Daily Digest - November 19: Why Do So Few Workers Get Overtime Pay Today?

Nov 19, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Whatever Happened to Overtime? (Politico Magazine)

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Whatever Happened to Overtime? (Politico Magazine)

Nick Hanauer says that raising the earnings threshold for mandatory overtime pay would kickstart the economy by either ensuring workers have more money or forcing companies to hire more workers.

Can Republicans Shut Down the Government Without Actually Shutting Down the Government? (WaPo)

Paul Waldman explains the GOP plan to stop any executive action on immigration without shutting down the government. The strategy: to pass spending bills that exclude the offices that would work on that issue.

Over Bentley's Objections, Golden Dragon Plant Votes for Union (Montgomery Advisor)

The Republican governor of Alabama urged workers at a copper plant to vote against unionizing with a letter distributed directly to the plant workers shortly before they voted in favor of their union.

Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions (NYT)

Thomas Edsall points out that while Republicans demonize unions, and public sector unions in particular, the Democrats aren't doing much of anything to push back on labor's behalf.

When Mega Corporations Get Mega Tax Breaks, We All Pay (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's board of directors, says that closing corporate income tax loopholes could fund incredible projects, like national universal pre-K.

Here's Why Conservatives Will Never Give Up Their War on Obamacare (TNR)

The "partisan incomprehension" that follows the Affordable Care Act around in the news is primarily based in the fact that Republicans lost a highly partisan fight, writes Brian Beutler.

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Dirty Deals: How Wall Street's Predatory Deals Hurt Taxpayers and What We Can Do About It

Nov 18, 2014

Download the report by Saqib Bhatti.

Download the report by Saqib Bhatti.

The financialization of the United States economy has distorted our social, economic, and political priorities. Cities and states across the country are forced to cut essential community services because they are trapped in predatory municipal finance deals that cost them millions of dollars every year. Wall Street and other big corporations engaged in a systematic effort to suppress taxes, making it difficult for cities and states to advance progressive revenue solutions to properly fund public services. Banks take advantage of this crisis that they helped create by targeting state and local governments with predatory municipal finance deals, just like they targeted cash-strapped homeowners with predatory mortgages during the housing boom. Predatory financing deals prey upon the weaknesses of borrowers, are characterized by high costs and high risks, are typically overly complex, and are often designed to fail.

Predatory municipal finance has a real human cost. Every dollar that cities and states send to Wall Street does not go towards essential community services. Across the country, cuts to public services and other austerity measures have a disparate impact on the working class communities of color that were also targeted for predatory mortgages and payday loans, further exacerbating their suffering.

The primary goal of government is to provide residents with the services they need, not to provide bankers with the profits they seek. We need to renegotiate our communities’ relationship with Wall Street. We can do this by implementing common sense reforms to safeguard our public dollars, make our public finance system more efficient, and ensure that our money is used to provide fully-funded services to our communities. Taxpayers do trillions of dollars of business with Wall Street every year. It is time we start making our money work for us.

Key Recommendations
  • Transparency: Officials should disclose all payments for financial services and conduct an independent investigation of all financial deals to identify predatory features.
  • Accountability: Cities and states should take all steps to recover taxpayer dollars when bank deal unfairly with them, including taking legal action, renegotiating bad deals, and refusing future business.
  • Reducing Fees: Officials should identify financial fees that bear no reasonable relationship to the costs of providing the service and use their leverage as customers to negotiate better deals.
  • Collective Bargaining with Wall Street: Cities and states should agree to a common set of guidelines for an efficient municipal finance system and refuse business with any bank that does not abide by them, creating a new industry standard.
  • Creating Public Options for Financial Services: Cities and states should determine which services they could do themselves more cheaply if they hired the right staff, and make a plan to insource those functions.
  • Establishing Public Banks: Cities and states should establish public banks that are owned by taxpayers, can deliver a range of services, including municipal finance, and provide capital for local investment.

Read: "Dirty Deals: How Wall Street’s Predatory Deals Hurt Taxpayers and What We Can Do About It," by Saqib Bhatti.

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Daily Digest - November 18: Rotten Bank Deals in the Windy City and Beyond

Nov 18, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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How the Banks Bamboozled Chicago (Chicago Sun Times)

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

How the Banks Bamboozled Chicago (Chicago Sun Times)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti explains how banks broke their contracts with the city of Chicago, and how Mayor Emanuel should respond to get that money back.

