Brad Bosserman


Recent Posts by Brad Bosserman

  • Obama’s Second Term: Time for More Ambitious Foreign Policy

    Nov 8, 2012Brad Bosserman

    The first term was spent playing defense. Now it's time to get on the offensive with an ambitious foreign policy agenda.

    Tuesday night’s election results were a powerful endorsement of President Obama’s leadership. Though exit polls seem to indicate that foreign affairs played only a minor role in the decisions of most voters, the president has a remarkable opportunity to reassert American leadership in his second term by outlining and executing an ambitious global agenda.

    The first term was spent playing defense. Now it's time to get on the offensive with an ambitious foreign policy agenda.

    Tuesday night’s election results were a powerful endorsement of President Obama’s leadership. Though exit polls seem to indicate that foreign affairs played only a minor role in the decisions of most voters, the president has a remarkable opportunity to reassert American leadership in his second term by outlining and executing an ambitious global agenda.

    The last four years have been characterized by a largely safe and conservative foreign policy that was focused on cleaning up two wars that his administration inherited and addressing a global terrorism threat in need of containment. For the most part, the president has done an admirable job on both fronts and has exercised deft, competent, and thoughtful leadership across a range of foreign policy decisions. However, when given opportunities to make big, ambitious plays, he has consistently chosen to play it safe. The response to the Arab Awakenings could be much more powerful, with policy leadership and a political push equal to the historic opportunities in the region. The European monetary union remains in perpetual near-crisis, but the president has elected to play a supporting role. The U.S. trade agenda, most notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has made slow and steady progress, but has remained largely absent from the president’s broad narrative of promoting American values and strategic vision.

    In order to accomplish this, the administration will need to fully come to terms with the “rise of the rest” and ascension of middle-income countries on the world’s stage. Strong American leadership in this new world will require reimagining the architecture of global governance. Some of this is underway with the increased reliance on the G20 rather than the G8. But more will have to be done to incorporate other nations substantively into the fabric of the IMF, World Bank, and Security Council. Additionally, we will need to craft new institutions that can coordinate collective action and truly make the United States an indispensable super partner in addition to being a super power. The U.S. is well positioned to lead this movement, but it must choose to seize that mantel and responsibility.

    In President Obama’s second term, he should also double down on expanding the benefits of trade, openness, and economic growth in the developing world. There is perhaps nothing that can do more to solidify and secure long-term U.S. interests abroad than to help usher in a new world of opportunities for everyday people living in volatile and tumultuous regions. Families in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East want what everyone wants: decent jobs, safe communities, educational opportunities, and a real path for their children to realize their full potential. Simon Rosenberg has observed, “FDR and his fellow progressives took on the challenges of their day and built the domestic programs and international institutions that ushered in an era of unrivaled prosperity and stability.” The challenge facing today’s progressives is no less important.

    This administration has talked up many foreign policy accomplishments over the last four years, but the president has a real opportunity over the next four to leave a lasting legacy by reasserting a 21st century liberal internationalism. With the partisan congressional dynamics largely unchanged after the election, it is certainly possible that gridlock over domestic policy will create incentives for the president to focus more attention on a more ambitious foreign policy. I hope that he does.

    Bradley Bosserman is a member of the DC chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline and a Foreign Policy Analyst at NDN and the New Policy Institute, where he directs the Middle East and North Africa Initiative.

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  • Millennials' Lack of Faith in Government is Leading to a Grayer Congress

    Jun 7, 2012Brad Bosserman

    To get more young people on Capitol Hill we have to prove that government can play a positive role in American life.

    To get more young people on Capitol Hill we have to prove that government can play a positive role in American life.

    A recent survey conducted by Harvard University revealed that while 69 percent of 18-29 year olds believed community service was an honorable thing to do, only 35 percent felt that way about running for office. This has real ramifications for the make-up of our legislatures. A recent article in Salon explained that Congress is getting older not because incumbent members are sticking around longer, but because the age of incoming members is rising.

