He’s hoping that in several months it could become the guiding principle for a new presidency. Whether you could be there for your children and parents when they needed you most. Giving all people a true first chance means taking on issues from pre-school to the accelerating inequality of opportunity that explodes as children of privilege gain every advantage of college preparation while children from poor urban schools have too little help getting on the right path, often with only one college adviser for every 500-1,000 students. Why? How can 4 percent growth be declared an end goal, when that tells you nothing about whether the gains all went to a royal family or to only the top 1 percent of 1 percent, while perhaps also masking declines in the standard of living of most of a nation? Whatever the exact costs and details, strong proposals by Ro Khanna and Sherrod Brown, as well as Kamala Harris, all move in this direction, as do state efforts like those led by Joe Sanberg in California. Each American must have true first and second chances to pursue his or her potential. Low unemployment or rising median income are much better indicators of national well-being than the stock market for sure. But they still fall short of capturing the full measure of economic dignity. Even more inclusive economic metrics cannot replace an end goal like economic dignity. But you can see how people start locking into a defense or critique of a specific policy, or political strategy, or particular metric as if these were the end goal themselves — as opposed to means or guideposts to some higher aspiration for economic policy. It’s not good enough to call these workers heroes, and applaud, and then just allow an economic framework to continue that denies them basic dignity. Today, even some commentators on the right have questioned the virtue of loyalty to market fundamentalism that seems blind to morality or fairness. If we are to seek an economic metric worthy of serving as an economic North Star, it would have to analyze the cumulative impact of the economy and economic policy on human well-being. Progressive economists are on strong ground in arguing for giving greater priority to major initiatives to address economic insecurity and inequality over traditional fiscal discipline concerns and budget rules—especially when those constraints are so constantly and blatantly ignored by Republicans as soon as they get a chance to pass supply-side tax cuts. He is the author of The Pro-Growth Progressive, and co-author of What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment. Bold proposals for college affordability—from free tuition to ending crushing debt to major expansions in Pell grants—are an essential but far from complete agenda. Beyond making health care a right and expanding Social Security benefits, this must include paid family leave, child-care assistance, a capacity for one’s children to access quality higher education, broader opportunities for those with disabilities, and a stronger unemployment and re-employment system. Focusing on median income as an end goal can blind policymakers from seeing the rise of anxiety and economic desperation due to economic insecurity and Swiss-cheese safety nets that could accompany a period of short-term median wage increases. To me this definition draws heavily on uniquely American ideals, even though we have brutally failed to live up to them throughout our history: especially in the case of the brutal treatment of Native Americans and enslaved Americans, but also the continuing second-class citizenship of black Americans and women for far too long. Satisfaction of this first pillar no doubt means at least achieving affordable health security for all, a more secure retirement, and a dignified wage. A UBI grant de-linked from work or income or wealth drives its cost to astronomical levels. Trends over the last few decades have clearly created a set of incentives that have fostered a competitive advantage for those companies who are best at contracting out for jobs that were formerly in-house. Rather than starting with an automatic preference for market or government delivery, an economic dignity test would require each to show that they are in fact more effective in providing the components of economic dignity in different areas—a decision to make the proof in the pudding. A country’s Gini coefficient—which measures income inequality—could “improve” if incomes for the top 1 percent fell 30 percent while other incomes plunged only 20 percent, though few would think human fulfillment had improved. work and security . The Economic Policy Institute. All of that makes you see why something like health care security and protecting people with pre-existing conditions, or the right to organize and have paid leave, can be core issues for how people look at their economic lives — again, regardless of how much these concerns show up in GDP. A government-run single-payer scheme could do well on an economic dignity test—not because it is all-government-provided per se, but because if executed as intended, it would succeed in ensuring the goal of health care as a right. That ideal (in never squelching human potential) must mean a true commitment to both first chances and second chances. Oxfam and the National Employment Law Project have rightly called those industries out for leading to injuries or to the humiliation of denied bathroom breaks that leave workers no option but to wear diapers. This definition of economic dignity is rooted in the best angels of the American character, helps substantially explain how we have navigated our relationship between market and government, and can serve as our economic North Star looking forward. All rights reserved. Sign up for our print edition! Progressives, on the other hand, have shown an increased boldness in proposing new policies aimed at addressing economic dignity gaps. A definition of economic dignity must include the capacity to contribute economically with respect and without domination and humiliation. Skills that facilitate careers can be an important factor in the degree of job satisfaction many people have. Dignity definition, bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation. The Church, therefore, calls for Integral Human Development, which concerns the wellbeing of each person in every dimension: economic, … Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes explicitly recognized the potential loss of economic dignity for vulnerable workers—particularly women—because “bargaining power is relatively weak, and…they are the ready victims of those who would take advantage of their necessitous circumstances.” New collective bargaining laws upheld by the Supreme Court in this same period represented a clear rejection of the formal view of an individual employee and an individual company engaged in equal freedom to contract, and a recognition that without the freedom to organize, “workers often had to accept employment on whatever terms employers dictated” due to “the bargaining power imbalance workers faced,” as Justice Ginsburg wrote in her recent dissent in Epic Systems v. Lewis. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead.” In his book on FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, Cass Sunstein indeed points out that New Deal policymakers were willing to opt for economic support through employment even if it was more expensive than pure cash relief, because it honored our American sense of a social compact. When I want to ask such questions, I pose them to Gene Sperling. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. The 2009 Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance led by Joseph Stiglitz, Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi explicitly sought to start a global discussion of how best to measure quality of life and well-being, and not just GDP—a project Stiglitz and the OECD have continued. Importantly, it would force consideration of when—in the absence of a far stronger safety net, community adjustment policy, and second chance opportunities—even trade policies with price benefits should be put on hold until the United States has a true economic dignity net and stopped being the most stingy of major, highly industrialized nations in the world for helping dislocated workers and hard-hit communities. One only has to read Ida Tarbell’s description of how her father and friends in Pennsylvania felt that “dignity and success lay in being your own master” and yet “were entirely at the mercy” of monopoly and dishonesty to know that protecting the economic dignity of small business owners and suppliers in the face of domination and humiliation was at the emotional core of those who first challenged John D. Rockefeller. In the push to ensure a basic level of economic security regardless of the path of automation, robots, and AI, many have sought to de-link all government policies for basic economic security from the need to work or contribute.
