Transforming Education to Close the Creativity Gap

Jul 14, 2015Joe HallgartenRoisin Ellison

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

“Education should equip young people to shape an uncertain future so they can live more successful lives, on their own terms and together. They need the confidence and the capabilities to make their world together, in the face of tightening constraints on resources, rising aspirations, exploding opportunities for collaboration and pervasive institutional upheaval. They need an education that prepares them to be collaborative agents of change rather than atomised victims of change, to respond to frustration with creativity and innovation.”

—Leadbeater, C., Learning to Make a Difference: School as a Creative Community (2014)

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturing, and Commerce (RSA) proposes that we live in an unprecedented time of rapid social, political, and technological change, with increased access to the tools and networks that generate potential for many more people to realize their ideas and aspirations. This is our “Power to Create” approach. And yet, much of this creative opportunity is untapped, leading to a “creativity gap” where inequalities of wealth and skills and differing levels of confidence mean not all can access the resources required.

The stakes are high when it comes to tapping into this potential, as we face immense and complex global challenges that require innovative and collaborative solutions. At the RSA, we believe that public, professional, and political attitudes toward creativity need to be rethought in order to prioritize the development of creative capacities in schools and educational institutions. This is both an end in itself and an economic and social imperative if young people are to thrive and flourish in the 21st century.

As such, when approached by the Roosevelt Institute to identify, through an educational lens, the trends and challenges that will affect our economy in the next 25 years, we saw an opportunity to collaborate with a like-minded organisation on exploring the issue of closing the creativity gap. In contributing to the Roosevelt’s Next American Economy project, we were given the space to reflect on more long-term considerations of redesign and reform—something from which the education sector itself could benefit.

Our thought brief examines how school systems could be designed to maximize students’ creative capacities such that learning is geared more clearly toward equipping students to meet the demand for creativity. It presents the trends, challenges, and potential solutions to the problems faced by our current education system in this regard, arguing that there is an increasingly strong economic rationale for schools to prioritize fostering creative capacities to ensure a future creative workforce. We conclude by outlining 12 design principles with related case studies, intended for use by school leaders, teachers, and systems to inform policy ideas within their particular context.

Having avoided prescriptive policy recommendations, we aim to stimulate conversation and debate around our 12 principles on creative learners, creative educators, and creative institutions from which a vision of school systems that would best equip young people for the 21st century can be realized.

Joe Hallgarten is the RSA's Director of Creative Learning and Development. Roisin Ellison is Programme Coordinator for RSA Academies.

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Paths to Prosperity: What Workforce Development Will Look Like in 2040

Jul 14, 2015Chelsea Barabas

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

Fifty years ago, the path to professional success and economic stability was pretty clear:

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

Fifty years ago, the path to professional success and economic stability was pretty clear:

Get good grades -> Go to college -> Find a well-paying job -> Climb the corporate ladder -> Retire

Today, this path is much more ambiguous. Many icons of modern-day success—Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs—are college dropouts. In lieu of lifelong employment, young people are encouraged to develop “entrepreneurial skills” so that they can launch their own startups or, in other words, create their own jobs where there are none. But what will those jobs look like?

Recent technological breakthroughs in the fields of machine learning and robotics engineering have led to dramatic changes in the nature of work across many different sectors. Some researchers predict that over the next 20 years, 45 percent of jobs in the U.S. will be “computerized,” meaning that they will be broken down into automatable tasks that can be carried out by robots of one form or another.

Against this backdrop, it is no longer clear what skills, experiences, and knowledge are necessary in order to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving economy.

A few months ago, the Roosevelt Institute invited me to speculate on what the future of workforce development will look like in the coming decades, as technology continues to drive fundamental shifts in the nature of work in the U.S. economy. In my thought brief, I explore the following questions:

What skills and competencies should we focus on equipping the workforce with in order to meet the labor demands of the future economy?

Are university degrees dead? How will we demonstrate and package our competencies in order to find gainful employment in the future?

How will companies find skilled workers in the future? What institutions are needed in order to mediate fair relationships between potential employees and employers in the labor market?

