Creating a New Equitable Economic Vision and Policy Platform

By Anne Price, President

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For all the talk of the economy and jobs in the last presidential election cycle, we are still lacking a bold economic vision that addresses the needs of all Americans.

It is time to craft a coherent and credible vision to spur economic revitalization in hollowed out communities across our nation, and to advance a set of robust policies that enable people of all classes and races to lead meaningful, fruitful lives. It is time to stop tinkering around the edges of policy, waging only half-measures against the outworn economic thinking that views economic efficiency and growth as ends in themselves and trickle-down economics as a path to shared prosperity. We must begin to put theoretical debates about how to reduce poverty, improve financial stability, and address long-standing racial inequities to the test.

All around us are amplified calls to move beyond defensive strategies and small steps to bigger, bolder actions. Rutger Bregman, a prominent young historian and author, who supports a basic income to eradicate poverty, proclaims that “the time for small thoughts and little nudges is past.” Naomi Klein, journalist, activist, and author of the new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, makes a compelling argument for the need to create deep, transformative change on many levels: starting with a need to advance and fight for a different vision. According to Klein, new models should “hold out the credible promise of a tangibly better and fairer life in the here and now and should be grounded in racial, economic and gender justice.”

But articulating a vision is not enough. We must address the underlying narratives and foundational cultural beliefs that have prevented us from moving from vision to action.

For example, a new vision must account for America’s Puritan work ethic and attachment to work as a sense of personhood and part of a moral center. Insight’s new narrative research on economic security, work, and race show us that we need to shift the way Americans define work, address racial resentment and anti-Blackness head on, and dismantle the personal responsibility frame. Without being intentional in grappling with the strong role that these factors play in shaping most economic policies, we will continue to be unsuccessful in advancing economic solutions, like living wages, robust paid family leave, and increased child care subsidies.

We have to make clear that racial resentment is holding back all Americans, and center the voices of those who politicians and policy makers have left out of decisions in their policy design.

We also need to expand our thinking, and work from an abundance frame of mind. Old thinking dictates that we can only handle one big policy idea at a time and speak to a single “silver bullet” to address poverty, inequality, and racial inequities. There is no one policy that will help us achieve a bold vision, but coupling big ideas will move us closer. We have to stop pitting policy ideas against each other as each may be addressing slightly different economic challenges.

For example, together, a Federal Job Guarantee and some form of a Basic Cash Transfer (currently being touted as Universal Basic Income), if designed correctly, would better enable Americans to claim a fair share of the value that they create, and could counter the structural barriers, like discrimination, that hold too many communities back. Insight’s recent paper on a Federal Job Guarantee illustrates an approach that fosters full employment, reducing obstacles for people to work while strengthening their bargaining power.

We need to inject new perspectives into the debate about a Universal Basic Income or Cash Transfer, which has become pitted against a Federal Job Guarantee. Research is demonstrating that a cash transfer, in which each American gets an unconditional monthly grant to help cover the basics and get ahead, could be the most efficient and civilized way to address poverty. We must not center arguments about automation and dismantling a social safety net as the thrust of a debate on this bold policy. Rather, we can speak to the ways in which a cash transfer can reduce the risk of income volatility, and stress the potential social benefits such as reduced crime, better health outcomes (like lower infant mortality rates), reduced health costs, and improved academic outcomes. A cash transfer would allow for the freedom to care for sick relatives, launch a business, and engage in work that is largely seen as “women’s work” and, thus, is typically unpaid.

Finally, we can begin now to seed bold ideas at the state, regional, and local levels. At a time in which the federal government is aggressively rolling back civil rights, criminal justice, and environmental gains, states can move our nation forward by taking bold steps to tackle inequality and economic instability.

The State of Hawaii recently passed a bill which declares that all families in Hawaii deserve basic financial security. It also establishes a working group of all the necessary stakeholders to begin a rigorous exploration of the mechanisms that will move the state toward that goal.

California is also taking bold steps to become a strong national and world leader in climate policy through SB775. This bill, which we support, proposes a path to lower greenhouse gas emissions and is tied to an equitable economic strategy. The bill passes along most of the revenues from the sale of carbon allowances as a climate dividend so that every California resident will be issued regular cash payments, equally and unconditionally. These quarterly checks will compensate Californians for the higher costs of electricity, natural gas, gasoline, and all products whose prices increase in proportion to their associated emissions. The dividend fund will provide much-needed support to the 5.8 million Californians who are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead. Universal dividend funds are a powerful tool to address poverty. In Alaska, the state’s universal “Permanent Fund Dividend” has lifted 15,000 to 25,000 Alaskans out of poverty annually, with significant impact on seniors, rural Alaskans, and children.

James Kwak, a writer and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, simply reminds us that “there is much more potential to improve ordinary families’ standard of living (and general happiness) by more fairly sharing what we can already produce than by engineering new ways to make a bigger and fancier pie.” He emphasizes that “we have the technological knowledge, resources, and productive capacity” to provide everyone with the opportunity to build a decent life.

Together, we can craft a new economic vision and viable, actionable policies that get at the heart of the pain and financial anxiety Americans feel in their lives. We can do this by supporting decent, equal opportunity jobs, setting up protections that help people weather unforeseen upheavals, and using our government to promote social freedoms and prioritize the wellbeing of ordinary Americans, rather than the interests of multinational corporations and the super rich.

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