Looking to 2014: The Emerging Movement for the Next New Deal

Jan 2, 2014Richard Kirsch

The rise of a new progressive organizing is cause to believe that economic reform and a shift toward broadly shared prosperity are within reach.

The rise of a new progressive organizing is cause to believe that economic reform and a shift toward broadly shared prosperity are within reach.

Thomas Edsall, who now is capping off his long career writing insightfully about the relationship between economics and public opinion as a blogger for The New York Times, concluded a piece in late December by saying, “Progressives are now dependent on the fragile possibility that inequality and socioeconomic immobility will push the social order to the breaking point and force the political system to respond.”

Edsall’s bleak prognosis raises the biggest question facing not only progressives, but the future of our democracy: is the political system in the United States capable of responding to the escalating crisis of stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, dissolving economic opportunity, and disappearing hopes of living anything that resembles the American Dream?

It is a question I ask myself every day. But I reach a different conclusion than Edsall, because for all his powers of observation, he misses the role that people play in changing history. I see a growing movement of Americans organized by progressives who are not waiting for the social order to break, but are instead forcing the political system to respond.

Edsall reaches his conclusion by way of two commentators, my colleague Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute and Harvard economist Ben Friedman. Konczal’s analysis of the quandary is cogent, as he provided “a two part description of the liberal state” in a 2011 post:

#1 you would have the government maintaining full employment, empowering workers and giving them more bargaining power, and #2 you would have a safety net for those who fell through the cracks… I think it is safe to say that liberals have abandoned #1 and doubled-down on #2… Without a strong middle and working class you don’t have natural constituencies ready to fight and defend the implementation and maintenance of a safety net and public goods. The welfare state is one part, complementing full employment, of empowering people and balancing power in a financial capitalist society.

Friedman’s contribution is to point out, as Edsall summarizes, that “during hard times people become less altruistic and more inclined to see the poor as undeserving.” Friedman says that when people are squeezed economically, rather than identifying with those still worse off, they “enter a period of retreat and retrenchment.” That is certainly what we are seeing now, with the government cutting unemployment benefits, food stamps, and a much larger swath of the safety net in a shrinking budget.

On the other hand, Friedman says times of broadly-shared prosperity encourage “greater generosity toward those who, through some combination of natural circumstance, market forces and sheer luck, have been left behind.”

When we look at the big periods of progressive change in the 20th century through this lens, we can ask, are we more similar to the soaring post-World War II middle class that led to the Great Society, or to the wrecked economy that led to the New Deal? After the Great Recession, that’s a no-brainer.

So is Edsall then correct in concluding that the only way to get to the next New Deal is waiting for another disintegration of the economy like we saw after the Great Depression? Or is even that a misreading of New Deal history, in which decades of building a movement of working people laid the groundwork for the New Deal laws that established the right to organize unions, fair labor standards like a minimum wage, and social insurance programs like Social Security and unemployment compensation?

If we have to wait, we’re in big trouble, because as we saw in 2008, we are much less likely to see another collapse like the Great Depression thanks to the progressive accomplishments of the 20th century. The aggressive use of the Federal Reserve and banking regulations prevented a total collapse of the financial system. The safety net – food stamps, Medicaid, etc. – and the social insurance programs of unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicare prevented widespread destitution. These measures allowed us to have a Great Recession rather than a second Great Depression.  

But the Great Recession also deepened the three-decade-long trend of families seeing their incomes and lifestyles squeezed by stagnant wages, eroding benefits, and the rising costs of gateways to opportunity. As a result, we are seeing an escalation of the path to the next New Deal: organizing people to demand that we create a 21st century economy of broadly-shared opportunity and prosperity.

The past year saw the explosion of organized fast food workers, from a handful of community-supported walk-outs demanding higher wages a year ago to actions involving thousands of workers and supporters in some 130 cities in December. The growing movement earned national as well as local news coverage.

Less visible, but deeper, is the emergence of new forms of worker organizing, taking place largely outside of traditional unions and the national labor law, known generally as the workers’ center movement. Domestic workers, through the National Domestic Workers Union, have won passage of laws giving them new labor protections in California and New York. Tomato pickers in Florida, under the banner of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, have won higher wages by building consumer pressure against the supermarkets and restaurant chains that buy the crops they pick. Immigrant and low-wage workers around the country, at workers’ centers that are part of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, have resisted wage theft and won basic protections in day labor and construction. The examples go on and are analogous to the emergence of the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The long-simmering pressure for raising the minimum wage is now becoming a national political force, with Democrats embracing the issue. The passage of a $15 minimum wage in Sea-Tac, outside of Seattle, will be a harbinger of more local actions to define a minimum wage in ways that make sense for people’s lives, not some political calculation about what’s possible.

In New York City, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s reluctance to support paid sick days, siding with the business community, destroyed her support among the progressive base, paving the way for the election of Bill de Blasio, who rose both on his progressive platform and as the result of a decades-long base-building project in the city. These contests will continue to escalate, as we’ve seen in Philadelphia, where a Democratic mayor has twice vetoed a paid sick day ordinance approved by the City Council. As they do, Democrats who take the Quinn route will find themselves on the sidelines with her.

