Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Jul 9, 2014Dominic Russel

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

The city of Detroit is suffering. It has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s largest cities at 23 percent, the highest poverty rate at 36.4 percent, and has been listed by Forbes as America’s most dangerous city for five years in a row. As a result of its shrinking population, the city needs $850 million worth of blight removal and cleanup. On top of this, Detroit had an estimated $18 billion in debt in 2013, which caused the state of Michigan to essentially force the city to declare bankruptcy in a desperate attempt to save it.

Detroit urgently needs funding for any revitalization efforts. One source that the city receives each year is in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal government. The grant is one part of the funding that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes to metropolitan cities. The CDBG is the portion that must go to community development projects, including the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings, the construction of public facilities and improvements, and more. CDBG budgeting also must include a mechanism for citizen participation.

Detroit’s current method for allocating CDBG funds is broken, as evidenced by both their inability to completely distribute funding and the lack of citizen involvement in the process. Each year from 2010 to 2012 the city failed to spend a portion of their CDBGs, nearly causing the federal government to recapture money and diminish future grants. Again in 2014, the city is making a last-minute amendment to their CBDG plan, reallocating $12 million to avoid a recapture. This was necessary, in part, because the city allocated funds to programs that no longer exist. The main citizen participation program is the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), in which service organizations apply for funding from the CDBG. This process, however, is limited to organizations and leaves no outlet for individual residents. In fact, individuals have only one public hearing annually for the entire HUD program. The interests of residents are not effectively being channeled into spending. All of this adds up to a system in need of reform.

Detroit has the opportunity to use CDBGs to develop a more citizen-involved allocation process. This can be achieved by creating a participatory budgeting (PB) program, which empowers citizens to allocate a portion of their own government resources and has been recognized by the United Nations as a “best practice” for local governance. A Detroit model could be based off programs in Chicago and New York City. These programs include a series of workshops where residents brainstorm ideas and elect community representatives who turn the ideas into full proposals. Residents then vote on the proposals, and the winning projects are put into action.

In Detroit, the city’s Planning and Development Department can ensure projects conform to HUD guidelines and lead outreach. The department would target traditionally underrepresented viewpoints by aiming outreach at neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents, using public schools for outreach to students and parents, and locating meetings and voting stations in areas that are accessible for underrepresented groups. A PB process has the potential to engage Detroit residents and better utilize their hyper-local knowledge to allocate CDBG funding.

On the night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was elected in 2013 he said, “Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until everyday Detroiters are involved in this effort.” He has the opportunity to create a clear path to this community involvement for all Detroiters by using participatory budgeting to determine how to spend a portion of the city’s federal grants. Not only would this make Duggan’s dream a reality, but it would reform an antiquated allocation process that has nearly cost the city millions of dollars.

Dominic Russel, a Michigan native, is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan and is a Summer Academy Fellow interning at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network as the Leadership Strategy Intern.  

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Summer Vacation is Feeding the Achievement Gap

Jun 27, 2014Sarah Pfeifer VandekerckhoveCandace Richardson

Learning loss during summer vacation is far worse for students of lower socioeconomic status, making low-cost and free educational summer programming essential.

Learning loss during summer vacation is far worse for students of lower socioeconomic status, making low-cost and free educational summer programming essential.

New York City public schools begin summer break today. For many students, summer is a time to rest, travel and play, and a recent study even demonstrates the critical role of play in a student’s future academic and financial success. But extensive research shows that these few months away from the structured activities of school are particularly detrimental to the academic achievement of students of low SES (socioeconomic status) families. Without access and exposure to educational enrichment opportunities during the summer months, these students face substantial setbacks in their academic development.

Of course, all students experience some learning loss during the summer months. Research on the “summer slide” phenomenon shows that nearly all students perform worse on standardized tests taken at the end of summer vacation than the same test taken at the end of the previous school year and lose two months of math skills over the summer months.

For low SES students, however, summer slide does even greater damage to their academic achievement year over year, increasing the achievement gap as well as the likelihood that such students will drop out of high school or not attend college. Summer slide occurring during elementary school alone contributes to at least half of the SES achievement gap by the time students reach 9th grade.  In fact, low SES high school students are eight times less likely to attend a four-year college, compared with their high SES peers.

