Lifelong Roosevelt Connections Help Students Lead Policy Change

Jul 22, 2014Madelyn Schorr

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

In 2004, when college students first started organizing under the Roosevelt name, I was still in elementary school. While they were busy working on national healthcare reform, I was busy watching The West Wing past my bedtime. Little did I know that ten years later I would be successfully starting a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network at The University of Alabama, while my predecessors are pursuing careers all over the country and the world.

As Special Initiatives Fellow for the Campus Network, I recently spent a weekend with a group of alumni in New York City to discuss how to build our alumni program. I was amazed at how these alums – some of whom have been away from Roosevelt for years – are still dedicated to our founding principle that young peoples’ ideas matter.

I know how big of an impact alumni can make in the work chapters across the network produce. Students benefit from connecting with alumni because not so long ago our alumni were students, too. We have similar values, and believe that young people are capable of producing solid policy ideas. When our students and alumni connect it creates something truly spectacular: a group of people, spread all over the world in different fields of work, willing to collaborate and facilitate discussion around current policy issues, then working with their communities to come up with innovative solutions.

I loved getting to meet these alums and see the different things they are doing with their lives. They are working at nonprofits, going to law school, working on political campaigns, and more. Our alumni are found in every level of government from the U.S. Capitol and the White House to state legislatures to mayoral offices. They are still fighting to make the change they want to see in the world. And now, they're mentoring the new generation of Campus Network students and organizing their own policy projects.

The Campus Network has grown a lot since it was founded. What started as two chapters has expanded into over a hundred. We now run Summer Academies in four cities, and in the past six years our publications have reached half a million people. This new generation of Roosevelt students is looking at local policy issues to create an impact in their communities. By avoiding the constant congressional gridlock my generation has grown accustomed to, and focusing on local community development, we are better able to turn our ideas into action.

With almost ten years of change-making under our belt, the Campus Network is working to find new and unique ways to make being a Roosevelter a lasting affiliation. We have thousands of alumni and it is so exciting to build out a framework and vision that will help me stay involved far beyond graduation.

From the long laughs during our regional team calls every month to building a thriving chapter on my campus, I will always appreciate the relationships I have formed through this amazing organization. This organization is like a second family to me; it’s hard to imagine not engaging with the Campus Network and all of the people I have met in it after I graduate. If you have recently graduated, or are looking to reengage, email me.

Madelyn Schorr is the Special Initiative Intern for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and the Southern Regional Coordinator.

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In Defense of Public Service: Roosevelt Honors Commitment to Common Good

Jul 14, 2014Tim Price

Honorees at the 2014 FDR Distinguished Public Service Awards felt vindicated -- but why does public service need vindicating?

Honorees at the 2014 FDR Distinguished Public Service Awards felt vindicated -- but why does public service need vindicating?

Outside of election night victory speeches, it’s rare to see America’s elected officials express much happiness in public. In a political culture dominated by partisan rancor, personal attacks, and donor-friendly positioning, governing seems a joyless affair. Nor are the American people pleased with their leaders’ performance; polls reflect widespread dissatisfaction with all levels of government. So it was inspiring, refreshing, and a little surprising to see the sense of pride and achievement on display last Thursday evening in Washington as the Roosevelt Institute honored Vice President Joe Biden, Congressman George Miller, Senator Tom Harkin, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro at the 2014 FDR Distinguished Public Service Awards.

Presented annually, the Distinguished Public Service Awards recognize and celebrate individuals who carry forward the spirit of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by devoting their lives to the public good. During this year’s ceremony, the audience heard from the four honorees as well as presenters including Dr. Jill Biden, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Al Franken, and former Senator Christopher Dodd. The speakers reflected on the honorees’ long list of policy achievements, from fighting for higher wages and paid family leave to passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. There was a smattering of amusing anecdotes (Senator Harkin’s ’70s-era polyester suits were evidently considered both an electoral liability and a fire hazard). And everyone who stood at the podium found a way to talk about their distinct but deeply felt personal connections to the Roosevelt legacy. Above all, they seemed genuinely moved to be celebrated rather than insulted for their work.

The most striking speech of the night was delivered by Vice President Biden. He received the Roosevelt Institute’s highest honor, the Freedom Medal, for promoting the vision of worldwide democracy and human rights that FDR famously expressed in his 1941 Four Freedoms Address. The Vice President spoke of his award as a “vindication” of a career spent in public service; and about his long-held belief that, setting aside their individual political views and policy preferences, all elected leaders got to be where they are because their constituents “saw something good in them,” and because they in turn wanted to do some good for their constituents.

