Four Ways to Prune a Rose: Why the NYT Missed the Mark on the Inequality Debate

Feb 19, 2015Eric Bernstein

On Tuesday, the New York Times' data-minded blog The Upshot posted an article reporting on an inequality study performed by Georgetown University's Stephen J. Rose. The article's title boldly stated that "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."

On Tuesday, the New York Times' data-minded blog The Upshot posted an article reporting on an inequality study performed by Georgetown University's Stephen J. Rose. The article's title boldly stated that "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."

Although the study's analysis is mathematically correct, the study is framed and conducted in a way that makes its findings irrelevant to the larger discussion of inequality in America. Here's why:

1.    Rose's study examines income and ignores wealth, which is actually the most stark indicator of inequality in America today; the top 10 percent owns 93 percent of all stocks and 61.9 percent of all wealth. This is equivalent to judging someone's wealth by looking at their paychecks without considering the value and appreciation of the businesses, houses, cars, and bank accounts that are also in their name.

2.    Rose's analysis ends in 2011, so he does not consider the ongoing recovery, the majority benefits of which are once again going to the very wealthy.

3.    The current inequality dialogue, championed by Capital author Thomas Piketty and Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, specifies that wealth is the primary driver of inequality, so singling out income makes the Rose study irrelevant to the important public discourse going on today.

4.    Even if we were to accept the income-only study as valid, there are many facts that call Rose's findings into question:

  • The income group he describes fell from a record historical high to a slightly lower historical high.
  • Higher incomes have continued to recover since the study's statistical conclusion.
  • The primary reason lower incomes didn't fall further is that they were bolstered by government transfers (see chart and caption below).

Rose examines post-tax-and-transfer figures rather than pre-tax-and-transfer figures and argues that this supports his thesis of declining inequality. In fact, the difference is largely due to the rising number of individuals who paid less taxes and qualified for more government benefits due to their loss of income. A greater number of people dependent on government assistance would not fit most definitions of a reduction in inequality.

Eric Bernstein is a Program Associate at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Daily Digest - February 19: Can Housing Reform Turn Back the Clock?

Feb 19, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Set the Wayback Machine for Housing Finance Reform, But to When? (CLS Blue Sky Blog)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Set the Wayback Machine for Housing Finance Reform, But to When? (CLS Blue Sky Blog)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Brad Miller lays out the history of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to argue for a stronger government role in creating a safe and affordable mortgage market.

A Labor Dispute Slowed America’s Ports to a Halt. But There’s an Even Bigger Problem. (WaPo)

Lydia DePillis looks at the problems facing West Coast ports that go beyond current labor disputes. Increased traffic through the ports has also slowed everything down.

Fed Officials Sound Cautious Note on Raising Interest Rates (NYT)

Binyamin Appelbaum reports on the notes released from the Federal Reserve's January meeting, which acknowledge concerns about the fragility of economic growth.

Bernie Sanders, Mulling Presidential Run, Adopts Novel Stance on Deficit (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff says that Senator Sanders's discussion of the deficit as an issue that includes unemployment and inequality draws on a less commonly accepted school of economic thought.

The Wrong Way to Revitalize a City (In These Times)

Rachel M. Cohen argues that ALEC's push against community benefit agreements, which create requirements for publicly-subsidized developers, is the opposite of community-building.

Why Do Americans Feel Entitled to Tell Poor People What to Eat? (The Nation)

Unlike other government programs that people benefit from, like student loans and mortgage deductions, EBT cards are highly visible, creating opportunities for judgment, writes Bryce Covert.

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Daily Digest - February 18: Comcast Doesn't Want You to Know What You're Missing

Feb 18, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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The Big Lock-In (Medium)

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The Big Lock-In (Medium)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how Comcast is trying to dominate online video to the point where consumers wouldn't even see that other alternatives exist.