Cultural and demographic trends are encouraging, too. While the progressive politics of the growing numbers of the young, single women, and Latinos have garnered notice, another hopeful trend is that among non-college-educated whites, one of the most conservative groups in the country, the young are much more progressive than their older counterparts. Pope Francis has become an instant hero not just by easing back on his church’s focus on sex, but by directly challenging trickle-down economics.

In all this, history will look at President Obama as a transitional figure. He has pledged to make income inequality the defining issue of the day, but he still chooses a low-wage Amazon warehouse as a venue to address the issue. He still seeks to reconcile the destruction of the middle class with the rise of Wall Street.

Wall Street and K Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all greasing the system while stoking resentment of “the takers” and people of color, in a nation with a deep “it’s up to me and my family alone” streak, remain huge obstacles to building an America that works for all. The change we are making will take time.

What gives me hope is that, for all its flaws, we still live in a nation where popular will can make change. And we have a history of creating change from below and then electing leaders who, like FDR, drilled into the deep well of hope that has given life to the best of America, from the Revolution, through the Civil War, the Progressive era, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Great Society.

Earlier this week, on the last day of 2013, I called up Mike Konczal and asked him to reflect on Edsall’s dark conclusion. Here’s what he told me: “I’m more optimistic than I was when I wrote that piece two years ago. People are agitating, building new infrastructure. Issues like the minimum wage are gaining prominence. We’re seeing mobilizing among non-traditional workers like day-care workers.”

It is up to us to make history. Let’s get to work in 2014. 

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

 

2014 banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Rortybomb's Best of 2013

Dec 31, 2013Mike Konczal

2013. The year we won the argument but lost the war. It’s better than losing both the arguments and the war, I suppose.

2013 brought us a fiscal deficit that closed far too fast, NGDP growth and inflation falling compared to previous years, and unemployment completely falling off the political radar at the same moment the argument that the deficit was a worry collapsed. Before there were elaborate arguments about how the unemployed were this or that, or uncertainty was causing the one thing and the other. Now it's just quiet out there, yet the economy remains below potential. The collapse of the counter-Keynesian position didn't revitalize a position of aggressive action; it just left a void.

But rortybomb enterprises still marches forward. Here are the top posts from this blog for 2013:

1-2) My initial writeup of the work of Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin's critical dismantling of the Reinhart and Rogoff argument for austerity crashed this website shortly after it went up. That, and the follow-up from Arin Dube arguing that the causation was certainly backwards, are two of the most read things I’ve been involved with, and I’m honored to have played a role in dismantling this argument. A nice reminder that these things matter and blogs matter too; perhaps some people in Europe aren't being pummeled into dust as a result of this place.

3) I wrote a piece taking apart what kind of problem the ACA botched roll-out is for (neo)liberalism, that got people aruging about what kinds of social insurance we want out there.

4) I discussed the minimum wage, which I'll be doing much more of in 2014, throwing down the argument that it forms an important complement to various tax-based income support measures like the EITC.

5) I also wrote about Samuel Freeman’s argument that We Already Tried Libertarianism - It Was Called Feudalism. The term feudalism was chosen to be provocative, but the real concept is that it is anti-liberal in the traditional sense, and feeds on something darker, more pre-modern, than most people give it credit for.

Wonkblog: This year I wanted to write more regular columns at other venues, and was pretty successful at that goal. I contributed a weekly column to the Washington Post's Wonkblog. My favorites, in case you missed them the first time around:

The arguments surrounding the Universal Basic Income. (I received several notes from people happy to see Gøsta Esping-Andersen name-dropped in the Washington Post.) Creating a theory of the state that went into the shutdown. What we get wrong when we describe the financial crisis. Bernanke versus austerity. The idea of public problems. Is a democratic surveillance state possible? Defending the 30 year mortgage and the Volcker Rule. We are teaching economics backwards. And an interview with Shelia Bair that was mentioned in the House by people trying, successfully, to rally House Democrats against dismantling Section 716 of Dodd-Frank.

In Other News: I also started writing some columns for The New Republic and Al-Jazeera America at the end of the year, which I'll continue into 2014. I also wrote a review of Phillip Mirowski's latest book for the New Inquiry, meaning I've completed the hat-trick of writing for TNI, Jacobin and Dissent in the past year and a half. I also co-edited a big report on the future of financial reform which I’m very proud of, and will continue to build out next year. And Thomas Edsall wrote an excellent overview of the arguments we've built here at rortybomb for the New York Times.

Here’s to a good 2014. There's some exciting stuff already in the works.

Previous editions: 2012, 2011

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

2013. The year we won the argument but lost the war. It’s better than losing both the arguments and the war, I suppose.

2013 brought us a fiscal deficit that closed far too fast, NGDP growth and inflation falling compared to previous years, and unemployment completely falling off the political radar at the same moment the argument that the deficit was a worry collapsed. Before there were elaborate arguments about how the unemployed were this or that, or uncertainty was causing the one thing and the other. Now it's just quiet out there, yet the economy remains below potential. The collapse of the counter-Keynesian position didn't revitalize a position of aggressive action; it just left a void.

