Mike Konczal: Is Occupy a Small Government Movement?

Nov 29, 2012

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, Fellow Mike Konczal talks to Yale JD/PhD candidate Jeremy Kessler about the intersection of the law and the left and about

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, Fellow Mike Konczal talks to Yale JD/PhD candidate Jeremy Kessler about the intersection of the law and the left and about leftists who dissent from mainstream progressivism. In the clip below, they discuss whether the Occupy movement, which Mike says has "made a comeback recently" with Strike Debt and Occupy Sandy, represents a libertarian rejection of the state rather than a progressive revolution.

Mike notes that despite Occupy's renewed vigor, some progressives continue to write "quasi-obituaries" that paint it as an aimless anarchist movement. Critics argue that "when you think of them creating a whole new world in Zuccotti Park" it sounds like "the gulches of Ayn Rand novels," and that "a lot of this focus on mutual aid essentially fills in for a rapidly receding government presence under neoliberalism." Mike says this can be seen with Occupy Sandy, which essentially serves as a replacement for FEMA, or the push for homeschooling, which is "just amplifying the way the state is privatizing and dismantling public education." But while Jeremy admits "there is a lot of allergy to the idea of centralized power" in the movement, he and Mike agree that it advances the left's cause by highlighting the failure of the neoliberal state and the "zones of privation" that the shrinking of government has created.

For more, including their discussion of the changing politics of the Supreme Court and the conservative police state, check out the full video below:

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Mike Konczal: Is Occupy a Small Government Movement?

Nov 29, 2012

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, Fellow Mike Konczal talks to Yale JD/PhD candidate Jeremy Kessler about the intersection of the law and the left and about leftists who dissent from mainstream progressivism. In the clip below, they discuss whether the Occupy movement, which Mike says has "made a comeback recently" with Strike Debt and Occupy Sandy, represents a libertarian rejection of the state rather than a progressive revolution.

In the latest episode of the Roosevelt Institute's Bloggingheads series, Fireside Chats, Fellow Mike Konczal talks to Yale JD/PhD candidate Jeremy Kessler about the intersection of the law and the left and about leftists who dissent from mainstream progressivism. In the clip below, they discuss whether the Occupy movement, which Mike says has "made a comeback recently" with Strike Debt and Occupy Sandy, represents a libertarian rejection of the state rather than a progressive revolution.

Mike notes that despite Occupy's renewed vigor, some progressives continue to write "quasi-obituaries" that paint it as an aimless anarchist movement. Critics argue that "when you think of them creating a whole new world in Zuccotti Park" it sounds like "the gulches of Ayn Rand novels," and that "a lot of this focus on mutual aid essentially fills in for a rapidly receding government presence under neoliberalism." Mike says this can be seen with Occupy Sandy, which essentially serves as a replacement for FEMA, or the push for homeschooling, which is "just amplifying the way the state is privatizing and dismantling public education." But while Jeremy admits "there is a lot of allergy to the idea of centralized power" in the movement, he and Mike agree that it advances the left's cause by highlighting the failure of the neoliberal state and the "zones of privation" that the shrinking of government has created.

For more, including their discussion of the changing politics of the Supreme Court and the conservative police state, check out the full video below:

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Millennials Helped Elect Obama and Now They’ll Push for Progress

Nov 28, 2012Jean-Ann Kubler

The Millennial vote is here to stay -- and it demands progressive action.

In the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, journalists from across the political spectrum dedicated large portions of airtime and print space to answering one critical question: would Millennials turn out to vote? The resounding hypothesis seemed to be yes, but in significantly lower numbers than they did in 2008. And we’ve heard their logic before: young people are apathetic, jaded, lazy, and spoiled. 

The Millennial vote is here to stay -- and it demands progressive action.

In the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, journalists from across the political spectrum dedicated large portions of airtime and print space to answering one critical question: would Millennials turn out to vote? The resounding hypothesis seemed to be yes, but in significantly lower numbers than they did in 2008. And we’ve heard their logic before: young people are apathetic, jaded, lazy, and spoiled. 

