A Federal Government Shutdown Nears. Who Wins?

Mar 25, 2011Bo Cutter

Shaping the future with today’s choices.

Shaping the future with today’s choices.

Wednesday, at the monthly breakfast series for the Next American Economy project, Joe Minarik, senior VP of the CED and former chief economist for OMB, spoke on the federal budget in a tremendous session. Joe Stiglitz, who is a member of the series, joined us and was a central part of the discussion. As I have said repeatedly, we are headed toward a cliff: the right wants to jump off it; the left wants to deny it is there. I will write a couple of longer pieces, but this is solely about the impending government shutdown.

During the session, I asked Joe Minarik the odds he puts on a shutdown this year and on the side wrote down my own estimate. Joe puts the odds at 85%, I put them at 80%. The most explicit reason we put the odds this high is that the House Republican leadership -- specifically Speaker Boehner and Congressman Cantor -- have lost control of their caucus.

The Republican caucus is now largely driven by the 87 freshman members who are part of the Tea Party movement. This may be the single largest and most inexperienced group of congresspeople ever elected at the same time. It's pretty clear that they do not understand the government or the budget, but by god, they are resolved to cut it to shreds. Behind them are the Tea Party faithful. I suggest you read the commentary by Stan Collander for a sense of how it is all playing out.

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These new members are no longer happy with the two-week bite strategy the Republican House leadership has chosen and want a full year Resolution with massive cuts. The leaders would love to have a full year resolution and get this messy problem behind them but has lost control of the caucus. (Here is one reason they are having a problem: the Republican House Study Group has said -- with great confidence -- that $2 trillion can be cut from domestic appropriations, 12% of the budget, over 10 years. But they have specifically identified $200 billion -- so they want $1.8 trillion in cuts they either cannot or are afraid to identify. This is not serious government.) The new members think they will lose their primaries if they do not cut (and, remember, in our new polarized world only the primaries matter). The leaders think they will not be leaders if they do not go along. So we know how this act ends.

At the same time, the White House has little or no room to give way and is not yet willing to put together a big solution. So I think we are about at the point where a shutdown has to occur politically -- unless someone backs off. And neither side can afford to back off. The question is: who wins in the public's eyes?

Right now the polls are split essentially 50-50 in terms of where the public places the blame. President Obama is in my view far better positioned to win a battle for public opinion, but he has to decide to fight this battle. He has to mobilize the executive branch, get the NEC to start to do something, and begin to speak on this now. There are three messages: (1) debt and deficits have to come down, but in a responsible way; (2) there is a positive value to a competent government that will matter to every American; (3) the Congressional Republicans are providing an example of governance at its most irresponsible, arbitrary, and mean-spirited.

I think the President's second term depends on how he comes out of this next period.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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Bringing Rights for Domestic Workers Out of the Closet

Mar 25, 2011Eileen Boris

broom-rug-200Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with t

broom-rug-200Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Eileen Boris explores how household workers get the shaft -- and why they are fighting back.

In time for Women's History month, the White House Council on Women and Girls has issued "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being." This statistical survey, proclaimed as the first such report in fifty years, calls for "raising the visibility of women's lives, as well as thinking strategically about how to address these challenges." Notably missing is any mention of household workers, those who make it possible for other women to go out to their jobs by cleaning houses, cooking dinner, bathing children, and aiding the aged. These workers largely stand outside the law -- and the White House agenda. But their mobilization for respect and decent work challenges both the economic violence perpetuated in homes and conventional understandings of what is work and who deserves worker rights.

A half century ago, the President's Commission on the Status of Women offered a broader vision than today's Council. Kennedy-era labor feminists considered not only the bare facts of employment, but advocated moving domestic service from the personalistic realm of mistress and maid to the modern regime of labor law, recognizing it as a valuable occupation. The Women's Bureau, along with prominent organizations of black, Jewish, and Catholic women, relaunched the depression-era National Committee of Household Employment (NCHE) to improve working conditions in private households. NCHE promoted a voluntary "Code of Standards" with provisions for minimum wages, overtime, Social Security, sick leave, paid holidays, and a "professional" working relationship. It sought inclusion of private household workers in the New Deal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Under black activist Edith Barksdale-Sloan, the NCHE organized the Household Technicians of America as a national association of domestic workers dedicated to "winning good wages and benefits, raising consciousness and educating consumers of domestic services." In 1974, private household workers won minimum wage under FLSA, though the same amendments removed elder companions, today's home care workers, from the law. The reorganization of domestic employment and ebbing of social movements in the next decade stalled further improvements.

Now thousands of household workers are on the move again -- creating ethnic and community-based associations, demanding dignity and living wages from employers, and lobbying governments for rights as workers. During the last fifteen years, in California, Maryland, and New York, immigrant and U.S. born women of color have built upon the example of worker centers and engaged in grassroots organizing to form associations that reach housekeepers, nannies, and elder caregivers in individual homes. They enhanced worker empowerment through education, leadership training, and service provision. They engaged in street actions denouncing employers who withhold food as well as payment, who abuse bodies and curtail physical movement. Like the NCHE, they issued voluntary codes of conduct and standards for decent work. They have sought legal as well as political redress.

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About six years ago, coalitions in California and New York City began pushing for a "Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights." In New York, the multi-ethnic Domestic Workers United and its allies, notably Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, petitioned, marched, and lobbied the legislature. Last September, Democratic Governor David Patterson signed such a framework for greater security. The pioneering New York bill guaranteed a living wage, paid sick and vacation days, and health benefits.

Though Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure in 2006, the California Domestic Worker Coalition -- composed of grassroots organizations like Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and Mujeres Unidas y Activas in the Bay area -- has returned with a new bill. The Domestic Work Employee Equality, Fairness, and Dignity Act of 2011 (AB 889) places household workers under the state's labor code, including worker compensation, occupational health and safety, overtime, meal and rest breaks, and pay reporting. Sensitive to cultural preferences, it calls for the availability of kitchens for personal food preparation. Additionally, the bill authorizes eight hours of uninterrupted sleep for 24-hour and live-in workers, paid sick and vacation days, termination notice, and cost of living increases. In treating domestic labor like other jobs, it resembles the "Decent Work for Domestic Workers" convention set for final approval by the International Labor Organization next June, for which the National Domestic Workers Alliance has help secure U.S. support.

Workers hired by families are using the state to transform private labors into public work. But one group of household laborers remains apart -- those paid by governments to care for needy elderly and disabled people. The California proposal explicitly excludes In Home Supportive Service workers, the type of worker whose omission from federal law the Supreme Court upheld in 2007 and the Obama administration has yet to rectify through new labor regulations. Meanwhile, Republican governors, as in Wisconsin, are eliminating collective bargaining for home care workers. An irony of current struggles might be that these public employees end up with fewer rights and poorer conditions than those who labor for individual housewives.