While only about 20% of students from low-income families participate in summer learning programs, high-income families can afford to expose their children to a variety of enrichment activities, including summer camp. In February, TimeOut published a list of upcoming academic summer camps in New York City that offer exciting sessions on robots, chemistry, reading, and math along with many educational field trips to museums and zoos, with the average cost of these camps totaling $2,176 per month.  For the seventy-eight percent of New York City’s 1.1 million students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch ($43,568 annually for a family of four) that’s nearly 60 percent of their family’s monthly income, meaning these academic summer camps are out of the question for the families whose kids need them the most.

Cost is only one of many barriers to summer program participation for low SES families. Accessibility plays a big role. For instance, the New York City Department of Education’s Summer Quest, a free, five-week enrichment program to combat summer slide, is only available at 22 of the city’s 1700 public schools. And while NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have strongly encouraged participation in summer enrichment programs, only about 55,000 low SES students will receive free programming this summer.

Despite the efforts to engage students in summer enrichment programs, New York City still has a long way to go.

About one-third of the achievement gap can be attributed to a child’s SES before they even enter kindergarten. Combatting the 31.4% child poverty rate in New York City through expansion of Home Visiting programs can go along way in getting students off on the right foot. This is just one of many policy solutions that arose at the Roosevelt Institute’s recent conference, Inequality Begins at Birth.

Of the 55,000 New York City students receiving free summer programming, De Blasio anticipates that 34,000 of those will be middle-schoolers. Increasing the engagement of elementary school children will mitigate substantial growth in the achievement gap, as early academic setbacks compound over time. The DOE can start by expanding NYC Summer Quest and other programs to target younger students, and over time the focus should be on engaging even more of the 850,000+ low SES students in New York City public schools.

Sarah Pfeifer Vandekerckhove is the Roosevelt Institute's Director of Operations.

Candace Richardson is a Policy Intern for the Four Freedoms Center.

Chart from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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Teachers and Tutors Can't Fix All of Low-Income Students' Problems

Jun 13, 2014Casey McQuillan

Targeted public policy could help with many of the problems students face that their teachers can't solve alone.

My parents, both teachers, often blurred the line between being parents and being educators. Luckily, I found academics to be second nature. As a result, my teachers in the local public school system served as valuable role models and fostered my personal growth not just as a student, but as a whole person. I always felt supported by my community and equipped with the necessary tools for my success.

Targeted public policy could help with many of the problems students face that their teachers can't solve alone.

My parents, both teachers, often blurred the line between being parents and being educators. Luckily, I found academics to be second nature. As a result, my teachers in the local public school system served as valuable role models and fostered my personal growth not just as a student, but as a whole person. I always felt supported by my community and equipped with the necessary tools for my success.

I faced a stark contrast to my own experience when I worked with Achieve, a program that offers tuition-free educational enrichment to impoverished students in Boston. I taught critical math skills and literacy comprehension for eight weeks during the summer, and volunteered on Saturdays during the school year. Over the three years I spent with Achieve, I developed intimate and meaningful relationships with my students; but I felt that my impact, even the impact of the entire program, was severely limited.

These students did not have the same tools I did to succeed in the classroom. As a teacher, it was excruciatingly painful to hear a student who is already falling behind explain he could not do his homework because his mom could not pay the bills and the electric company shut off the power. It kills me to tell a student to take notes in class only to find out later that her parents can't afford the prescription glasses she needs to see the board and take those notes. I was expecting these kids to read when some of them could not even see.

Our government claims each citizen maintains the right to an education, but fails to substantiate this right with everything needed for an education. The social safety net did not subsidize electricity for low-income families, and Medicaid doesn't cover prescription eyewear. How could these students possibly reach their full potential under such circumstances? I could see the changes needed to better these students’ lives, but I could not enact them. Our political system remains apathetic or even complicit to the systemic inequality I faced everyday in the classroom. I cared about these students and their success, and it deeply disturbed me to see them seemingly destined for failure because of conditions out of their control.

I only grew more frustrated when I continued to encounter these obstacles with my students. I tried to provide these students with an education that would empower them to be agents of change in their community; instead, when I faced these situations, I felt more helpless than helpful. My students looked to me for help, but I was utterly powerless. I came to the conclusion that to affect positive change would require more than volunteering with these students. Children in these situations needed more from me than an education. Instead of growing more frustrated within the system as I continued to confront these impediments to my students’ success, I decided the entire system needed change. That brought me to the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and to the Summer Academy Fellowship.

This summer, I will be researching and writing a policy proposal regarding economic equality and equitable development in New York City. I am also working with Operation Hope to provide financial guidance and education to low-income communities. My students remain my driving motivation: I hope this work improves their lives, and the lives of other students in similar situations. To meet their needs and help them achieve their best, our system needs to change.