Aid to Needy Often Excludes the Poorest in America (NYT)

Patricia Cohen says that in recent decades, assistance to the poorest – generally, those who are not working – has decreased, while government aid for those near the poverty line has increased.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Double Standard: Only the Working Poor Must Comply With the Tax Code (WaPo)

Jared Bernstein calls out Rep. Ryan for allowing business tax breaks without compensating for the cost or strengthening enforcement, while any break for poor families must be offset elsewhere.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner: Organized Labor's Public Enemy No 1? (The Guardian)

The ferocity of Governor Rauner's attacks on labor, particularly public-sector unions, has surprised many, writes Steven Greenhouse, including labor leaders who need to negotiate new contracts.

Is Welfare Reform Causing Earlier Deaths? (The Nation)

Michelle Chen looks at a new study that shows how the shift from open-ended aid to our current welfare system, tied to employment, shortened lives and harmed children's cognitive growth.

American Companies Are Getting Older, Not Better (AJAM)

Aging businesses are creating fewer jobs than new companies, writes David Cay Johnston, and they also pay workers less and push for policies that slow economic growth as a whole.

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Daily Digest - February 17: The Shame of Denying Corporate Responsibility

Feb 17, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Obama Shames Companies Who Don't Want to Provide Health Insurance (Melissa Harris-Perry)

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Obama Shames Companies Who Don't Want to Provide Health Insurance (Melissa Harris-Perry)

As guest host on Melissa Harris-Perry, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren examines the president's comments about a Staples policy that prevents workers from obtaining insurance.

The State Where Even Republicans Have a Problem With Busting Unions (The Nation)

John Nichols says that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is having trouble maintaining support for his plans to weaken public sector unions, with his Republican Comptroller refusing to cooperate.

The Rich Own Our Democracy, New Evidence Suggests (AJAM)

New studies show that Congress votes closest to the desires of its donors, writes Sean McElwee, and donors' ideological extremism has probably produced our dramatic polarization.

States Consider Increasing Taxes for the Poor and Cutting Them for the Affluent (NYT)

Shaila Dewan explains that shifting from income taxes to consumption-based taxes in the states increases the burden on the poor, and has led to huge budget shortfalls in Kansas and North Carolina.

The Tall Task of Unifying Part-Time Professors (The Atlantic)

Kate Jenkin looks at the challenges of organizing a group of workers who are part-time and shift from campus to campus each semester in light of the upcoming National Adjunct Walkout Day.

The War on the War on Poverty (TNR)

Michael A. Cooper Jr. looks at Republicans' efforts to shut down the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC Law. These same politicians try to argue that poverty isn't a problem.

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Daily Digest - February 13: Campus Network Award Has Local Benefits

Feb 12, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Cornell Roosevelt Institute to Benefit From Grant (Cornell Daily Sun)

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Cornell Roosevelt Institute to Benefit From Grant (Cornell Daily Sun)

Stephanie Yan reports on how the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's MacArthur Award will impact the Cornell chapter, which will benefit from new national training programs.

Philadelphia Joins the Growing Ranks of Cities Requiring Paid Sick Days (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert reports on Philadelphia's new paid sick leave law, which makes it the 17th U.S. city with such a law. Paid sick leave is expected to save businesses money due to reduced turnover.

These Motel Rooms Are the Last Resort for Families Without Homes (The Nation)

Leighton Akio Woodhouse profiles two families who are living in motels long-term because they cannot afford the upfront costs of an apartment, accompanied by photos by Elizabeth Lloyd Fladung.

At My Oil Refinery, My Life is Worth the Price of a Pie (The Guardian)

Butch Cleve, an oil refinery worker, explains why 5,000 oil and chemical workers have gone on strike for safer labor conditions. He shares stories of terrible – and preventable – accidents.

GOP Governors Want Higher Education Cuts to Recoup Budget Shortfalls (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm points out four Republican governors whose states are still experiencing budget shortfalls, at least in part due to recent tax cuts, and are cutting education funding to close to the gap.

Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says (NYT)

Timothy Williams reports on a new study from the Vera Institute of Justice, which shows how local jails imprison people for extended periods when they are unable to pay their relatively minor fines.