It’s a nice thought. In practice, there is plenty of cause for cynicism, especially in light of the flawed or absent policy response to the Great Recession and the ongoing crisis of inequality in the U.S. And when politicians do fail to uphold the public good, they should be held accountable. But there is also no doubt that a great deal of America’s anti-government culture, and of the political dysfunction that keeps government from working effectively, has been created and nurtured by right-wing ideologues who view government as a problem in and of itself. If public servants as a category are in need of vindication, it is largely because of this conservative effort to denigrate the very idea of working through government to achieve common goals.

Thursday’s awards were a welcome reminder that not everyone has given in to this cynicism – that the term “career politician” can be an affirmation and not just an epithet. It was obvious from listening to these men and women speak that they have felt a powerful call to serve, and have made a leap of faith that progress is possible through long years of hard work and dedication. That was what Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt believed as well, and they proved it with bold and ambitious New Deal programs that built the American middle class from the ground up, reshaping the U.S. forever. By honoring those who continue their work today, maybe we can encourage all Americans to make that leap once again.

Tim Price is the Communications Manager for the Roosevelt Institute.

Photos: (Top) Congressman Miller, Congresswoman DeLauro, and Senator Harkin with Roosevelt Institute Board Chair Anna E. Roosevelt. (Bottom) Vice President Biden accepting his award accompanied by wife Jill. Credit: Crystal Vander Weit.

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The Supreme Court's One-Two Punch Against Women's Health: McCullen and Hobby Lobby

Jul 2, 2014Andrea Flynn

The Court's rulings place more barriers, both physical and financial, between U.S. women and basic health care.

The Court's rulings place more barriers, both physical and financial, between U.S. women and basic health care.

In the last week the Supreme Court announced two decisions that could dramatically change the landscape of women’s health access in the United States. It will be some time before we know the full impact of McCullen v. Coakley and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, but in the short term two things are for sure. The decisions will make it more difficult and less safe for many women to get the care they need, and they will undoubtedly embolden a conservative movement that hardly needs fortification.

The last three years brought record setbacks to women’s health and rights. More abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011-2013 (205) than in the entire previous decade (189). Today nearly 90 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider and more than 56 percent of U.S. women live in a state hostile to abortion. In many states the procedure has essentially been regulated out of existence. But it’s not just abortion rights that are under attack. The days of conservatives being “anti-abortion” but pro-family planning are long behind us. Today’s conservatives view birth control as the gateway drug to abortion, and regulate it with the same zeal they once saved for abortion.

Restrictions to Title X funding are closing publicly funded clinics around the country. Those clinics serve to provide reproductive health services to low-income and young women, and the majority do not even provide abortions. There is reason to fear that other conservative states are following the lead of Texas, where thousands of women are dealing with the consequences of a complete lack of access to basic health care thanks to lawmakers who have closed a record number of clinics. 

Making matters worse, today 24 states are not participating in the Medicaid expansion originally mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leaving two-thirds of poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of low-wage workers uninsured.

It’s against this backdrop that we have McCullen and Hobby Lobby, two decisions that are effectively a one-two punch to U.S. women. They allow employers to erect financial barriers to contraceptive choice and embolden protesters to serve as physical and emotional barriers to women’s basic health care. 

In McCullen, the Court struck down as a violation of free speech a Massachusetts law that provided a 35-foot “buffer zone” around clinics that provide abortion. The law was created to protect patients entering clinics, and many states have similar regulations in place. It’s unclear what will happen to those other buffer zones. It’s also more than slightly ironic that the Supreme Court, the very body responsible for upholding freedom of speech, has a 100-foot buffer zone that is still intact.

Protesters will feel vindicated in their attempt to persuade, intimidate, threaten, and terrorize women from accessing care to which they are constitutionally guaranteed. Last weekend the Boston clinic at the heart of the McCullen case saw a threefold increase in protesters. That’s just in Massachusetts. Clinics in more conservative states regularly see hundreds of protesters on a given day.

Hobby Lobby was just one of more than 50 companies (supported by organizations like the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty) that took issue with the ACA’s “contraceptive mandate,” the requirement that all employer-based health plans fully cover, without cost sharing, all FDA-approved methods of contraception. These companies filed claims against the mandate, arguing that intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception (EC) constitute abortion and therefore being required to provide coverage for those methods was a violation of their religious liberty. Never mind that by all accepted medical standards those methods prevent, not terminate, pregnancy. The Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, allowing “closely held” companies – generally understood to be those having more than 50 percent of the value of their stock owned by five or fewer individuals – to refuse coverage of certain contraceptive methods.

So, what happens now? Well, most women who work for Hobby Lobby and other such companies will no longer have access to the contraceptive method of their choice. They will have to decide if they want to pay for those methods out of pocket or go to a clinic where they can receive subsidized care, if they are lucky enough to have access to one. This will place additional and unnecessary pressure on an already embattled public health infrastructure.