Eileen Boris is Hull Professor and Chair, Department of Feminist Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. With Jennifer Klein, she is the author of the forthcoming Caring for America: Home Health Workers under the Shadow of the Welfare State.

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Collective Bargaining Rights are Key for Workplace Equality

Mar 23, 2011Barbara Arnwine

women-and-moneyRemembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives h

women-and-moneyRemembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Barbara Arnwine explains why we've not yet entered a "post-gender" world when it comes to women's status in the workplace.

Women's History Month is a very special time to reflect upon both the particular challenges that women continue to face in the workplace and upon the new opportunities that will arise for economic equity. It's also a time is to appreciate the struggles of the Sheroes who came before us who opened the doors of opportunity.

It is up to us to recognize the significance of being women and also the importance of being a part of a broader collective that lifts the stature of everyone - male and female. We must ask ourselves, how do we both acknowledge the persistent disparities and concerns of the past while also looking to the future for continued upward mobility for all? Gender-based issues of increasing unemployment, job silos, unequal pay, sexual harassment and the "Old Boys Network" continue to haunt the American workplace and denigrate the economic status of women. And this affects everyone.

The fact is, it's not quite time for "post-gender" thinking. Take the latest unemployment figures. While we added some 192,000 jobs in February, the overall scenario for women was not rosy. The National Women's Law Center notes that over the course of the recovery, women's overall unemployment rate increased from 7.7 percent to 8 percent, while men's dropped from 9.8 percent to 8.7 percent. Even more disheartening, between July 2009 and February 2011 unemployment rates increased for single mothers (from 12.6 percent to 13 percent) and African-American women (11.8 percent to 13 percent).

Recently, we witnessed the crisis facing public workers in Wisconsin. Governor Walker's actions are of immense importance to women and stand in direct contradiction to our continued progress. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise 52 percent of state-level public sector jobs and 61 percent at the local level. The impact on state and local job cuts in the public sector will be especially devastating to women at a time when the recession has already disproportionately impacted us.

Women of color, already facing large pay gaps, are in danger of falling still further behind as bargaining rights disappear. Dr. Steven Pitts of UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education notes that black women in the public sector earn a median wage of $15.50 an hour, while the sector's median wage overall is $18.38 (white men make $21.24). This is not so surprising when you consider that African-American women comprise only 12.2 percent of labor unions. This data exemplifies the compelling need for workers to have the ability to bargain for equal rights in the workforce. The wage gap remains an important civil rights crisis for women. We have made gains in areas of education and employment, yet we know that we have not been fully acknowledged in the workplace when the paycheck arrives. This illustrates the distinction between the evolution of personal achievement and universal women's emancipation.

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Barriers still confront women in many professions and prevent us from achieving true equality. While we should appreciate the success stories, such as women's increased access to law firms, there are still challenges to overcome. The retention rate, for example, tells a bleaker story about how women fare in the legal profession. The attrition rate for white female attorneys within 55 months is 77 percent, while minority female attorneys at law firms have the highest attrition rate, at 41 percent within 28 months and 81 percent within 55 months. A Diversity and the Bar report notes that women of color often feel isolated in an "old boy's network" environment. It appears that white male attorneys share a greater opportunity for advancement, perhaps because often times those in power (white males) are connected most with people like them. While it is critical that law firms fulfill their responsibility to systemically address these barriers to women's achievement, women must also assist in advancing each other.

This year marked the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. The United Nations highlighted, as I have, that despite the gains made, much remains to be done to eliminate gender discrimination. Until these vast disparities are addressed and systematically dismantled, this country's economic viability for the future will never be fully realized. The time for a level playing field is long overdue.  As women, we must find our voices and be active in advocating for real equality in these times. And we must always look beyond the headlines to find "her" story.

Barbara Arnwine has been the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law since 1989.

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From the Triangle Fire to Wisconsin, Rights for Women Workers

Mar 22, 2011Brigid OFarrell

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Brigid O'Farrell urges Republicans like Scott Walker to listen to the women following in the footsteps of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory strikers and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For Women's History Month this year, thousands of people around the country are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, flames engulfed a sweatshop just off of Washington Square, in New York City, where women's shirtwaist blouses were made. One hundred and forty-six workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian girls, were burned to death by the fire or jumped to their deaths to escape. Doors were locked and the fire ladders couldn't reach the top floors of the burning building. Women died at their sewing machines, but they didn't have the right to vote in elections. The fire was an historic turning point for the country. The movement for social justice took on new urgency. Workplace safety legislation became a reality, the union movement gained momentum, and eventually women won the right to vote.

March is a time to celebrate the progress that women have made since the Triangle Fire, but there is also reason to pause and consider the fight that continues. We need only turn to Wisconsin. Governor Walker's outright attack on unions is, indeed, a fundamental attack on working women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over half of state workers and 61% of city workers are women. Thirty-one percent of state workers and 42% of local government workers belong to unions. They earn better wages than those who are not union members and the pay gap between women and men is smaller among union members.

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These employees are our elementary school teachers, university professors, nurses, social workers, secretaries, and administrative assistants. They are women who are critical to making our cities work and who help turn our towns into livable communities for our families. Through their unions they have secured decent wages, reasonable benefits, ways to resolve grievances, and some security for their retirement. Yet they are being criticized and their rights taken away for economic problems they didn't create.

We can learn from Eleanor Roosevelt. She believed that all workers had a right to a voice at work. Legislation and unionization were the only two ways to protect workers, and she thought joining a union was the best way for women to improve their working lives. For her, workers' rights were human rights, and it is this basic right to have a voice at work that is being lost in Wisconsin.

Eleanor Roosevelt gave careful consideration to her positions. President Roosevelt was skeptical of public-sector unions, though definitely not anti-union as some conservatives have suggested, and his wife struggled with the issue in her newspaper column "My Day" after his death. In the 1950s, as public employee unions began to organize and grow more rapidly, however, she was shocked when a city police commissioner refused to meet with a workers' grievance committee. She acknowledged budget problems, but asked if "any workers should be kept at starvation wages?"

By the late 1950s, she concluded that unionization in the public sector was necessary because employers in the public sector were little different from those in the private sector, refusing to listen to workers and treat them fairly. "Employees who are quite evidently not receiving a living wage and are dissatisfied with their conditions of work," she wrote, "would simply be slaves if they were obliged to work on without being able to reach their employers with their complaints and demand negotiation."

When teachers went on strike in New York City in 1962, shortly before her death, she wrote that there was no "method of complaint and adjustment that could take the place of collective bargaining with the ultimate possibility of a strike." She concluded that "Under the present set-up teachers have no other recourse but to strike to draw attention to their legitimate complaints." Female public employees in Wisconsin followed Roosevelt's advise and joined unions.