Obama Blasts Staples, and Reveals Larger Partisan Divide Over Workplace (WaPo)

Paul Waldman analyzes the president's statements about Staples limiting part-time workers' hours, noting that Democrats don't just aim to create jobs, but also try to improve workplaces.

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Daily Digest - February 12: Populism Won The Day

Feb 12, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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How Democratic Progressives Survived a Landslide (TAP)

Bob Moser says that populist, localized campaign messages, not the party's own turnout strategy, saved a few key Democratic races in the 2014 midterm elections.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

How Democratic Progressives Survived a Landslide (TAP)

Bob Moser says that populist, localized campaign messages, not the party's own turnout strategy, saved a few key Democratic races in the 2014 midterm elections.

  • Roosevelt Take: Moser references Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch's post-election analysis on winning populist messaging.

What ‘Audit the Fed’ Really Means – and Threatens (WSJ)

Robert Litan explains that Senator Paul's proposal calls on Government Accountability Office economists to go outside their expertise to report on the Fed's activity and minimize its independence.

Payday Loans Are Bleeding American Workers Dry. Finally, the Obama Administration Is Cracking Down. (TNR)

Danny Vinik breaks down how payday loans harm consumers: the initial loan might not be so bad, but the repeated roll-overs have a high cost. Limiting those roll-overs is one potential regulation.

The “War on Women” is a Fiscal Nightmare: Taxpayers on the Hook for Millions as Republicans Gut Family Planning (Salon)

Katie McDonough looks at Kansas as an example of where legal fees to fight for potentially unconstitutional abortion restrictions and cuts to family planning services create massive costs.

Is Republican Concern About Middle-Class Wage Stagnation Just a Big Con? (MoJo)

Kevin Drum doesn't think this is a sign of Republican reformers succeeding in shifting the party in a populist direction, and says that the more likely explanation is an attempt to defuse Democrats.

New on Next New Deal

The Politics of Responsibility – Not Envy

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch argues that voters are responding not to envy, but to the knowledge that everyone needs to take a fair share of responsibility for shared prosperity.

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The Politics of Responsibility – Not Envy

Feb 11, 2015Richard Kirsch

Americans are looking for politicians who ask the wealthy to take responsibility for their fair share of our society.

According to former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers – who is emerging as a key economic advisor to Hillary Clinton – the big political challenge in addressing economic inequality is not to embrace “a politics of envy.”

No, Mr. Summers – it’s not the politics of envy. It’s the politics of responsibility.

Americans are looking for politicians who ask the wealthy to take responsibility for their fair share of our society.

According to former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers – who is emerging as a key economic advisor to Hillary Clinton – the big political challenge in addressing economic inequality is not to embrace “a politics of envy.”

No, Mr. Summers – it’s not the politics of envy. It’s the politics of responsibility.

Summers was quoted in The New York Times about “what has emerged as a central question of her [Hillary Clinton’s] early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.”

The rich may imagine that blaming them for the struggles of the rest of us is driven by envy, but that’s their own conceit to make them feel good. Americans don’t resent the rich. While we might fantasize about winning the lottery, we are not consumed by jealousy. What most Americans understand is that they are struggling financially because the wealthy have rigged the economic and political system to benefit them at the expense of the rest of us. That’s not envy: it’s reality.

Summer’s formulation is meant to give intellectual cover to the real problem that Democrats like Clinton face: taking on those who finance their political campaigns. As the Times puts it: “And she [Clinton] must convince a middle class that feels frustrated and left behind that she understands its struggles, even as she relies heavily on the financial industry and corporate interests to fund her candidacy.”

There is a way to connect with people without “overly vilifying the wealthy.” The politics I would recommend to Clinton and other Democrats is that of responsibility.

There are two senses in which we can have a conversation about responsibility. The first is in explaining who is responsible for the financial squeeze on American working and middle class families. The second sense is to describe the kind of responsible behaviors that we can insist those who are responsible undertake to rebuild opportunity and security. The two are related, as one needs to be clear on who is responsible in order to identify how to fix the problem.