The majority claimed the Hobby Lobby ruling was narrow and would not have the sweeping consequences suggested in Justice Ginsburg’s scathing and on-point dissent. I’m not convinced. According to Harvard Business Review, 90 percent of U.S. companies are considered closely held, and those companies employ more than 51 percent of U.S. workers. There are already at least 80 other cases waiting to follow in Hobby Lobby’s footsteps. Given conservatives’ strategic organizing and employers’ willingness to carry the anti-reproductive rights, anti-Obama, anti-ACA banner, others will surely join the cause.

For the time being, the ACA – and the mandate – remain intact, even if somewhat fractured. We should continue to fight for the full implementation of the ACA, a historic – and by all measures successful – piece of legislation that is advancing the vision FDR articulated more than 70 years ago when he called for a Second Bill of Rights. That vision included medical care to allow all Americans to achieve and enjoy good health.

In falsely pitting freedom of speech and religion against women’s rights – as if women don’t also have rights to those same freedoms – the Supreme Court has given momentum to an already fast-moving train. Conservatives will only have more resolve to continue tearing down the building blocks of women’s health and rights. It’s going to take a lot to stop them. A lot of outrage, a lot of action, and a lot of engaged voters committed to standing up for women’s rights. Here’s hoping we can make that happen.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Image via Thinkstock

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What the History of the World Wars Can Tell Us About the Deeper Struggles at Work in Iraq

Jun 19, 2014David B. Woolner

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

The issue of this war is the basic issue between those who believe in mankind and those who do not—the ancient issue between those who put their faith in the people and those who put their faith in dictators and tyrants. There have always been those who did not believe in the people, who attempted to block their forward movement across history, to force them back to servility and suffering and silence.—Franklin D. Roosevelt 1943

As Franklin Roosevelt realized all too well, victory in the Second World War required much more than military power; it also involved the defeat of the extremist ideology of fascism that brought death and destruction to millions. Viewed from this perspective, the six-year struggle between 1939 and 1945 was as much a battle of ideas as it was a military conflict, and throughout the long years of fighting, FDR put as much effort into winning the peace as he did into winning the war.

Moreover, this determination did not just occur overnight. It came from a deep understanding of history and long years of experience, including the experience of having lived through America’s first major engagement as a global power—our entrance into the First World War, a move which President Wilson claimed was driven by America’s desire “to make the world safe for democracy.”  

The tragic events unfolding in Iraq today are not all that dissimilar to what took place in the 1930s and 40s. Once again we face an extremist ideology that is bent on conquest and has little respect for human life. Once again we face an adversary that rejects the core set of values that stand at the root of Western civilization, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

To counter this threat, senior American policy-makers often speak—as former Vice President Dick Cheney did yesterday in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal—of the need to defend and secure America’s “freedom,” in part through the promotion of “freedom” abroad.

In recent years, the best and most dynamic example of this modern-day attempt “to make the world safe for democracy” can be seen in the 2003 invasion of Iraq—a war of choice which was launched under the false assumption that the “Iraqi people” would respond to “freedom” in a manner similar to what happened in Japan and Germany after the Second World War. Hence, American strategy in this exercise in regime change was based on the idea that the people of Iraq would embrace democracy and Western values—forgetting of course that Iraq—unlike Germany or westernized Japan in 1945—was most emphatically not part of the West and that most of the Iraqi people had very little experience or interest in building a modern pluralistic state.

All of this points to a fundamental flaw that existed—and still exists—in the thinking of those like Vice President Cheney who base America’s security on the promotion of what some recent analysts have termed “hard Wilsonianism”—the idea that the in the post Cold War world the United States can use its overwhelming military superiority to enforce a liberal international order.

It is true that what is happening in Iraq and Syria is a major international crisis. It is also true—as Vice President Cheney and others have argued—that America’s withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 has helped precipitate this crisis. What is largely missing from the current debate over Iraq and Syria—as well as the equally dangerous crisis in Ukraine—is the overwhelming need for American policy-makers and the American public to pay greater attention to the religious and ideological forces at work in these crises and the one tool perhaps more than any other that can help us avoid these sorts of catastrophes in the future: the study of history.

A rudimentary understanding of Iraq’s history, for example, would have made clear that Iraq was carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in a secret treaty between the British and the French at the height of the First World War, and that modern Iraq is really three nations, one Sunni, one Shia and one Kurdish, held together in its initial years by the British Empire and for the rest of the 20th century by the brutal hand of dictators like Saddam Hussein.