Interestingly, the polling numbers seemed to back up their conclusions. In mid-October, with less than a month to go until the election, the Harvard Institute of Politics released a study that seemed damning to any campaign relying on the youth vote. The study indicated that between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of “definite young voters” decreased dramatically from 63 percent to 48 percent and the percentage of young people describing themselves as “politically engaged” had dropped from 43 percent to 25 percent.

But on Election Day, Millennials proved the numbers wrong. A staggering 23 million members of the largest, most diverse, and most progressive generation in American history made their voices heard. Some stood in line for hours, some sent in absentee ballots, and some went the extra mile and worked for a campaign or registered their peers to vote. But no matter how they did it, a solid 50 percent of eligible Millennial voters cast ballots in this election—a number that mirrors the 2008 turnout nearly exactly.

Millennial America proved that it’s a political force that will not be discounted, that will not be silenced, and that will not let this country make decisions without its input. We defied expectations and made it to the polls because, despite our current political climate of hyper-partisanship and gridlock, Millennials still believe government can be a force for social good. And we’ll keep working toward making that more of a reality now that the election has passed.

As the post-election stats keep rolling in, it’s becoming ever more apparent that voters between 18 and 29 were critical to President Obama’s re-election. According to data published by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, Millennial voter turnout in swing states averaged 58 percent. If Millennials had not voted, the critical states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia would have swung Republican rather than Democratic.

Millennials helped decide this election and will continue to exert their influence. We may be young and idealistic, but we are not blind to the shortcomings of our political system. The polling may have been skewed because we don’t always engage with politics through the same means the generations before us did, but we are dedicated to ensuring that the political institutions we inherit represent our interests, our values, and our principles.

We voted because we haven’t given up and we know that government can improve lives. Campus Progress reports that 64 percent of Millennial voters support the DREAM Act, a bill providing pathways to legal status for undocumented students. Eighty-four percent support accessible, affordable contraception for women. Sixty-two percent favor the legalization of gay marriage. Eighty percent still believe in the American Dream.

And every day, we’re using social media to share information and opinions, and to jumpstart political movements to push forward on these values and beliefs. We’re blogging about the issues that affect us. We’re entering the corporate world and pressuring it to be more socially responsible as we do. We’re pushing for progress, and now, through a Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network project, Government By and For Millennial America, Millennials across the country are developing both pragmatic and visionary policy ideas that speak to the issues that influenced our votes.

Despite our optimism, we are also acutely aware of our government’s inadequacies. Millennials overwhelmingly support increased government involvement in improving public education and making college more affordable, and we believe that our current economic system unfairly favors the wealthy.

Millennials want a government that provides for its people equitably. We want a government that rewards hard work with fair labor practices and reasonable hours. We want a government that encourages its youth to enroll in colleges that it ensures are accessible, affordable pathways to future success. We want a government that fosters its people’s prosperity and isn’t afraid to make unpopular choices to do so.

We voted because we are engaged, we want change, and we’re not afraid to work for it. The Millennial vote is here to stay. As we become a more critical voting block, our lawmakers must become more hospitable to progressive ideas. Our generation is not interested in maintaining the status quo. We don’t want to wait and see if the ineffectual legislation of the past pans out in the future. To continue to earn the support of Millennial voters, our politicians must overcome partisanship and gridlock and move forward on critical issues like the environment, education, and social justice. Millennial voters will continue to vote, and we’re voting for progress.

Jean-Ann Kubler is a former Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Summer Fellow and a senior government major at Skidmore College.

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Building the Infrastructure for a Lasting Progressive Coalition

Nov 21, 2012Monika Johnson

In order to sustain the progressive coalition that re-elected President Obama, we can create spaces for civic engagement among young Americans at the local level.

In order to sustain the progressive coalition that re-elected President Obama, we can create spaces for civic engagement among young Americans at the local level.

Young voters surprised pundits and Republicans again this year as we turned out in record numbers to vote, joining key constituencies including African Americans, Hispanics, and women to reelect President Obama. Composing 19 percent of the electorate, up from 18 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2004, young Americans demonstrated their importance to a growing progressive coalition.

Many question, however, whether our diverse and unprecedented coalition will be able to build on this foundation and sustain the power of our ideas and values throughout our lifetimes. Or, like the Reagan coalition after 1990, are we fated to fracture as a political force by 2016? Some suggest that the strong generational power of today’s 18-30-year-olds will become inconsequential as the hype dies down and we grow up. Our next steps are critical.