In order to answer these questions, I outline a few specific trends currently underway in the arenas of workforce development, recruitment, and hiring. I examine the emergence of alternative higher education programs that seek to foster metacognitive competencies alongside the training of in-demand technical skills. In addition, I discuss the rise of online platforms like Khan Academy and Degreed, which could provide more customized educational experiences to a wide range of students. And finally, I touch on the opportunities and challenges that accompany the rise of recruitment methods that are driven by big data analysis.

These trends serve as an anchor for a much broader discussion on what the pathways to prosperity could look like in the rapidly changing U.S. economy. Although the future of workforce development remains highly ambiguous, my hope is that this thought brief can serve as a guide to thinking about the immense set of opportunities and risks that lie before us as we figure out how to prepare coming generations for the future of work.

Chelsea Barabas is the Senior Advisor for Social Impact at MIT Media Lab's Digital Currency Initiative.

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Working in the Cloud: How the Platform Economy Will Transform Employment

Jul 13, 2015John ZysmanMartin Kenney

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

Digital platforms are the base upon which an increasing number of activities—economic, social, and political—are being organized. If the Industrial Revolution was organized around the factory, today’s changes are organized around the algorithms running in the cloud. The salience of these digital platforms suggests that we are in the midst of a reorganization of our economy in which the platform firms are developing power roughly equivalent to that of Ford, General Motors, and General Electric of earlier eras.

Like the Industrial Revolution, this “platform economy” is already having a profound impact on firm organization, employment relationships, and types of work available across a wide variety of economic activities. Will the digital economy in this current manifestation, based ultimately on the operation of algorithms in cloud computing, inexorably lead to the elimination of jobs and work? Or are new opportunities for work emerging? In what new ways is value being created and captured?

In our thought brief, we maintain that even as algorithms automate work, "new work" is being created. App stores, YouTube, Uber, TaskRabbit, Homejoy, and many other platform firms are transforming industries by linking together "workers" with customers in new ways. In some cases, this is displacing or threatening existing, often regulated, service providers such as taxis and hotels. In other cases, it is formalizing previously less organized or locally organized work. Finally, other platforms, such as app stores and YouTube, are creating entirely new occupations or occupational branches.

And yet, everywhere "employment" appears to be more precarious than ever, with the emergence of the Gig/1099 Economy and non-monetarily-compensated value creation such as user-created content on Facebook or YouTube. Paradoxically, it could be argued that more value than ever is being created, even while traditional notions of employment are challenged. These changes are not likely to result in the "workerless" society, but rather in a society within which the preponderance of the work and value creation is more dispersed than ever before, even as the platform owner centralizes the transactions and captures value from them.

The particular configuration of the platform economy will vary greatly across countries and across sectors, both in service and traditional manufacturing sectors. W know from examining previous technological changes that the manner in which technology is deployed and utilized powerfully shapes the employment outcomes, both in terms of the number and character of jobs. As existing firms and new firms are established to deploy these new ICT technologies, they are overturning existing domestic employment and challenging social policies. This creates conundrums for policymakers concerned about employment and equality as they are pushed to support these transformations, but also to prepare for what are likely disconcerting outcomes. Supporting the transformation requires, for example, not only building the information infrastructure but also creating the market rules to encourage experimentation and new methods of value creation. This will engender intense political fights about who captures the value and who suffers the consequences of these transformations. 

John Zysman is a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. Martin Kenney is a professor in community and regional development at the University of California, Davis. 

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A Policy Agenda for Stronger, Fairer, and More Sustainable Growth

Jul 13, 2015Roosevelt Institute

The Roosevelt Institute today released the following statement in response to Hillary Clinton’s economic speech at the New School:

The Roosevelt Institute today released the following statement in response to Hillary Clinton’s economic speech at the New School:

Today, Hillary Clinton began outlining a comprehensive framework for tackling America’s problems of slow economic growth, low investment, and stagnant wages. Secretary Clinton’s speech reinforced an argument made by the Roosevelt Institute and supported by the economic evidence: inequality is a choice determined by the rules that structure how our economy works—the laws, regulations, and institutions that shape market behaviors and outcomes. Changes we have made to the economic rules over the past 35 years have left the U.S. with a weaker economy, higher inequality, and greater concentration of economic power. This cannot stand if the U.S. economy is to be put on track for long-term prosperity.