Casey McQuillan, one of four Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellows in the 2014 NYC Summer Academy, is a rising sophomore and active Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member at Amherst College studying Math, Economics, and Law.

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Working Families Party Endorsement of Cuomo Shows Progressive Political Power

Jun 3, 2014Richard Kirsch

If the goal is to achieve real progressive change that improves lives, then New York Governor Cuomo's deal with the Working Families Party is on the right track.

It would be a mistake to think that the New York Working Families Party's endorsement of a Wall Street, austerity Democrat – Andrew Cuomo – is a defeat for the surging progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, just the opposite is true. The endorsement was a demonstration of how to build power to do what progressive politics is ultimately about: delivering real improvements in people’s lives.

If the goal is to achieve real progressive change that improves lives, then New York Governor Cuomo's deal with the Working Families Party is on the right track.

It would be a mistake to think that the New York Working Families Party's endorsement of a Wall Street, austerity Democrat – Andrew Cuomo – is a defeat for the surging progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, just the opposite is true. The endorsement was a demonstration of how to build power to do what progressive politics is ultimately about: delivering real improvements in people’s lives.

Up to 24 hours before the WFP’s Saturday convention, it looked like the Party would nominate Zephyr Teachout, a law professor and activist leader in the fight to reverse Citizens United and enact robust public campaign financing, who ran Howard Dean’s breakthrough online organizing and fundraising campaign for president. Public opinion polls taken earlier in May showed that a progressive WFP candidate could get more than 20% of the popular vote, radically shrinking Cuomo’s victory margin and his quest to demonstrate nationally that he would be a credible candidate for president.

That threat forced Cuomo to agree to make a u-turn in the way he has dealt with the New York State Senate and to agree to push for the passage of six very important progressive priorities in the legislature. After Cuomo, looking to me like a cornered man, made those pledges by video and phone to the WFP convention, a majority of delegates (58 percent), including me – I’m a member of the WFP State Committee – approved his endorsement.

Cuomo’s key concession was to end his support for the coalition between Republican state senators and a handful of breakaway Democratic state senators, which effectively had maintained Republican control of the State Senate. With the exception of a brief period four years ago, Republicans have controlled the New York’s State Senate for decades, blocking an Empire State Building-high pile of progressive bills passed by the State Assembly.

Cuomo agreed to join New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York unions active in the WFP – including SEIU, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, CWA, and UAW – to create a well-funded campaign to elect Democrats and to run primaries against any Democrats who do not agree to fully support Democratic control of the state senate.

But what swayed my vote and the vote of other delegates is the specific package of legislation that Cuomo agreed to push for, should the campaign be successful in putting Democrats in control of the Senate.

One is immediately raising the minimum wage in New York to $10.10, indexed to inflation, and agreeing to allow local governments to raise wages 30% higher. Cuomo has been strongly opposed to giving local governments the authority to do that. This alone is a huge victory for the fast-food workers’ movement, which originated in the city, as there is little doubt that Mayor de Blasio and the progressive City Council majority elected with him will quickly take advantage of their new power if given the opportunity.

A second bill would decriminalize marijuana. New York would become the first state to do so legislatively, rather than by referendum. Given the huge racial imbalance of pot arrests in the city, which continues to ruin the futures of generations of young Black and Latino men, this is an enormous step forward for racial justice and against mass incarceration.

The New York Dream Act is on the list, which would provide tuition assistance to DREAM kids, aspiring immigrant college students who were brought to the United States as children. The Governor also committed to support funding of 100 community schools in low-income communities outside of NYS, which provide social, health and emotional services and act as community centers. Mayor de Blasio will support funding another 100 in New York City.

Another bill is the Women’s Equality Act, with ten provisions including one that the Republican controlled State Senate has opposed – codifying the right for women to determine whether to have an abortion. The Act would includes measures on promoting pay equity, stopping sexual harassment, preventing pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces, strengthening human trafficking laws, bolstering protections for domestic violence victims, and ending family status discrimination.

Last but absolutely not least is finally a robust small-donor public financing bill for statewide and legislative races. In the long run, if this becomes law, it will be the most significant part of the agreement. As Mayor de Blasio pointed out in his speech urging the WFP delegates to give Cuomo their votes in return with this agreement, he could not have been elected mayor without the New York City public financing law, which is the model for the state bill.

De Blasio began his remarks reminding the WFP delegates that he had been a founder of the Party. De Blasio brokered the deal between the WFP and the Governor, saying that he could not deliver on a progressive agenda in New York City unless Democrats gained control of the state senate.

