When the Green Party decried the Louisiana flooding as further evidence of climate change's threat to the planet, it didn't get too much news coverage. But even though the Greens may be flying under the media radar, don't count the party out as a factor in the general election.
Of course, the Greens—who anointed physician (and folk singer) Jill Stein as their candidate for president on Aug. 6—aren't likely to capture the White House. According the website RealClearPolitics.com, Stein is in fourth place in the polls, behind Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson; she has just over 3% of the vote.
The reason the Green Party may well play a significant role in November is its appeal to many disappointed supporters of Democratic runner-up Bernie Sanders reluctant to join the Hillary Clinton fold. Anyone old enough to remember the 2000 election, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader likely cost Vice President Al Gore the presidency, would never doubt it.
So what exactly does the Green Party want? As its name suggests, the party's platform is largely devoted to promoting environmental sustainability. But it also offers plenty of proposals that would directly affect your wallet, from a more progressive tax system to making college more affordable to universal healthcare.
To be sure, you should keep many of these proposals in perspective. Politicians on the campaign trail have a tendency to promise voters the stars. And that goes double when there is little chance they will actually win and face the challenge of implementing their programs.
As for whether their plans are fiscally viable, well, it's hard to say exactly. Outside experts like the Tax Policy Center and the Tax Foundation — which have run numbers on Clinton and Trump plans — haven't yet put a price tag on the Green Party's proposals.
All the same, the platform includes a number of ideas that have been advocated by smart economists on both sides of the aisle. Here is a guide to what the Green Party's proposals would mean for your money, and their potential attraction to Sanders voters and others.
Less taxes for the poor
Arguing for a tax code that's "strongly progressive," the Green Party proposes exempting families that earn less that $50,000 from federal and state income taxes, while also creating a "universal basic income" to help the least well off. While tax cuts sound enticing, it's not entirely clear how many people would be helped, since about 45% of American households already pay no federal income tax under current rules.
Promising every citizen an income is an idea with a long intellectual pedigree among economists of both political stripes. (Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman advocated versions of it.) It's gained steam recently. In June, Switzerland went so far as to hold a referendum on the idea, although voters rejected it. Indeed, while a universal basic income holds the allure of simplicity and a certain fairness, many economists and mainstream politicians view it as a non-starter because of the enormous price tag and because they fear it would discourage people from working.
More taxes for the upper-middle class
The Green Party makes big promises in terms of social programs. Unlike the Democrats, who have spent the last several elections vowing to avoid tax hikes for people who make under $250,000, the Greens aren't shy about calling on the upper-middle class to contribute more. Among the party planks that would affect this group: Lowering the current $1 million limit on the amount of loans eligible for the mortgage interest deduction; requiring high earners to pay Social Security tax on more or all of their income (now, no one pays that tax on income over $118,500); and taxing investment income at the same rate as wages.
These aren't necessarily outlandish ideas. Capital gains rates have matched income-tax rates before. Democratic nominee Clinton has herself proposed tweaking the capital gains tax in a way which would make it harder for investors to qualify for the lowest rates. Meanwhile, plenty of both liberal and conservative economists are on record as opposing the mortgage interest deduction, which largely benefits the wealthy and artificially inflates housing prices. But with million-dollar homes becoming commonplace in some cities — there are 190,000 in San Francisco and 2.2 million nationwide — even marginally scaling back the mortgage interest deduction may be a political non-starter.
More taxes for the rich
Of course, a party that's unafraid to tax the merely well-to-do isn't going to let masters of the universe off the hook. Among the proposals that would hit the rich are a pledge to "restore" the estate tax, impose a tax on financial transactions, and add a new wealth tax of 0.5% on individual assets over $5 million.
While it's not clear precisely what a restored estate tax would look like, the tax has indeed become far less onerous than it was at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, when estates of more than $650,o00 could end up paying as much as 55%. Today the exemption for individual estates is more than $5 million (and $10 million for couples) and the top rate is 40%. A financial transaction tax and a wealth tax are less politically realistic, although they have their fans. A global wealth tax was a key proposal in economist Thomas Piketty's 2013 inequality blockbuster book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
Free public college
Bernie Sanders' promise of free tuition at public colleges was a key part of his appeal with young voters. The Green Party wants to offer that too, and in addition to forgive all student and parent loans taken out to pay for college or vocational school. Sanders — whose education plan came with an estimated $750 billion price tag—merely wanted to trim interest rates on student debt. For her part, Clinton, who had originally promised only to help students graduate debt-free, expanded her proposal last month to also promise free college for families earning less than $85,000.
Universal health care
Also in line with the Sanders campaign, the Green Party proposes a single-payer, or national, health care system. Until this comes into being, the party wants employers to cover all workers, paying at least half the cost. While the cost of Sanders proposal was pegged at $15 trillion, the Green Party platform argues that streamlined administration and the government's buying power could help curb costs. Again both the Green Party and Sanders are to the left of Clinton, who would expand Obamacare and focus on bringing down the cost of co-pays, deductibles, and drugs.
Stronger workers' rights
In addition to some far-out-sounding ideas like "alternative, low-consumption communities" in rural America, the Green Party outlines a number of proposals aimed at strengthening unions and workers rights, ranging from employer-sponsored day care to putting union reps alongside management on company boards, a practice that has long been the norm in Germany. One more proposal lifted from left-leaning Northern Europe: A 30-to-35-hour work week, something Sweden has experimented with recently. France, which shortened its work week to 35 hours in 2000, has had mixed luck.
Pressure from Sanders caused Clinton to move left during the primary season. The possible continuing impact of the Greens in the general election is worth noticing.