• Artisanal Millennials and the Resurrection of Free Labor Ideology

    Nov 25, 2014Brit Byrd

    Millennial's rising preferences for artisanal, local, and genuine products must not minimize the importance of wage labor in the economy.

    In July, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight summarized the state of the minimum wage debate in one grand old super-cut of sound bytes. To top off repeated invocations of “class war!” Senator Marco Rubio croons that “We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves. Of people who have made it and people who will make it.”

    Millennial's rising preferences for artisanal, local, and genuine products must not minimize the importance of wage labor in the economy.

    In July, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight summarized the state of the minimum wage debate in one grand old super-cut of sound bytes. To top off repeated invocations of “class war!” Senator Marco Rubio croons that “We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves. Of people who have made it and people who will make it.”

    Putting aside Oliver’s observation that this statement “makes no sense – economically, mathematically, or even grammatically,” it is nonetheless very informative of the ideology behind the resistance to raising the minimum wage.

    Rubio’s rhetoric is an ideological descendent of “free labor ideology,” a defining tenet of the Republican Party before the Civil War. Made famous by historian Eric Foner in his seminal work, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, free labor ideology stood vigorously against the economic dependence of one individual on another.

    Although this ideology admirably stood in opposition to slavery, it predated the industrial revolution and thus developed a strange relationship with the rise of the non-propertied, yet emancipated, wage-earning class. When the wage earner was introduced to the dichotomy between the slave and the propertied man, the ideal citizen of free labor ideology remained “a farmer or independent mechanic,” with wage labor on the outside looking in.

    In Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, Foner observes that although the progenitor of capitalism, Adam Smith, had “seen intractable class divisions as an inevitable consequence of economic development,” across the ocean, thinkers and politicians held that “in America, wage labor was a temporary status, and 'laborers for hire do not exist as a class.'”

    Eventually, after a grand period of nation building, the industrial revolution, and the progressive movement, wage labor was recognized beyond this transitory status.

    But even the most casual observer of American politics knows of the continued ubiquity of the “self-made man” in the political lexicon. Although less blatant, the specific image of the homestead also remains inappropriately fixed in our collective political imagination – and not just with Marco Rubio, but also amongst Millennials who may consider themselves committed progressives.

    Weighing in on what is and isn’t “Millennial” has been the media’s fetish for quite awhile now, but earlier this year the Pew Research Center threw some fresh meat into the otherwise overcooked discussion. Their report, “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology” identified a “next generation left” that was six times more likely than traditional liberals to agree with the statement “blacks who can’t get ahead are responsible for their own condition.”

    The headlines wrote themselves: Millennials are libertarians, Millennials have abandoned the state, seven gifs that show how Millennials are racist, and so on. Amongst the dreck, an exceptional column in The New York Times by Anand Giridharadas distinguishes this anti-institutional vogue as a personal reaction against impersonal big-box capitalism, not a political reaction. In his most potent example, “the locally foraged mushrooms on menus in Brooklyn … are a small-scale elite secession from the ways of ruthless global trade, not a political resistance of it.“

    Giridharadas contrasts this urban farm-to-table fascination with the more familiar, anti-state views we see from the right, which are “anchored in rural life.” Yet his local-mushrooms example is his most potent because it hints effectively at an actual connection between this millennial angst and the very old image of bucolic self-sufficiency. It is not just the newfangled app-tech craze of Uber and Venmo driving this reaction, but also a very organic, homestead aesthetic.

    In fact, this visual connection has already been made explicit. Look no further than Portlandia’s revised anthem for the city that so infamously exaggerates our generation: the “dream of the 1890s is alive [in Portland].” As front man Fred Armisen notes, remember when “everyone was pickling their own vegetables and brewing their own beer?”

    Now obviously, Portlandia is an exaggeration of a particular trend. But this compulsion towards the “genuine” and “artisanal” does permeate our current moment. Not every child of the late 60s was at Woodstock or burning draft cards, but it would be specious to suggest that such cultural touchstones did not and do not affect the generational perspective.

    Ultimately, Portlandia’s invocation of the 1890s is cruelly apropos, given that we are now living in what many refer to casually as a “New Gilded Age.” Giridhadaras’ take that, “though some [millennials] may fight it, they cannot, in the main, escape Amazon and its cutthroat brand of capitalism,” is similar to the dominance of industrial tycoons in the late 19th century that overshadowed even the state.

    Farm-to-table fascination represents a welcome political-cultural rebellion against the big box, but it shares an aesthetic with the free labor ideology that lifts Senator Rubio’s rhetoric and head into the clouds.