The delegates who voted for Teachout were motivated by two factors, which were shared by almost everyone who attended the convention. One is a strong distaste and distrust for Cuomo. The second is the heartfelt pull to vote for Teachout as a candidate who shares our values and worldview. Particularly in the context of the national debate within the Democratic Party over whether it will become the Party of Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio, this was a powerful attraction for Teachout’s candidacy.

As those of you who follow my writing know, I work a lot on helping progressives promote our ideology, our worldview. As such, you might have expected me to decide that Teachout’s campaign – which would have given voice to that worldview – would have been where I stood. But for me, the reason I focus on changing worldviews is not just because I want people to agree with us. It is because when people share our worldview, they are much more likely to support candidates and policies that deliver on our core beliefs.

For me, this is the ultimate purpose of politics: to enact laws that deliver concrete improvements in people’s lives, that help them care for and support their families and live in dignity, that protect us and our planet.

 

On Saturday, WFP used its political muscle – built through a 16 year process of organizing, coalition building, and electing progressives to higher and higher offices – to take what could be a game-changing step in New York to winning real improvements in people’s lives and making it possible for candidates in New York to win office without relying on big campaign contributions. That’s what political power should be used for. And like any muscle, using it just makes it – and in this case progressive political power – stronger.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Summer Academy Fellows Come Together for the Fight Against Inequality

May 30, 2014Etana Jacobi
The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's 2014 Summer Academy Fellows have gathered for a summer of learning and growing together to solve today's most pressing issues.
 
Inequality well may be the issue of our generation. The research, commentary, and policy debates are building across the country, from the depths of the ivory tower to the streets of Seattle.
 
The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's 2014 Summer Academy Fellows have gathered for a summer of learning and growing together to solve today's most pressing issues.
 
Inequality well may be the issue of our generation. The research, commentary, and policy debates are building across the country, from the depths of the ivory tower to the streets of Seattle.
 
But how are we preparing this generation – the group that will inherit the outcomes of the policy choices we make today? Are we equipping them with the knowledge to engage, the skills to act, and the community capable of coming together to create change?
 
Today, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network welcomes 36 students representing over 19 colleges and universities to kick off the 2014 DC and New York City Summer Academies. Curious, brilliant, and diverse in experience, this group is ready to take on the issues in their own backyards, exploring how they address both economic and democratic inequality on the ground. Over half of our new fellows are from the New York City area, while others come from geographically diverse regions of the United States: Alabama, California, and Illinois to name a few home states.
 
Over the course of the next nine weeks, Summer Academy Fellows will be placed in full-time internships with a partner organization, including city governments, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and think tanks. Concurrently, Fellows participate in a rigorous curriculum composed of workshops, a team-based challenge, field visits, and a speaker series to develop key skills necessary to generate and implement concrete policy change.
 
Together they will tackle the problems of runaway inequality in New York City and a broken political system in Washington, DC. With the challenge frame provided by the Center for Social Inclusion and Fund for the Republic, respectively, students will jump right in to the current debates supported by leading experts and thoughts leaders – and their ideas and contributions will be taken seriously by these leading organizations.
 
Why are we doing this? We believe that policy matters – from City Hall to the community center, from the White House to the social innovation hub. How people and resources come together to solve problems can determine the direction of communities and institutions. It is imperative that we develop a group of young people who capable of tackling complex problems and systems with the power of ideas-inspired action.
 
Interested in what emerges? Students will present their research and ideas at policy expos at the end of the summer in Washington, DC and New York City, as well as the Bay area and Chicago, where Summer Academies will launch in June.
 
In the context of a stagnant public dialogue and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As it enters its seventh year, the Summer Academy boasts 200 alumni now serving as leaders in the non-profit, public, and social innovation sectors. We are overjoyed to welcome a new class of students to this great tradition of leadership.
 
Etana Jacobi is Training Director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. 

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The Stiglitz Code: How Taxing Capital Can Counter Inequality

May 28, 2014Felicia Wong

Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that tax reform is the key to addressing inequality in a new Roosevelt Institute paper released today. Click here to listen to Stiglitz describe the key arguments of the paper.

Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that tax reform is the key to addressing inequality in a new Roosevelt Institute paper released today. Click here to listen to Stiglitz describe the key arguments of the paper. Click here to read his recent congressional testimony on why inequality matters and what can be done about it.