Governor Walker should listen to Eleanor Roosevelt. He would learn that his time might be more productively spent cooperating with the women who teach our children and care for the sick and meet the needs of the public everyday. He could learn to solicit their ideas on how to improve services and reduce costs, then negotiate solutions. Wisconsin government could be a model of a democratic workplace, rather than a leader in an effort to dismantle workers' rights. The women of Wisconsin are joining the spirit of their sisters in the Triangle Fire and they are fighting back. They need our support. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "We can't just talk, we have got to act."

Brigid O’Farrell is an independent scholar whose new book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker, Cornell University Press.

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How Women Became Citizens (Hint: It Didn't Happen Overnight!)

Mar 21, 2011Ellen Chesler

Remembering Women's History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens -- and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. As author and Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Ellen Chesler reveals, the long journey is far from over.

Remembering Women's History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens -- and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. As author and Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Ellen Chesler reveals, the long journey is far from over.

It's hard to fathom today, but for most of human history, and even into our own time, it was simply assumed that women had no need to acquire identities or rights of our own -- except, of course, those enjoyed by virtue of our relationships with men.

This principle was central to defining American women's claims on citizenship at the country's founding. And it stuck around at the heart of the long and fierce opposition women encountered in seeking rights to inheritance and property, to suffrage, and most especially, to control over our own bodies through legal access to birth control and abortion -- a right now ever precarious. Even violence against women was for many years condoned under the principle of male "coverture" that defined women's legal identities. If you can believe it, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910 denied damages to a wife injured by violent beatings on the grounds that to do so would undermine "the peace of the household."

To be sure, there were challenges to this prevailing point of view. Mary Wollstonecraft's visionary 1792 tract, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, claimed on behalf of women the natural rights theories of the French Enlightenment that upheld the sovereignty of the individual. And in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton enumerated a long list of injuries against women at Seneca Falls and launched a suffrage campaign that she did not live to see through to its agonized victory an astonishing 72 years later! Hats off as well to the one really good guy of this era who spoke up for women -- the venerable John Stuart Mill, whose 1869 Essay on the Subjection of Women asked for the first time whether home and family are women's only natural vocations, or whether in a world where formal employment was moving outside the home, wives must necessarily follow.

Still, deeply entrenched assumptions about gender roles were hard to overcome. Even when women finally won the vote in 1920, one of the most powerful arguments propelling them to victory was the claim that modern government, in assuming obligation for the education and socialization of children and for the general social welfare, had taken on traditional responsibilities of the household. For many Americans this became the compelling rationale for why women finally needed a voice in their own right.

That same year Margaret Sanger helped inaugurate a modern human rights conversation that moved beyond traditional civil and political claims of liberty on behalf of women to establish reproductive and sexual rights -- realizing her claim that no woman can call herself free until she can decide whether and when she chooses to be a mother. Yet in order to gain widespread support for her cause, even a firebrand like Sanger wound up abandoning polarizing rhetoric about birth control in favor of a more sanitized, public relations-savvy sales pitch that put families ahead of women under the banner of Planned Parenthood, the organization that remains her global legacy. Nor can we forget that as Sanger lay dying in 1965, the Supreme Court argument that at long last provided constitutional protection to the use of contraception (and later abortion in 1973) focused on the protection of marital privacy. Scarcely a word was mentioned about women's equal rights.

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So, too, when Progressive-era reformers first sought to protect women workers, they argued that women had responsibilities to households and families and therefore needed a cap on their hours and a floor on their wages. With the best of intentions, the protectionist measures formulated under Muller v. Oregon essentially condoned sex discrimination in employment as the law of the land until the 1970s and 1980s, when Ruth Ginsburg and other then-young women's rights lawyers cobbled together equal protection doctrines and opportunities for women ingeniously derived from Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

We need to remember these developments. Public policy, we know, is largely path dependent. How we think and act today is often determined by a past we don't fully understand. This is particularly true for women who have for so long been denied fair recognition as historical actors. History is to the body politic as memory is to the individual, as veteran historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. once observed. We need to keep our engagement with history lively, as we are bound to lose our way without it.

We need history to help us navigate our own troubled times. We especially need it now as we try to unravel the remnants of "coverture" that still constrain women's civil status and as we do so in the face of an intensifying backlash against women's equality.

The litany of injustices women still face in this country is by now familiar. On the one hand, nearly half of all American workers today are women, and more than a third of them are single heads of household. Their low earnings depress wages overall. On the other hand, in two-income households (though sadly a declining percentage of the total) female earnings are beginning to reach parity with men. In 1980, two thirds of families depended on only a male breadwinner and less than a third of married women with children worked. Today that number is exactly reversed. Yet the myth of traditional domestic arrangements as a norm still persists in our public policies.

Almost alone among Western democracies, the US provides little or no subsidized childcare and few maternity benefits to women. There is no federal legislation beyond a hard-won mandate for unpaid pregnancy and medical leave, which covers only workers in large organizations. Only a handful of states require paid family leave or flexible hours to cover personal obligations. School hours and educational calendars pay little attention to the absence of parents in most homes. Tax policy, wage scales, Social Security benefits, and health insurance formulas all still discriminate in multiple and often devious ways against working women.

To add insult to injury, the impulse to push women out of public roles and back to the private sphere now informs the radical misogyny at the core of the social policy agenda of one of the country's two established political parties. However veiled by claims of fiscal responsibility, the reactionary goals of Republicans now serving in the U.S. Congress are transparently clear.

American women are better educated than ever before. Fewer marry, and those who do wait until they are much older than in generations past. The average size of families has decreased markedly. Labor force participation, as well as civic and political involvement by women, is up despite the many obstacles we still face in balancing obligations at home and at work. Women are driving small business formation and economic growth in this country. They are voting in greater numbers than men and often far more progressively, with significant gender gaps recorded in all but two elections since the 1980s (when anxieties about terrorism in 2002 and about unemployment in 2010 narrowed the divide).

What women in polling and focus groups continually say is that we need more of a helping hand from government -- measures to enforce equal pay, improved benefits for education and health care, and more spending on the social sector. Instead, under the cover of scare tactics about fiscal doom, we get calls to end affirmative action policies and crush the public sector unions that provide secure jobs in traditional roles like nursing and teaching, and in non-traditional, better paying sectors as well. Women say we need more and better reproductive and maternal heath care. What we get instead are bills to eliminate birth control subsidies for the poor, defund Planned Parenthood, recriminalize abortion, and convey rights to fetuses that are then denied to children once they are born.

True enough, the GOP is not telling American women we should no longer vote, or go to college, or own property, or hold a job. But the Republican platform quite clearly opposes the core public policies and legal remedies that have secured us these rights through two centuries of struggle. If given their way, the forces of reaction in our country today would restore a patriarchal order that has taken 200 years to overturn.

