeit, to reduce unemployment without increasing working hours.
  • Require hourly pay parity and prorated benefits for part time workers, as in Europe.
  • Ensure the right of workers to reduce their hours without losing their jobs, hourly pay, promotion opportunities, or health care, as in the Netherlands. Other benefits would be prorated.
  • Ban compulsory overtime and provide double-time pay for overtime, as in Finland.
  • Make federal holidays mandatory for all workers, or give greater compensation to those who must work on those holidays.
  • Provide tax credits and other incentives to allow small businesses to make these changes without suffering financially.

2: Improve life possibilities from birth

  • Provide prenatal and other care to all parents-to-be.
  • Give six months of mandatory paid parental leave when a child is born, at a minimum of half the current salary levels, to be paid for by government, as in Canada, through small graduated payroll deductions rather than directly by the employer.

3: Build a healthy nation

  • Provide basic single-payer health care for all Americans, with private insurance providing additional coverage, as in Canada.
  • Offer tax incentives for healthy behavior, while raising taxes on unhealthy foods and activities.
  • Carefully shift subsidies to encourage local, organic, and sustainable food production and away from unhealthy food and unsustainable agriculture.
  • Ensure physical education classes for students.
  • Protect children by banning television advertising aimed at those under twelve, as in Sweden and Quebec.

4: Enlarge the middle class

  • Create a more progressive tax structure with fewer loopholes for the wealthy and corporations.
  • Establish a national living wage with variations for cost-of-living in different states and cities.
  • Restore limits on usury. Restrict interest charged on loans to a certain percentage above the rate of inflation.
  • Provide greater government support to reduce the cost of education and make college tuition easily affordable.
  • Give more generous benefits to those losing employment while retaining business flexibility, as in Denmark.
  • Strengthen the Social Security system by ending the income limit for taxation and tax breaks for private pension programs, while increasing benefit levels to the Europe an average.

5: Value natural capital

  • Change accounting rules and economic analysis to bring the value of natural capital into government and corporate investment decisions.
  • Adopt physical sustainability measures to inform decision making for air, water, land, and climate resources.
  • Set aside and restore sufficient natural lands for ecosystem services.
  • Use tools to identify, value, map, and model ecosystem services for land use planning and environmental impact statements, and create regional watershed investment districts to more efficiently invest in restoring natural systems and coordinate investment for potable water, flood protection, storm water, biodiversity, ports, navigation, and other water-related investments.
  • Reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps to restore natural capital and our environmental commons and provide a portion of public works jobs.

6: Fix taxes and subsidies

  • Increase the marginal income tax rate to 45% for the highest tax bracket.
  • Make work pay by ensuring that money made from money (e.g., capital gains) is taxed at a rate at least as high as that made from employment.
  • Use the tax system to correct market distortions, with new taxes on "bads," which inflict externalized costs on individuals, communities, or the environment, and by removing taxes on "goods" with positive social benefits.
  • Remove subsidies for consumers and producers of nonrenewable resources and move these subsidies to renewable and nonpolluting or non-climate- changing industries.

7: Strengthen the financial system

  • Reregulate the financial sector (and enforce those regulations).
  • Implement financial and currency transaction taxes to shift money from risky speculation into productive investment.
  • Restore the separation between savings and loans, commercial banks, and investment banks.
  • Break up the largest banks and investment firms to achieve greater competition and provide public savings institutions at the state or local level—a public banking option.

8: Build a new energy infrastructure

  • Ramp up $1 trillion in public and private investments shifting to local, low-carbon, renewable energy and off fossil fuels, funded by a carbon tax.
  • Aggressively promote energy efficiency in policy and low interest financing to improve existing and new infrastructure and products.
  • Utilize lower-grade energy (e.g., cooling steam from a data center to warm green houses or provide district heating).

9: Strengthen community and improve mobility

  • Tax sprawl (which requires the extension of public services) and excessive home sizes, while incentivizing green building, small homes, public transportation, and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure.
  • Fund a modern railway system and increase the cost of driving autos to pay for it. Deprioritize road construction.
  • Electrify our transportation system with electric buses, trains, and other vehicles.

10: Improve governance

  • Ban corporate campaign contributions through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Limit television advertising in campaigns.
  • Require corporations to include codetermination policies, with at least one third of directors elected by the workers.