The American economy is at a crossroads. One of the questions that will determine which path we take is whether and how the government can use taxes to meet social needs. In recent years there have been countless calls to overhaul the tax code, but few have offered a robust set of objectives framed around providing and supporting public goods. The vision of active and effective government in support of the economic common good that President Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced through the New Deal is fading from sight.

That changes with today’s release of “Reforming Taxation to Promote Growth and Equity” by Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz. In this transformative new white paper, the Nobel-winning economist who foresaw the economic crisis and the rise of the Occupy movement sets out to reshape the debate around the role of taxation in our society.

The ideas proposed in the paper are premised on core economic principles – taxing bads, encouraging goods – on which the vast majority of economists agree.  The policy toolkit Stiglitz describes applies across the entire economic landscape. With growing wealth inequality and the political power of the top 1 percent in the spotlight thanks to the success of Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital in the 21st Century, Stiglitz calls for taxing capital as if it were regular income and boosting inheritance taxes. He overhauls corporate taxation for the age of globalization and international tax havens, bringing money back to where it was made. He also proposes taxes on negative externalities to ensure that those whose actions do harm, whether in the form of environmental pollution or a financial crisis, pay the price.

The specifics are cogent and compelling. Stiglitz’s truly innovative idea is that we can raise tax revenue while also creating a better, more equal and just economy that works for all – the kind of economy that FDR believed in and fought for. Stiglitz makes the case that tax policy can and should counter some of the country’s biggest challenges: runaway inequality, the threat of climate change, and a business sector warped by bad incentives.

This will not be easy. The transition to a smarter, better tax code would require careful implementation. Tax expenditures would need to be replaced with a better mechanism to ensure that homeowners build equity and that the tax code doesn’t just subsidize the rich. The financial sector, too, would be subject to new taxes that, according to Stiglitz, “would not only raise substantial revenues, but also encourage that sector to better serve the needs of society.” Lobbyists would be out in force to resist and undermine these policy changes, as they have done with the new regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank.

But in an era when the debate over taxation is still dominated by austerity economics and a slash-and-burn approach, Stiglitz lays out a tax policy that would grow the economy. And instead of treating taxation as value-neutral or a necessary evil, he tells us that it can be a means to address important problems. This represents a fundamental and long-overdue shift in our public dialogue about the economy. The American people deserve a tax code that works for them. With this paper, we have the blueprint to create it.

Felicia Wong is the President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaWongRI.

Banner photo via OurWorld2.0, Creative Commons.

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Turning Students' Vision Into Reality: Roosevelt's Campus Network at 10

May 6, 2014Tarsi Dunlop

As the nation's largest student policy organization approaches its 10th anniversary, an alumna and former staffer reflects on how it has evolved and what lies ahead.

As the nation's largest student policy organization approaches its 10th anniversary, an alumna and former staffer reflects on how it has evolved and what lies ahead.

It was September 2005, a few weeks into my first year at Middlebury College, and I was visiting tables at the student activities fair. I had already signed up for several clubs when I heard someone say something, rather loudly, about getting my ideas published and in front of policymakers. I got the pitch: it was the nation’s first ever student-run think tank, then called the Roosevelt Institution, and it was committed to getting student ideas into the policy process. I had no idea how that 10-minute conversation would shape the next 10 years of my life. The organization that would become the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network was still in its infancy; I showed up to the first general interest meeting and was promptly given a chapter leadership role. In the months to follow, I learned how to run meetings, facilitate research, and write policy recommendations. I knew I had found something bigger than myself, or even my school.

The Campus Network turns 10 years old in December 2014. This past weekend, a group of former Roosevelt students gathered for the first of many meetings in New York City to talk about the 10th anniversary celebration, which will set the stage for a longer-term effort to re-engage former members around shared aspects of our incredible story. As we sat together and learned about the more recent Campus Network initiatives, we were, frankly, proud and impressed.

The evolution of the Campus Network is evident in the ambition and scope of the work students are doing. Over the years, the Campus Network has spread to more than 125 campuses, including 13 community colleges. The Summer Academy program, which allows students to develop policy proposals while working alongside government, think tanks, and non-profits, started in Washington, D.C. in 2008; it now operates in four cities and receives a growing number of applications. We used to publish eight or nine student-generated ideas a year in the Roosevelt Review; now the organization publishes 60 a year in the 10 Ideas journal series. And though the organization has changed names and headquarters, it has remained student-run and student-driven. 