It is encouraging to hear Secretary Clinton focus so clearly on this central cause of America’s economic problems as she articulates a three-pronged approach to putting the U.S. economy back on track: making economic growth stronger, fairer, and oriented toward the long term. Delivering on the sweeping vision offered today will require a detailed policy agenda that addresses a number of issues ranging from family-friendly work policies to financial reform. Below, we’ve offered an outline of specific policies that we urge all presidential candidates to consider as they build their platforms.

But beyond any specific policies, an effective agenda must take a comprehensive approach to reforming the economy—an approach built on the evidence that our economy works best when it is working for everyone, not on the faith that prosperity will trickle down from a wealthy few at the very top. We cannot achieve strong, sustainable growth so long as the majority of economic gains remain concentrated in so few hands. To put it simply, stronger growth, fairer growth, and more sustainable growth are interconnected. We can’t have one without the others.

As we discussed in detail in our Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy report, there is a long list of policies that America can choose to implement in order to promote stronger, fairer, and more sustainable growth. We have summarized those policies below.

Making growth stronger

This means breaking down barriers to work: creating good jobs, sustaining good jobs, and ensuring that more Americans can obtain good jobs.

1)     Expand access to labor markets and opportunities for advancement

  • Enact paid sick and family leave so that more people can have the security to work while still caring for their children and family members.
  • Subsidize child care to benefit children and improve women's workforce participation and economic mobility.
  • Open Medicare to all to make health care more affordable for families and employers.
  • Expand public transportation to promote equal access to jobs and opportunities.
  • Reform the criminal justice system to reduce incarceration rates and penalize employers for discriminating against people with an incarceration history.
  • Enact comprehensive Immigration reform, recognizing immigrant families for their contributions to America’s economic success.
  • Protect women's access to reproductive health services so all individuals can access comprehensive, affordable, and quality care.

2)     Make public investments needed for private sector growth

  • Invest in large-scale infrastructure renovation with a 10-year campaign to make the U.S. a world leader in infrastructure manufacturing, jobs, and innovation that raises efficiency and cuts the cost of doing business in the U.S.
  • Enact universal early childhood education and a universal child benefit, ensuring that every child in America has access to pre-school starting at age 3 and that parents have the resources to invest in their children’s futures.
  • Make higher education accessible and affordable by reforming tuition financing, restoring consumer protections to student loans, and adopting universal income-based repayment.

3)     Make full employment the goal

  • Appoint members to the Federal Reserve who prioritize the Fed’s full employment mandate.
  • Restore balance to trade agreements to ensure that U.S. businesses and workers can compete with the world on a level playing field.

Making growth fairer

This means rewarding work fairly and crafting a tax code and compensation system that incentivizes investment and innovation in the real economy. 

1)    Empower workers

  • Close the pay equity gap to ensure equal pay for equal work.
  • Raise the national minimum wage and expand enforcement to ensure that work pays a living wage.
  • Strengthen the right to collective bargaining by easing legal barriers to unionization, requiring mandatory arbitration for first contracts, imposing stricter penalties on illegal anti-union activities, and amending laws to reflect the changing workplace in America.
  • Leverage government to set workplace standards by attaching strong pro-worker stipulations for private government contractors.

2)  Make taxes more progressive

  • Ensure top earners pay their fair share by raising top marginal income tax rates, replacing tax expenditures with capped credits, and taxing capital gains at least as much as labor income, with a much higher tax rate on short-term capital gains.
  • Enact revenue-positive corporate tax reform that ends the indefinite overseas deferral of corporate profits  in foreign tax havens, eliminates the incentive for offshoring by taxing corporations as unified entities on the basis of their global income, establishes a global minimum tax, and reduces corporate welfare within the tax code.

Focusing growth on the long term

This means ensuring that our financial system focuses on creating long-term value and minimizes the risks of a major financial crash.