  • Roosevelt Take: Today, Bhatti releases a new report, "Dirty Deals: How Wall Street’s Predatory Deals Hurt Taxpayers and What We Can Do About It," which examines this issue on a broader scale.

Good Data Make Better Cities (Boston Globe)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford and Stephen Goldsmith argue in favor of a revamping of data-sharing laws within government, so they protect without limiting collaboration.

Long-Term Unemployment a Sign of Slack, NY Fed Economists Say (WSJ)

The New York Federal Reserve is calling on policymakers to account for the long-term unemployed in their assessment of the economy, writes Pedro da Costa.

That Silence You Hear Is the Sound of Healthcare.gov Working Just Fine (TNR)

Jonathan Cohn says the disparate headlines about how Obamacare is working are all correct: in general, premiums are increasing slowly, but what that means for individual plans will vary.

Number of Homeless Children in America Surges to All-Time High: Report (HuffPo)

A new report calculates that nearly 2.5 million children were homeless at some point in 2013. Lack of affordable housing plays a major role, report David Crary and Lisa Leff.

How Badly Do Republicans Want Tax Reform? (Maybe Not That Badly) (TAP)

Paul Waldman says that if Republicans – or their campaign funders – really wanted tax reform, they'd start writing a proposal regardless of the president's actions on other issues.

And Now the Richest .01 Percent (Robert Reich)

The richest .01 percent of the U.S. now hold a higher percentage of the country's wealth than in 1929, and Robert Reich says they've used it to buy off American democracy.

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Daily Digest - November 17: Getting Married Won't Solve Inequality

Nov 17, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why You Shouldn’t Marry for Money (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert explain why the conservative idea of reducing poverty and inequality by promoting marriage won't actually work.

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

Why You Shouldn’t Marry for Money (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert explain why the conservative idea of reducing poverty and inequality by promoting marriage won't actually work.

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Reveals Why Robots Really Are Coming For Your Job (Business Insider)

Tomas Hirst reports on a new paper by Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, which argues that left unchecked, innovation can create market failures that increase inequality.

Why Screwing Unions Screws the Entire Middle Class (MoJo)

Kevin Drum argues that the Democrats' split from organized labor in the 1960s and labor's subsequent loss of power helped to create the pro-business political climate we have today.

Kansas Revenues Will Fall $1 Billion Short of 2015 and 2016 Expenses, Fiscal Experts Say (Kansas City Star)

Following massive income tax cuts, Kansas faces severe shortages, and critics of the tax cuts worry the results will be cuts for schools, roads, and social services, writes Brad Cooper.

Inequality, Unbelievably, Gets Worse (NYT)

Steven Rattner points to new data from the Federal Reserve showing increased inequality. He emphasizes government transfer programs as a way to ease the problem.

Arkansas’s Blue Collar Social Conservatives Don’t Know What’s Coming (Daily Beast)

200,000 Akansans gained health insurance through a hybrid "private option," but Monica Potts writes that with newly elected officials focused on money over people, that could disappear.

The Real Winner of the Midterms: Wall Street (In These Times)

David Sirota ties Wall Street's funding of gubernatorial campaigns to its profits: many of these candidates support "pension reform" that will increase Wall Street's fees.

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Daily Digest - November 14: Strikes on Capitol Hill, the Post Office, and Walmart

Nov 13, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Take 5: CTU's Fight Against Risky Financial Deals, Ed Policy Under Rauner (Catalyst Chicago)

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

Take 5: CTU's Fight Against Risky Financial Deals, Ed Policy Under Rauner (Catalyst Chicago)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti criticizes the Chicago Public Schools for diving deeper into overly risky financial deals, which he says were misrepresented by the banks.

Capitol Workers Ask Obama for Pay 'More Like Costco and Less Like Walmart' (The Guardian)

Workers who serve meals in the Capitol's dining facilities went on strike Wednesday to protest their poverty-level wages, writes Jana Kasperkevic. This is the first strike of federally contracted workers to include Capitol workers.

Postal Workers to Address Service Cuts at National Rallies (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff reports on the demonstrations planned for Friday by the American Postal Workers Union, which is protesting cuts that would eliminate jobs and lead to slower delivery.