The mentality of the students has evolved along with the work. They realized their ideas had more relevance and potential when designed for and implemented in their local communities. They began to think about how to put their ideas into action themselves, in collaboration with the important stakeholders, instead of simply pitching them to elected leaders. And at the same time, they expressed a desire for a national narrative to connect their work across the country. This led to the creation of Think 2040, an initiative designed to identify students' values and how they relate to their generation's policy goals. Conversations were held and data was compiled at campuses across the country, which led to a series of documents that established a clear vision for a Millennial-driven future: the Blueprint for Millennial America, the Budget for Millennial America, and Government By and For Millennial America. The Campus Network is now taking this model to the local level through initiatives like Rethinking Communities and NextGen Illinois.

As the alumni gathered to learn about the state of the Campus Network and where the organization is heading, we were all reminded of particular moments and events that resonated with us. We all identified with different parts of the story: which publications did we write for, which Hyde Park summit did we attend, did we apply to the Summer Academy? We are still fundamentally connected to this journey and invested in this idea space, and we share certain values because we were shaped by this experience. We recognize that we all embraced the same mission and pitch: that young people and their ideas matter, that those ideas can be put to work now, and that students don’t have to wait until they’re in positions of power to make an impact.

In the coming years, the Campus Network wants to reconnect with alumni, support them in their work, and offer them a greater array of opportunities to stay up to date and engaged with the network moving forward. We want to encourage more intentional connections between alumni and current students, offer professional development for former members, recognize contributions from students and chapters over the last 10 years, create alumni profiles and features, and foster connections at the local level. Above all, we want to create a space that reflects the needs and interests of the broader Roosevelt community. In celebrating such growth and success at the organization’s 10th anniversary, we can also look ahead to its 25th. What do we want for Roosevelt then?

We are excited to reach out and build something great for all generations of Roosevelt members. Every success on every level made us what we are today. If you're interested in staying in touch, let us know! And if you’re not a current or former Campus Network member but are interested in our work, stay tuned: there’s much more to come.

Tarsi Dunlop is the former Director of Operations for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She currently works at an education nonprofit in Alexandria.

Photos: Campus Network alumni gather in New York City for a 10th anniversary celebration; the author with Roosevelt Institute VP of Networks and Campus Network National Director Taylor Jo Isenberg.

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Good News for Progressive Economics: Big Thinkers Like Piketty Are Back in Vogue

May 2, 2014Felicia Wong

Thomas Piketty's success is no fluke; he and other progressive thinkers have redefined the public debate around inequality.

Thomas Piketty's success is no fluke; he and other progressive thinkers have redefined the public debate around inequality.

Inequality suddenly is the topic of the moment. Last weekend the French economist Thomas Piketty – whose recently published Capital in the 21st Century is now #1 on the Amazon best seller list, shocking for a 690-page macroeconomic tome – was not only the subject of dueling Paul Krugman/David Brooks op-ed columns in the New York Times. Piketty was also top of the fold in the Times’ Sunday Styles section (headline: “Hey, Big Thinker”), which made note of his “boyishly handsome” looks. Clearly, something is up.

At Boston Review, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal provides an excellent overview of the response to Piketty from both left and right. (You can also listen to him discuss it with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.) Much of the commentary seems to have gone, in only two or three weeks, from economic and policy questions (about his core formula, r>g, or about whether his recommendation of a global tax on capital is actually realistic) to observations that he is a “sign of his times.” In my view, this observation is absolutely right. Piketty’s argument about increasing returns to capital, relatively weak returns to labor, sluggish growth, and the overall rise of both income inequality and wealth inequality, is in fact perfectly in tune with our political and economic concerns today. 

However, I would go much farther than to say that Piketty is merely a sign of his times. I would say that he and other economists have actually defined these times — or at least helped create today’s environment. Piketty and his colleague Emmanuel Saez have been developing their top incomes database for the last 15 years, and publishing results along the way. Since 2003, Piketty’s data, based on an exhaustive review of tax records, has been setting the agenda and driving a tremendous amount of research. I first encountered the data in Winner-Take-All Politicsalso a best-seller, by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. 

Moreover, a number of those involved credit Piketty’s data with sparking the fall 2011 rise of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent framing, which remains a central part of our national conversation. (Credit, according to many others, also goes to Roosevelt Institute’s Chief Economist Joe Stiglitz and his widely read April 2011 Vanity Fair piece, “Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1%.” )

My point is this: Big Thinkers, whether Thomas Piketty or Joe Stiglitz or others, are not just reflections of the times. They are creating today’s debate. Ideas really matter.

In congressional testimony on inequality Stiglitz gave three weeks ago, he noticed a real change in attitude among senators, who are open to everything from a carbon tax to changes in corporate taxation, carried income, and the like. 