    It is worth considering the impact of having telecommunications and Internet policy drafted by politicians who are still “learning to get online” and leaving foreign policy decisions to people whose views were shaped and developed during the Cold War. Stephen Marche made the case earlier this year that these trends have also led to “thirty years of economic and social policy that has been rigged to serve the comfort and largesse of the old at the expense of the young.” So where are the Millennials who should be beating down the doors to the Capitol?

    Some have suggested that the absence of young people in elected office is all about economics. Older Americans have gone from out-earning their younger counterparts by 10 times in the mid-'80s to nearly 50 times in 2008. This migration of wealth from young to old has occurred alongside a dramatic growth in the cost of running a successful campaign, with political spending in House and Senate races increasing eight-fold between 1970 and 2000.

    This alone does not seem to explain the systemic aging of our legislatures, however. The technology booms of the '90s and aughts also produced a record number of young millionaires and billionaires. Yet they have chosen to stay out of elected office in far greater numbers than wealthy members of previous generations. Why?

    I have a theory. The Millennial generation has come of age in an America influenced by a conservative ideology that changed our views about the role of public and private civil society. Heather McGhee, the Washington Director of Demos, has observed, “[T]he most pernicious effect of the Reagan revolution was to take the horizon of public policy solutions off the table entirely. We know that there are problems, but we no longer imagine that there are public policy solutions to them.” This is a profoundly different vision of American government than that which animated the New Deal and Great Society.

    The modern Republican Party’s commitment to shrinking the size and scope of the public sector has led them to shake our confidence in key government institutions. The GOP has been able to convince the public that the government is corrupt and ineffective, in part by making the government corrupt and ineffective. This campaign has disproportionately affected the generation of young people who have been forging their views about politics over the last 15 years. Gallup reports that cynicism and negativity toward the government has been building for over a decade, recently culminating in “record or near-record criticism of Congress, elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars.”

    This phenomenon parallels another recent trend: the rise of the independent voter. Research has long shown that despite the conventional wisdom, self-identified independents actually behave much more like weak partisans than they do like hyper-informed mavericks. The ranks of these “independents” have grown dramatically over the last 20 years, and much of that growth has been concentrated among young Americans. In 2009, Gallup found “more than one-third of the youngest Americans identify as independents, a percentage that drops steadily as the population ages, reaching a low of around 20% among those 80 years of age and older.”

    This is not entirely bad news. Even as they have lost faith in our political parties, young Americans have flocked to other forms of civic engagement. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that volunteer rates for 16- to 24-year-olds has nearly doubled over the last 20 years. In many ways, volunteerism has become second nature to the Millennial generation, taking the place of more traditional political involvement.

    But the challenge remains for those who want to see young Americans in Congress. To reverse these trends, we must actively promote the belief that public policy and institutions of government have a powerful and positive role to play in American life. The graying of the House and Senate shows that allowing conservatives to demean public service, institutionalize gridlock, and breed public cynicism will drive away the young and idealistic. This vacuum hands power over to increasingly older politicians with entrenched views and distinct generational interests that do not represent the largest generation in American history.

    Bradley Bosserman is a member of the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline and a Policy Analyst and Director of the MENA Initiative at NDN and the New Policy Institute. 


    Congress image via Shutterstock.

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  • Social Impact Bonds Can Help Achieve Progressive Goals in an Era of Austerity

    Aug 10, 2011Brad Bosserman

    handshake-150In a week-long series, prominent thinkers will look at ways to harness the private sector or extract more from a recalcitrant public sector in order to combat poverty and inequality.

    handshake-150In a week-long series, prominent thinkers will look at ways to harness the private sector or extract more from a recalcitrant public sector in order to combat poverty and inequality. In the third post, Brad Bosserman explains how the credibility and effectiveness of these programs can help create a more equal society when the government isn't spending.

    Despite sky-high unemployment and yawning economic inequality, budget hawks have succeeded in convincing policymakers that they should embrace short- and medium-term austerity in order to close the budget deficit. The debt ceiling compromise will include trillions of dollars in cuts to discretionary budgets, little or no new revenue, and automatically triggered cuts that would indiscriminately remove large slices of operating budgets across the board. These policies will endanger many of the social safety net programs that millions of Americans rely on. It is incumbent upon progressive policy leaders to not only consistently make the case for robust funding, but also advance ideas that can generate the most value for citizens in an increasingly resource-constrained environment.