1)     Fix the financial sector

  • Eliminate hidden subsidies to big banks that create too much risk and then hold taxpayers hostage to the need for bailouts.
  • Appoint officials to key federal agencies with a track record of enforcing regulations rather than lobbying for the industry.
  • Level the playing field between large financial institutions and community banks with increased leverage requirements and leverage surcharge.
  • Address the “shadow banking system” that eludes existing rules and regulations designed to make our economic system safe, stable, and accountable.
  • Eliminate the loopholes promoting offshore banking centers and tax havens.
  • Increase transparency throughout the financial sector so we can finally understand the risks and conflicts of interest that tip the scale of fairness and threaten to destabilize the economy.

2)    Focus corporate executives on long-term investment

  • Eliminate the CEO performance pay loophole, i.e. Section 162(m), that ties incentives to short-term stock prices rather than long-term performance; increase disclosure requirements on executive compensation and stock options; and implement the Dodd-Frank rule requiring disclosure of the CEO–median worker pay ratio.
  • Enact tax reform to combat short-termism for shareholders, first by raising tax rates on capital gains to the same level as the rates on labor income and then by raising the rate on short-term capital gains and non-productive long-term capital gains (land speculation) even higher.

3)     Rewrite the rules of trade to put all U.S. workers and businesses on a level playing field

  • Restrain the scope of the investor–state dispute settlement procedures for future agreements (and revise the myriad prior agreements) and build in safeguards so that public interest regulations cannot be undermined by private international courts.
  • Rebalance intellectual property protections to encourage innovation and lower consumer prices.
  • Make U.S. market access benefits contingent on firm audits of compliance with labor and environmental standards—a social standards export license—to give real meaning to a high-standard global economy.

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What Will Unions Look Like in 25 Years?

Jul 9, 2015Michelle Miller

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

We can only envision the union of the future by imagining the experiences of the worker of the future. Who is she? How does she work? Who is her boss? And, most importantly, what does she need to have power over her own economic future?

The rapid growth of cloud technology platforms that enable new models for the distribution of work signals that the worker of the future will be performing a series of tasks instead of a single job. It’s possible that her “workplace” will not be a fixed geography but multiple points on a map, including a space in her own home. As even senior managers may be replaced by intelligent technology, she may never see her boss or receive performance feedback in person. And while she’ll certainly have coworkers, it will be difficult to gather around a water cooler and discuss the day’s events when they are scattered around the world, accessing their work one gig at a time.

As I worked on cobbling together a vision for the union of the future, I kept this worker in mind. And, as the co-founder of a digital platform dedicated to supporting people who are experimenting with new forms of workplace power, I get to see glimpses of this future every day: Self-sustaining Facebook groups run by workers through their OURWalmart affiliation; Starbucks baristas connecting globally through worker-led campaigns; Mechanical Turkers building plug-ins to rate task requesters and collaborating on campaigns through Dynamo; Etsy sellers supporting one another through teams; Uber drivers sharing information on Reddit. Workers are already making this future real by leveraging popular technology tools to connect with each other; it’s up to our existing institutions to create the infrastructure to make their efforts more effective, powerful, and lasting.

What I lay out in my thought brief are some ideas for how we might do just that. As the employee–employer relationship crumbles, we must accept that our policies and structures for building worker power require radical reform. Embracing platform technology by investing in its connective and collaborative potential for workers opens unprecedented opportunities for building global collective power. Thoughtfully reimagining how we enable resource-sharing to create new, worker-owned safety nets that offset precarity while recognizing the inherent power of our existing institutions can instill stability and support. And recognizing these new kinds of workers by advancing expansive, inclusive policy solutions rounds out the basic infrastructure for building worker power over the next 25 years.

A decade ago, I was part of a conversation with a homecare worker who had helped organize her union. In describing what this meant to her, she said, “the union is a thousand, a million dreams, waiting to become real.” It is not an NLRA-defined bargaining agreement or adherence to a rigid set of classifications. For workers, it is some amount of agency over their lives. It’s a way to connect, a way to shelter each other, and, ultimately, a way to ensure that our millions of dreams have the chance to become real.