Walmart Workers Stage Sit-In At California Store Ahead Of Black Friday (Buzzfeed)

Yesterday's first-of-it's-kind protest involved about 25 Walmart workers in Southern California, reports Claudia Koemer, who draws parallels to retail strikes of the 1930s.

The Number of Unemployed Exceeds the Number of Available Jobs Across All Sectors (Working Economics)

Elise Gould says that since unemployed workers outnumber job openings across all sectors, the problem in the labor market must be a broad lack of demand, not a skills gap.

Great News: Lots of Americans Just Quit Their Jobs (Vox)

Danielle Kurtzleben says the sharp increase in the quits rate in September is a sign of economic health, since people don't leave jobs without expecting to find another.

Why Women Should Get the Rest of the Year Off (The Nation)

Bryce Covert quips that since women make only 78 percent of what men make, it's time for women to take a vacation – not just from their jobs, but from the second shift at home as well.

New on Next New Deal

The UNC Coup and the Second Limit of Economic Liberalism

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says the University of North Carolina's financial aid rules demonstrate how current liberal policy pits the middle class against the poor for access to goods and services.

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The UNC Coup and the Second Limit of Economic Liberalism

Nov 13, 2014Mike Konczal

There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. In the aftermath of the 2014 election, there’s been a significant amount of discussion over whether liberals have an economic agenda designed for the working and middle classes. This discussion has primarily been about wages in the middle of the income distribution, which are the first major limit of liberal thought; however, it is also tied to a second limit, which is the way that liberals want to provide public goods and services.

So what happened? The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. Iowa implemented a similar approach back in 2013. And as Kevin Kiley has reported for IHE, similar proposals have been floated in Arizona and Virginia. This trend is likely to gain strength as states continue to disinvest.

The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individuals, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.

First Limit: Middle-Class Wages

There’s been a wave of commentary about how the Democrats don’t have a middle-class wage agenda. David Leonhardt wrote the core essay, “The Great Wage Slowdown, Looming Over Politics,” with its opening line: “How does the Democratic Party plan to lift stagnant middle-class incomes?” Josh Marshall made the same argument as well. The Democrats have many smart ideas on the essential agenda of reducing poverty, most of which derive from pegging the low-end wage at a higher level and then adding cash or cash-like transfers to fill in the rest. But what about the middle class?

One obvious answer is “full employment.” Running the economy at full steam is the most straightforward way of boosting overall wages and perhaps reversing the growth in the capital-share of income. However, that approach hasn’t been adopted by the President, strategically or even rhetorically. Part of it might be that if the economy is terrible because of vague forces, technological changes and necessary pain following a financial crisis, then the Democrats can’t really be blamed for stagnation. That strategy will not work out for them.

The Democrats (and even many liberals in general) also haven’t developed a story about why inequality matters so much for the middle class. There are such stories, of course: the collapse of high progressive taxation creates incentives to rent seek, financialization makes the economy focused less on innovation and more on disgorging the cash, and new platform monopolies are deploying forms of market power that are increasingly worrisome.

Second Limit: Public Provisioning

A similar dynamic is in play with social goods. The liberal strategy is increasingly to leave the provisioning of social goods to the market, while providing coupons for the poorest to afford those goods. By definition, means-testing this way puts high implicit taxes on poorer people in a way that decommodification does not. But beyond that simple point, this leaves middle-class people in a bind, as the ability of the state to provide access and contain costs efficiently through its scale doesn’t benefit them, and stagnating incomes put even more pressure on them.

As noted, antagonisms between the middle class and the poor in higher education are entirely a function of public disinvestment. The moment higher education is designed to put massive costs onto individual students, suddenly individuals are forced to look out only for themselves. If college tuition was largely free, paid for by all people and income sources, then there’d be no need for a working-class or middle-class student to view poorer student as a direct threat to their economic stability. And there's no better way to prematurely destroy a broader liberal agenda by designing a system that creates these conflicts.

These worries are real. The incomes of recent graduates are stagnating as well. The average length of time people are taking to pay off their student loans is up 80 percent, to over 13 years. Meanwhile, as Janet Yellen recently showed in the graphic below, student debt is rising as a percentage of income for everyone below the bottom 5 percent. It’s not surprising that studies find student debt impacting family formation and small business creation, and that people are increasingly looking out for just themselves.