    To finish Portlandia’s anthem, front woman Carrie Brownstein notes of 2014 Portland, “it’s like President McKinley was never assassinated.” As a nation, we were lucky enough to have none other than President Theodore Roosevelt fill McKinley’s shoes and plant the seeds of the Progressive Movement that his fifth cousin would later go on to solidify in the New Deal.

    Millennials must be careful to not let fascination with the artisan keep them rooted in an era before Roosevelt. This reevaluation of authenticity is, on the whole, a welcome development . But now, just as in the 1890s, the frontier has closed and wage labor is a pressing political, economic, and quotidian reality.

    Brit Byrd is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic Development and a senior at Columbia University.

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  • Bigger Health Care Providers Mean Bigger Profits, But Not Always Better Care

    Nov 24, 2014Emily Cerciello

    Hospitals are buying private physician practices left and right, and state attorneys general should consider whether such mega-providers violate anti-trust laws.

    Hospitals are buying private physician practices left and right, and state attorneys general should consider whether such mega-providers violate anti-trust laws.

    In 2002, only 22 percent of private physician practices were owned by hospitals. Today, this number has climbed to more than 50 percent, and 75 percent of newly hired physicians are entering the workforce as hospital employees. As the physician population ages, the behaviors of young physicians will have long-term impact on the organization and norms of care delivery.

    Amid declining reimbursements and a shift toward value-based payment models in which physicians are reimbursed for quality rather than quantity of services, health care providers are facing pressure to reduce costs and improve outcomes. An increasing number of physicians are selling their practices to hospitals, and hospitals are aggressively buying to remain competitive.

    Two chief catalysts that are driving hospitals to purchase physician practices include the recent economic downturn and passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    In this economic environment, hospital survival is a matter of cost cutting and care organization. The ACA requires compliance with new quality regulations, including curbed readmission rates and a reduction in hospital-acquired infections, and facilities are compelled to spend money in efforts to meet those requirements. Hospitals are acquiring physician practices to increase scale for better negotiating positions with insurers, further penetration of local markets, the ability to integrate IT systems, and the improvement of purchasing power with suppliers.

    Physicians are selling their practices to hospitals for greater access to capital and fewer administrative responsibilities amid reform, an improved work-life balance, and recruiting incentives by hospitals.

    But when hospitals purchase physician practices instead of contracting with physicians, the results can be costly. A recent Health Affairs study gives authority to the issue: hospital ownership of physician practices increases hospitals’ pricing power, and prices rise for privately insured patients. A one-standard-deviation increase in market share can increase prices by 3 percent, and a one-standard deviation increase in hospital Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (a statistical measure of market concentration), can increase prices by 6 percent.

    In central North Carolina, Duke University Health System has been aggressively converting nearby clinics into Duke-affiliated outpatient centers. State Attorney General Roy Cooper is examining whether antitrust laws or new legislation can be used to reduce growing hospital prices.

    In January, a federal judge blocked a major purchase of Idaho’s largest physician practice by the state’s largest hospital system. In light of that case, the FTC has suggested it will show greater scrutiny of healthcare provider consolidations.

    In theory, true integration of physician practices into hospital systems can provide substantial gains for both parties. By reducing barriers to patient information and care coordination, facilities can improve quality and generate cost-savings in the long-term. Truly integrated practices employ a well-managed infrastructure, aligned incentives, coordinated IT tools, and a culture of partnership and collaboration. But there is a great possibility that hospitals are primarily motivated by the prospect of greater bargaining power with insurers, and are not truly integrating.

    State Attorneys General should renew a focus on anti-trust legislation to protect the strained wallets of healthcare consumers in states where transactions are occurring. In a time of seismic shifts in care delivery and payment mechanisms, we need to keep the patient at the center of health activity and ensure that transactions do not further burden consumers in an already expensive system.

    Emily Cerciello is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care, and a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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  • Leadership Wanted: Governor Cuomo, Homeless Students Need College Support

    Nov 20, 2014Kevin Stump

    For homeless youth to make it through college, they need extra support, best provided through a government program of homeless liaisons.

    For homeless youth to make it through college, they need extra support, best provided through a government program of homeless liaisons.

    New York has been among the top 10 states with unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) filing for federal financial aid for the last three years. In a private report to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, the United States Department of Education, reports that there were 2,215 college students applying for financial aid in New York who indicated on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid that they were homeless last year. This number does not include undocumented youth who are not eligible to apply for federal or state aid.