For example, wages are stagnant because corporations engaged in concerted strategies to limit the proportion of profits shared with workers, including: busting unions, rather than negotiating with them; shipping jobs overseas rather than paying higher wages to American workers; and aggressively using campaign contributions and lobbyists to undermine labor standards (minimum wage; overtime protection; etc) and labor laws. Corporations spent their huge profits on stock buybacks and CEO pay, rather than better compensation for workers.

Then there’s Wall Street’s culpability for using its political clout to shred financial regulations and oversight while engaging in the orgy of financial speculation and predatory lending that triggered the Great Recession.

Or tax policy, where corporations pushed to reduce their proportion of taxes paid to the federal government and by the wealthy so that they now pay a lower share of taxes than the middle-class. The result:  working and middle class families pay higher taxes and more for public services. A glaring example is the enormous rise in the cost of public higher education, as funding for public colleges and universities has been slashed.

The economic story about who is responsible requires acknowledging the democratic story. One thing that Americans on the left and right agree on is that the wealthy and corporate lobbyists have hijacked our democracy. That’s not cynical – it’s true. And it is a major reason why so many have given up on government working for them, or solving the problems they face.

None of this is “over-vilifying the wealthy.” It is describing the reality that Americans understand. As we saw in the election this past fall, Democrats who fail to identify those responsible will lose, as base Democrats stay home and white working-class voters turn to Republicans who assign blame to the government and the poor.

Identifying those who are responsible, as I’ve done above, drives the power of solutions to address those problems. For example, corporate suppression of wages is fixed by: revitalizing labor law and enforcement; raising labor standards like minimum wage and earned sick days; creating new workplace protections, like paid family leave; changing the rules on stock buy-backs; and limiting CEO compensation.

Addressing the adverse impact of Wall Street’s drive for speculative profits calls for taxing speculative trading, breaking up the big banks, stopping predatory lending, and providing new, publicly backed mechanisms for financing the residential and community lending that banks have abdicated.

Revenue raised from reversing tax breaks for corporations and the very wealthy can be used to invest in services families need like affordable child care and free community college, proposals in President Obama’s new budget.

Instead of vilifying the wealthy, the politics of responsibility can lift up corporate leaders and wealthy Americans who are examples of responsible behavior. President Obama has done this occasionally, for example, lauding Costco for its high pay and good benefits for big box stores. Last week, Aetna announced it was going to raise wages and benefits for its lowest-wage workers. Warren Buffett has a “rule” bearing his name, for proposing that the wealthy shouldn’t pay lower shares of taxes than their secretaries. Buffett’s example is particularly important because he’s calling for government action, not just setting an example through his own behavior.

The handful of corporate leaders who are acting responsibly are also acting in their own long-term self-interest. They understand that their businesses do better with workers who get paid decently. They realize they need an educated workforce. They may even comprehend that if workers get paid more, they’ll have more to spend, driving the economy forward.

The real emotional challenge in addressing inequality is not envy by the 99 percent for the 1 percent. It’s the very thin skins of the super-rich. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, born one of the 1 percent, understood this. FDR framed the question of wealth and responsibility brilliantly when he said:

Government can deal and should deal with blindly selfish men. But that is a comparatively small part – the easier part of our problem. The larger, more important and more difficult part of our problem is to deal with men who are not selfish and who are good citizens, but who cannot see the social and economic consequences of their actions in a modern economically interdependent community. They fail to grasp the significance of some of our most vital social and economic problems because they see them only in the light of their own personal experience and not in perspective with the experience of other men and other industries. They, therefore, fail to see these problems for the nation as a whole.

There were some prominent capitalists who supported New Deal programs, including banking reforms. But of the rest, FDR famously said, “I welcome their hatred.”

At the end of the day if Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat is going to champion the policies essential to rebuilding the middle-class and creating a new era of broad, sustainable prosperity, she will have to join FDR in applauding those businesses who worked for the benefit of all and welcoming the hatred of those who resist the fundamental changes needed to build an America that works for all of us.

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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Daily Digest - February 11: How Can Small Donors Gain Big Influence?