We are at a unique moment, thanks to Piketty, Stiglitz, the Occupy Wall Street organizers, and many others. Think tanks like Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Center have a window within which these ideas and arguments can make a very big difference – in the media, in Congress, and, I hope, in cities and towns nationwide. We are pushing hard here to create to a new normal in our understanding of the political economy. Our argument: you can increase economic growth and decrease inequality simultaneously. 

But forces are also arraying against us. The conservatives have yet to fully organize their arguments against Piketty, but already the American Enterprise Institute is arguing that he is promoting the end of capitalism. (He isn’t.) Moreover, I am hearing from Washington sources that over the next year, and especially leading into the midterms, destroying any burgeoning inequality agenda is a central goal of the right wing.

If we want a new normal in our understanding of inequality, we need to be ready to go on the offensive – strategically and systematically. We have solutions. Recent evidence shows they can work. Now: can we put muscle behind the ideas?

Felicia Wong is President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaWongRI.

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Paul Ryan and the Voluntarism Fantasy

Apr 28, 2014Mike Konczal

When I wrote a long piece about the Voluntarism Fantasy at Democracy Journal, several people accused me of attacking a strawman. My argument was that there's an influential, yet never clearly articulated, position on the conservative right that we jettison much of the federal government's role in providing for economic security. In response, private charities, churches and "civil society" will rush in and do a better job. Who, complained conservatives, actually argues this?

Well, here's McKay Coppins with a quite flattering 7,000 word piece on how Paul Ryan has a "newfound passion for the poor." What is the animating core and idea of his new passion?

Ryan’s broad vision for curing American poverty is one that conservatives have been championing for the last half-century, more or less. He imagines a diverse network of local churches, charities, and service organizations doing much of the work the federal government took on in the 20th century. Rather than supplying jobless Americans with a never-ending stream of unemployment checks, for example, Ryan thinks the federal government should funnell resources toward community-based work programs like Pastor Webster’s.

Many are rightfully pointing out that this doesn't square with his budget, which plans to eliminate a lot of spending on the poor in order to fund tax cuts for the rich. But in the same way that budget shenanigans like dynamic scoring is supposed to make his numbers work, there's an invisible work of charity that will simply fill in however much that is cut from the federal budget.
 
There's a dead giveaway here. Note the "in the 20th century" rather than the normal "since the War on Poverty" as when things went wrong. Ryan doesn't think the War on Poverty is a problem, or doesn't just think that. He thinks the evolution of the state during the entire 20th century is the problem, and wants to return to the freer and better 19th century.
 
But as I emphasized in the piece, this idea is not true in history, theory or practice. The state has always played a role in providing economic security through things like poorhouses and soldier pensions well before the New Deal. When the Great Depression happened, the old system collapsed. Service organizations called on the government to take over things like old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and income support because they realized they couldn't do it themselves. Freed of the heavy lifting of these major pieces of social insurance, they could focus in a more nimble manner on individual and targeted needs.
 
And the reasons this doesn't work out are quite clear - charity is uncoordinated, very vulnerable to stress (charitable giving fell in the recession just as it was most needed), and tied to the whims and interests of the rich. And charitable organizations aren't calling for the Ryan Budget, and they don't think that they'll run better and with better resources if Ryan's cuts happen. They know firsthand they won't have the resources to balance out the gigantic increase in need that would result.
 
(Elizabeth Stoker has more on attempts to link this this fantasy up with Christianity broadly and Catholic subsidiarity specifically.)
 
Ideas have consequences. The fact that Ryan's are fundamentally flawed on so many levels will have consequences too for the poor if they come to pass.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

When I wrote a long piece about the Voluntarism Fantasy at Democracy Journal, several people accused me of attacking a strawman. My argument was that there's an influential, yet never clearly articulated, position on the conservative right that we jettison much of the federal government's role in providing for economic security. In response, private charities, churches and "civil society" will rush in and do a better job. Who, complained conservatives, actually argues this?

Well, here's McKay Coppins with a quite flattering 7,000 word piece on how Paul Ryan has a "newfound passion for the poor." What is the animating core and idea of his new passion?

Ryan’s broad vision for curing American poverty is one that conservatives have been championing for the last half-century, more or less. He imagines a diverse network of local churches, charities, and service organizations doing much of the work the federal government took on in the 20th century. Rather than supplying jobless Americans with a never-ending stream of unemployment checks, for example, Ryan thinks the federal government should funnell resources toward community-based work programs like Pastor Webster’s.