You could imagine committing to lowering costs broadly across the system, say through the proposal by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall to make the first two years free. But Democrats aren't doing this. Instead, President Obama’s solution is to try and make students better consumers on the front-end with more disclosures and outcome surveys for schools, and to make the lowest-income graduates better debtors on the back-end with caps on how burdensome student debt can be. These solutions by the President are not designed to contain the costs of higher education in a substantial way and, crucially, they don’t increase the public buy-in and interest in public higher education.

The Relevance for the ACA

I brought up higher education because I think it’s relevant, but I think it also can help explain the lack of political payout for the Affordable Care Act. It’s here! The ACA is not only meeting expectations, it’s even exceeding them in major ways. Yet it still remains unpopular, even as millions of people are using the exchanges. There is no political payout for the Democrats.

Liberals chalk this up to the right-wing noise machine, and no doubt that hurts. But part of the problem is that middle-class individuals still end up facing an individual product they are purchasing in a market, except without any subsidies. Though the insurance is better regulated, serious cost controls so far have not been part of the discussion. Polling shows half of the users of the exchange are unsure if they can make their payments and are worried about being able to afford getting sick. This, in turn, blocks the formation of a broad-based coalition capable of defending, sustaining, and expanding the ACA in the same way those have formed for Social Security and Medicare.

Any serious populist agenda will have to have a broader agenda for wages, with full employment as the central idea. But it will also need to include social programs that are broader based and focused on cost controls; here, luckily, the public option is a perfect organizing metaphor.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. In the aftermath of the 2014 election, there’s been a significant amount of discussion over whether liberals have an economic agenda designed for the working and middle classes. This discussion has primarily been about wages in the middle of the income distribution, which are the first major limit of liberal thought; however, it is also tied to a second limit, which is the way that liberals want to provide public goods and services.

So what happened? The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. Iowa implemented a similar approach back in 2013. And as Kevin Kiley has reported for IHE, similar proposals have been floated in Arizona and Virginia. This trend is likely to gain strength as states continue to disinvest.

The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individuals, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.

First Limit: Middle-Class Wages

There’s been a wave of commentary about how the Democrats don’t have a middle-class wage agenda. David Leonhardt wrote the core essay, “The Great Wage Slowdown, Looming Over Politics,” with its opening line: “How does the Democratic Party plan to lift stagnant middle-class incomes?” Josh Marshall made the same argument as well. The Democrats have many smart ideas on the essential agenda of reducing poverty, most of which derive from pegging the low-end wage at a higher level and then adding cash or cash-like transfers to fill in the rest. But what about the middle class?

One obvious answer is “full employment.” Running the economy at full steam is the most straightforward way of boosting overall wages and perhaps reversing the growth in the capital-share of income. However, that approach hasn’t been adopted by the President, strategically or even rhetorically. Part of it might be that if the economy is terrible because of vague forces, technological changes and necessary pain following a financial crisis, then the Democrats can’t really be blamed for stagnation. That strategy will not work out for them.

The Democrats (and even many liberals in general) also haven’t developed a story about why inequality matters so much for the middle class. There are such stories, of course: the collapse of high progressive taxation creates incentives to rent seek, financialization makes the economy focused less on innovation and more on disgorging the cash, and new platform monopolies are deploying forms of market power that are increasingly worrisome.

Second Limit: Public Provisioning

A similar dynamic is in play with social goods. The liberal strategy is increasingly to leave the provisioning of social goods to the market, while providing coupons for the poorest to afford those goods. By definition, means-testing this way puts high implicit taxes on poorer people in a way that decommodification does not. But beyond that simple point, this leaves middle-class people in a bind, as the ability of the state to provide access and contain costs efficiently through its scale doesn’t benefit them, and stagnating incomes put even more pressure on them.

As noted, antagonisms between the middle class and the poor in higher education are entirely a function of public disinvestment. The moment higher education is designed to put massive costs onto individual students, suddenly individuals are forced to look out only for themselves. If college tuition was largely free, paid for by all people and income sources, then there’d be no need for a working-class or middle-class student to view poorer student as a direct threat to their economic stability. And there's no better way to prematurely destroy a broader liberal agenda by designing a system that creates these conflicts.