Feb 11, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

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Our partners at As You Sow are hosting a webinar on excessive executive compensation tomorrow at 2pm EST. Register here.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Our partners at As You Sow are hosting a webinar on excessive executive compensation tomorrow at 2pm EST. Register here.

Big Money Can’t Buy Elections – Influence is Something Else (Reuters)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros suggests stronger small-donor matching funds and reforms to the Federal Election Commission to work around Citizens United.

A Better Way to Help the Long-Term Unemployed (The Atlantic)

Alana Semuels asks whether one successful – but relatively expensive – workforce program can be scaled up beyond its current pilots. The high costs make it a tougher sell for federal funding.

Unfriend the Fed: Rand Paul’s Attack Re-examined (WSJ)

Pedro da Costa, with help from some economists, fact-checks a Rand Paul speech on the Federal Reserve and finds the senator's understanding of the Fed and its workings limited.

The Parent Agenda, the Emerging Democratic Focus (NYT)

Nate Cohn sees a theme in the proposals that Democrats are focusing on: childcare, preschool, parental leave, free community college. It's a family-centric agenda that appeals to the middle class.

Will the Recovery Finally Translate into Better Wages? (TAP)

Robert Kuttner looks at the questions that are still in play despite a strong jobs report, including wage growth and when the Fed will decide to raise interest rates.

New on Next New Deal

Building a Better Community: MacArthur-Winning Campus Network Looks to the Future

The Campus Network's members are what earned them a MacArthur Award, writes National Director Joelle Gamble, and the award creates new opportunities to invest in those people.

What Happens if Europe Cuts Off the Greek Banks?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow J.W. Mason argues Greek banks won't collapse without the European Central Bank's support, since Greece's own central bank can maintain internal payments.

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What Happens if Europe Cuts Off the Greek Banks?

Feb 10, 2015J.W. Mason

Over the past week, it's become clear that the real leverage the European authorities have over Greece is via the banking system. What does Greece need continued loans for? Not to pay for public expenditures, thanks to its primary surplus. Not to pay for imports — Greece has a (small) trade surplus. Not to service current debt, if it defaults. What does need to be financed is the flow of deposits out of Greek banks to the rest of Europe.

Over the past week, it's become clear that the real leverage the European authorities have over Greece is via the banking system. What does Greece need continued loans for? Not to pay for public expenditures, thanks to its primary surplus. Not to pay for imports — Greece has a (small) trade surplus. Not to service current debt, if it defaults. What does need to be financed is the flow of deposits out of Greek banks to the rest of Europe.

So what happens if that financing is cut off, as the European Central Bank is threatening? The usual answer is the collapse of the Greek banking system, followed immediately by Greece’s forced exit from the eurozone. But what concretely are the mechanics of this? What is the exact chain of events from an end to ECB financing to Greek exit from the euro? I don't know the answer to this, but the more I think about it, the less confident I am in the conventional wisdom.

What concretely does it mean that the ECB is providing liquidity support to Greek banks? As far as I can tell, it is this: When a holder of a deposit in a Greek bank wants to make a payment elsewhere, either to purchase a good or asset outside Greece or to move the deposit to a different bank, the Greek bank must transfer an equal quantity of settlement assets to the bank receiving the deposits. These settlement assets are normally acquired on the fly by issuing a new liability in the interbank market, but if other banks are unwilling to accept the liabilities of Geek banks, they can be borrowed directly from the ECB against suitable collateral. This is the lending that the ECB is threatening to cut off.

What if the Greek banks couldn't acquire settlement assets? Then other banks would not accept the deposits, and it would be impossible to use deposits in Greek banks to make payments. Depositors would find their accounts frozen and, in the normal course of events, the banks would be shut down by regulators.

But Greece still has a central bank. My understanding is that much of the day-to-day business of central banking in Europe is carried out by the national central banks. In principle, even if Greek banks couldn't acquire settlement assets by borrowing from the ECB, they could still borrow from the Greek central bank. This wouldn't help with payments to the rest of Europe, since reserve balances at the Greek central bank wouldn't be accepted elsewhere. But I don't see why the Greek central bank couldn't keep the payments system working within Greece itself.