The message is clear. The stakes are high. Women's basic claims as citizens in our own right are again at risk. Either we speak up more passionately and reclaim our own historical agency by overturning these injustices, or we condemn our daughters to refight the very battles we once had every reason to think we had won.

Ellen Chesler is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.

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Bretton Woods, the New Deal and the Great Society -- circa 1776

Mar 21, 2011William Hogeland

american_colonial_flagHow a farmer, a weaver, and a backwoods prophet took on the money interest in founding-era politics -- and won.

american_colonial_flagHow a farmer, a weaver, and a backwoods prophet took on the money interest in founding-era politics -- and won.

One of the better-known episodes in American founding finance occurred in 1791, when Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary, proposed forming the United States' first central bank. James Madison of Virginia, serving in the House of Representatives, objected. Prefiguring the Republican lawmakers who recently pledged not to introduce legislation without first citing the constitutional provision enabling it, Madison asserted that because the Constitution doesn't grant Congress a specific power to form banks, a national bank would be unconstitutional.

Hamilton famously responded by arguing that if a power to do something is constitutional, then powers necessary to doing it must be constitutional too, even when not enumerated. If Congress determines that exercising its power to do anything "necessary and proper" in the discharge of its duties calls for forming a bank, it can form a bank. Any unconstitutionality, for Hamilton, would require a specific prohibition against banks ("Congress shall make no law...," etc.).

So that's typically how history students and readers get introduced to a key founding moment in American public finance: ideologically, intellectually and legally, in the context of a constitutional dispute between the lions of ratification Hamilton and Madison, two thirds of the "Publius" who authored "The Federalist," now coming at odds in the fledgling republic. Anyone hoping to find anything related to how money and credit might flow to ordinary Americans will be disappointed. Hamilton was arguing for the nationalist finance agenda he'd been pursuing since becoming a young protégé of the financier Robert Morris in the early 1780s. Democratic ideas about popular finance were just what Morris and Hamilton had been trying to quell. With a national government in place at last, central banking would be critical.

And in opposing central banking, Madison was arguing on behalf of security in property, limits on power, representative consent, and a land-based economy. He condemned Hamilton's finance plan as crass, urban, and Yankee: un-republican, that is, to Madison. No democrat, Madison would never have endorsed paper currencies, legal relief for the debtor class, and demands by the less propertied for better access to the franchise -- the program advocated by American populist regulators in their struggle against elite finance. Madison's famous "Federalist No. 10" expresses a genteel revulsion for paper finance and social equality at least as deep as Robert Morris's.

It's therefore been easy for many well-regarded historians -- riveted by great men, perpetually rehearsing the Hamilton-Madison binary -- to dismiss founding-era democratic finance theory and practice. Robert Whitehill? Herman Husband? William Findley? Names rarely conjured. The irony is that to Alexander Hamilton and Robert Morris, those names were anything but obscure. Little-remembered today, they made Morris seethe with exasperation precisely over issues of central banking and public debt. Our founding egalitarians' successes and failures complicate received historical binaries and offer intriguing models for today's struggles over public and private finance.

Robert Whitehill was a farmer, Herman Husband a career activist, William Findley a weaver. All lived in western parts of Pennsylvania, where antipathy prevailed both for big planters tying up land and eastern slicksters tying up money and credit. Whitehill led an early 1770s movement for western independence from Philadelphia, as important to his constituency as American independence from England. Husband had led the North Carolina Regulation in the 1760s, barely escaping hanging; as a fugitive in the Pennsylvania wilderness, he experienced Biblical visions of a democratically ruled America, the New Jerusalem. Findley was a natural pol, anything but visionary: he thrived under Jefferson but exemplifies the rough-and-tumble politics of the Jackson era.

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What the three shared, along with passion for democratic finance, was sudden electability under the new Pennsylvania Constitution, which in 1776 shocked famous founders from John Adams to Hamilton by smashing the old Whig connection between representative rights and property ownership. (Whitehill helped write it.) With the unpropertied voting in Pennsylvania, Husband entered the Pennsylvania assembly in the mighty year of 1776, Whitehill and Findley in the early 1780s. For the first time, democratic finance was no longer a crowd protest but a legislative effort.

Husband really was a prophet. He proposed such things anathema to the creditor class as going off the gold standard and managing a slow, deliberate rate of paper depreciation; imposing taxes on wealth and income; making those taxes progressive; and instituting programs for supporting the elderly after they could no longer work. Prefiguring Bretton Woods, the New Deal, and Great Society by nearly two centuries, Husband became known as "the madman of the Alleghenies."

Whitehill and Findley attacked the bank that Robert Morris had founded in Philadelphia. Its charter belonged to the people of Pennsylvania, they asserted, not Morris, and the bank served no public function, existing only to enrich its founders. They proposed revoking the charter, establishing a land bank for small-scale lending, and issuing legal-tender paper to enable small transactions and debt relief. They wanted the electorate, via representatives in the assembly, to regulate public and private finance on behalf of ordinary working people.

Robert Morris himself was serving in the assembly, so floor debate was intense. His merchant constituents were panicking. Investors everywhere in America relied on the bank for gigantic, poorly secured loans to fund their speculations in the land bubble, the bond rollercoaster, and their own fabulous lifestyles. James Wilson, one of the bank's directors, had personally borrowed more than $250,000 from the bank for the purpose of wild speculation. Wilson too served in the Pennsylvania assembly, and in hopes of saving the charter, he and Morris found themselves forced to duke it out with the low-rent likes of Whitehill and Findley.

In a stunning benchmark legislative victory for popular finance, the Pennsylvania assembly did revoke the bank's charter. When the charter came up in the next session, the assembly refused to reinstate it. The people had won. Rich men far and wide gasped in fear of what a democratic American legislature might achieve. Morris announced that a mob was confiscating his property. But for once there was nothing he could do. In a democratic process of republican government, struggling against an enormously powerful money interest in politics, economic fairness had prevailed. That was 1785.

Skeptics of our early democratic finance point to Pennsylvania's bumpy ride under its 1776 constitution, suggesting that the Whitehills, Husbands, and Findleys turned out to be naive in comparison to men like Morris, Wilson, and Hamilton -- financial sophisticates who could quote the philosopher David Hume and the economist Jacques Necker. Morris was "financier of the Revolution," after all. Wilson was the brilliant lawyer who helped author the U.S. Constitution.

So in judging the relative effectiveness of popular versus elite finance, it's worth considering some outcomes. The sophisticates Morris and Wilson, like many of our best-certified wizards today, persisted in speculating well past the point where rationality would suggest stopping, often in manifestly dubious ventures. The unabashed scale and mounting danger of their adventuring will sound familiar. In a time of widespread economic depression, Morris at one point owned most of western New York and many millions of acres in Pennsylvania and the South. Wilson borrowed at rates of up to 30% to invest, among other things, in what turned out to be the Yazoo land fraud in Georgia.