But rortybomb enterprises still marches forward. Here are the top posts from this blog for 2013:

1-2) My initial writeup of the work of Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin's critical dismantling of the Reinhart and Rogoff argument for austerity crashed this website shortly after it went up. That, and the follow-up from Arin Dube arguing that the causation was certainly backwards, are two of the most read things I’ve been involved with, and I’m honored to have played a role in dismantling this argument. A nice reminder that these things matter and blogs matter too; perhaps some people in Europe aren't being pummeled into dust as a result of this place.

3) I wrote a piece taking apart what kind of problem the ACA botched roll-out is for (neo)liberalism, that got people aruging about what kinds of social insurance we want out there.

4) I discussed the minimum wage, which I'll be doing much more of in 2014, throwing down the argument that it forms an important complement to various tax-based income support measures like the EITC.

5) I also wrote about Samuel Freeman’s argument that We Already Tried Libertarianism - It Was Called Feudalism. The term feudalism was chosen to be provocative, but the real concept is that it is anti-liberal in the traditional sense, and feeds on something darker, more pre-modern, than most people give it credit for.

Wonkblog: This year I wanted to write more regular columns at other venues, and was pretty successful at that goal. I contributed a weekly column to the Washington Post's Wonkblog. My favorites, in case you missed them the first time around:

The arguments surrounding the Universal Basic Income. (I received several notes from people happy to see Gøsta Esping-Andersen name-dropped in the Washington Post.) Creating a theory of the state that went into the shutdown. What we get wrong when we describe the financial crisis. Bernanke versus austerity. The idea of public problems. Is a democratic surveillance state possible? Defending the 30 year mortgage and the Volcker Rule. We are teaching economics backwards. And an interview with Shelia Bair that was mentioned in the House by people trying, successfully, to rally House Democrats against dismantling Section 716 of Dodd-Frank.

In Other News: I also started writing some columns for The New Republic and Al-Jazeera America at the end of the year, which I'll continue into 2014. I also wrote a review of Phillip Mirowski's latest book for the New Inquiry, meaning I've completed the hat-trick of writing for TNI, Jacobin and Dissent in the past year and a half. I also co-edited a big report on the future of financial reform which I’m very proud of, and will continue to build out next year. And Thomas Edsall wrote an excellent overview of the arguments we've built here at rortybomb for the New York Times.

Here’s to a good 2014. There's some exciting stuff already in the works.

Previous editions: 2012, 2011

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

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The Best from the Roosevelt Institute's Millennial Networks in 2013

Dec 27, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

The Roosevelt Institute's Daily Digest is taking a break for the holidays. We'll be back on January 2, but in the meantime, we're rounding up highlights from our blog in 2013. Today, we have some recommended reading from our Millennial networks. On Monday, December 30, we'll have highlights from the Fellows in the Four Freedoms Center.

The Roosevelt Institute's Daily Digest is taking a break for the holidays. We'll be back on January 2, but in the meantime, we're rounding up highlights from our blog in 2013. Today, we have some recommended reading from our Millennial networks. On Monday, December 30, we'll have highlights from the Fellows in the Four Freedoms Center.

Think Global, Act Hyper-Local: Campus Network Rates Colleges on Economic and Social Impact in Their Communities

Alan Smith, Associate Director of Network Initiatives at the Roosevelt Institute, introduces the Rethinking Communities project, an initiative examining how anchor institutions – like the colleges and universities attended by Campus Network students – affect their local economies. This project kicks off in 2014!

What is the Crash Generation?

Former Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz says that the Millennials who came of age during the Great Recession have the will and the desire to reshape the American economy into something that will provide better opportunity for all.

President Obama: Give Millennials a Seat at the Table on Climate Change

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment Melia Ungson argues that because Millennials have the largest stake in the long-term future of the planet, the White House should bring more young people into the policy-making process on this issue.

Corporate Education Reform Won’t Solve the Problems Caused by Poverty

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Education Raul Gardea points out that testing and test prep can’t solve the non-school factors that limit some students’ achievement, and if policymakers don’t acknowledge that fact, they won’t solve education inequality. 

Local Government is the Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Economic Inequality

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist Joelle Gamble argues that new weapons are needed to push back against economic inequality. Cities and towns should provide innovative incentives to businesses that encourage the right kind of economic growth.

Sister Simone Campbell Shows Us Freedom of Worship is a Bipartisan Value

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy Jacqueline Van de Velde looks at the work of Sister Simone Campbell, who was awarded the Freedom of Worship Medal at the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, and considers the bipartisan nature of religious freedom.

McCutcheon v. FEC Could Give Rich Donors Even Greater Power Over Our Elections

Jeff Raines, Chair of the Student Board of Advisors for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, explains why this Supreme Court case isn’t about freedom of speech, but instead is about how much influence individuals should have over elections in the United States. The decision on this case is still pending.