In his criticism of the decision to withdraw all of America’s combat forces from Iraq, Vice President Cheney accused President Obama of being “willfully blind to the impact of his policies.” The recent history of Iraq indicates that President Bush and his advisors are equally guilty of this sin, if not more so. A deeper understanding of Iraqi as well as American history would have indicated to them that “wishful thinking about our adversaries,” as Vice President Cheney put it, is indeed “folly,” the sort of folly that led us to launch the 2003 invasion with far too few troops, based on the fatal assumption that U.S. forces would be universally welcomed in this deeply divided, semi-artificial state. Viewed from this perspective, the Bush administration’s decision to not only take out Saddam Hussein but also destroy—with a minimum of American force—Iraq’s bureaucracy and army borders on criminal negligence. For as we now know, the latter two moves, especially disbanding the Iraqi Army, were a grave mistake, releasing tens of thousands of armed men—mostly Sunni armed men, who were convinced they had little or no future in a Shia-dominated Iraq—into the general population. The result was near civil war and the need for a major surge of American troops, all of which made a mockery of President Bush’s claim on May 1, 2003 that “major combat operations in Iraq” had ended.

Even if one believes that the toppling of Saddam Hussein was necessary, a closer reading of history might have led to a much more responsible and well-thought-out strategy: one that took cognizance of the deep ethnic and religious divisions within Iraq; understood—as General MacArthur and President Truman did when they ordered the Japanese Army to keep order in Japan until American occupation troops arrived—that the uncontrolled disbanding of a nation’s armed forces is a recipe for disaster; and recognized—as FDR did—that the development of Western-style democracy involves much more than the highly over-used and over-rated concept of “freedom” or the right to vote. It also requires tolerance, a respect for the rule of law, and a willingness to build the necessary institutions that make up a modern democratic state.

In a little-known comment near the end of the tumultuous 1920s—the decade which brought us a brutal civil war in Russia and a great deal of nationalist upheaval in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine—British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin reflected that what was really required in the wake of the First World War was not so much the determination “to make the world safe for democracy,” as President Wilson argued, but rather the determination “to make democracy safe for the world.”

Franklin Roosevelt understood this. He recognized that it was the ideology of fascism—inspired in part by the frustrations of the First World War—that brought us the Second World War and all its concomitant horrors, including the Holocaust. As such, to win the military struggle—made so much easier today by the advent of technologies like the predator drone—was not enough. We also had to bring an end to the ideology of fascism, and to accomplish this we had to offer the people of the world not just “freedom” in the narrow sense of the word, but a much more expansive and all-inclusive concept, a definition of freedom that included, as FDR so eloquently put it, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These four concepts together, along with the creation of such institutions as the United Nations and America’s willingness to embrace multilateralism, gave us the credibility to lead the world in the decades that followed. In this sense, FDR also learned from history, for having lived through the First World War and the failed peace that followed, he understood that our ultimate task was not so much to “make the world safe for democracy,” but rather “to make democracy safe for the world.” It is this lesson above all else that we need to embrace today if we are to entertain any hope of bringing an end to the crises in Iraq and Syria. 

David B. Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. 

 

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Daily Digest - June 12: Health Care Reform is Here to Stay, But Can It Be Improved?

Jun 12, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Time to Bring Back the Public Option — Medicare in All Exchanges (The Hill)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Time to Bring Back the Public Option — Medicare in All Exchanges (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch says that as the discussion of Obamacare shifts from repeal to reform, the first improvement should be expanding access to Medicare coverage.

Ken Burns: Go Ahead, Campaign on the Affordable Care Act (U.S. News & World Report)

Nikki Schwab reports on Ken Burns's remarks on current big policy issues at the "Inequality Begins at Birth" conference, where he screened his upcoming documentary about the Roosevelts.

Republicans Just Killed Elizabeth Warren's Plan to Ease Americans' Crushing Student Loan Debt (MoJo)

Senator Warren's bill would have allowed borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates, writes Patrick Caldwell. Republicans filibustered over the cost, but the bill would have reduced the deficit.

U.S. Economic Recovery Looks Distant as Growth Lingers (NYT)

Binyamin Appelbaum reports on the government's reduced expectations for annual growth, which are leading some economists to wonder whether the economy can ever fully rebound.

What the Foreclosure Crisis Looks Like in Urban Neighborhoods with Few Single-Family Homes (WaPo)

When foreclosure hits neighborhoods filled with small apartment buildings, it reduces cities' already limited supply of affordable rental stock, says Emily Badger.

New on Next New Deal

Do Taxpayers Care if Student Loans Are Paid Off Too Quickly? (On Fair Value Accounting)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that while private lenders might not like it when student loans are paid off ahead of schedule, the public shouldn't worry about it.

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The Stiglitz Code: How Taxing Capital Can Counter Inequality

May 28, 2014Felicia Wong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banner photo via OurWorld2.0, Creative Commons.

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Doesn't All Work Deserve Dignity?

Apr 29, 2014Lydia Bowers

A subway ad provides a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second bill of rights, which called for a living wage and access to leisure.