    Social Impact Bonds hold the potential to be one of those ideas. These regimes function by having state, local, or federal governments contract with a private intermediary (Social Bond Issuing Organizations, or SIBIOs) that agrees to design and execute a desired program against predetermined benchmarks. These arrangements have a number of unique benefits for progressives operating in an era of budget austerity. First, by off-loading the financial risk of failed interventions onto private intermediaries, the government can ensure that each dollar spent is effectively achieving a measurably positive outcome. Additionally, this minimization of wasted funding can have important perception benefits, allowing governments to make a strong public case for increased funding by guaranteeing results. If designed properly, this can be a win-win strategy for achieving expanded budgets and a more efficient deployment of scarce resources.

    Social Impact Bonds are also appealing due to their broad, though not universal, applicability. The Center for American Progress highlights a few of the possible intervention points:

    Imagine the social benefits and reduced taxpayer burden if we could:

    • Increase kindergarten readiness among low-income children
    • Increase college completion rates
    • Reduce criminal offenses and incarceration rates among minority youth
    • Raise the future earnings of laid-off workers
    • Reduce hospital readmissions among patients with chronic illness

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    Once one begins thinking along these lines, it's easy to imagine the many areas where SIB regimes could be deployed effectively. Worker retraining programs are perfect candidates because of the vastly different results from various types of interventions. Some programs have been found to be highly effective, while others are functionally useless. But the current models of funding, unfortunately, focus primarily on inputs instead of outputs. SIBs can reorient that focus and incentivize results for real people. The appeal of this model, however, is not only in off-loading risk. We would expect that results-seeking SIBIOs and bond holders would also be incentivized to boost innovation, implement robust comparative effectiveness research, craft new evaluation systems, and scale up the most successful models. Harnessing these benefits of market-based approaches could be a real boon to progressive priorities.

    While the Social Impact Bond model represents a possible way for progressives to respond to budget constriction, this regime is nascent and it's important to recognize some of the limitations and potential pitfalls.

    First and foremost, any time that the government attempts to deploy the profit motive it can be said to be playing with fire. Regulatory capture will remain a real risk that must be continually guarded against, especially in the contract and negotiation phase. Well written contracts must ensure that the population being serviced is correctly and broadly defined and wind-down procedures are established that don't leave people twisting in the wind if SIBIOs pull the plug on projects that are tracking bellow expectations. Overcoming these two hurdles can mitigate the risks of SIBIOs skimming the candidates with the most potential for success or abandoning people who have come to depend on an under-performing project.

    Finally, like all performance pay programs, SIB interventions must be able to provide measurable results as determined by credible impact assessments. Robust public-private partnerships should be established to create best practices for measuring, quantifying, and testing program efficacy with an eye toward avoiding "teaching to the test" and mitigating possible manipulation. This is certainly not an easy task, but it is long overdue and would provide significant cross-applicability for other, non-SIB programs as well.

    The next generation of progressive leaders realizes that a strong and flexible safety net is essential, but some of the shortcomings of traditional funding and delivery mechanisms must be updated to reflect current realities. These young leaders chose to include Social Impact Bonds in their Budget for a Millennial America because they consistently value innovation and results over inertia-driven policies that are often perceived as anachronistic.

    As we face a powerful, if misguided, consensus that governmental discretionary spending should be reduced, progressives must be at the forefront of advancing hyper-efficiency and crafting innovative proposals that can effectively market social interventions to policymakers and the public. Social Impact Bonds are far from a panacea, and there are many programs that are ill suited to this type of regime, but this is the sort of innovation that advances the conversation and re-envisions the mechanics of achieving progressive goals.

    Brad Bosserman was a lead author of the Budget for a Millennial America and a Research Fellow with the Campus Network. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in government at Johns Hopkins University.

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