And inevitably, just as today, it all came crashing down. Wilson was serving on the U.S. Supreme Court when his increasingly desperate throwing of good money after bad finally landed the great legal scholar in debtors prison. Our mighty founding financier Robert Morris? He ended up in debtors prison too. In 1800, the first Bankruptcy Act was passed -- in large part to get Robert Morris out of jail.

William Hogeland is the author of the narrative histories Declaration and The Whiskey Rebellion and a collection of essays, Inventing American History. He has spoken on unexpected connections between history and politics at the National Archives, the Kansas City Public Library, and various corporate and organization events. He blogs at http://www.williamhogeland.com.

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Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi Links Feminism, Democracy and Economics

Mar 18, 2011

saadawiEgyptian feminist leader electrifies New York well-wishers.

She is nearly 80 years old, her white hair pulled back from a face at once radiant and arresting.

She has been censored, persecuted, threatened, exiled, fatwahed, and jailed.

saadawiEgyptian feminist leader electrifies New York well-wishers.

She is nearly 80 years old, her white hair pulled back from a face at once radiant and arresting.

She has been censored, persecuted, threatened, exiled, fatwahed, and jailed.

Her clitoris was cut off at the age of 6, and she wrote her memoirs on a role of toilet paper while imprisoned for daring to write openly about female sexuality.

Most recently, she stood her ground nearly every day at Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising, cheering the protesters and hosting them in her home.

Last night on New York City's west side, feminist legend Gloria Steinem hosted a reception for a woman whose work has left a giant mark on the global quest for freedom and equality. Nawal El Saadawi, the honoree, is the indomitable feminist writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist whose work has focused on the relationship between women and Islam -- a relationship that is complicated, to put it mildly.  "Islamic feminism is alive and well!" she announced to vigorous applause in a room filled by journalists and activists who had gathered to pay homage to a pivotal figure on the world stage. Lively and full of humor, Dr. Saadawi mesmerized the room with the same energy and charisma that bolstered the Egyptian protesters fighting for democracy.

I first learned about the amazing Dr. Saadawi in the late 1990s, while researching the shocking extent of female genital mutilation. Hundreds of millions of women across north Africa and the Middle East, I learned, have had their genitals cut, maimed, and ravaged by a variety of practices that result in horrific health problems, not to mention psychological trauma, and even death. This is a cultural problem, and it is also an economic one. Women who do the bulk of the agricultural work in many of the regions where FGM is practiced are so weakened physically by health complications that they cannot do the work required to produce and nurture the food crops needed for the community's survival. Over her long career, Dr. Saadawi has worked tirelessly to explain the economic devastation that results from the subjugation of women.

At the New York gathering, Dr. Saadawi discussed the historic work of Islamic feminists across the globe, surprising me with the fact that Tunisian women had secured abortion rights 8 years before Americans had Roe v. Wade. She reminded us that you can't have a democracy in an Islamic country without the full participation of women, just as you can't have democracy in a capitalist society where there is a huge gap between rich and poor. She made it clear that the connections between feminism, global politics and economics are crucial to understanding how the human race can move forward. Defiant after decades of challenging some of the most pernicious defenders of patriarchy on the face of the earth, she appears to be getting, if anything, more radical with age.

Watch Dr. Saadawi discuss women, fundamentalism, and genital mutilation, explaining how 'religion is all politics':

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What If Private Manning Confesses? How Torture Delegitimizes Our Institutions

Mar 15, 2011Mike Konczal

Bradley Manning's treatment eats away at faith in our government and the confession it's meant to wring out.

Bradley Manning's treatment eats away at faith in our government and the confession it's meant to wring out.

Let's make up a potential headline: "Private Manning Confesses, Implicates Julian Assange." This hasn't happened, but we can imagine eventually reading that headline. Yesterday I wrote a bit about liberals and the security state and emphasized P.J. Crowley's points that harsh interrogation and severe detention policies don't produce good information, do not make us any safer and are counterproductive. That can come across as some pretty mercenary consequentialist stuff -- if torture produced excellent information, should we be on board? -- so I want to plant it in some deeper soil.

Let's say that tomorrow Manning confesses to being the source for classified Wikileaks documents. And not only does he say that Assange gave him a bag full of $20 bills for those documents, better, he says Assange encouraged him to undertake whatever is the legal minimum for a conspiracy charge and also would leave the least paper trail. Should we trust it? Or should we assume that the extensive solitary confinement and forced nude inspections were instrumental in getting this confession?

One of the sharp moves of modern progressive and liberal thought is to shift moral weight away from premises to procedures, processes and rules. Rules where the enforcement of procedural integrity, rather than any specific outcome, are key for its justification. Where outcomes are justified not because they correspond to immutable principles but instead because they adhered to the correct procedures. The emphasis is usually that this levels playing fields, provides access to individuals, holds people accountable, etc. What's equally important is that it provides legitimacy for the system itself.

Take the rule that Miranda Rights ("You have the right to remain silent...") have to be read to people in custody. On the first approximation, that protects people being interrogated, informing them of their rights and also clearly demarcating a space in which they are interacting with a police authority. But in a more crucial manner it protects police officers. It provides ground rules for them to follow and establishes that if they follow them then subsequent actions are justified. A confession, even a shaky one, can be justified by saying "the suspect was aware of his or her rights; we read the Miranda." It protects the legitimacy of the system.

This is why so many liberals are quick to point out that a key problem of the Bush administration, a problem continued into the Obama administration, is the lack of congressional accountability over key programs. This is part of but not the complete picture of the surveillance state as vast, secret and dangerous, blurring into the corporate sector with high-tech "fusion centers", and actually producing too much information to be of any use in preventative action. (Frank Pasquale informs me that the concept of Cryptopicon is starting to replace the metaphor of a Panopticon in internet privacy discussion circles as information collection is too wide, ubiquitous and fragmented to be symbolized by the logic of a solitary figure watching for instrumental ends. Less Orwell, more Kafka.)

There are people who are considering the argument that Manning might deserve special protection from the law on account of the moral weight of what he disclosed. That's not the argument here. It's why Crowley can think that Manning is in the "right place" (under custody) but that his treatment in that place is cruel and counterproductive. It's counterproductive because it doesn't achieve the ends it needs to but also calls into question any type of legitimate conclusion. When there's a court trial, we are all less likely to think it reflects the actual mechanisms of justice, even for a military trial. And if Manning actually wants to confess, if he suddenly feels wrong about his actions and wants to say that to the public and the government, he's even robbed of that too, since nobody will believe its his actual thoughts. The legitimacy of our institutions have enough problems without this.

FYI: This isn't the conservative response. I think there's a sense that conservatives are like liberals in this situation but want a slightly more tilted playing field, one more in favor of prosecutors and against suspects. There's that element to it, but for conservatives the point of coercive power isn't to establish fair procedures to hold it in check, but instead to maintain order.