Young progressives are a distinct and large population that favors pragmatic problem-solving, opportunity for all, justice and equality, and government’s promotion of such ideals. Identifying more strongly with values than with a political party, we are a significant portion of President Obama’s alliance. Yet given the diversity of the Obama coalition, someone must lead productive grassroots dialogue, finding a broader progressive voice. As members of the largest and most diverse generation in American history, young progressives are the best candidates for the job.

Rather than waiting 30 or 40 years to see how this pans out, let’s write the story ourselves today. Young people are powerful influencers of elections, and we’ve built a strong foundation on which to stand. But it’s up to us to define citizenship for our generation and maintain a unified commitment to progressive values to solidify the political shift.

One lacking aspect of Reagan’s group of committed, conservative supporters was a shared vision of active citizenship and a space within which to exercise it. When the candidate went away, they left. With our core values gaining increased momentum, civic engagement is more important today than ever.

The renaissance of bold millennial progressivism will not be realized in the federal offices of Washington, but on America’s sidewalks and street corners. Generations before us used Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, consciousness raising groups, and bowling leagues to facilitate civic infrastructure; today, we must take a critical look at how we support people and ideas to build a better America for all. Our model is still being formed, but we need to build an infrastructure that will make the progressive coalition last beyond the campaign cycle.

With this in mind, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline is capitalizing on a unique moment in history to engage young people in activating progressive ideas across the nation. Obama for America led a national dialogue throughout the election on what values shape our nation, but constructive exchangement must continue in the context of community action. In order to do this, we need to create spaces to facilitate the exchange of ideas on the local level, engaging all demographics of the progressive coalition. By leading conversations on local issues in 15 cities, we are supporting and empowering individuals to be active citizens and translate the national dialogue to the community level.

The Pipeline chapter in New Orleans, LA is holding discussions among young progressives about public policy issues in its city. The members pick a new topic every few weeks, build a diverse group of people working in different fields, and engage in dialogue about potential solutions for problems facing their neighborhoods. The result is better informed, more engaged people, a community of progressives, and a platform for influence.

In San Francisco, CA, the Pipeline chapter convened tech start-up leaders to create a space to refine ideas for social entrepreneurship. By creating a local space to support young people enacting innovative ideas, members are building an infrastructure for progressives outside of politics. Moreover, they are engaging individuals from both the public and private sectors.

Creating progressive infrastructure will ultimately yield decisions that change our economy and society. For example, I was struck recently when a relative turned down a lucrative deal because the organization was enacting anti-gay policies in conducting business. In making this decision, he took a stand for what he believed in and created a ripple effect that will influence that business’s chances of success.

Hands-on opportunities to connect constituencies and build a progressive community are also sprouting up across the nation. Organizations such as the Future Project are creating innovative ways to connect young people with students and inspire brighter futures. At Groundswell, organizers are helping community members leverage their collective buying power to bolster the local clean energy sector. Like Pipeline, both of these organizations are leveraging the power of the diverse progressive coalition.

To borrow from Roosevelt Institute President Felicia Wong, who spoke to a group of us young progressives last weekend in Hyde Park, NY, “Great ideas and great people rise up together.” Before we begin the next campaign cycle, let’s think critically about how civic engagement translates progressive values into change. When dozens, hundreds, thousands of local actions take place and we create a shared space to support them, we catalyze progress. If the conversation on what ideas and values shape our nation stagnates, we risk losing the foundation progressives have built over the last five years.

Monika Johnson is the co-Chapter Head for the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline in Washington, DC and a member of the Pipeline Advisory Committee.

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Voters Demand a Progressive Second Term Agenda

Nov 13, 2012Felicia Wong

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a call for progressives to seize the moment after Election Day.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a call for progressives to seize the moment after Election Day.

Last week’s election results weren’t just a win for the president. Across the board, voters went to the polls and registered their support for progressive values, supporting needed tax increases, passing marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and giving a candidate who ran on a platform of proactive government and a strong safety net a second term. The message was clear: despite an economy that continues to recover too slowly, the direction that progressives are taking the country in is the right one.