A subway ad provides a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second bill of rights, which called for a living wage and access to leisure.

I recently saw an advertisement for Grubhub on the New York City subway. For the unfamiliar, Grubhub is a food delivery website used to place orders online. Grubhub focuses its ads on creative reasons you should order delivery tonight from “You refer to your oven as Manhattan Mini Storage” to “Your friends in the Midwest share photos of their kids. You share photos of dinner”. Grubhub has purchased enough ad space in the NYC subway system to make their ads fixtures of NYC commutes.

This ad was different. “Sure, you could go out for dinner. And walk in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Someone else can do it for you! Order In. You Deserve It.” The case for why you should order delivery tonight is still there (it’s cold, it's uphill!) but there’s more. Pay someone else to deal with that unpleasantness, you deserve it! In our new society, where 1% of the population controls more wealth than the bottom 80% combined, dignity comes from money and, more importantly, what that money can pay others to do for you.

Am I making too much of one ad? Possibly – but it’s emblematic of widespread and growing issues. Look at recent examples of fast food restaurants underpaying their employees or denying them benefits while concurrently paying CEOs obese incomes. Look at Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe being sued by their employees for colluding to keep wages low and maximize corporate profits. The idea that a fair day's work equals a fair day's pay is eroding at every level of our society, except for those controlling it all at the very top. We have become a society where we are sorted into those who deserve fair pay, benefits, and empathy, and those who don’t. And at the end of a long day, the deserving few deserve to have someone being paid exploitative wages (the average delivery worker in NYC is paid minimum wage at $8.00 an hour or roughly $15,300 a year) bring sushi to their front door.

Am I advocating the end of delivery? Of course not. What I’m asking for is a restoration of the basic social contract, where we agree as a society to value all our workers and their right to happiness. This is not a new idea. In his 1944 State of the Union address Franklin Delano Roosevelt advocated for a second bill of rights. He argued that the political rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the purist of happiness.” In this new version, Americans would have the right to employment with a living wage, housing and food, and clothing and leisure, among other things.

What an incredible concept. That beyond simply feeding and housing ourselves, Americans should have the right to leisure – to enjoyment and happiness. That while there will always be delivery people and fast food workers, we all deserve to pay rent off the earnings of a single full-time job. But this is not an issue only impacting minimum wage workers in America. The Apple collusion case referenced above and recent reports that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world indicate a pervasive mindset has taken root in America, that only those at the very top deserve anything at all. The rest of us can fight for what they leave behind.

The solution? Restore the basic social contract and raise minimum wage. Rather than continuing to argue for the failed policies that wrongly argue equality trickles from the top down, acknowledge that wealth flows when we all do better. Raising our most vulnerable workers above the barely-scraping-by level of living betters our society as a whole, from both economic and social justice standpoints. The recent increase in the New York state minimum wage and political will at the national level for a federal increase are good first steps. But until politics prove otherwise, I will continue to overreact at billboards that reinforce the concept that any workers in our society are "undeserving."

Lydia Bowers is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's National Operations Strategist.

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Paul Ryan and the Voluntarism Fantasy

Apr 28, 2014Mike Konczal

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

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

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

Many are rightfully pointing out that this doesn't square with his budget, which plans to eliminate a lot of spending on the poor in order to fund tax cuts for the rich. But in the same way that budget shenanigans like dynamic scoring is supposed to make his numbers work, there's an invisible work of charity that will simply fill in however much that is cut from the federal budget.
 
There's a dead giveaway here. Note the "in the 20th century" rather than the normal "since the War on Poverty" as when things went wrong. Ryan doesn't think the War on Poverty is a problem, or doesn't just think that. He thinks the evolution of the state during the entire 20th century is the problem, and wants to return to the freer and better 19th century.
 
But as I emphasized in the piece, this idea is not true in history, theory or practice. The state has always played a role in providing economic security through things like poorhouses and soldier pensions well before the New Deal. When the Great Depression happened, the old system collapsed. Service organizations called on the government to take over things like old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and income support because they realized they couldn't do it themselves. Freed of the heavy lifting of these major pieces of social insurance, they could focus in a more nimble manner on individual and targeted needs.
 
And the reasons this doesn't work out are quite clear - charity is uncoordinated, very vulnerable to stress (charitable giving fell in the recession just as it was most needed), and tied to the whims and interests of the rich. And charitable organizations aren't calling for the Ryan Budget, and they don't think that they'll run better and with better resources if Ryan's cuts happen. They know firsthand they won't have the resources to balance out the gigantic increase in need that would result.
 
(Elizabeth Stoker has more on attempts to link this this fantasy up with Christianity broadly and Catholic subsidiarity specifically.)
 
