Background: How We Got Here, Where We Are and a New Way Forward

The United States emerged out of the 1930s economic depression with national and state governments implementing a series of policies inspired by the philosophy of a political economist named John Maynard Keynes. Keynes believed in the power of markets to be the driving engine of the economy. However, he also recognized the essential importance of government policies to augment and regulate those markets so that the majority of the population benefited. This included a progressive taxation system, in which wealthier individuals and large businesses paid their fair share. From the 1940s into the 1970s, there was a bipartisan consensus in support of Keynesianism: Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and others were all Keynesians as were most legislators. During the 1970s this system ran into trouble and the momentum of policy began to move in the direction advocated by neoliberal economists such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James M. Buchanan. Neoliberal policies include a taxation system and spending priorities unfairly favoring the interests of wealthy individuals and large corporations over the majority of taxpayers. It also redirects government spending away from the provision of adequate social safety net programs and reasonable environmental protections.

Neoliberals attack the very idea of a politics whose foundation is a society infused with collective responsibilities to each other, the natural environment, and future generations. Their alternative vision is a collection of free and responsible individuals. This might sound good but the problem is that the policies advocated by neoliberals – privatization of public services, deregulation, and regressive tax cuts – results in growing economic, social, and political inequality. The negative effects of neoliberalism fall disproportionately on low and medium level wage earners, those on fixed incomes, people of color, and women. Neoliberal deregulation means that we fail to uphold our collective responsibility to protect the natural environment for future generations.

The core mission of Big Sky 55 + is to organize Montana citizens 55 and older to have a strong and mature voice that advocates for the legitimate interests of olderĀ Montanans without sacrificing the interests of younger Montanans and the natural environment that supports us all. Big Sky 55 + embraces and advocates for a vision in a new and better direction that works better for the majority of Montanans recognizing that neoliberalism has hurt. Our vision includes policy reforms that generate government actions that effectively bolster markets and provide adequate public services in the 21st century.

A significant fact about the Montana electorate is that the majority of people who vote in our state are aged 55 and above. This gives us a significant opportunity to make change for the better if we can motivate ourselves to vote, effectively pressure and assist elected officials to pass sound public policies as well as encouraging more of us to actually run for office, most notably for our citizen legislature. We are fond of saying at Big Sky 55 + that all of us older Montanans become seniors by virtue of simply living long enough but we only become elders if we direct our energies toward taking good care of ourselves and others in both our private and public lives.

Virtually all Montanans are either seniors ourselves, can see old age on the horizon, or know somebody who is. Once upon a time, back in the Keynesian era, decent pensions supplemented by Social Security and Medicare were not uncommon. Neoliberalism systematically stripped many of those guarantees away and we have collectively suffered as a result. When our elders cannot take care of themselves in retirement then the burden passes to family members. We are not saying that families should not pitch in and help, but as most of us can attest, without adequate and smart public services, we all unnecessarily suffer as a result.

This platform summarizes a list of issues and policy directions that can orient us toward a better future. Many of the programs we advocate cost money but this is money we can raise if we redirect current spending combined with a more balanced and fair system. This document will be supplemented by a more detailed proposal that will flesh out these ideas in more detail, provide fiscal notes where appropriate, and offer a detailed tax policy that explains how this can be paid for in ways that will not undercut the vitality of our state-wide economy. We hope that you will join us to make this vision a reality.