The polling we have done with Democracy Corps makes it plain – voters don’t want austerity or cuts in Medicare and Social Security. They want to fix the economy with long-term investments in infrastructure and a focus on jobs. And they want solutions – like raising taxes on the well-off and reforming the financial industry – that can raise the revenue to pay for it. As Hurricane Sandy made apparent, we need to update the country’s infrastructure, and we can put people back to work doing it.

So our job has just begun. Now is when we really have to roll up our sleeves and work to achieve an ambitious agenda. The politics won’t necessarily be much easier than they were over the last four years. But with a Democratic president, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and an electorate strongly behind us, progressives have an opportunity to seize over the next four years.

Over the next few weeks, Roosevelt Institute Fellows and staff will weigh in with their thoughts on what our national agenda should look like. While we might differ on some of the specifics, we all agree on basic values and goals: reducing inequality, creating jobs, kick-starting economic growth, building a community among the American people, and regaining trust in both the private sector through functioning markets and in the government and our political system.

On the eve of a second Obama term, and with some fundamental economic and political choices before us, we are proud to be in this historic moment together, Our goals are ambitious. We believe that our ideas can have real impact. As President Franklin Roosevelt put it 80 years ago, “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.” Nothing could be truer of our times. Progressives must lead the way.

Felicia Wong is President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.

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Transition Tasks: Commit to a New Model of Economic Growth

Oct 31, 2012Bo Cutter

The global economy is heading toward a huge transformation. Can America rise to the challenge?

Neither of our two major political parties have at their cores a commitment  to economic growth. In his second term, President Obama has an extraordinary opportunity to grab the golden ring, make a genuine commitment to sustainable, equitable growth, and follow that up with a credible, plausible entrepreneurial growth model.

The global economy is heading toward a huge transformation. Can America rise to the challenge?

Neither of our two major political parties have at their cores a commitment  to economic growth. In his second term, President Obama has an extraordinary opportunity to grab the golden ring, make a genuine commitment to sustainable, equitable growth, and follow that up with a credible, plausible entrepreneurial growth model.

But aren't both parties pro-growth in their platforms and their various position statements? Of course they are. It's a necessary ritual of political life. But for both the left and the right, growth is a residual - it's what you're for, after you get everything else you want. Moreover, both parties are wedded to whole sets of client groups whose agendas don't include economic growth at all.

The right wants austerity, low taxes, budget surpluses, preferably no government but at the most a small and passive government, no abortion, a Christian nation, and no immigrants - all before it wants growth. There will certainly be those who argue that some of these elements are essential aspects of an economic growth strategy, but I've yet to see a serious and specific growth model from the right and I've heard nothing about equitable and sustainable growth. In any case, the problem is that you can't just get elements of this list; holding today's right-wing coalition together requires that you get the whole package.

The left favors large active government almost as a principle, rather than a tool for something. By far it's highest priority is the current social safety net, unchanged forever. It does not regard debt or deficits as issues that matter. It is deeply contemptuous and dismissive of business, suspicious of markets, and is far more concerned about income distribution than about income expansion. It is very concerned - as it should be - about the short- and long-term effects of unemployment and it wants a sustainable and equitable world but sees no particular connection between these good things and economic growth. As with the right, one searches in vain for any useful theory or model of long run growth in the writings of the left.

The central attitude toward growth of both party philosophies is similar to the foreman on the loading dock who said, regarding his company's attitude toward quality, "It's in the slogan, and the vice president talks quality at least four times a year. But the assistant vice president talks shipping cases several times a day."

Other than playing whack-a-mole with each other over the short-term growth rate right now, the view of both the left and right is that the economy is a perpetual motion machine that will just keep rumbling along. But it isn't. Not ever and particularly not now. 

Economies have rhythms. They don't just march along forever at some preordained rate of growth. Big economies respond over decades, generations, to big impulses: revolutions in the cost of power, or transportation, or information; revolutions in the applications of these big cost shifts. These impulses spread throughout an economy, driving higher rates of economic growth, and then, as they become pervasive, lose their force. America has experienced such impulses, or waves, at least five times in the last 200 years. We are in the end phase of one such impulse and the very early stages of the next.