If you've never read it, the actual James Q. Wilson 1982 Atlantic Monthly article popularizing "Broken Windows" is important here. It's arguably one of the most important wonky magazine articles written, giving an intellectually driven wonk gloss to the beginning of an aggressive incarceration state.

For a neoconservative, I assumed Wilson blamed the Warren Court, Great Society liberalism and the New Left because thought criminals get too many rights, didn't praise nuclear families enough, didn't appreciate Great Books enough, weren't interested in policing woman's sexual autonomy enough, etc. etc. etc. But that's not the critique at all:

A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed…

The process we call urban decay has occurred for centuries in every city. But what is happening today is different...

[T]he police in this earlier period [pre-1960s] assisted in that reassertion of authority by acting, sometimes violently, on behalf of the community. Young toughs were roughed up, people were arrested “on suspicion” or for vagrancy, and prostitutes and petty thieves were routed. “Rights” were something enjoyed by decent folk, and perhaps also by the serious professional criminal, who avoided violence and could afford a lawyer.

This pattern of policing was not an aberration or the result of occasional excess. From the earliest days of the nation, the police function was seen primarily as that of a night watchman: to maintain order against the chief threats to order -- fire, wild animals, and disreputable behavior. Solving crimes was viewed not as a police responsibility but as a private one. In the March, 1969, Atlantic, one of us (Wilson) wrote a brief account of how the police role had slowly changed from maintaining order to fighting crimes. The change began with the creation of private detectives (often ex-criminals), who worked on a contingency-fee basis for individuals who had suffered losses. In time, the detectives were absorbed in municipal agencies and paid a regular salary simultaneously, the responsibility for prosecuting thieves was shifted from the aggrieved private citizen to the professional prosecutor. This process was not complete in most places until the twentieth century.

For the new conservative intellectual movement, the problem is that the role of police went from one that maintained order to one that enforced and implemented rules based on the acknowledgment of individual rights. The problem isn't that the rules are tilted one way or the other; the problem is that enforcing rules is front and center in what state power does.

Two last block quotes. Emptywheel pulls a great quote from the CAP paper Crowley wrote in 2008 (my bold):

Restore Government Transparency and Recommit to the Rule of Law

Terrorism, while a serious threat, does not require altering the fundamental relationship between the government and the American people. Even during the Cold War we did not succumb to our worst fears. We should continue to rely on constitutional standards that as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy put it in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, “have been tested over time and insulated from the pressures of the moment.”

U.S. courts have consistently demonstrated their ability to deal with complex terrorism cases, even those involving secret and sensitive information. Rather than being a constraint, treating terrorism as primarily a criminal matter in fair and transparent legal proceedings adds to our political legitimacy at the terrorists’ expense.

A key objective should be preserving continuity of and public confidence in government at all levels. Unless the United States is under an overwhelming threat of additional attack, or the impact of an incident completely overwhelms local and state government, the federal response should be to support rather than supplant civilian authority, particularly at the local level.

Public access to information and open debate is not dangerous, but rather is the essence of democracy that we present to the world as the antidote to violent extremism. The removal of large quantities of public information since 9/11 is counter-productive. Rather than provide information to attackers, excessive secrecy more likely inhibits the development of effective countermeasures.

An effective homeland security program may require wider governmental access to personal information, such as telephone calls and emails. But privacy protections must keep pace. Otherwise, perceived intelligence dots may actually be stray bullets that wrongly implicate ordinary citizens.

Anyone who emphasizes the idea that Al Qeada isn't the Soviet Union v 2.0 but instead a few thousand thugs who can't even find a safe harbor in the Muslim country they claim to represent, and America has faced far worse without betraying our core beliefs, gets an A in my book.

And the conclusion of this post by Adam Serwer:

The underlying dynamic here is that the Obama administration has already asked the left to acquiesce to an uncomfortable level of policy continuity with the Bush administration on national security. Now, for many on the left, the administration seems to be asking that they accept that the administration's dissenters are not to publicly speak their conscience, and that the abuse of those accused of terrible crimes is no vice. This is a request in some ways greater and more terrifying than any Obama has made before, because it is a demand that the left accept more that just the Bush administration's policies but their internal moral logic as well.

My worry is that, just as the GOP began to embrace the moral legitimacy of torture in order to defend Bush, the left may embrace similar logic in its defense of Manning's treatment -- or even simply to defend Obama. It has already found itself struggling to defend Obama's failure to fulfill his promises on national-security issues as a candidate. If this happens, I fear that this country's voyage to Dick Cheney's Dark Side will be irreversible.

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Our First Fat Cat Banker -- and the Financial Scandals of the American Revolution

Mar 14, 2011William Hogeland

fat-cat-150In founding America, as today, it could be hard to tell a finance policy from a finance scandal.

fat-cat-150In founding America, as today, it could be hard to tell a finance policy from a finance scandal.

Robert Morris, our first central banker, was the richest and most influential merchant in founding-era America -- "financier of the American Revolution," as his friend George Washington and later writers dubbed him. Morris did indeed finance the Revolution. As some historians have noted, the Revolution also financed him. More importantly, though, Morris wanted America as a whole to finance the upscale investing class, of which he was chief political exponent. The popular protests for democratic finance that I discussed in numbers two and three in this series add up to a movement against Morris's finance policies and legacy. Understanding them requires knowing Robert Morris.

Some have seen the man as a monster of avarice. Others de-emphasize his manifest corruption in favor of his patriotic contributions. Morris's personal intensity -- he was corpulent, gregarious, high-handed, bright -- and even his profiteering in the Revolution (inextricable, perhaps, from America's winning that war), can distract us from the cogently detailed finance policies that he dedicated to enriching American elites and consolidating American wealth. Morris spent his career waging war on democratic ideas about finance.

He was immensely energetic. Born in Liverpool in 1734, he emigrated as a boy to Maryland and went to work as an apprentice to the august Philadelphia accounting firm of Charles Willing. That firm became Willing & Morris, dominating the American flour business in imperial trade, largely under Morris's aegis. By 1776, Morris owned ships and warehouses and ran his own network of trading partners connecting Philadelphia, New Orleans, the West Indies, and (soon) even the China trade.

Capsule biographies routinely call Morris a signer of the Declaration. While he did resist the Stamp Act and helped supply the Continental Army after Lexington and Concord, Morris joined John Dickinson in the second Continental Congress in opposing declaring American independence -- and like Dickinson, stayed home on July 2, 1776, when the watershed vote was taken. Dickinson, on principle, never signed the Declaration he'd opposed (and he immediately led his militia battalion to New Jersey to fight the British), but Morris was a pragmatist. With independence fait accompli, he placed his signature above the rest of the Pennsylvania delegates'.