Why Trayvon Is Inspiring America to Put Stand Your Ground Laws on Trial

Naomi Ahsan, Director of Programming for the DC network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, sees the Zimmerman verdict as a potential catalyst for organizing against self-defense laws that enforce racism.

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Farewell to Health Care for America Now

Dec 19, 2013Richard Kirsch

The campaign that won passage of health care reform is closing up shop, but its grassroots organizing efforts will stand as a model of success for progressives.

The campaign that won passage of health care reform is closing up shop, but its grassroots organizing efforts will stand as a model of success for progressives.

Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the grassroots campaign that powered passage of the Affordable Care Act, is about to close its doors, as planned when the campaign started. But the images it generated of Americans passionately fighting to make health care a right will remain with us for years to come. The new movie Inequality For All includes dramatic footage of an HCAN supporter standing up to a Tea Partier. Another documentary released last year, Escape Fire, has stirring footage of an HCAN rally. Pictures of people holding up HCAN signs or wearing HCAN buttons still appear regularly in news magazines. 

Richard Kirsch at health care reform rallyIt makes great sense that HCAN’s actions have become iconic symbols of the fight for health justice in the United States. From its beginning, the heart of the HCAN campaign was outside the Beltway, its strategy grounded in the firm conviction that we could only win the fight for comprehensive reform if we based our campaign on grassroots organizing outside of Washington. We knew that inside the Beltway, the best we could do is provide a credible voice countering the army of thousands of lobbyists for the health care industry. But outside the Beltway, by organizing ordinary Americans, we could win.

Creating a powerful grassroots force is not easy. It took building a campaign that pushed against the culture of D.C., with the support of a funder that was committed to building progressive capacity, not just winning on an issue. Most national issue campaigns are D.C.-centric, run by campaign operatives, constrained by a narrow band of legislative concerns, with an idea of field work that is narrowly focused on generating earned media and e-mails and phone calls to members of Congress. After a lot of debate, the union and community organizing leaders who built HCAN agreed to spend almost all of its non-paid media resources on field contracts with state-based community organizations and community labor coalitions. These local organizations partnered with the local chapters of national labor unions and netroots groups.

The national strategy and tactics were relentlessly focused on empowering people at the local level to bring their personal passion, and often their personal stories, to their communities and members of Congress. Their work did generate lots of local media and calls to Congress, but it went much deeper than that, building the kind of relationships that are transformational. The campaign’s major funder, the Atlantic Philanthropies, was fully committed to the strategy, believing that even if the legislative effort fell short, their funds would leave in place a more sophisticated and robust capacity for progressive change at the local level. But because Atlantic had faith in the grassroots strategy, both of the foundation’s objectives – passing historic legislation and building capacity – were realized.

While HCAN was always envisioned as a campaign that would end with the passage of legislation, HCAN’s leadership decided to launch HCAN 2.0 to defend the new law after its passage. With many fewer resources, HCAN continued the fight, working on consumer regulations to control insurance premiums, taking part in the public battle around the Supreme Court’s hearing on the ACA’s constitutionality, defending Medicare from privatization, pushing for Medicaid expansion, and always reminding us that the opponents of the ACA are eager to return Americans to the day when insurance companies were fully able to deny them care and jack up their premiums because, indeed, we do get sick.

HCAN is now closing up shop. It may seem a funny time, with the current fracas over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but that is the point. The organization’s campaign mission was to win passage of a law, a mission extended to include “win and secure” the ACA. The debate over the shape of the ACA will continue for years to come – a struggle over how to fix, expand, roll back, or build upon the law. But as each of the millions of Americans who will enroll over the next few months sign up, another nail is hammered in the repeal coffin. Retiring HCAN, its mission accomplished, is another sign that the campaign is keeping its eyes on the prize.

HCAN affirmed my belief that people organizing together can shape history. Paul Starr, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of health policy, told me that none of the failed attempts to pass comprehensive health reform had a major, grassroots field component. Earlier this year another noted historian of health reform, Theda Skocpol, published an analysis in which she credited the success of health care reform versus the failure of climate change legislation to HCAN’s deep grassroots strategy, compared with an elite, inside strategy of environmentalists.

It is good to see those lessons being fully embraced by new leadership in the climate change movement, as seen most sharply in the Keystone pipeline fight. The campaign for immigration reform too is powered by a national, grassroots movement led by local leaders who are putting their lives on the line for change. The most energetic new labor organizing is built on helping low-wage workers take local actions, supported by their communities, as part of a growing national effort.

Still, too many issue campaigns and too many funders fail to fully grasp the respectful partnerships and movement-building essential to defeat corporate power and right-wing politics. If we are to make the kind of transformational changes America and the world need, the politics HCAN pioneered, a sharply strategic national campaign built on empowering people through organizations around the country, points the way. 

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.