Excerpted from What’s The Economy For, Anyway? Copyright © 2012 by John de Graaf and David K. Batker. Published by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing

Add New Comment


  • Funky_hamsta

    And RECLAIM THE MONEY from private, unregulated institutions like the Federal Reserve. Make it DEBT FREE MONEY - it's the only way to reverse this situation.

  • Cronos17

    A good rule of thumb for policies is if you can't understand them they don't protect you. I don't understand this bill of economic rights, it does not protect me.

  • ibor

    Hooray for Co.Exist.  Jim is mistaken: this reader grew up during the Depression, and was a great admirer of FDR.  He inherited the Depression, much as Pres. Obama inherited  the recession, which many people seem to forget began in the Bush administration.   Call FDR a Marxist, socialist or whatever else, he had a vision many people believed we could realize.  (He was elected to office four times!)  How could we have been so blind as to be in favor of those awful, awful things that critics of this statement declare it sets forth?

  • MrFixit

    Scratch #6 on my last post.  I have not done the calculations that would provide enough taxation to run a government for its intended purpose.  Must have skipped that one so please disregards

  • MrFixit


    I’m all for time and work-life balance that should be
    the terms of the employer if they want their employees to enjoy their work and
    keep good employees.  Nothing should be
    run by policy but the policy that you have a great company and great employees
    and a great product you will thrive.

    o   Unfortunately there are not enough companies in the
    U.S. that practice this in spite of the freedoms they’ve enjoyed many seem to
    forgot about corporate responsibility to the nation that has provided them the




    Again this is policy that only works in more of a socialist state

    Changing existing laws of giving money to those that
    procreate for a bump in the government paycheck every month is how that
    has become unsustainable



    Mandating anything in this class is not
    the answer.  The delivery of the healthcare
    system in the U.S. would be corrected if they changed existing laws

    Mandate larger insurance ‘pools’ to
    offset the financial analytics that goes into the insurance premiums too complicated
    for state departments to possibly keep up with all the separate ‘groups’
    insurance companies create to keep their risk looking higher on paper

    Get rid of the 10% annual increase over
    operational cost to non-profit service providers and trauma centers

    §  Don’t let them count the discounts from being in the
    insurance carriers’ network as part of their operating expenses while you’re at

    §  Don’t let the insurance carriers use that discount
    as part of their operational cost either and if you can’t retract the national
    health plan get rid of the 10% increase in the insurance premiums before
    providing any additional support to the state department(s)



    If you want to increase the middle class take away their
    unsustainable cost of health insurance/care by implementing the recommendations
     for a solution to number 3


    I believe this is already in place and the sooner you get rid of the
    EPA the better.  Replace them with a
    department that thrives to reach the goals stated rather than regulating to the
    extent based on test and studies that are lacking in authentication and riddled
    with worst-case probabilities.


    Increase the marginal income tax rate to 45% for the highest tax


    Change this complicated tax system with no deductions except for
    charities and primary residence property

    Also separate banks and insurance companies



    Pulling a Trillion dollars out the hat is part of the thinking
    that has many economies in the mess they’re in. 

    Analysis and planning for a new, secure energy infrastructure is a
    good goal that can only be accomplished by having an educated society that can
    perform critical thinking. 

    This is where education credits can come in play to
    encourage more study in this domain

    You will lower education cost if you fix the escalating,
    uncontrollable health care cost. 
    FYI- the national health plan will not stop this escalating cost
    without changing the federal laws as previously sited


    Government cannot strengthen community, people and society
    strengthen or destroy the community

    Mobility is all about cost vs reward.  Increasing cost of liberties of driving an
    automobile is the stick

    Funding innovative technologies on fuel efficient autos is
    the carrot



    Improve governance of what? 
    Private enterprise?  Mandating
    private enterprise bylaws?  Sounds like
    socialism to me. 

    Improve governance by improving non-intrusive oversight to utility
    type industries necessary in a modern society and the government itself

    There is also too much oversight on some government entities
    that eliminates their ability to serve the public for which they were
    created in the first place


  • Liam Esterhazy

    ...and one, big governing board -- headed by these two -- to tell us all what to do. We could change the motto of the nation to 'arbeit macht frei'.