If the Greek central bank is willing to provide liquidity on the same terms as the ECB, what's going to force the Greek banks to shut down? It's not as though there's any Europe-wide bank regulator that can do it.

In a sense, this would be a kind of soft exit, since there would now be a Greek euro that would not be freely convertible into a non-Greek euro. But I don't see why it would have to be catastrophic or irreversible. Transactions within Greece could continue as before. It might not make much difference for routine trade, either, since the majority of Greek imports come from outside the EU.

Where it would make a difference is precisely that it would prevent Greek depositors from moving their funds out of the country. (Greek banks would also presumably be limited in their ability to provide physical cash to depositors, but I don’t think this is important.) In effect, by cutting Greece off from the European interbank payment system, the ECB would be imposing capital controls on Greece's behalf. You could even say that, if the threat of cutting off liquidity support can trigger a run on Greek banks, actually doing so would ensure that there isn't one.

Now maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe there is a good reason why the Greek central bank can't maintain the payment system within Greece. But I also think there's a larger point here. I'm thinking about the end of the gold standard in the 1930s, when breaking the link with gold was considered an unthinkable catastrophe. And yet the objective basis of the money system in gold turned out to be irrelevant. I think, in the same way, the current crisis may be revealing the reflexive, self-referential nature of money. On a certain level, the threat against Greece comes down to: "You must make your money payments, or we will deprive you of the means to make your money payments."

The rule of the money system requires that real productive activity be organized around the need for money. This in turn requires that money not be too freely available, but also that it not be too scarce. Think of Aunt Agatha in Daniel Davies' parable. Suppose her real goal is to run her nephew's life — to boss him around, have him at her beck and call, to know that he won't make any choices without asking if she approves. In that case, she always has to be threatening to cut him off, but she can't ever really do it. If he knows he's getting money from her, he won't care what she thinks — but if he knows he isn't, he won't care either. He has to be perpetually unsure. And in keeping with Davies' story, the only thing Jim actually needs the money for is to continue servicing his debt to Aunt Agatha. The only real power she has is a superstitious horror at the idea of unpaid debts.

In this way I've tentatively convinced myself that all Syriza needs to do is hold firm. The only way they can lose is if they lose their nerve. Conversely, the worst outcome for the ECB and its allies would be if they force Greece into default and everyone watches as the vengeful money-gods fail to appear.

UPDATE: It turns out that Daniel Davies is making a similar argument:

Capital controls are arguably what Greece needs right now - they have balanced the primary budget, and they need to stop capital flight. From the ECB's point of view, I'd agree that the move is political, but it also means that they are no longer financing capital flight.

There's a sensible negotiated solution here - with a lower primary surplus than the program (in which context I think Varoufakis' suggestion of 1.5% is not nearly ambitious enough), a return to the structural programs (the Port of Piraeus really does need to be taken out of the political sphere), and an agreement to kick the headline debt amount into the far future (in service of which aim I don't think all the funny financial engineering is helping).

The fall-back is a kind of soft exit, with capital controls. But the massive, massive advantage of capital controls over drachmaisation is that they  preserve foreign exchange. Greece imports fuel and food. With capital controls, it can be sure of financing vital imports.

The fact that Davies is thinking the same way makes me a lot more confident about the argument in this post.

J.W. Mason is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Note: A version of this post originally appeared at The Slack Wire.

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Building a Better Community: MacArthur-Winning Campus Network Looks to the Future

Feb 10, 2015Joelle Gamble

The Campus Network's incredible community is what earned a MacArthur Award, and that's what we'll continue to invest in.

The Campus Network's incredible community is what earned a MacArthur Award, and that's what we'll continue to invest in.

Last Thursday, our social media accounts exploded with the news that the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network had received the 2015 Award for Creative and Effective Institutions from the MacArthur Foundation. The flurry of tweets, revelry, and community from students in Conway, Arkansas, from alumni working in the White House and city governments, and from supporters at foundations and organizations all over this country is demonstrative of what makes the Campus Network such a unique organization: our people.