 

Photo: Fighting for Our Health

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Daily Digest - December 18: Economic Liberalism is Not Just a Charity Project

Dec 18, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Is the Safety Net Just Masking Tape? (NYT)

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Is the Safety Net Just Masking Tape? (NYT)

Thomas Edsall uses Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal's blog post on "pity-charity liberal capitalism" to discuss the loss of economic liberalism in policy. They agree that without structural economic reform, the safety net is merely holding things together, not progressing the liberal project.

North Carolina Shows How to Crush the Unemployed (Bloomberg)

Evan Soltas suggests North Carolina's policies demonstrate what could happen across the U.S when the federal extension of unemployment insurance expires on January 1. The results aren't pretty; the state's labor force has shrunk, and food pantries are struggling to meet increasing needs.

Unemployment Benefits Are Ending for 1.3 Million Americans. What's That All About? (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger explains why federal emergency unemployment benefits are being cut off and what's likely to happen to the people who have been relying on those funds. In 2012, unemployment insurance kept 1.7 million people out of poverty. It's not difficult to imagine what 2014 could look like.

Washington, DC city council raises minimum wage to $11.50/hr in 2016 (Reuters)

Ian Simpson reports on the unanimous city council vote, which makes the mayor's opposition irrelevant. The city council coordinated with two neighboring counties in Maryland, and the combined region of 2.5 million residents will have a higher minimum wage than any state.

Supersize My Wage (NYT)

Annie Lowrey looks at a study on the effects of New Jersey's 1992 minimum wage increase on fast food restaurants on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. It showed no increase in unemployment, and advocates continue to use it to combat scaremongering about the federal minimum wage.

The Human Price of Innovation at Amazon (Policyshop)

David Callahan argues that since the most innovative big companies are often totally miserable to work for, free enterprise can't be the source of human happiness. Amazon and Wal-Mart have pioneered major changes in their industries, but they are also innovators in terrible labor practices.

New on Next New Deal

A Silicon Valley CEO's Words Can't Hurt the Poor, But Government Can Help Them

Nell Abernathy, Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, takes Greg Gopman's tirade about the homeless in San Francisco as a starting point to argue for the importance of government in fighting for social welfare.

Guest Post: Max Sawicky on the Liberal Case Against a Universal Basic Income

Max Sawicky argues that a Universal Base Income is actually about the dream of wiping the slate clean of our past anti-poverty programs. Instead of attempting something so fantastical, he says we need to spend more time considering the programs that are actually possible.

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Daily Digest - December 12: Too Cooperative for a Tea Party

Dec 12, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

A Tea Party For Liberals (Majority Report)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

A Tea Party For Liberals (Majority Report)

Sam Seder and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal discuss what has prevented the rise of a liberal equivalent of the Tea Party. Liberal groups would need a lot more funding before they could break the historic partnerships with moderates that have helped them beat Republicans.

US Budget Deal: What Does It Add Up To? (FT)

James Politi gives a full breakdown of the budget deal, complete with numbers. There are no tax cuts, because that's too much compromise for the GOP, so all the increases in revenue come from higher fees. (This article is behind a paywall.)

Federal Budget Deal Hits Worker Pensions (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff focuses on how the budget deal will affect federal workers. Even though there are no real concerns about the long-term sustainability of the federal retirement system, the deal increases employee contributions to create savings in the budget.

Don’t Deck the Halls for This One (Other Words)

Mattea Kramer compares the Murray-Ryan budget deal to polling data on what Americans want from the budget, and finds the deal lacking. When 80 percent of Americans want higher taxes on corporations, for example, why is there no new tax revenue?

Tax Dollars for Law Breakers? (Policyshop)

Amy Traub presents what may be the least-controversial policy idea ever: the government shouldn't do business with law-breakers. A new study shows that we've failed to meet even that basic standard, with many federal contractors paying large fines for labor law violations.

ALEC Has Tremendous Influence in State Legislatures. Here’s Why. (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network alum Alexander Hertel-Fernandez ties ALEC's success to the resources available to legislators. Lawmakers with smaller budgets and shorter legislative sessions are more likely to introduce pre-fab bills from ALEC.

New on Next New Deal

Corporate Education Reform Won’t Solve the Problems Caused by Poverty

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Education Raul Gardea criticizes the profit motive in education reform. Inequality causes many of the problems facing education, and those problems won't be solved by getting the market involved in our schools.

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Think Global, Act Hyper-Local: Campus Network Rates Colleges on Economic and Social Impact in Their Communities

Dec 9, 2013Alan Smith

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is launching a new project next month to analyze how anchor institutions such as colleges and universities affect their local economies, and help those institutions make changes for the better.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is launching a new project next month to analyze how anchor institutions such as colleges and universities affect their local economies, and help those institutions make changes for the better.

With the social contract failing many Americans, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has undertaken a new project to explore ways to reverse it. The things we, as Millennials, have long been told are core parts of the American bargain – public education, safe working environments, affordable healthcare, the basic ability to provide for one’s family – are becoming harder to achieve in the 21st century.