Michelle Miller is the co-founder of Coworker.org, a digital platform that matches campaigning tools with organizing, media, and legal support to help people change their working conditions.

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Maximum Happy Imagination: What Rules Should Structure the Sharing Economy?

Jul 8, 2015Denise Cheng

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

This week, the Roosevelt Institute's Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

“You have to be an optimist to believe in the Singularity,” she says, “and that’s harder than it seems. Have you ever played Maximum Happy Imagination?”

“Sounds like a Japanese game show.”

Kat straightens her shoulders. “Okay, we’re going to play. To start, imagine the future. The good future. No nuclear bombs. Pretend you’re a science fiction writer.”

Okay: “World government…no cancer…hover-boards.”

“Go further. What’s the good future after that?”

“Spaceships. Party on Mars.”

“Further.”

“Star Trek. Transporters. You can go anywhere.”

“Further.”

I pause a moment, then realize: “I can’t.”

Kat shakes her head. “It’s really hard. And that’s, what, a thousand years? What comes after that? What could possibly come after that? Imagination runs out. But it makes sense, right? We probably just imagine things based on what we already know, and we run out of analogies in the thirty-first century.”

—Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (2012)

Besides the rote doomsday scenario, can you imagine what the world will look like in five years? Fifteen? What about 25? 2040 isn’t far off, but when it comes to thinking about work in a technologically advanced economy, it might as well be a millennium away.

Today we see a mixture of full-time, part-time, contingent, and undocumented work, each offering varying degrees of economic stability. With the rise of the “sharing economy,” work has become easier to find, but it has also become ever more precarious, underlining both the pros and the cons of independent contracting. We need to seriously consider the policy challenges posed by a modern economy and start working to address them.

When the Roosevelt Institute asked me to write about online, peer-to-peer marketplaces, they were the first to push me to imagine what the world would look like if all of my recommendations for worker support were implemented. Going back to Kat: If 2040 is where our imagination runs out, then we cannot wait 10 years to seriously consider the legal structures that surround work and the need for change.

In my thought brief, I play my own version of Maximum Happy Imagination: I recommend policy amendments to the independent contractor status, including a third worker classification in the liminal space between “employee” and “independent contractor”; I proffer policy ideas around data ownership and periodic collective bargaining over platforms’ Terms of Service; I recommend easing income penalties by reducing taxation on a certain percentage of peer economy income and considering providers as small businesses once they exceed that minimum; I also imagine the rise of creative financial products that help manage household income without extracting it.

The portrait I paint in this paper still doesn’t get beyond Kat’s 31st century, but I hope it provides a good starting point for some of the many necessary steps along the way. Maximum Happy Imagination opens up a world where we don’t only react to the things we dislike but take charge to build the world we want.

Denise Cheng is an Innovation Fellow with the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation. 

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Envisioning the Economy of 2040

Jul 8, 2015Next American Economy

Early in the morning factory whistle blows / Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes / Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light / It's the working, the working, just the working life

—Bruce Springsteen, “Factory” (1978)

The predestined, blue-collar lifestyle that Bruce Springsteen sang about in Darkness on the Edge of Town is already a thing of the past, and it will only grow smaller in our rear-view mirrors as we approach 2040. Soon, the world of the large central firm and steady, predictable work will exist only in museums.

Early in the morning factory whistle blows / Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes / Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light / It's the working, the working, just the working life

—Bruce Springsteen, “Factory” (1978)

The predestined, blue-collar lifestyle that Bruce Springsteen sang about in Darkness on the Edge of Town is already a thing of the past, and it will only grow smaller in our rear-view mirrors as we approach 2040. Soon, the world of the large central firm and steady, predictable work will exist only in museums.

What will replace it?

In a new series of thought briefs, we attempt to address this question and describe some ways that economic, social, and political institutions in the U.S. must adapt to provide opportunity and prosperity in the mid-21st century. Guided by the belief that we are in the midst of an economic transformation on par with the Industrial Revolution, the Roosevelt Institute’s Next American Economy project identifies the trends and challenges that will shape our economy in the next 25 years in order to better inform the policy decisions we must make today. We are particularly focused on the potential impact of new technologies on productivity, employment, and economic security.