    Unfortunately, these students are often left behind. It wasn’t until last year that New York changed an extremely outdated component of its $1 billion Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) that updated this 40-year-old in-state need-based financial aid program. The change made it so UHY are now eligible for the maximum TAP award of $5,165 that Dependent students are eligible for, versus the maximum TAP award of $3,025 available to Independent students.

    In addition to outdated laws that limit the amount of aid they can receive, UHY face a number of other challenges including food insecurity, a lack of adult guidance and support, failure to access available support systems, lack of access to parental financial information, limited housing options, and a lack of financial means to live independently and safely.

    New York should create a policy that models the federal McKinney-Vento Act on a college level. This landmark piece of legislation successfully creates safety nets and institutional support structures for K-12 students. By law, every school district in the country, and every school building in New York City, is required to have a liaison who is responsible for coordinating support and resources for homeless and unaccompanied youth. Every year, liaisons are required to undergo training to stay current on best practices to support and assist homeless students. Furthermore, their work has given lawmakers data and information on the best ways to support these communities.

    There are more than 130,000 K-12 homeless students in New York. Among those students, nearly 11,000 11th and 12th graders approaching the end of their high school careers. These are only the numbers that are reported and do not account for the possibility of additional students who are in need.

    Given the number of colleges and universities, the number of community based organizations and support networks that exist, and the high-level of poverty in New York, the state has the potential to become a leader in creating a framework of how states should build support systems for unaccompanied homeless youth to access and succeed in college.

    Governor Cuomo should initiate the policy process to develop a law requiring a homeless liaison at every brick-and-mortar college and university in the state, to ensure that all former McKinney-Vento students are supported during their transition into college and throughout their tenure until graduation. The homeless liaison would be the first point of contact for professionals working with these young people and for the students who experience, or who are at risk of experiencing, homelessness while at college. The liaison would also be charged with coordinating all needed services. In addition, the liaison would be responsible for tracking and reporting all relevant data to help inform future policy regarding homeless college students and develop greater support services.

    This kind of support and data-gathering could potentially exist without legislation. However, this issue is a prime example of where the state could do it better and more comprehensibly. With legislative protections and teeth to ensure sustainable and uniformed support is given, as well as appropriate resources for service delivery, training, technology, data collection, and future statewide policy initiatives, the liaisons will be able to provide better support to UHY in college. A statewide policy setting up liaisons would establish an infrastructure that can be used to easily implement future policy.

    As economic inequality and homelessness rates remain high, and college attainment continues to be so crucial, it’s critical that New York take action to protect our most at-need college students to ensure that those who are pursuing their dreams don’t slip through the cracks.

    Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.


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  • A Dem Who Can Explain that Fairness is Prosperity Will Sweep in 2016

    Nov 19, 2014Richard Kirsch

    The policies that will deliver economic growth also center fairness, and that's what Democrats need to emphasize to keep the presidency in 2016.

    The policies that will deliver economic growth also center fairness, and that's what Democrats need to emphasize to keep the presidency in 2016.

    The familiar debate within the Democratic Party – move left or right – is on. In a memo to a “limited number of Democratic leaders,” Third Way, the leading organization for corporate Democrats, lays down the gauntlet: “Democrats are offering economic fairness, but voters want economic growth and prosperity.” And for good measure, Third Way declares, “And it has to be meaningful; Democrats can’t simply stick a 'growth' label on the old bottle of 'fairness' policies.”

    The folks at Third Way are right about one thing; voters do want economic growth and prosperity. Where they are wrong is in their assumption that fairness can't be a part of that growth. The policies that do the most to bolster fairness are in fact the most powerful policies to move the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity.

    Progressives and Democrats don’t always make that clear. Most of the time they talk about fairness as separate from broadly-shared prosperity. The Democrat who bases his or her campaign on that crucial link will sweep into the presidency in 2016.

    Policies that increase fairness are key to driving the economy forward.

    Raising the minimum wage is not just about basic fairness for low-wage workers. Raising wages is about creating economy boosting jobs, not economy busting jobs. When wages are raised, workers have more money to spend, essential when 70 percent of the economy is made up of consumer spending.

    An economy boosting job pays enough to cover the basics, which is why the fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage mobilizes people to action. It is about working at that wage for enough hours, with predictable schedules, so that the wages add up to a decent paycheck. It is about getting paid when you are out sick and having paid family leave, so you can care for and support your family. It is about women getting paid as much as men. It is about being able to afford your health care, so you have money to spend on other essentials and don’t end up bankrupt because of a high-cost illness. It is about increasing Social Security benefits and bolstering retirement savings, so you can keep supporting yourself and keep the economy moving well into your retirement.