To address this daunting trend, students in our campus chapters are undertaking an experiment, which we call “Rethinking Communities.” It is based on the assumption that localities – cities, towns, and even neighborhoods – will drive the economies and politics of the future. This approach reflects the innovative thinking that has been a hallmark of the Campus Network for the past decade. The Campus Network has long looked to local action in many places as a means of influencing the direction of the nation. We see an intentional community-building endeavor as a start to counter issues raised by globalization, increased inequality, outsourcing of jobs, and changes in technological capabilities.

We reject a binary vision of the government and economy that holds that either government exists solely to support markets, or that government responds to societal challenges through regulation and policy change. The Millennial generation has had ample evidence that this dichotomy misses something: the Great Recession undercut the idea that markets are reliable adjudicators of the public good, and the recent government shutdown made amply evident that Washington cannot respond effectively to many of the immediate problems we face.

This is why the Campus Network will look to bring a different social pressure to bear: that of community governance, which draws on the strengths of local structures to fill the gaps left by the market and the federal systems. While the concept of trusting local groups to rule on local issues is not a new one, the possibilities of a truly networked system of community governance opens up huge new potential. Just as the Internet has driven down costs and other factors in manufacturing and production, we aim to explore possibilities for a new labor movement, new locally supported economies, and new ways of patching together shared identity and support from many small collaborating groups instead of a single top-down organizing force.

Our objective at the Campus Network is to take advantage of our physical presence in communities nationwide, and find optimal ways to rethink local economies. With the goal of reforming anchor institutions that are the backbone of these communities (anchor institutions are places like hospitals or colleges and universities), here’s what we’ll be doing in the coming year with chapters throughout our 115-chapter network:

Using the set of metrics developed by the Democracy Collaborative, an organization based at the University of Maryland that advocates for economic justice and increased access to democracy, that were expanded and refined by Campus Network’s membership, students at multiple chapters, including University of Tennessee, Goucher College, and the University of Michigan, will assess their own college or university. These metrics, which are akin to a report card (think LEEDS standards), have been built to define how well an institution facilitates local economic development, community building and education, health, safety and environment. By using the same set of metrics across the board, we will both grow our understanding of a how a specific institution can improve in its role as a local anchor, and contribute to a larger understanding of how anchor institutions compare to each other.

Based on these metrics, groups will write proposals that improve a specific weakness. Redirecting a portion of a University’s purchasing to focus on locally owned businesses, facilitating the creation of financially secure households, or working to improve the health of community residents are all projects that play to the social role of colleges and universities. While we work to implement these local fixes, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network will collectively create a method to grade anchor institutions across the country on how they alleviate or exacerbate economic inequality. Might this comparative process put real pressure on universities – and eventually, hospitals, airports, or even sports teams – to do a better job in responding to the needs and values of the communities where they’re based? That is what we hope to examine.

We can’t be sure if we can scale the Rethinking Communities project to our national problems, in order to rebuild the robust social contract that America has with its citizens. But through the bold and persistent experimentation of the Campus Network, we aim to see how far we can go to create new self-sustaining economies that resist the economic pressures of the larger world. And in that innovative spirit, we hearken back to the values of Franklin Roosevelt that undergird all of our work: a system that is more balanced, more sustainable, and more able to support the common good.

Alan Smith is the Associate Director of Networked Initiatives at the Roosevelt Institute.

Photo via Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

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Obama Updates His Story About America

Dec 5, 2013Richard Kirsch

When President Obama frames the story of the American dream as one that is harmed by economic inequality, progressives should cheer - and they should also prepare to sharpen that story and tie it to action.

When President Obama frames the story of the American dream as one that is harmed by economic inequality, progressives should cheer - and they should also prepare to sharpen that story and tie it to action.

Barak Obama captured the national imagination on the strength of his ability to tell his own story as part of our national story, starting with his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. He was elected and remains personally popular in no small part because of the resonance of his story with the way Americans want to view themselves. In his speech yesterday on economic mobility, given at a Washington DC hub for community organizations that fight poverty, he continued to update that story, with a sharper focus on the dire crisis of the American dream, a stronger emphasis on the role of government, and a clearer attention to race.

The President repeated the core of his story about America yesterday:

Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity -- the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. [Emphasis added].

Obama has consistently framed our American story in terms of our values, and then linked those values to our economic success. The focus of his speech is that the story is no longer true:

The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe. And it is not simply a moral claim that I’m making here. There are practical consequences to rising inequality and reduced mobility. [Emphasis added]

Opening his speech by saying that what he’s come to talk about is “a belief that we’re greater together than we are on our own,” he declares that the “defining challenge of our time” is “making sure our economy works for every working American.”

Obama gives a history lesson, both about how we made the American Dream real and about how it has been lost. The President makes it clear that America’s success is grounded in an activist government, from Lincoln’s land grant colleges; to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting and eight-hour workday; to FDR’s Social Security, unemployment insurance, and minimum wage; to LBJ’s Medicare and Medicaid. “And as a result,” he summarizes, “America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.”