To help glean insights on these topics, we convened a diverse group of economists, technologists, union leaders, and entrepreneurs, and framed a series of conversations aimed at identifying the key concerns of today and projecting how they might evolve, dissipate, or intensify over the next 25 years.

These briefs—our first public release—take on some of the most promising and challenging issues that our expert working group came up with, including the promise and perils of the gig economy, smarter cities, and better modes of finance, as well as the need for new worker bargaining platforms and improved, lifelong education. We consider these topics in what we hope is a thorough (though of course not exhaustive) and accessible narrative.

Although each brief in this series focuses on a different aspect of economic evolution, the collection as a whole is primarily concerned with a foundational question of adaptation: How should American society—its workers, businesses, and government—adapt to a rapidly shifting economic environment? Generally, we identify four recurring formative trends that will shape the 2040 economy.

First, technologies like cloud computing, 3D printing, and robotics will revolutionize the way Americans work, communicate, and generally relate to the world. Technology will replace workers as a variety of professions become automated, but, as it leads to the creation of new jobs and overall economic growth, the extent to which technology can offset its own economic drawbacks remains to be seen. In “Where Will Work Come From in the Era of Cloud Computing and Big Data?” John Zysman and Martin Kenney discuss how American manufacturers can make up for lost business by ushering in a new era of high-tech, value-added products.

Second, changes in the workplace will move traditional employment increasingly toward entrepreneurship, freelancing, independent contracting, and gig economy or “peer-to-peer” work on platforms like TaskRabbit. This will result in myriad changes to the ways in which Americans look after basic needs, from health care to retirement planning, that were previously met by a single employer. In “Barriers to Growth in the ‘Sharing Economy’,” Denise Cheng addresses numerous facets of the gig economy, while in “Challenges in SME Access to Capital” Richard Swart discusses the importance of start-up capital in a more entrepreneurial future economy.

The third trend, following directly from the second, concerns the likely increase in overall economic insecurity that will result from a society-wide decrease in the number of traditional jobs. Without the stability of long-term, full-time employment from a single firm that provides not only salary but also comprehensive benefits, Americans will need new tools to provide economic security for themselves and their families. Key to this point is not only the cost of benefits but the increased time and effort workers will have to expend just to manage their careers. How will workers bargain, for example, when they are employed—effectively—by a multitude of customers across a number of platforms like Uber and Etsy? If they are contractors, what institutions will help them complete their annual tax returns and handle billing and payments? And lastly, how will workers keep their skills up to date as employer needs evolve around them? Michelle Miller addresses some possibilities for the future of bargaining power in “The Union of the Future,” while briefs by Chelsea Barabas and our colleagues at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture, and Commerce discuss two revolutions in education that will help workers adapt in a rapidly changing economy.

Finally, the government’s increasing inability to make policy that benefits society and meets the economy’s most pressing needs will be exacerbated by rapid technological and economic evolutions that make such policy ever more pressing. Simultaneously, swelling retirement entitlements will raise budgetary challenges that further restrict the federal government’s ability and willingness to invest and reform. As such, is out of necessity that we at the Next American Economy project feel cities—already successful laboratories for creative policy solutions—will increasingly become the incubators and epicenters for innovation and business growth. Julia Root goes into great depth on this topic in “Urban Platforms in 2040.”

The challenge of adapting to these evolutions is grave. Indeed, it would be easy—and some of us were tempted—to throw up our hands and prepare for the worst. To avoid unproductive handwringing, the Next American Economy project took a collective oath of optimism. This is perhaps most apparent in our final brief, written by Next American Economy leader and Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter, in which we project many of the ideas discussed in these papers into 2040 and paint a holistic picture of this (not overly) optimistic scenario.

We hope that you will enjoy this foray into our future.

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Natalie Foster: Reimagine the Safety Net for the New Economy

May 21, 2015Laurie Ignacio

In the final installment of our "Good Economy of 2040" video series, we hear from Natalie Foster, co-founder of Peers.org and Rebuild the Dream.