Ideas have consequences. The fact that Ryan's are fundamentally flawed on so many levels will have consequences too for the poor if they come to pass.
 
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When I wrote a long piece about the Voluntarism Fantasy at Democracy Journal, several people accused me of attacking a strawman. My argument was that there's an influential, yet never clearly articulated, position on the conservative right that we jettison much of the federal government's role in providing for economic security. In response, private charities, churches and "civil society" will rush in and do a better job. Who, complained conservatives, actually argues this?

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

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

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

Mar 28, 2014Felicia Wong

Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong spoke yesterday at the Income Inequality Symposium in Seattle, where she gave the closing remarks, calling on our memories of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal to urge Seattle into action on raising the minimum wage. Her prepared remarks are below.

Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong spoke yesterday at the Income Inequality Symposium in Seattle, where she gave the closing remarks, calling on our memories of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal to urge Seattle into action on raising the minimum wage. Her prepared remarks are below.

Thank you so much, Mayor Murray, David Rolf from SEIU 775NW, Howard Wright, and all of you who have served on the Mayor’s Task Force or spent so much of your time fighting for economic growth and economic justice.

Today – we feel like a nation at the crossroads, on the brink.  But let’s remember: we’ve been here before. The story is familiar. Poverty and income inequality are on the rise throughout the United States. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a job, you’re struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, a select few do very, very well for themselves. The President, facing a critical midterm election, addresses the nation. Raise standards for workers, he says, and he calls for laws to raise the national minimum wage, too.

I’m talking about 1938, when the President was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When FDR took office, there was no federal law guaranteeing a minimum wage for American workers – and in fact throughout the 1930s the President battled a recalcitrant and conservative Supreme Court, and conservative business establishment, on behalf of workers. In his 1938 address to Congress, FDR said such a law was long overdue. He said it was morally unacceptable and economically unsustainable for so many people in the United States to earn poverty wages. To quote Roosevelt: “Aside from the undoubted fact that the people thereby suffer great human hardship, they are unable to buy adequate food and shelter, to maintain health, or to buy their share of manufactured goods.”

That’s the key. FDR understood that the minimum wage was an issue for our hearts and for our wallets. Again and again, he returned to the point that businesses could not thrive unless workers did. Without workers, an economy cannot grow.

It was a tough fight, and FDR didn’t go it alone. He had what he called his Brains Trust -- lawmakers, academics, activists, and business leaders. Their job was to figure out economic policies under which everyone could prosper. FDR went to Congress with their proposals. The result: the Fair Labor Standards Act, a keystone of the New Deal, along with the Social Security Act. With the FLSA we got a federal minimum wage as well as the 40-hour workweek and standards for overtime pay. These underlie modern labor policy.  These are issues that are hotly debated even today.

As we’ve seen over the course of this day’s symposium, fixing our country’s inequality and wage problems will – once again – need the good ideas and expertise of a brain trust. We have been fortunate to hear from important partners such as Maud Daudon from the Chamber of Commerce, Saru Jayaraman from Restaurant Opportunities Center - United, and leaders from other cities such as Supervisor John Avalos from my hometown of San Francisco and Wilson Goode from Philadelphia.  Innovation is a team sport. FDR understood this, and so does Mayor Murray.

I work at the Roosevelt Institute in New York City.  And I am here today because Seattle is at the center of the nation’s most important fight.  

At Roosevelt, we think of ourselves as an ideas and leadership shop. I won’t claim that we ask ourselves “What Would FDR Do?” in every situation. But we certainly try to capture his spirit of innovation and collaboration in our work. We support public intellectuals like Dorian Warren, whom you’ve heard from today, and Mike Konczal, Joe Stiglitz, Annette Bernhardt, Richard Kirsch, and others. They plunge into all facets of the inequality problem – which President Obama has rightly called the defining problem of our time.  They envision solutions, including a new labor agenda for the 21st century.  This includes raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave, and also includes new standards for the right to organize, the enforcement of labor laws, and strategies to combat labor market segregation by race and gender.  At Roosevelt we also support some 10,000 undergraduates across the U.S. who dig in deep in their local communities – designing and fighting for policy solutions at the city level.

We at the Roosevelt Institute believe – as does everyone here – that we all do better when we all do better. But: wages have been backsliding for decades now. The typical American family makes less today than it did 25 years ago. I know we have heard a lot of statistics today, and they can seem overwhelming, but consider this for just a moment: 16 million children live in homes where their families are not sure where the next meal is coming from. Five years after the Great Recession officially ended, there are still three times as many Americans looking for work as there are job openings. And, as we’ve discussed today, new jobs aren’t good jobs.  The most recent BLS statistics forecast a low-wage trajectory through at least 2020.  Only one of the 20 occupations expected to add new jobs requires a college degree, and most of the kinds of jobs we will be creating offer low or moderate pay.