That last phrase – the middle class as the engine of prosperity – is at the core of the progressive economic narrative. This is a direct contradiction to the conservative story that business in a free market is the driver of wealth. That’s backwards, Obama explains, “When families have less to spend, that means businesses have fewer customers, and households rack up greater mortgage and credit card debt; meanwhile, concentrated wealth at the top is less likely to result in the kind of broadly based consumer spending that drives our economy, and together with lax regulation, may contribute to risky speculative bubbles.”

When the President gets to his telling of how we got into this mess, he skirts lightly over who is to blame, which is the biggest consistent failing throughout his rhetoric. He begins by blaming technology and globalization, ignoring the fact that the other countries Obama recognizes as having much more economic mobility than the U.S., faced the same challenges.

He then says that “As values of community broke down, and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage. As a trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.”

The President appears to be excusing business for their behavior. What he doesn’t say is that business was a leading force in breaking down those values, deciding that enriching shareholders and CEOs was more important than providing decent wages and support for communities. The reference to “trickle-down ideology” obscures the relentless attack by corporate America and the right upon Obama’s core values of “we’re greater together than on our own.”

Any powerful story needs villains and it is here that Obama punts. Teddy Roosevelt laid it on “the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics.” FDR clearly laid the blame on the “economic royalists.” For the right’s great communicator, Ronald Reagan, it was “welfare queens.” It is never clear from Obama who is to blame, which is a key reason that core parts of his story get lost. The President says that Americans have a “nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them.” The truth is that Americans have a very strong sense that the deck is stacked against them by powerful corporations and the super-rich who use their lobbyists and campaign contributions to control our government.” If Obama is going to rally people to take on those forces, he has to name them and take them on.

The President does take on President Reagan’s villain, a villain which is still at the center of right-wing opposition to Obama and government more generally. The speech yesterday was notable in that he directly challenged “the myth that this is a problem restricted to a small share of predominantly minority poor.” He says, “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity.”

After acknowledging continued racism, he bridges to class, “The decades-long shifts in the economy have hurt all groups: poor and middle class; inner city and rural folks; men and women; and Americans of all races.“ He says that we’re seeing the problems “one attributed to the urban poor” “pop up everywhere.”

So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts. [Emphasis added]

The point of this speech – “you'll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address” he jokes – is not to give specific solutions. Given the impossibility of passing anything in the House, that would be a fool’s errand. Obama instead aims to lay out a vision for how to move forward, based on his insistence that “government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class.”

His program for government action is grouped in five categories: tax policy and investment for growth; education and skills training; empowering workers; targeted programs for hard-hit communities; and programs that provide security, from Social Security to the Affordable Care Act.

That third bucket – empowering workers – is a welcome focus, one that the President has too often skirted. “It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to -- (applause) -- so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.” Sensing one area with current political umph, he made a big push for raising the minimum wage.

Stories need a happy ending, or at least some prospects of one. The last paragraph of Obama’s speech places that happy ending squarely on the shoulders of government, with echoes of FDR (“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us”). Obama concludes with:

But government can’t stand on the sidelines in our efforts. Because government is us. It can and should reflect our deepest values and commitments. And if we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives every child in this country a fair chance at success, then I remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past, and that the best days for this country we love are still ahead.

While progressives are often frustrated by the President they worked so hard to elect, we have a huge amount to learn from Obama’s deep understanding of how to powerfully express our core American values and link them to a story about the government’s role in creating broadly-based prosperity. Our job is to tell a sharper version of that story – with villains and anger to motivate action – as well as with hope, through our words and through our organizing. Today’s fast food actions around the nation are a great example. We agree with the President that an America that works for all of us “is the defining challenge of our time.” And it will remain our challenge long after Obama leaves the White House. 

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.

Photo of President Obama via Shutterstock.

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The Real Movers and Shakers

Nov 13, 2013Erik Lampmann

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Take, for instance, the media’s flirtation with Russell Brand’s ‘revolutionary politics.’ It seemed as though pundits were bending over backwards to support Brand’s calls for the fair distribution of wealth in the UK, heralding him a radical leftist. This isn’t the space to examine the authenticity of Brand’s claims to radical progressive politics. It is worth noting, however, the power asymmetries of a media landscape that affords Brand unheard of attention for his politics while failing to ever address the work of undocumented, queer, youth, and student activists (sometimes together) across the country.

Similarly, I’ve seen reductive partisan politics engrain themselves in my state, Virginia, through this most recent gubernatorial campaign, pitting a particularly bigoted conservative Attorney General against a Democrat with no previous experience as an elected official and an endless rolodex of IOUs to call in. I’m sad that my choice as a queer person boiled down to whether to vote for a candidate that would rather overturn Lawrence v. Texas or an eventually-successful corporate Democrat with no grounding in public service. With such distinct lack of vision to choose from, it almost seems as though one should have ironically followed Brand’s advice and not vote.

This is not to undervalue the importance of electoral politics. Without federal legislation, programs as essential to the American social safety net as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP would be impossible. However, focusing on electoral targets is a narrow lens through which to treat issues like community revitalization, green jobs campaigns, and food security. These issues are complex; they are, by their nature, multidimensional questions that require coalition-based solutions with stakeholders from advocacy groups, direct service organizations, and elected officials to make meaningful progress.