In the final installment of our "Good Economy of 2040" video series, we hear from Natalie Foster, co-founder of Peers.org and Rebuild the Dream.

In order to ensure a good economy in 25 years, Foster would reimagine the safety net for the 21st century. “It’s important that we stop thinking about jobs and start talking about livelihoods as people will derive their income from a variety of different sources,” says Foster. She adds that we need a safety net that is designed not for the “old industrial economy where everyone had 9-to-5 jobs," but "for people who live much more fluid and free lives but who also have a greater level of economic instability."

To learn more about the future of the safety net, check out the links below

“Two Leaders in Labor Rethink The Safety Net For A Freelance Economy” (NationSwell)

“Safety Nets for Freelancers” (NY Times)

“George Takei and Michael Buckley on the Sharing Economy” (YouTube/AARP)

Natalie Foster has spent the last 15 years at the crossroads of social movements and technology. She’s transformed and run some of the largest digital teams in the country, including President Obama’s successful effort to pass health reform, and built two organizations from scratch. Most recently, Foster co-founded Peers.org, the world’s largest independent sharing economy community. Prior to Peers, she was the CEO and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, a platform for people–driven economic change, with Van Jones. 

 

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L.A. Port Truck Drivers Put Their Jobs on the Line for Decent Pay and Cleaner Air

May 5, 2015Richard Kirsch

Following the most recent work stoppage by port truck drivers in southern California, Los Angeles Mayer Eric Garcetti announced the formation of a new trucking company, which will be a model for good pay and protecting the environment. The announcement takes the port drivers' ongoing protest of low-wages and exploitative working conditions to a new level.

Following the most recent work stoppage by port truck drivers in southern California, Los Angeles Mayer Eric Garcetti announced the formation of a new trucking company, which will be a model for good pay and protecting the environment. The announcement takes the port drivers' ongoing protest of low-wages and exploitative working conditions to a new level.

Eco Flow Transportation’s founding came out of a long-running dispute between port drivers and Total Transportation Services, which had fired some 35 drivers who had filed claims for their unlawful misclassification as independent contractors and for illegal deductions from their paychecks.

The new company, breaking with the widespread, illegal practice of treating drivers as independent contractors, already employs 80 drivers with a goal of expanding to 500 within a year. The firm promises to be neutral in efforts by its employees to join the Teamsters Union, which has been supporting the drivers’ protests and legal actions against misclassification as contractors.

Eco Flow also aims to address diesel pollution from port trucks that are not maintained at standards, established in 2008, which aimed at drastically lowering the environmental health threats from the trucks. A court ruling in 2010 effectively placed the cost of maintaining clean trucks on drivers. The port drivers, who are forced by the trucking companies to be “independent contractors,” work an average of 59 hours a week, with take-home pay of under $29,000. The drivers’ low-pay makes it difficult for them to keep trucks at a level to meet clean air standards. But because Eco Flow owns the trucks, it assumes full responsibility for maintaining the fleet’s clean air standards.

Eco Flow is also working to introduce a new model for the ports, called “free flow” cargo, which can help move cargo out of terminals more rapidly and increase the velocity of Port of Los Angeles terminals. The benefits will be less pollution from idling trucks and less port congestion. More efficient deliveries will also make it easier for the firm to pay the drivers a decent salary. This is a sharp contrast from most port-trucking companies who, by treating drivers as contractors, pay them by delivery and so pass on the cost of idling time to the drivers.  

What does it take for workers to risk their jobs in actions that often result in retaliation by employers? I talked with Nick Weiner, an organizer at Change to Win, about the transformation that port drivers went through over several years, which led them to go from accepting their status to protesting.

Q: What has been the barrier to port drivers taking actions?

Weiner: The Teamsters have tried over the last 30 years but failed because we’ve allowed the illusion that drivers are independent contractors to drive strategies in the past. The drivers had used the language of the boss—calling themselves independent owner-operators. Part of the helping them come together was to use different language, so they could engage one another.