The "golden era" of the 20th century between roughly in 1950, and 1980 represented the full flourishing, the height of one such era and growth impulse. In these 30 years, the economy was dominated by large companies, managerial capitalism, and a financial system that evolved to meet those particular needs. The success of this era importantly shaped our expectations, our sense of how the world works, our institutions, and our politics. But as successful as this era was, the most important thing to know about it now is that it is over. Both parties - and both America's left and right - believe or at least act as though it is returning again, it's just around the corner. And it's the other guy's fault that it hasn't rearrived yet.

But it's not coming back. One reason among others is that we will never again see a world in which our economy dominates the world's economy. Beginning in the 1970s, as colonial empires collapsed and economic philosophies were revolutionized, major new nation states entered the same world economy we were in along with billions of new workers and households. At first that represented a boost to us, but as the economic sophistication of these economies evolved this new world meant vast and hard structural shifts for us. As Michael Spence makes clear in his book "The Next Convergence," much of the structural change we see and don't like comes from this changing shape of the world. Falling manufacturing employment, the 20-year slowdown in income growth, a large piece of income inequality, and the polarization of our labor force are all due in part to the changing shape of the global economy. (Just to be clear, the other major factor in all of these structural shifts is technological change.) 

We can't do anything about the shape of the world, but we can figure out how to change and thrive in this new environment. Which means we have to have a new growth model.

Fortunately, another technological revolution is occurring now and all of the elements of a new growth model are coming together. The model plays to American strengths and is there for us develop - unless we choose to be stupid. The model will require entrepreneurial capitalism, independent capital, high levels of private sector investment, equally high levels of infrastructure investment, mayors who see their cities as platforms for growth, and an educational revolution. It requires us to see that technological change can, uniquely, work for us. I've called it an era of mass specialization; it can be much more equitable and environmentally sustainable than the golden era.

And here lies President Obama's second transition task and a huge opportunity. He has to start immediately making this new growth model clear and comprehensible to Americans. He has to offer the hope that there is more to the future than just a repeat of the trends of the past. And he has to begin to propose the public policies that will allow the next growth era to be born. But above all, this will require that President Obama sees equitable, sustainable growth as the core of his governing philosophy for the second term.  Two good places to start with would be to put his endorsement of Simson-Rivlin-Dominici-Bowles in the context of a focus on growth and to make this the theme of his January 2013 State of the Union.

President Obama told me once at a very small breakfast in New York - long before he was president - that he wanted to be a transformational president. I believe him, but I don't think he's achieved that yet. Here's the chance. What could be more transformational, and more truly progressive, than to change America's governing political philosophy, wrench our politics away from its infatuation with wedge issues and a return to the 1950s, and usher in a new era of growth? As I started by saying, the golden ring is out there and the merry-go-round is heading toward it. 

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic Presidents.

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Live at Dissent Magazine with "From Master Plan To No Plan"

Oct 24, 2012Mike Konczal

I have an article in the latest Dissent Magazine, co-written with Aaron Bady, titled "From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education." It's now live and kicking off their newly redesigned webpage. It starts with Ronald Reagan in California in the 1960s, does a history of the creation and strengths of the University of California's Master Plan system and its dissembly, and ends with what John Aubrey Douglass calls the the Brazilian Effect. It's full of riot cops, occupations, moderate Republicans, thoughts on elasticities of supply, for-profit schools and more.

I have an article in the latest Dissent Magazine, co-written with Aaron Bady, titled "From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education." It's now live and kicking off their newly redesigned webpage. It starts with Ronald Reagan in California in the 1960s, does a history of the creation and strengths of the University of California's Master Plan system and its dissembly, and ends with what John Aubrey Douglass calls the the Brazilian Effect. It's full of riot cops, occupations, moderate Republicans, thoughts on elasticities of supply, for-profit schools and more.

I hope this starts to move the conversation forward on higher education outside a specific focus on student debt, because that is likely to reach its limits outside a broader vision of what needs to be accomplished. Andy Kroll wrote a similar piece that went live earlier this month, so I think there's a lot of interest in this topic. In March, Catherine Rampell wrote about the Brazilian Effect in economix. Andrew Ross wrote a fantastic piece for Dissent's series on education on the aggressive expansion of NYU and other universities as part of a conscious urban planning framework, combining growth models based on the FIRE industires with those in the ICE (intellectual, cultural and educational) industries, which is an important part of the puzzle.