Then he went to work. Eschewing a military role, Morris took over the entire civil one, subordinating the Congress to its finance committee, which he chaired, effectively becoming the country's wartime chief executive. He used his cash to supply the army and in the process used public money for his and friends' private ventures. He gave enormous no-bid military contracts to cronies. He became so enamored of the war that in 1782, with peace finally in the air, he proposed to General Washington that he deliberately extend it: he feared losing the wartime unity essential to central government and central finance.

Morris is rightly credited with bailing out the Congress early in the war by persuading leery investors to buy federal bonds, which looked weakly supported. He accomplished that feat by tipping off a circle of friends to a secret French loan he'd arranged, dedicated to paying interest on the bonds -- not in crashing Continental paper, which big-time investors scorned -- but in "bills of exchange" issued by European banking houses, as good as gold. Even better (for the investors): Morris got Congress to take its own bad paper at face value in payment for the bonds. If you knew Morris, you could dump $2000, say, in paper worth only $400 in trade, and pick up a comparatively stable $2000 bond paying 6% interest, tax-free, in the equivalent of hard, cold metal. Sweet!

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So the bonds sold. The blue-chip tier of the founding U.S. debt came to be held almost exclusively by a network led by Morris.

Another plan Morris cooked up late in the war: Congress should call in the vast flurry of small IOU's the army had issued to farmers and artisans in exchange for requisitioned supplies. Those forced loans amounted to a widely scattered face value total of maybe $95 million, which everybody deemed nearly worthless, for how would Congress ever pay on them? Long-shot gamblers were buying fistfuls of the chits at pennies on the dollar when Morris realized that if Congress privately agreed to pay them at face value, speculators would seek them out and buy them from ordinary people ignorant of the deal. The speculators could then exchange the chits in bulk at face value for federal bonds. A nearly incalculable fortune would thus be added to the public debt. The only losers would be the ordinary Americans forced to give up precious goods in exchange for scraps of worthless government paper.

The purpose of all such efforts, and of Morris's central bank itself, was to swell the domestic federal debt to huge proportions. That would make the merchant moneymen -- those creditors who hated popular finance -- into public creditors of the United States, equating American wealth with national purpose. (Morris had read Hume and wanted the U.S. to emulate England's success as a financial power.) His bank existed in part to lend money to the Congress; in part to issue high-denomination paper -- "Mr. Morris's notes" -- for government finance; in part to make risky, barely secured loans to its own founders for speculating in the real estate bubble and the public debt; and in no part to extend small-scale credit to ordinary people.

On the contrary: Morris made clear that he wanted to consolidate, not disseminate, money and credit. He wanted the United States to become a national government, with domestic law enforcement power, precisely in order to shut down land banks; stop state paper, legal-tender laws, and other forms of popular finance; punish activist debtors who, in the absence of access to the franchise, harassed and obstructed creditors; and collect taxes throughout the country from ordinary people, earmarking those taxes for paying reliable interest (untaxed) on the upscale creditors' bonds. He expected a national government to, as he put it, "open the purses of the people."

One way historians look at Morris -- a liberal one, really, because it's meant to be balanced -- is summed up in this mild assertion from the leading historian Edmund Morgan: "... though [Morris] seems to have mingled private gain too closely with public, he kept the United States almost solvent during the remainder of the war." "Solvent" is a funny term in this context, but the real question Morgan avoids has to do with what a "solvent" America would mean to Morris and his supporters. A recent Morris biography by Charles Rappleye, too, presents itself as re-balancing the supposedly too critical work on Morris by, for one, the historian Terry Bouton.

Rappleye and I will never agree (except as to Morris's overlooked importance): where he dismisses Bouton's book "Taming Democracy" as a "a broad-brush polemic," I think Bouton provides the nuanced economics and layered political realism that Rappleye's work (and Morgan's) pointedly avoids. More important, though, are the political and historiographical implications of emphasizing Robert Morris's patriotic efforts over his deliberately regressive economics (which Morris himself never made any bones about).

Glossing over the purposes and results of Morris's policy has the effect, intended or otherwise, of making it easy to ignore the thinking and misconstrue the actions of the democratic 18th-century Americans who so articulately opposed that policy. So next time in this series: some Americans who took Robert Morris on, including the farmer Robert Whitehill, the weaver William Findley, and the preacher Herman Husband. Also: the long and unlikely relationship of Morris and Thomas Paine.

William Hogeland is the author of the narrative histories Declaration and The Whiskey Rebellion and a collection of essays, Inventing American History. He has spoken on unexpected connections between history and politics at the National Archives, the Kansas City Public Library, and various corporate and organization events. He blogs at http://www.williamhogeland.com.

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How We Can Save Environmentalism -- and Ourselves

Mar 10, 2011Jon Rynn

money-globe-150Where's the environmental movement going? Jon Rynn investigates in a two-part series. In the second part, he argues we need to start rebuilding our infrastructure -- and our civilization -- before it's too late.

money-globe-150Where's the environmental movement going? Jon Rynn investigates in a two-part series. In the second part, he argues we need to start rebuilding our infrastructure -- and our civilization -- before it's too late.

In my first post, I started to discuss a speech by the founders of the Breakthrough Institute, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger (N and S). In this post, I will discuss their presentation of 12 theses of environmental thought, which they hope will supply “underlying assumptions for a new, post-environmental climate movement.”

1. They start off by claiming that “more, better, or louder climate science will not drive the transformation of the global energy economy.” If this is true, it is indeed tragic. What they seem to be saying is that the public cannot, or will not, deal with a complicated scientific topic, and worse, in my opinion, this public will not be very worried about our long-term future. I do agree with the broad theme of their alternative: appeal to medium-term self-interest, because I think it is eminently possible to tackle global warming by improving peoples’ lives in that time frame.

2. They advise that “we need to stop trying to scare the pants off of the American public. Doing so has demonstrably backfired.” I’m not sure about this one, partly because I don’t think it’s really been tried. There surely haven’t been any scare campaigns on display recently. And I don’t know how you can show that a few scientists talking about the very real possibility of massive ecological collapse has made much of an impact – unfortunately.

However, they make a point: if you are going to frighten people, you better have a very easy-to-understand and clear set of ideas about how to get out of danger. Humans seem to operate at a high level exactly when they are in danger and there is a clear way out – probably the result of the evolutionary need to do things like escape from lions. But when only fear is used to push your cause, all kinds of unfortunate stresses on the system result, often backfiring and leading to the rise of right-wing political moments. It’s the remedies that have been in short supply so far.

3. N and S argue that “the most successful actions will not be justified for environmental reasons… We should put shared solutions at the center of our politics, not our view of the science.” They use the examples of linking environmental concerns to national security and economic well-being. I would go further and talk about how to build clean infrastructure and thereby reignite the manufacturing engine of growth. Also, solutions to global warming are applicable to addressing the end of the era of cheap oil and the problems associated with collapsing ecosystems and agriculture.