In ’96 in L.A. there was a big strike. And there were smaller ones. All failed, because drivers didn’t have right language, and didn’t engage government officials to enforce law. We learned our history.

Sometimes they said, ‘we want to be reclassified as employees.’ But they weren’t saying – ‘we are your employees now.’ That’s what’s needed to go from defensive. It’s not just we want to be employees and everything is fine. It’s by being employees, we can join a union and negotiate a contract. The end is not being an employee; there are a lot of employees not doing well.

We have this term misclassification—a very wonky, inside-baseball but now it means something. ‘Yea, we know we’re misclassified. It means taking away our rights, employers stealing from us.’ New language has been liberating.

Q. How do drivers get an understanding of how they could do better through organizing?

Weiner: Drivers see that [unionized] longshoremen get treated well: they are paid well, get time off. While the drivers sit for hours on line [at the ports], without getting paid. They’ve come to see that the do critical work and are the largest set of workers in the port economy who are left out of the prosperity of the port economy.

We’ve worked to tie those things together, being employees and the union. They thought they needed to deal with misclassification and then organize. Instead, needed to get them to understand you’re an employee now, you can organize now.

It takes time for drivers to undo the brainwashing. To engage in collective struggle. 

The collective struggle has taken two forms. The first has been a series of unfair labor practice pickets, aimed at specific companies, which block access to the ports of those companies trucks. The second is legal action under California law. Drivers have filed more than 400 claims against companies under California’s wage and hour law. The first 19 rulings resulted in an average award of $66,240, largely for wage and hour violations and illegal paycheck deductions for items like truck leases.

The drivers are also filing complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which governs union organizing.

Slowly, the organizing is paying off. One firm, Green Fleet, avoided being picketed last week by reaching a comprehensive labor peace agreement with the Teamsters. After a U.S. Department of Labor ruling, another firm, Shippers Transport Express, reclassified its "independent contractors" as employees and in February signed a contract with the Teamsters, which resulted in higher pay and fully paid health care benefits for the drivers.

The growing militancy of exploited workers, from Uber drivers to Wal-Mart “associates” to home care workers and many more is building a new movement of workers to challenge the 21st century economy, in the same way that workers built the labor movement 100 years ago. Their organizing and militancy helped drive the New Deal economic reforms which built the middle class in the 20th century. The fight of today’s workers is laying the foundation for the reforms we need to rebuild the middle class today in an economy based on good jobs and environmental sustainability. 

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.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the new trucking company would be employee-owned.

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Andrew McAfee: Immigration Reform Is Key to Our Economic Future

Apr 17, 2015Laurie Ignacio

Our series on The Good Economy of 2040 continues with MIT’s Andrew McAfee. To build a better economy over the next 25 years, McAfee says, we’ll need a more open immigration system that welcomes skilled workers. "When the world’s most talented, ambitious, tenacious, capable people want to come here and build their lives and their careers…it absolutely makes no sense to me that we put all these ridiculous Kafkaesque barriers in their way."

Our series on The Good Economy of 2040 continues with MIT’s Andrew McAfee. To build a better economy over the next 25 years, McAfee says, we’ll need a more open immigration system that welcomes skilled workers. "When the world’s most talented, ambitious, tenacious, capable people want to come here and build their lives and their careers…it absolutely makes no sense to me that we put all these ridiculous Kafkaesque barriers in their way."

To read more about skilled immigration, check out the following articles:

Getting a Visa Took Longer Than Building Instagram, Says Immigrant Co-Founder (Bloomberg)

The basics of the US immigration system (Vox)

Andrew McAfee is a principal research scientist at MIT and cofounder of its Initiative on the Digital Economy, where he studies how computer technologies are changing business, the economy, and society. His 2014 book on these topics, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (co-authored with Erik Brynjolfsson), has been both a New York Times and Wall Street Journal top ten bestseller. He writes two blogs, academic papers, and articles for publications including Harvard Business Review, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He’s talked about his work on The Charlie Rose Show and 60 Minutes, and at TED and the Aspen Ideas Festival. McAfee was educated at Harvard and MIT.

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