    These measures reward people fairly for work and are essential to rebuilding the middle class engine of the economy, as shown by the evidence collected in the Center for American Progress’s middle-out economics project.

    The flip side of creating economy boosting jobs is reversing the soaring concentration of wealth. It’s not just unfair that the rich are grabbing more and more of the wealth we all create, it’s a big reason that the economy remains sluggish. When the top 1 percent capture virtually all of the economic progress, it's impossible for them to spend much of it. When corporations sit on trillions of dollars of cash because there aren’t markets for their goods, that money doesn’t go to higher wages or investment in creating jobs or other things that would boost productivity throughout the economy.

    Even Wall Street is beginning to get it. In a report that is stunning only for its source, Standard & Poor's found this summer that “Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world's biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population.”

    A big goal of Third Way’s memo is to justify policies that they admit “may not be the most politically popular.” While some of the Third Way proposals are worthwhile, like millions of teachers for pre-K, much of their agenda is that of corporate America and in some cases would actually be bad for the economic growth they claim to seek.

    Using coded language in an attempt to dilute the political poison, Third Way pushes for cutting Social Security benefits, lowering corporate tax rates rather than stopping corporate tax evasion, and agreeing to new trade deals which would drive the race to the bottom and allow corporations to challenge environmental and health and safety laws, instead of bolstering American workers' already hard-pressed incomes.

    Instead, what the country needs and what Democrats should push are bold policies which drive the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity: fairness.

    We can start by putting Americans to work with a massive investment in core productive infrastructure in three areas: transportation, from roads and bridges to high speed rail; clean, renewable energy, which will simultaneously tackle climate disruption; and high-speed Internet for every home and business in America. Everyone who does this work should be paid enough, with good benefits, to support and care for their families, and be given the flexibility needed to care for those families.  In doing so, we doubly boost the economy: through the investment in infrastructure and through the good jobs.

    It is both fair and essential for our economic future to ensure that every child has a quality education and the opportunity to succeed in school, career, and life. We need to modernize and replace dilapidated schools and assure that every child has a well-prepared and supported teacher in a small enough class to learn. We need to transform schools, particularly those that teach children in low-income neighborhoods, into community centers. We should make high-quality child care and pre-K universal, employing millions more providers and teachers.

    We need to provide career training for the high-skilled jobs that don’t require traditional college. We need to make college affordable, by dramatically lowering the cost of public colleges and universities, providing much more tuition assistance, and tying the payment of student loans to earnings.

    And as in infrastructure, all these jobs – from day-care providers to teachers to college professors (no more adjuncts) – should be good jobs, with good pay, benefits, and the flexibility to care and support families.

    The only reason that Democrats would consider an agenda that Third Way admits is politically unpopular is to please corporate campaign donors and elites. But with President Obama pushing for new trade deals, advocating revenue-neutral corporate tax reform and having supported cuts in Social Security benefits, that agenda is as alive as the billions in campaign contributions that pour into both political parties.

    Americans are right about two things. One, the system is rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful. Two, unless we change course, the future will not be better for our children. Those are the core reasons we saw historically low voter turn out this month and why minimum wage hikes passed at the same time voters decided to give Republicans their turn in the continuing roller-coaster of Congressional control over the past decade.

    The Democrat who champions bold policies to build an America that works for all of us, not just the wealthy, and policies that create broadly shared, sustainable prosperity, will triumph in 2016.

    The key, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did (and as great organizers do), is to tap into anger and lift up hope. FDR railed against the “economic royalists” and experimented with bold policies that reigned in financial speculation and put Americans to work building the foundations for the 20th Century economy. 

    The next FDR will name the villains who are rigging the system: Wall Street speculators and corporations that cut wages and benefits and ship jobs overseas. The next FDR will reveal the truth that “we all do better when we all do better.” That when we all earn enough to care and support our families, when we can shop in our neighborhoods, give our kids a great education, afford our health care, retire with security, we drive the economy forward.

    Mamby-pamby won’t cut it. Americans are crying for bold leadership, a way out of a narrowing world towards a better world for our children.

    The Democrat who leads a political party that stands up against the rich and powerful and stands up for working families and the middle class, who declares that Americans have done this before and that together we can do it again, will triumph in 2016. A Democratic party that relentlessly presses that agenda into action will meet the great challenge of our time. 

    Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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