This may be my favorite written thing with my name on it and, as I've been given opportunities I wouldn't have had without public higher education, this political and economic battle means a lot to me. Hope you check it out.

 

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Still No Straight Answers on Social Security

Oct 12, 2012Tim Price

After two debates, progressives are left with more questions than answers about the fate of one of our most important social programs.

After two debates, progressives are left with more questions than answers about the fate of one of our most important social programs.

It’s been a few decades since then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill first referred to Social Security as “the third rail of American politics,” but judging from the way the candidates in this election have avoided the subject, it still has plenty of juice left. There was a brief dust-up last fall when Rick Perry claimed the program was a Ponzi scheme, but his subsequent flameout in the Republican primaries was so spectacular that the details were quickly forgotten. Since then, most of the focus has understandably been on Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare’s guaranteed benefit into a voucher that grandma and grandpa can add to their coupon clippings. If we’re really lucky, sometimes we even get to debate the wisdom of dismantling Medicaid. But in the last two debates, the candidates have made statements about Social Security that raised more questions than they answered and suggested that the program’s future may be in doubt regardless of the election’s outcome.

Aside from the fact that President Obama seemed to have downed an entire bottle of Nyquil before his first debate with Mitt Romney, one of progressives’ biggest gripes about his performance concerned his decision to take Social Security off the table. “You know, I suspect that, on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound,” Obama said last Wednesday, adding that “It’s going to have to be tweaked” but “the basic structure is sound.” That raises two questions: First, do they actually agree, or was Obama overcome by the spirit of compromise that sometimes compels him to give his opponents the benefit of the doubt when they’ve done nothing to earn it? Second, and perhaps even more importantly, exactly what sort of “tweaks” would the candidates support?

Sadly, we didn’t learn the answers to either of these questions, since moderator Jim Lehrer is allergic to follow-ups, but commentators on the left have hazarded a few guesses, and most of them aren’t very optimistic. Writing at The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner makes one of the stronger cases for why we should worry about Obama’s commitment to preserving Social Security benefits. He notes that Romney has pledged no changes to Social Security for those in or near retirement, which carries the unsubtle implication that everyone else is probably screwed. But Kuttner argues that instead of going on the attack, the Bowles-curious Obama “is softening up public opinion to accept very similar cuts” and “giving away what should be one of the clearest differences with Romney.” Dean Baker concurs that “tweak is a code word used by people who want to cut Social Security but lack the courage to say it explicitly.”

While it might be safer to assume the worst, it would be more charitable to read Obama’s comments as an acknowledgment that there are policy tweaks that would genuinely strengthen Social Security. Jeff Madrick provides a good overview of some ways we could extend the program’s solvency without reducing benefits or raising the retirement age. He also notes that Social Security is in no real danger and that fixing its finances is a fairly easy task, even though it’s often lumped in with Medicare and Medicaid as part of an all-encompassing “entitlement crisis.” But raising the cap on payroll taxes doesn’t seem to be the type of tweaking Romney has in mind, and even with no changes the program is projected to pay out full benefits for another 21 years. So why wouldn’t Obama choose to heighten the contrasts instead of conceding the argument before it’s begun?

That question only became more urgent at last night’s vice presidential debate, as Paul Ryan defended his support for privatization. Responding to moderator Martha Raddatz’s comment that “Medicare and Social Security are going broke” (they’re not), Ryan agreed that “these are indisputable facts” (see above) and argued that “if you reform these programs for my generation, people 54 and below, you can guarantee they don't change for people in or near retirement.” Well, that’s great for them, but what does it mean for the rest of us who were sort of planning on growing old one day?