These worries are real. The incomes of recent graduates are stagnating as well. The average length of time people are taking to pay off their student loans is up 80 percent, to over 13 years. Meanwhile, as Janet Yellen recently showed in the graphic below, student debt is rising as a percentage of income for everyone below the bottom 5 percent. It’s not surprising that studies find student debt impacting family formation and small business creation, and that people are increasingly looking out for just themselves.

You could imagine committing to lowering costs broadly across the system, say through the proposal by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall to make the first two years free. But Democrats aren't doing this. Instead, President Obama’s solution is to try and make students better consumers on the front-end with more disclosures and outcome surveys for schools, and to make the lowest-income graduates better debtors on the back-end with caps on how burdensome student debt can be. These solutions by the President are not designed to contain the costs of higher education in a substantial way and, crucially, they don’t increase the public buy-in and interest in public higher education.

The Relevance for the ACA

I brought up higher education because I think it’s relevant, but I think it also can help explain the lack of political payout for the Affordable Care Act. It’s here! The ACA is not only meeting expectations, it’s even exceeding them in major ways. Yet it still remains unpopular, even as millions of people are using the exchanges. There is no political payout for the Democrats.

Liberals chalk this up to the right-wing noise machine, and no doubt that hurts. But part of the problem is that middle-class individuals still end up facing an individual product they are purchasing in a market, except without any subsidies. Though the insurance is better regulated, serious cost controls so far have not been part of the discussion. Polling shows half of the users of the exchange are unsure if they can make their payments and are worried about being able to afford getting sick. This, in turn, blocks the formation of a broad-based coalition capable of defending, sustaining, and expanding the ACA in the same way those have formed for Social Security and Medicare.

Any serious populist agenda will have to have a broader agenda for wages, with full employment as the central idea. But it will also need to include social programs that are broader based and focused on cost controls; here, luckily, the public option is a perfect organizing metaphor.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - November 13: When Government Intervention is the Best Remedy for a Health Crisis?

Nov 12, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

Ebola and Inequality (Liberian Observer)

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

Ebola and Inequality (Liberian Observer)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz says the Ebola crisis reveals the absolute need for a government role in health care. Drug companies aren't creating cures for diseases that primarily impact the poor.

Don't Forget the Kinda Unemployed (U.S. News & World Report)

Mike Cassidy points out the workers who are missed by the traditional unemployment rate: involuntary part-timers and marginally attached workers. While unemployment has improved, underemployment is still elevated.

Is Wage Stagnation Killing the Democratic Party? (Vox)

While Ezra Klein agrees that wage stagnation is a major issue today, he doesn't think it impacted the midterms as much as the difference between midterm and presidential year electorates.

VW to Allow Labor Groups to Represent Workers at Chattanooga Plant (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on Volkswagen's new policy, which will create formal structures for groups representing at least 15 percent of plant workers to meet with company officials.

If Democrats Want to be the Party of the People, They Need to Go Full Populist (The Week)

It's time to reject neoliberal commitment to markets and convince the American people of the power of economic populism and income transfer programs, writes Ryan Cooper.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch points out that the populist narrative was key in Democratic midterm wins.

Did Obama Shoot Himself in the Foot on Net Neutrality? (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger suggests that the president may have lost the fight on net neutrality back in 2013, by appointing a Federal Communication Commission chairman who is so friendly to the industry.

Study: Social Welfare Programs Help Fight Poverty in America (The Guardian)

Jana Kasperkevic looks at a new study showing just how important social safety net programs are in reducing poverty; without food stamps, another 8 million Americans would be in poverty.

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On Public and Profits at Boston Review

Nov 12, 2014Mike Konczal

Did you know that prosecutors were paid based on how many cases they tried in the 19th century? Or that Adam Smith argued for judges running on the profit motive in the Wealth of Nations? I have a new piece discussion the rise and fall of disinterested public service as a response to the abuses of the profit motive in government service, or how we got away from that system and how we are now going back to it, at Boston Review. It's called Selling Fast: Public Goods, Profits, and State Legitimacy.

It's a review of Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780–1940 by Yale legal historian Nicholas R. Parrillo, The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein, and Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko. There's a lot of interesting threads through all three, and I really enjoyed working on this review. I hope you check it out.