The conversation should therefore shift to an analysis of whom we are leaving out of the discussion on movement-building. Let’s examine several community organizing wins from these past few weeks that weren’t covered in the mainstream media, amplified by elected officials or catalyzed by major national non-profits.

  1. Undocumented youth in California successfully pressured former Secretary of Homeland Security and current University of California President Janet Napolitano to invest $5 million in financial assistance for undocumented students.  Not only did these student activists succeed in securing much-needed financial support for their communities, they also compelled Napolitano to reverse her own immigration politics. The collective voice of these young people held an official from the administration with the highest number of deportations accountable to the needs of the communities she had previously helped marginalize.
  2. Youth in the Chicago Student Union launched a creative and strategic protest  during Halloween, dressing as zombies suffering the ‘death of public education.’ This youth-led action came after months of mobilizations of teachers, staff, students, and community members around Mayor Emmanuel’s attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union.
  3. Students at George Washington University – including members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network chapter at that school – are mobilizing around revelations that their admissions department had been secretly screening students based on their ability to pay. Despite marketing itself as a ‘need-blind’ institution, apparently GWU has used family wealth as a deciding factor in undergraduate admissions.

These struggles are not isolated, disconnected media headlines. Far from it. Instead, they represent the power of collective voices rising up to make demands on an establishment that has either attempted to quell their momentum, disenfranchise them, or otherwise push them to the margins of public discourse. They represent the power of community organizing to better our communities and create meaningful change at the grassroots level.

We speak often of the democratic experiment of the United States – of the on-going process of ‘making’ a nation. Yet our attention span for truly transformational struggles is so often limited to flashpoints in undoubtedly richer, more nuanced movement histories. As I embark on a capstone project within the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network to investigate best practices among fellow youth organizers, I’m taken by the importance of narratives that speak to the experience of those who devote their lives to movement work.

This week is already devolving into an endless series of gubernatorial recaps without much substantive analysis of grassroots organizing or movements that influenced the electoral landscape. It’s important that we reject pundits’ reductive understanding of social change as electoral change and affirm a more grounded understanding of the ‘real movers and shakers’ of our political landscape. They aren’t the Terry McAuliffes of the world who come to govern through a litany of party fundraising jobs, favors, and corporate savoir faire; they are the disadvantaged communities forging a better tomorrow through many small wins, and occasional big wins, and united under the banner of one movement towards justice for all people. These movements toward change are much more deserving of our concern, respect, and honor.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 

 

Group of hands banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - November 13: Senator Warren Would've Voted For Dodd-Frank, And Then Some

Nov 13, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Elizabeth Warren vs. the Democratic Elites (All In With Chris Hayes)

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Elizabeth Warren vs. the Democratic Elites (All In With Chris Hayes)

Chris Hayes discusses Senator Warren's keynote at a Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform conference on financial reform yesterday. He argues that she needs to convince the rest of the Democrats to adopt her views of the banking industry.

  • Roosevelt Take: Senator Warren's speech aired live on C-SPAN 2, and you can watch the archived video here.

Elizabeth Warren’s Populist Insurgency Enters Next Phase (Salon)

David Dayen looks at the new report on financial reform from the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform. He says the proposals aren't just about regulations, but about what economy we want for our citizens.

  • Roosevelt Take: You can read the report, "An Unfinished Mission: Making Wall Street Work For Us," here.

Gary Gensler's Successor Has His Work Cut Out for Him (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Matthew Philips thinks that Timothy Massad, who has been nominated to be the next chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is well equipped to take on the difficult challenge of enforcing the regulations Gary Gensler pushed through.

Yellen’s Challenge at the Fed: Speaking Persuasively to Investors (NYT)

Binyamin Appelbaum suggests that Janet Yellen's work begins this week with her confirmation hearings. As someone who has pushed the Fed to more clearly articulate its plans, she'll need to start doing just that in front of the Senate Banking Committee.

Two Fed Officials Say Aggressive Policy Action Still Needed (Reuters)

Jonathan Spicer and David Bailey report on statements by the Presidents of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Minneapolis which emphasize the need for full employment. Both think that the Fed needs to retain accommodative policies for now.

Occupy Wall Street Activists Buy $15m of Americans' Personal Debt (The Guardian)

Adam Gabbatt explains how the Rolling Jubilee managed to eliminate so much medical debt so quickly. The secondary debt market sells debts for much less than the amount owed, which meant the program was able to have a much larger impact than planned.

The Government’s Human Price Scanners (WaPo)

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports on the work of "economic assistants" at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, who travel the country to record the prices of goods. By recording every detail, like differences in vet fees at night, these relatively unknown workers help to create the Consumer Price Index.

New on Next New Deal

What Do the Millennials Want From the Affordable Care Act?

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care Anisha Hedge says that Millennials aren't interested in the ultra-partisan arguments for or against the ACA. They're more interested in how the law works, and how they can get health insurance.

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