Many are rightfully pointing out that this doesn't square with his budget, which plans to eliminate a lot of spending on the poor in order to fund tax cuts for the rich. But in the same way that budget shenanigans like dynamic scoring is supposed to make his numbers work, there's an invisible work of charity that will simply fill in however much that is cut from the federal budget.
 
There's a dead giveaway here. Note the "in the 20th century" rather than the normal "since the War on Poverty" as when things went wrong. Ryan doesn't think the War on Poverty is a problem, or doesn't just think that. He thinks the evolution of the state during the entire 20th century is the problem, and wants to return to the freer and better 19th century.
 
But as I emphasized in the piece, this idea is not true in history, theory or practice. The state has always played a role in providing economic security through things like poorhouses and soldier pensions well before the New Deal. When the Great Depression happened, the old system collapsed. Service organizations called on the government to take over things like old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and income support because they realized they couldn't do it themselves. Freed of the heavy lifting of these major pieces of social insurance, they could focus in a more nimble manner on individual and targeted needs.
 
And the reasons this doesn't work out are quite clear - charity is uncoordinated, very vulnerable to stress (charitable giving fell in the recession just as it was most needed), and tied to the whims and interests of the rich. And charitable organizations aren't calling for the Ryan Budget, and they don't think that they'll run better and with better resources if Ryan's cuts happen. They know firsthand they won't have the resources to balance out the gigantic increase in need that would result.
 
(Elizabeth Stoker has more on attempts to link this this fantasy up with Christianity broadly and Catholic subsidiarity specifically.)
 
Ideas have consequences. The fact that Ryan's are fundamentally flawed on so many levels will have consequences too for the poor if they come to pass.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

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Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

Apr 16, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

December 2014 will mark 10 years since a group of college students united behind a new model for engaging young people in the political process, a model that became the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Deeply grounded in the belief that young people have more to offer than just showing up on Election Day, the Campus Network has continued to evolve and grow from its visionary beginning into the nation’s largest student policy organization, with a membership capable of shifting dialogue and effecting policy at the local, state, and national levels.

We believe that in the context of a stagnant public discourse and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As the Campus Network expands to more than 120 chapters in 38 states, we serve as a vehicle for fresh ideas, exciting talent, and real progress.

You will find our commitment to bold experimentation on display in the 2014 edition of the Campus Network’s 10 Ideas journals, collecting our members’ best policy proposals on issues including economic development, defense and diplomacy, energy and the environment, health care, education, and equal justice. From reforming western water rights to supporting green infrastructure, students are envisioning and acting on better solutions.

The variety and scope of the ideas in these journals are indicative of our network’s larger impact. In the past year, we’ve leveraged the effectiveness of our model to work with and inform dozens of other organizations on how to engage Millennials on critical issues, ranging from campaign finance to inequality to climate change. We’ve elevated a fresh, Millennial-driven vision for government in an otherwise stale public debate, and launched an initiative that taps into our generation’s unfettered thinking and ambition to reimagine the role of citizens in shaping fairer and more equitable local economies. Our members have continued to substantively engage in local processes to shape and shift the policy outcomes that directly impact their communities, from introducing new mapping systems to improve health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods to consulting local governments on flood prevention.

These ideas are just the starting place, because ideas are only powerful when acted upon. Yet this work is occurring in a dramatically shifting political and social context. The ways citizens engage their government, participate locally, and advocate for their communities are changing every day. As a vibrant, evolving network driven by our active members nationwide, we believe there is immense potential to capture these innovations and ensure better and more progressive ideas take hold. We believe that:

  • Millennials are turning away from traditional institutions and are looking to build new ones as vehicles for social change. We believe there is an opportunity to channel this reform-mindedness into building a healthier, more inclusive system that’s responsive to citizen engagement and evidence-based solutions.  
  • To jump-start political engagement and combat disillusionment, the focus needs to be on pragmatic problem-solving and intersectional thinking across key issues. For example, we can no longer tackle economic mobility separately from climate change.
  • There is immense potential (and need) for scalable policy innovation at the local and state levels, and much of the most effective and important policy change in the coming decade will be local.
  • With the shift from top-down institutions to networked approaches and collective problem-solving, it is more important than ever before to invest in the development of informed, engaged community leaders capable of driving engagement and action on ideas.

As you engage with the ideas, ambitions, and goals in these journals, I encourage you to dig in and explore how our country’s future leaders are taking the initiative to create the change they know we desperately need. You won’t be disappointed. 

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Roosevelt Institute's Vice President of Networks.

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