Ryan, who once derided Social Security as a “collectivist system,” is the author of a failed plan that would have transferred some Social Security funds into private investment accounts (more on that in this great piece by Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert). Last night, Ryan again claimed that privatization would “let younger Americans have a voluntary choice of making their money work faster for them,” whatever that means. It’s certainly true that if his plan had come to fruition after he originally proposed it in 2004, their money would have disappeared a lot faster during the financial crisis. Luckily, that proposal became so toxic when President Bush tried to pass it that his own party wouldn’t allow it to come to a vote. That’s probably why Ryan took care to point out that Mitt Romney doesn’t support such a plan. Instead, Romney wants to “slowly raise the retirement age over time,” an extremely regressive policy that would disproportionately hurt the poor people who most depend on Social Security. What a relief.

Biden offered a much stronger contrast on Social Security than Obama did, but he still left some questions unresolved. He stated clearly and firmly that the Obama administration would not privatize Social Security, which is the least we can expect from a Democrat given that the public version is one of his party’s greatest legislative achievements. He also argued that “to cut the benefits for people without taking other action you could do to make it work is absolutely the wrong way,” which is more reassuring but still leaves the administration some wiggle room to accept cuts as part of a Grand Bargain™. It’s certainly a weaker promise than the one he made in August, when he told supporters, “I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security” if President Obama is reelected. Thanks, Mr. Vice President, but is there any chance we can get that in writing?

If Social Security wasn’t so essential -- if it didn’t lift millions of elderly people out of poverty, offer peace of mind to all Americans in their retirement, or provide critical survivors benefits that Ryan acknowledges his own family received – it might be easier for progressives to accept this kind of hedging as part of the vagaries of messaging in an election year. But Social Security really is that important, and it has powerful allies arrayed against it in Washington who make little secret of their desire to take an axe to the program. It deserves to have an equally powerful and committed advocate defending it in the White House. It’s clear that Mitt Romney won’t fill that role, especially after he chose the architect of privatization as his running mate and heir apparent. Barack Obama still could, but progressives will have to convince him that there’s no room for ambiguity.

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

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Larry Katz on the Real Reason Education is the Key to Economic Growth

Sep 25, 2012Bo Cutter

The expansion of the American education system produced 100 years of economic growth, but we need a new model to achieve a sustainable, equitable future.

The expansion of the American education system produced 100 years of economic growth, but we need a new model to achieve a sustainable, equitable future.

The Next American Economy breakfast seminars resumed last week with a discussion with Professor Larry Katz focusing on his and Professor Claudia Goldin's book, The Race Between Education and Technology. If you haven't read this book, there is a great deal about our economy you won't understand. If you don't read at least the introduction now that you've been told, shame on you.

Larry has several fundamental insights. (These are the ones I picked out; he might prefer to highlight others.)

First, at a minimum, 25 percent of our productivity growth -- and therefore our economic growth -- over the 100 years between 1870 and 1970 is due directly to increases in the average number of years of education of the American people. It is highly likely that the actual contribution of education is significantly greater; 25 percent is a minimum.

Second, during this period, economic growth was high and equality actually improved in America despite fundamental economic and technological change -- change every bit as great as the changes we have seen in the last 30 years. In other words, we have been here before. We dealt with the effects of technological change in the past through advances in education. There is no obvious reason we could not do so again.

Third, the fundamental educational change during this period was "the high school movement," a grassroots-driven movement that saw free, gender-neutral access to high school as critical to community success. 

Fourth, there has been no recent educational revolution similar in scope to the high school movement, and the big change that has occurred -- the growth of post-secondary education -- has not been free. Not coincidentally, the growth of educational attainment in America has slowed, economic growth has slowed, and inequality has risen. 

Finally, this slowdown in education is probably a more important factor in the stunning rise in inequality we've seen than the shift of income toward the top 1 percent, which has grabbed more of the headlines.

Based on this discussion with Larry, I conclude that the mantra of the next successful political movement in America should be sustainable, equitable growth, and that this is a plausible goal. 

I'll go further. A long period of relatively high economic growth is within our reach starting in a couple of years if we would get out of our own way. I've written a piece on this titled "An American Renaissance," which I'll send to anyone who asks.

But this is not a layup. If we are to grow more rapidly over the next 20 years than we did on the last 20, we have to have a productivity revolution. More of our growth will have to come from productivity -- about 80 percent in the next decade, as opposed to 35 percent to 50 percent in the last three decades. To keep growth constant with the last 3 decades, labor productivity will have to grow by about one-third. If none of this happens, the generation born during the last decade will experience about 60 percent of the per capita income growth as did the generation born in the '60s.