From FDR to President Obama to each and every one of us here today, whether right or left or center: we can all agree that no one should work a full-time job and worry about putting food on the table for their family.  

But this is not just about morality, not just about the “we should” and the “we shouldn’t.”  This is about economic fundamentals. When people can’t even buy groceries at the end of the month, they can’t do all of the things – go to a baseball game, go to dinner at a restaurant – that drive economic growth and make our towns and cities strong.

Now, consider the other half of the coin: times are not tough for everyone. In 2012 alone, the richest 1 percent of Americans took home more than 20 percent of all income – one of their biggest hauls since the Gilded Age. Corporate profits are at record levels, and corporations are sitting on huge cash reserves. Many will tell us that corporations and wealthy owners are the job creators, the engines of the economy.  Now, none of us begrudge real success. But the question is, if they’re doing so well, why isn’t the rest of the economy doing better?

And the answer is clear: As FDR once argued, the people – middle class, working families – are the real job creators. These aren’t just strangers, or statistics. I’m talking about our friends and family and co-workers. I’m talking about us. As more and more Americans struggle to keep up - businesses can’t function.  Companies need customers, people to spend money on those products and services. That’s why holding down wages is more than just unfair. It’s also bad economics.

Let me take a minute to tackle the arguments on the other side: that raising the minimum wage will cause unemployment, business flight, or higher prices.  But empirical research looking at decades of data – much of which we have heard today – shows that on balance raising wages has little or no negative employment effects, and in fact there is significant evidence to show that businesses – and cities and towns – flourish with higher wages, rather than lower.

This also should make sense to any of us who manage other people. Making decisions to pay employees enough so they aren’t stressed in the rest of their lives makes good business sense, and good common sense.

And, we are learning from very recent research.  I will cite just two important pieces.  The first is a massive study of 200 years of capital accumulation, incomes, and growth just published here in the United States.  The research suggests the problem is very big, and in fact lies in the structure of today’s entire global economy. Too much capital is concentrated in the hands of too few, and the global economy has gone awry.

The second piece is a recent IMF study of inequality and growth in hundreds of countries showing that many equality-enhancing redistributive policies – higher taxes, more public investment – can increase growth. Win-wins are possible.  

So these findings should give us courage. And should push us to act – because recalibrating the minimum wage is one very big step towards fixing the broken economic system and promoting growth in ways that will work for everyone.

Let me be clear: raising the minimum wage isn’t anti-democratic, isn’t anti-capitalist, isn’t anti-free market.  FDR saved capitalism from itself.  That is what you are trying to do here today.

It’s no surprise that we’re having this conversation in Seattle. Your city is a great hub of American business and social innovation. This city has brought to life trends and technologies, from Starbucks coffee to Excel spreadsheets, which revolutionize the way we live. And you in Seattle know that people are at the center of that innovation. Companies like Costco have built their business models on paying decent wages and benefits, retaining valued employees, and fostering strong communities.

It’s not a top-down, trickle-down proposition. Economies grow, as our friend Nick Hanauer said this morning, from the middle out.  You have seen it work in Seattle, and that’s why Seattle is the right incubator for the sound labor policies that will shape the American economy of the future.

By voting for a 15 dollar an hour wage floor, Seattle can move the entire region’s economy forward.  You can also set the trend for the whole country – in addition to possible federal legislation, at least eight states are considering minimum wage increases this year. You can show all of us how to build the kind of economy that grows, that is stable, and that spreads prosperity broadly.  It is a virtuous cycle.  

If adopted nationwide, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the raise in the minimum wage proposed by President Obama could affect more than 28 million people and lift many of them out of poverty. 28 million people. At a time when the American Dream of opportunity for all is rapidly fading, those are 28 million reasons to support this proposal.

Beyond the potential economic impact, this policy would show what government can achieve when it responds to the needs of working families. As Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Individual companies, as great as they are, can’t do this alone.  Our fates are linked, and we have to act together.  By raising the minimum wage to fifteen-dollars-an-hour, Seattle can choose democracy and start to reverse the trends that have been crushing the middle class.

Let me close by urging the members of Seattle’s City Council to approve the 15 dollar an hour minimum wage. And as FDR told his own supporters, it is up to all of us to make them do it. A lot has changed about our country since the days of the New Deal, but one thing remains the same: Progress is possible when we commit to it and fight for it. Now is the time for us to decide what kind of economy, what kind of government, and what kind of future we want for ourselves. Now is the time for Seattle to lead the way. Thank you.

Felicia Wong is President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.

 

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National Labor Law in the United States: Scanty Protections for Organizing Leave Out Many Workers

Mar 27, 2014Richard Kirsch

This is the third in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled “The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Ensure Prosperity for All.” The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class. Today’s post explains why labor law in the U.S.