At our core, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network seeks to defy the expectations of young people in policy and politics. We are not apathetic. We are adaptive. We are not selfish. We are community-driven. We care about our people, their ideas, and their ability to be taken seriously. We believe there is power in a good idea connected to the right institutions, backed by a passionate community of civic actors.

With the right resources, the right model, and passion, we are capable of solving the complex problems plaguing our country today.

We’ve already seen the Campus Network’s impact on communities around the country:

  • Students designed, advocated for, and passed a Clean Air Act resolution in Ithaca, NY to cut greenhouse gas pollution.
  • They passed a Los Angeles Community College District amendment to mandate that community colleges accept food stamps on campuses, increasing access to healthy food for hundreds of students living below the poverty line.
  • They even collaborated with the director of emergency management in New Haven, CT and Alderman Salvatore E. DeCola to institute a Community Rating System that allowed residents in vulnerable neighborhoods to receive a discount on flood insurance premiums.

We’ve got a lot to be proud of. Our people have done phenomenal things. The way forward is to ramp up our investment in their success. Here’s what’s next:

Political engagement for our generation must be as creative and adaptive as we are.

The Campus Network is building a new standard for how civic and political engagement organizations connect with young people. Our generation’s engagement in politics must be as fluid, intuitive, and adaptive as the public sector’s. That is not to say that efficiency rules all but, instead, that the processes by which we take civic action must keep up with the creative, fast-paced, and customizable tendencies of young people. That’s why we are a networked organization. Now, we are updating our tools to match.

Our training and support system will utilize advances in technology, innovations in deliberative processes and design thinking, and a decentralized model. Meanwhile, our online training curriculum will be responsive to the diverse needs of our network of student chapters, molding to their campus and community needs while still tapping into the power we have as a collective.

Partnering toward greater collective impact

We believe that organizations cannot be everything to everyone. The sum of many different groups working well together creates the potential for broader impact. The most strategic partnerships we can build keep in mind our shared goals for building a more inclusive, equitable society, not just our own organizational goals.

With that, the Campus Network has the potential to partner to help amplify impact in the civic and political engagement space. We see ourselves as contributors to a wave of change, and we make the wave bigger. We do not try to surf a wave built by others. Whether it’s collaborating on child poverty policies with local doctors in Salem, North Carolina or contributing to an economic opportunity policy agenda with a Baltimore-based advocacy group, partnering for greater impact will be a centerpiece for how we connect our student chapters to the broader world.

We are investing in our alumni as they continue to pursue and lead policy change in their professional and civic lives. And we’re tapping into this powerful network of current students and alumni all across the country to help one another. With Roosevelters working in statehouses, city halls, and the upper echelons of the federal government, the Campus Network is multiplying its potential to change the role of young people in the policy process.

Policy + People = Power

Student policy thinkers have also been the doers in our network – passing city council resolutions, starting revolving loan funds, and lobbying in the halls of Congress. Now that our network is larger than ever before, we are systematizing our capacity to take policy action. Each year, our members produce hundreds of policy ideas, codified in memos and publications. By connecting these student ideas, through the students themselves, to decision makers and power-players, we are moving toward a greater amplification of the impact our chapters generate.

Through our growing organizational capacity, we are designing a robust support system for student projects throughout our network. In 2015, we will see even more student ideas in the halls of their state capitols and city halls and college President’s offices through an initiative called Policy By and For, launching on February 18. By directing intentional financial, communication, and strategic campaigning resources toward projects in the network, more young people will be situated to connect with decision-makers, armed with their own ideas. We are building toward better governance that is not just for our generation but shaped by our generation.

Fundamentally, we are a values-driven organization that is only as strong as the brilliant minds that run our chapters, research and produce policy ideas, start projects, and help strengthen our community of wonks. Through strategic investments in our chapters, tools, and partnerships, the Campus Network will continue to be a powerful leader for policy change for the next 10 years and beyond.

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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