The single most important thing we could do to increase the rate of growth of productivity is to increase the level of educational attainment of Americans. But sustainable, equitable growth is not a goal either of our current parties cares much about. The current progressive movement's singular focus on income distribution is both misplaced and convenient. Misplaced because there are better, more available paths to take that would accomplish both more equity and more growth; convenient because this focus enables it to ignore all the real issues. The right's obsession with unfettered markets is even more nuts and completely ignores the economic history of how American growth actually happened.

A true next American revolution in education will not be a simple linear extension of our current system. It will involve a combination of lifelong learning and certification, a commitment to teaching students how to learn continually, an equally deep commitment to what Larry Katz calls contextual training, a renovation and invigoration of our community college system, the use of the web in unique, student-oriented, and user-friendly ways, and major long-term costs. I would guess $50 to $75 billion annually for a long time -- between one-third and one-half a percent of GDP.

 But our current plan, of course, is to do nothing meaningful. As I've said before, the two parties are on a course to gut most of the government in order to protect the entitlements and retain the worst features of our current tax system. As an example, the total of all of the non-personnel investments in the federal budget is now $310 billion, or 8 percent of the total federal budget and slightly less than 2 percent of GDP, and it will fall to $270 billion, or 5 percent of the total budget and about 1.5 percent of GDP, over the next 10 years. This is a plan to build a low-growth, unsustainable economy with growing inequality.

Not to belabor a point I've probably made too frequently, but the door is wide open for what one might call a new progressivism or a new conservative movement. The old right can then focus on its Brigadoon-like vision of a time when the market roamed free and unfettered. The old left can focus on income distribution. And the real work of building a workable society based on sustainable and equitable growth can be carried out by whoever decides to reach first for the prize.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic Presidents.

 

School classroom image via Shutterstock.com.

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The Recession Ends. Then What?

Sep 24, 2012

It may be hard to imagine, but (we all hope, anyway) some day the recession and meager recovery period will come to an end. At that point, will the debates we're having now about the economy become completely irrelevant? What will we have to fight about? Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and EPI's Josh Bivens took this question on in the latest Fireside Chats episode on Bloggingheads:

It may be hard to imagine, but (we all hope, anyway) some day the recession and meager recovery period will come to an end. At that point, will the debates we're having now about the economy become completely irrelevant? What will we have to fight about? Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and EPI's Josh Bivens took this question on in the latest Fireside Chats episode on Bloggingheads:

As Mike points out, "Right now the debates seem very focused on things very specific to this recession," such as what the Federal Reserve could do to make things better or whether we should reduce mortgage burdens to boost consumption. Those are "very technical and very important debates to be having," he points out, "but they’re very narrow to the moment we’re in right now." Once we one day leave these issues behind, what will liberals decide to promote? And will we all be able to get on board?

The first issue Josh sees rearing its head is what we consider the "natural" rate of unemployment to be. Right now it's pretty obvious that unemployment is too high. At what point does it fall so much that some people, including the Fed, start to say it shouldn't go any lower? This question will have larger implications as well. As Mike says, "You see policy experts running around trying to figure out how to boost the wages of the lower quintile, but we know what has done it in the past 30 years, and it’s when unemployment is below 5 percent for a sustainable period of time." In fact, he says, a low unemployment rate "is the ultimate jobs program, it is the ultimate policy solution," and boosts wages for everyone -- not just those at the bottom.

What else will we squabble over when the economy once again booms? Bivens predicts social insurance programs -- Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare -- will have to be on the agenda. And related to that will be just how high we can go with tax rates on the rich. "Obviously you can have a fairness argument and a just deserts argument, but the economic case is pretty clear that [tax] rates [on the wealthier] could go much higher," Mike says. "But we’re seeing resistence to just getting to near 40 percent at this point." Brace yourself, political battles are coming.

Watch the full episode below, in which Mike and Josh discuss how little we all take home and whether inequality and the social safety net have anything to do with it:

 

Crossroads image via Shutterstock.com.

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