This is the third in a series of posts summarizing a new Roosevelt Institute report by Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, entitled “The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Ensure Prosperity for All.” The report provides a short history of how the rise and decline of unions and then explores reforms in labor policy to empower American workers to organize unions and rebuild the middle class. Today’s post explains why labor law in the U.S. provides a fragile, limited foundation for giving workers the power to claim a share of economic wealth or have a voice at work.

Last month the body that governs labor law in the United States, which for the first time in ten years has a full complement of members, proposed some new regulations. The uproar from business trade associations was predictably over-the-top, declaring that a proposed regulation simply requiring that businesses disclose the identity of anti-union consulting firms was aimed at taking employers out of the union organizing process entirely.

From the rhetoric of the business lobby and their conservative allies, you would think that the U.S. has robust labor laws, which put employers at a dire disadvantage. But the truth is that federal labor laws provide a weak and limited set of legal procedures for workers who want to organize for a fair share of the wealth they produce.

When the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted in 1935, during the heart of FDR’s New Deal, the United States finally recognized the value of providing a systematic legal structure for workers to negotiate with employers. The NLRA’s passage alone did not make union organizing easy. It took continued pressure from striking workers, as well as government-imposed labor peace to ramp up production during World War II, to achieve some compliance by employers with the NLRA’s framework for collective bargaining.

But just two years after the War ended, Southern Democrats joined Republicans, to dramatically weaken the young law – which already had plenty of shortcomings – by passing the Taft-Hartley Act, over President Truman’s veto,. What remains is a tepid law, offering a limited, fragile foundation for organizing workers, complete with loopholes which can be exploited by employers who resist unionization.

The NLRA applies to most – but not all – private sector workers. It leaves out domestic workers, farmworkers, supervisors (workers who supervise others but don’t make policy decisions) and independent contractors (even when they work for one employer). It also leaves out all public employees.

In order for the workers who want to organize to form a union with collective bargaining rights, a majority of eligible workers in a bargaining unit must agree to support the union. The employer and union must agree to who is in the bargaining unit (or the NLRB will decide), which typically is no wider than a single facility or a certain category of workers in a single facility or department.

Workers can request to form a union by having a majority sign union cards, but the company can insist on an election, during which the company can bar union representatives from speaking at the worksite, but can compel workers to listen to anti-union speeches.

While employers are not legally permitted to fire a worker for supporting the union or for taking other forms of collective action, the only penalty that employers face for firing a worker is that they are required to re-hire the worker and provide them with back pay. Moreover, this back pay award is reduced by the amount of wages that the employee earned or could have earned after the firing. It often takes years before the Board and courts order even such a small penalty. These weak penalties make it easy for employers to break the law, and, as a result, the firing of union supporters has become commonplace.

Once a union is recognized – either by winning an election or by card check – the union and the employer are required to bargain in good faith over wages, benefits, and working conditions. Other factors impacting workers are off the table unless the union and employer agree to discuss them. If an employer refuses to negotiate in good faith, the Board may request that a federal court hold the employer in contempt and fine it, a process which usually takes years. If the employer and union do negotiate but cannot agree on these questions, the employer may determine actions on its own.

During contract negotiations, both sides are permitted to use economic pressure to win concessions over mandatory subjects. The union can not apply economic pressure to suppliers or customers, only to the employer itself. The NLRA prohibits employers from firing strikers, but employers are entitled to hire permanent replacements for strikers. After the strike ends, any striker who has been permanently replaced technically remains an employee, unless she has found comparable work. But the employer is not required to actually offer them work until a position becomes open. As a result, striking workers may be out of work for a long time or never offered a job at the firm.

Employers are also permitted to lock out workers. Workers who have been locked out also may be replaced temporarily, but not permanently. If a union strikes over an employer’s commission of an unfair labor practice – such as firing a worker for supporting the union – the employer may hire only temporary replacements, and they must reinstate the strikers immediately upon the end of a strike.

Of course, it takes timely action by the Board, backed up by federal courts, to enforce any of these protections. But, as we discussed in the previous post in this series, a combination of appointments of regulators hostile to the NLRA and aggressive corporate resistance to complying with the law have made timely enforcement the exception.

Today, the NLRA process is used much less than in the past. The number of elections for union representation dropped by 59% from 2000 to 2012, from 2,957 to 1,202. Most of the elections were to continue current union representation, rather than win the right to bargain for new workers. The number of new workers organized through the election process in this period shrank from 106,459 in 2000 to 38,714 in 2012, a decrease of 64%.

The weaknesses in current labor law, particularly in relation to the changes in the economy between the mid-twentieth century and today, provide the context for the following posts in this series, which present an array of proposals to reform and transform labor law for the 21st century economy. 

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