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Did you know that prosecutors were paid based on how many cases they tried in the 19th century? Or that Adam Smith argued for judges running on the profit motive in the Wealth of Nations? I have a new piece discussion the rise and fall of disinterested public service as a response to the abuses of the profit motive in government service, or how we got away from that system and how we are now going back to it, at Boston Review. It's called Selling Fast: Public Goods, Profits, and State Legitimacy.

It's a review of Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780–1940 by Yale legal historian Nicholas R. Parrillo, The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein, and Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko. There's a lot of interesting threads through all three, and I really enjoyed working on this review. I hope you check it out.

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Daily Digest - November 12: Cyclical History for Public Service Careers

Nov 12, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

Selling Fast (Boston Review)

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

Selling Fast (Boston Review)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal reviews three books, using the first, a history of the shift from commission-based public service to salaries, as background for the later two, on recent changes to policing and teaching.

Obama's Net Neutrality Statement Will Start a War on K Street (TNR)

John B. Judis quotes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford, who said the administration had avoided net neutrality for fear of "World War III," but apparently those fears are no more.

More Transparency, More Pay for C.E.O.s (NYT)

Andrew Ross Sorkin reports on a new study proving that compensation consultants, hired by companies to "benchmark" CEO pay to that of their peers, are used to justify higher pay.

  • Roosevelt Take: William Lazonick noted compensation consultants' role in skyrocketing executive pay in his recent white paper.

Voter Suppression Laws are Already Deciding Elections (WaPo)

Catherine Rampell looks at a few close races where the margin of victory lines up with the margin of disenfranchisement. Even if that changed outcomes, there's no real recourse available.

New on Next New Deal

News Flash: Progressives Have a Winning Economic Narrative -- and Democrats Who Used It Won

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch says Democrats need to focus on a message of an economy that will work for "all of us" in order to win elections.

Expand Registration Efforts on Campus to Increase Youth Turnout

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Education Megan Ernst looks at how a little-known provision requiring colleges to provide voter registration forms could improve youth turnout.

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News Flash: Progressives Have a Winning Economic Narrative -- and Democrats Who Used It Won

Nov 11, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats can connect with voters by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us.

The big post-election consensus is that Democrats believe, as The New York Times put it, they were missing “a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert some independents.”

Democrats can connect with voters by telling a story about how they'll make the economy work for all of us.

The big post-election consensus is that Democrats believe, as The New York Times put it, they were missing “a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert some independents.”

So what would that missing narrative be? The point of a narrative is to give people an explanation of what they are experiencing that includes what is wrong, who is responsible, and what we can do about it.

Take a look at two explanations of what’s happening that are very similar but different in important ways.

The first, from Republican message guru Frank Luntz, writing in The New York Times: “[F]rom the reddest rural towns to the bluest big cities, the sentiment is the same. People say Washington is broken and on the decline, that government no longer works for them — only for the rich and powerful.”

The second, from Democratic message advisors James Carville and Stan Greenberg, along with Page Gardner: “People believe that the rich are using their influence to rig the system so the economy works for them but not the middle class.”

The big difference here is how the common sentiment among Americans – that the rich call the shots – is framed to suggest a solution. By focusing on the government, Luntz sets up the Republican push for limited government. Or as successful Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst said in a debate, “When Washington is picking… winners and losers, it’s almost always our Iowa middle-class families that lose.”

For Carville, Greenberg, and Gardner, the focus is on the economy being rigged. Or as one ad for Oregon’s Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said, “It is Jeff leading the fight to hold Wall Street and big banks accountable when they prey on working families and small businesses. ”

Merkley won and so did Ernst. The explanation, according to progressive pundits, is that Democrats like Merkley who used a populist message – which means they connected people’s economic concerns to the rich and powerful who are responsible – were successful while Dems who ran away from that message lost. As someone who has been leading the Progressive Economic Narrative (PEN) project, I really wanted to believe that. But as it seemed too easy, I decided to look at some campaigns and see whether it was spin or the truth. It turns out to be the truth.

The first case I looked at was Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s campaign. After eking out a victory in the great Democratic year of 2008, Franken won handily this year, even as Republicans took over the Minnesota House of Representatives. Imagine my smile when I quickly found Franken ads based on the key value statement in our Progressive Economic Narrative, “We all do better when we all do better.” This was also a key theme of Minnesota’s great progressive senator, Paul Wellstone.