4. N and S don’t think that we should be talking about changing behavior, that the alleged environmentalist consensus to “stop crass consumerism, live in denser cities, and use public transit” will not go over well among most of the world’s population, who live in cities anyway. We can’t expect the world’s population to want to stay mired in less resource-intensive poverty for the sake of preventing global warming.

However, it’s not poor people jammed into megacities that are causing most of the emissions, its rich countries spread out in suburbs and cities of sprawl. But to carry their point to a logical conclusion, it is the refusal of the rich countries to change that will be the deal breaker. And even if by some miracle the rich cut back their profligate ways, “More and more of the world will adopt the very living patterns that greens have so long valorized. And as they do they will use vastly more energy and resources, not less.” Well then I guess we’re really screwed.

So what is the possible route out? As we shall see, N and S argue that technological innovation is the only answer, because otherwise, they seem to imply, the situation is indeed hopeless.

5. N and S argue that “we have to stop treating climate change as if it were a traditional pollution problem” by using regulation, because the technologies don’t exist to move to a less carbon-emitting world. Implying that solar and wind are not up to the task, they state that a solution to climate change “will require us to rebuild the entire global energy system with technologies that we mostly don't have today in any form that could conceivably scale to meet that challenge.” But the history of the rollout of electricity and oil were once where renewable energy technologies are now – just starting an exponential take-off. However, their point remains, that we can’t just stop something – fossil fuel emissions – and expect the market to automatically come up with a better alternative.

6. They claim that “We will not regulate or price our way to a clean energy economy” and “Greens have, in recent years, substituted the almighty Market, in the form of a response to a carbon price signal, for their past faith in command and control regulations.” Amen, although I think regulations can go further than they do because technologies do exist that could be used in an effective regulatory environment. And I would also add that public construction is an alternative to trying to develop new technologies (both can happen at the same time).

7. They claim that “we need to acknowledge that the so-called ‘soft energy path’ is a dead end,” where we can meet energy needs through renewable sources and efficiency. There are actually situations in which making or using things more efficiently leads to an increase in the use of a resource (called Jevon's Paradox). But if resources are recyclable and energy is renewable, that paradox wouldn’t be a big problem.

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There has been quite a bit of work done showing that it is possible to generate all of our energy using solar, wind, geothermal, and water energy. I have made the argument, as has (Lester Brown, and Greenpeace and others have done impressive studies. N and S call for much more R&D, which should include more money for understanding how current technologies can create a sustainable society now.

8. N and S warn that “we will not internalize the full costs of fossil fuels, even if we are able to agree upon what they actually are.” For instance, some studies claim that gasoline should cost $12 per gallon if all of the health, military, and other effects were accounted for. Judging by the reaction to the oil price spike in the 2008 campaign – drill, baby, drill – I think it unlikely that Americans will accept vastly steeper gasoline and electricity prices.

9. All of the forgoing leads to the conclusion that “There will be no significant action to address global warming, no meaningful caps or other regulatory frameworks, and no global agreement to limit emissions until the alternatives to fossil fuels are much better and cheaper.” I’m not sure where N and S stand on the issue of whether this is the end of the era of cheap oil, that is, that the production of oil is peaking (“peak oil”). Natural gas and coal also have their supply problems; they will not last forever and in fact could become quite problematic in the next decade or so. So if renewables are too expensive now, when fossil fuels become even more expensive we are in for a bad time.

There is an alternative – use our great wealth, at least while we still have it, to construct a sustainable energy, transportation and urban infrastructure. We put over one trillion dollars per year into a military system that is, at best, mostly a waste of resources, and we just bailed out a financial system that has run amok. We can certainly afford to build millions of wind turbines and solar panels, even if they are currently more expensive than coal and oil.

10. N and S claim that “There is no credible path to reducing global carbon emissions without an enormous expansion of nuclear power.” One could just as easily say that there is no credible path with nuclear power. They have repeatedly stated that renewable energy is impractical. Now they propose an unheard-of expansion of a technology that is much more difficult to construct, constantly runs over-budget, is dependent on a fuel strewn all over the world, and has a host of other problems, like waste disposal, that appear to be insoluble. More research, preferably in different but related technologies like thorium and fusion? Sure. Uranium? 50 years and billions of dollars in R&D is probably enough time and money for a technology to work out its problems.

11. “We will need to embrace again the role of the state as a direct provider of public goods… virtually the entire history of American industrialization and technological innovation is the story of government investments in the development and commercialization of new technologies.” Yes!!

So why is the environmental movement almost completely clueless on this point? Part of it is a reaction to Reagan and the ensuing conservative movement; part of it is the legitimate suspicion of a state apparatus that has made huge missteps (like pushing ethanol); part of it is an understandable desire for decentralized institutions that are more amenable to democratic control. My counterargument is that government is the only institution that can prevent our civilization from suffering the same fate as the Titanic, as difficult as it will be to turn government around from its current course. State-as-builder should at least be one of the options on the table.

12. Finally, I must say they seem to completely cut any ties to the environmental movement with this one: “The solution to the ecological crises wrought by modernity, technology, and progress will be more modernity, technology, and progress. The solutions to the ecological challenges faced by a planet of 6 billion going on 9 billion will not be decentralized energy technologies like solar panels, small scale organic agriculture, and a drawing of unenforceable boundaries around what remains of our ecological inheritance…[the solution] will be: large central station power technologies… further intensification of industrial scale agriculture… and a whole suite of new agricultural, desalinization and other technologies.” Environmental activists used to call this a “technological fix” – the idea that you can keep the same basic system if only you can replace one technology with another, without redesigning the system as a whole.

Of course, this begs the question of whether technologies will ever be discovered that will allow us to simply pop a new engine into cars or replace that dirty coal plant with something else. That would be the ideal solution; otherwise, a certain amount of civilizational redesign will be necessary.

But why put all our eggs in a basket that doesn’t even exist yet? I am all for technological innovation, but I don’t want to bet the future of the world’s species on it. At the other extreme, the chances of various technologies coming to fruition are exceedingly small, and therefore maybe we should ignore innovation and get going on what we have now. Or we could cover both bets, by starting seriously – that is, by spending trillions – to rebuild our infrastructure while feverishly researching and developing everything that looks reasonable.

For N and S, “The choice that humanity faces is not whether to constrain our growth, development, and aspirations or die. It is whether we will continue to innovate and accelerate technological progress in order to thrive.” I wish us luck. But just in case that doesn’t work, I think it’s worthwhile trying to figure out how we could consciously, and with great forethought and democratic participation, start rebuilding civilization right now. An environmentalism based on carbon pricing may be dead, but I’m not worried about the death of environmentalism. I’m worried about the death of the biosphere.

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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