  • FREEDOM - William Wallace

    Go make your utopia in the arab world where they need this type of "social agreement". Anyone who has taken an economics class would not even give this jamoke the time of day. He must be a community organizer like Mr. Obama.

  • LibertyOrDeath

    This is pure socialism!!!! This limits freedom and takes away our liberties. 

  • Marc Brodeur

    Great list! Market-based progressive solutions.... my favorite. The world will be a better place when people stop focusing on philosophy and start implementing things that work--regardless of which "school" promotes them.

  • Afasd

    This is a philosophy, Mr. Brodeur and it's a bad one. It's called Utilitarianism.

  • Gabe5525

    The goals of better education, great health care, and economic security should be accomplished, but attempting to do it entirely through government will not be done nor should it be done. The entrepreneurial ideas that have been reported on this site is far more exciting and worth doing. The government has an important but limited role in our nation's success, but the idea of using government alone to solve problems is now dead. Most Americans and many liberals including myself do not see a future in this. Let entrepreneurs and consumers lead the way into a better future.

  • Sflemings

    This is extremely Keynesian. This admirable, noble and vital type of change that we all desire can only be sustained if it comes from the human heart. Policy is not the solution. We have tried this in history multiple times in the past 100 years. Please, please, please study England before Thatcher! Or France's economic history from 1950 to date. The principles that are proposed in this article are great, but public policy in governmental terms is not the answer. 

    We have tried this type of idealistic initiative before. I certainly don't know the solution to our problem, but we have seen how policy can corrupt the noblest ideal.

  • American

    Each of the above listed "positive" rights creates an obligation that falls on someone else, which is enforced by officials who wield government's monopoly on physical violence against whomever it chooses. 

    Even if, by some fantastical stretch of imagination or wishful thinking, the leaders and bureaucrats who implement the massively intrusive agencies necessary to carry out these programs are selflessly committed to benefiting others, the resulting totalitarian systems are irresistible to those who are intent on exercising power over others.Inevitably, government leaders expand their personal power and wealth at the expense of those who are duped into believing that government is committed to their own well-being. All the murderous regimes of the 20th century were built using exactly this list of "improvements" to government.The original American system, with its limited central government and refusal to enforce artificial equality, was/is far more advanced and productive than the nightmare that results whenever the above programs become law of the land.

  • Jonathan Clark

     Incredible. This was written by an economist? One with an actual degree? Amazing. Raise the top marginal tax rate to 45%? Really? Historical data show that no matter how high the tax rate is, the most tax revenue it will generate is 15-20%. Surprise! People shelter their income when tax rates are too high.

    Happiness cannot be legislated - there will always be people who just suck at life. History has shown that the only ones who benefit from socialist ideals like this are the ones at the top.

    Who's editing Fast Company nowadays? The Obama Administration?

  • R.

    If you're an able bodied person and you refuse to work, then you're SUPPOSED to rot in the street.

  • mhensgen

    What a crock...did Fast Company have insufficient content andd have to source something from  Marx?

    BTW better look up the definition of "right" and try to square that with "freedom."

    Again, what a crock.

  • FluxAppeal

    One could predict the responses, but I commend the effort and thinking that went into this post. Sadly, we are much too selfish and spoiled in this country to think this collectively or progressively, but instead coined as being 'liberal' or 'marxist' or whatever other self-serving insult people find appropriate. If as much effort went into offering alternative solutions as it does in arguing or defending one's individual rights, we might actually move forward a bit as a country. Thank you for keeping the conversation going.

  • FluxAppeal

    @sflemings, Thank you. Your
    question about implementing incentives is curious. How do we find worthwhile
    incentives when we don't agree on what happiness actually is? Money and power equate
    happiness to many, others find it in family, community, personal goals or "beliefs,"
    still others believe it's a free ride. I
    agree with your statement above about using the human heart, but this requires
    opening the mind in a way that can be realize that inherently
    we all have the same basic needs: to
    feel loved, worthy and valued for who we are. When we come from here, it's
    easier to relate to others and there's less need to hoard or by take from
    anyone else.

    We wouldn't need government to step in and control policy if
    we were willing to look at the tough questions, be accountable and find inclusive
    solutions, but this would require us to believe in the importance of community.
    Isn't this is why government was formed in the first place, to 'govern'  us as a collective? It always seems to me
    that we look to government to enforce that which we are unwilling to govern
    within ourselves.