Franken’s progressive populism makes a key distinction when he uses the key word in that values phrase, “all.” As he says in another ad,  “I work for all Minnesotans. Wall Street wasn’t happy about that. But I don’t work for Wall Street. I work for you.”

The name of our Progressive Economic Narrative is “An America that works for all of us,” which is central to the aspirational power of our story. However, what is needed for that message to win is to make it clear who is not included in “all of us” (i.e., the wealthy). A poll of voters last spring found that voters preferred “growing the economy” over “an economy that works for all of us” by 10 percentage points. By contrast, voters chose “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points!

Merkley was also sure to name the villains of the economic story throughout his campaign, as in the Wall Street ad mentioned above.

So what about those Democrats who lost in purple states? I would have thought Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who founded the populist caucus when he got to Congress in 2007, would have run a populist campaign. Instead, Braley ran on working across the aisle to get things done in Iowa and not “letting the extremists from either party get in the way.” Because voters are skeptical about anything getting done for them in Washington, his message fell flat.

Braley listed progressive issues, but without a narrative to link them together. His only villains were the “Koch brothers and their extreme agenda,” but he didn’t say what made their agenda extreme. Contrast that with how Merkley described “the billionaire Koch brothers,” who want to give “more tax breaks to millionaires and reward companies that ship jobs overseas.”

What about Mark Udall in Colorado, another Democrat who lost in a purple state that Obama carried? Udall built his campaign narrative around a war on women by his opponent Rep. Corey Gardner. He, like Braley, ticked off a list of progressive issues – from minimum wage to pay equity to protecting Social Security – without providing any framing story to link them together. He left out who the villains are in the story.

Udall also committed the ultimate narrative sin: delivering your opponent’s story. Here’s the closing line of a Udall ad: “I’m Mark Udall. No one – not government, not Washington – should have the power to take those rights and freedoms away.” Voters who wanted the anti-government candidate chose the real thing!

Udall would have had a much broader audience for his “war on women” message if he framed it as part of a broader war on American families by the rich and powerful. It is easy to make opposition to pay equity or a woman’s right to make her own decisions part of this broader story, which speaks to Americans’ deep concerns about their families.

One part of the story I didn’t see in the candidate ads was how Democrats should address Luntz’s “blame government” narrative. The answer, as Hart Research pollster Guy Molyneaux explains in The New York Times, quoting almost verbatim from the Progressive Economic Narrative, is that “the important question facing America today is not how big government should be so much as who government should work for: corporations and the wealthy, or all Americans?”

As Molyneaux points out, “That is a debate Democrats can and will win.”

What even progressive Democrats need to do better is tell a story about how to create that economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy. This is a matter of both clear narrative and bold policy.

The core of our economic theory is, as we say in the Progressive Economic Narrative, “working people and the middle class are the engines of the economy.” Another version of this, popularized by the Center for American Progress, is “we build the economy from the middle-out, not trickle-down.”

The story we are telling is that people are the job creators, not businesses. That raising the minimum wage is not just about fairness, but about creating economy-boosting jobs that put money in people’s pockets to spend in their communities. “We all do better when we all do better” is not just a statement of values; it’s the progressive belief about how the economy works.

Our narrative connects to policy with the phrase “we build a strong middle class by decisions we make together.” Democrats need to step up with bold policies, many of which are already out there, waiting to be championed. Here are just three:

1.     A massive public investment to dramatically increase the use of clean energy  – which would at the same time tackle the challenge of climate disruption – with a requirement that all the jobs created pay wages that can support a family.

2.     A $15/hr minimum wage that grows with productivity, so that workers get their fare share of the wealth they create. 

3.     A robust system of public financing that would allow candidates to win office without taking big campaign contributions from anyone, addressing the public’s belief that the rich call the shots.

One thing Democrats had better not say is “Oh, what’s the narrative? What do we say about the economy?” Progressives have a powerful narrative and bold solutions to create an America and an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. Candidates who run on this have won and will win. And an America that runs on these policies will do to what too many Americans no longer believe is possible: provide a better life for our children. 

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.

2014 election results map courtesy of Politico.

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