It is a recognition that there are spheres of dignity that should not be traded, trampled, or compromised by government or market players in pursuit of economic metrics or profits. The former goes to protections that are needed to ensure that all people have a guarantee of economic dignity. It is this rationale that should be seen as a core component of the CFPB’s mission and of consumer regulations that seek to prevent predatory practices in areas like mortgage origination, payday lending, and for-profit education. This end goal significantly expands the degree to which government guarantees the basic components of economic dignity—regardless of the accident of birth, economic events, technological trends, or just bad luck. There is no shortage of usages of the word “dignity”—from showing grace under difficult circumstances (“He handled the rebuke with great dignity.”), to the basic respect all people are due by virtue of their common humanity recognized in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the respect for autonomy of the individual that Supreme Court justices from William Brennan, Jr. to Anthony Kennedy have found embedded in the core of the Constitution. While a market economy will inevitably mean some people have more income or wealth, there’s no reason we shouldn’t seek to protect what may be life’s most inherent equality: that the most meaningful things (being able to care for those you love, being able to enjoy the most universally precious moments throughout the seasons of life, being treated with respect, having a sense of purpose) can be available to all. I’ve found myself stepping outside usual economic metrics to ask: What would people on their death bed say mattered most in their economic lives? He founded the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, has been a senior economic adviser on multiple presidential campaigns, and was a consultant on NBC’s The West Wing. I think of the Fight for $15, for example, as the single most exhilarating, powerful, pro-worker grassroots movement I’ve seen in recent decades. Participating in the economy without domination or humiliation need not refer only to work. Readers and donors like you make what we do possible. It means Americans will retain their capacity to thrive and pursue potential even after economic downturns and individual accidents — and even after making mistakes. was National Economic Adviser and Director of the National Economic Council for both President Obama (2011-2014) and President Clinton (1997-2001). . Beyond that, we celebrate second and third chances regardless of accidents of the economy, chance, and even personal error. At a moment when the very capacity of modern capitalism to avoid accelerating inequality, a hollowed-out middle class, structural poverty, and growing economic insecurity is being questioned—and even the role of work in a coming age of A.I. This risk can be most easily seen in the case of Universal Basic Income (UBI). There are still few things that affirmatively impact lifetime income as much as a college degree. Progressive economists rightly try to shift the focus to broader measures of well-being: like low unemployment, underemployment, and median income. This isn’t to downplay the importance of metrics, numbers, evidence, and rigorous analysis. But they can also come at a cost: It becomes too easy for too many of us to dig in on specific policies and strategies as if they were ends in themselves. There’s no reason you cannot have a strong market economy that has policies ensuring everyone a basic level of economic dignity. In this sense, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) spearheaded by Elizabeth Warren should be seen less as a reaction to the financial crisis and more as a structural response to the predation families can suffer that threaten their economic dignity in their role as borrowers, renters, and consumers trying to meet the essential elements of caring for family. Gradually, we have chosen to protect spheres of dignity in the job market—against humiliation, dominance, harassment, and discrimination—as the realities of economic desperation and power imbalance have overwhelmed freedom of contract. Politics and policy are hard, even brutal at times, but I have never lost that special feeling of working with a team committed to doing something bigger than ourselves. © Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Inc. All right reserved. It is in this sphere that we see the degree to which economic dignity has served as a mediating force in our nation’s historic tension between collective justice and untamed individualism. They are also right in suggesting that recent interest rate trends create more skepticism about the degree that higher U.S. public borrowing will “crowd-out” private investment and affordable mortgages. To make even more concrete some of these real-life end goals of policymaking, could you sketch this book’s deathbed test-case of an American worker looking back on his/her life, sifting through the various possibilities he/she found for pride and satisfaction (and/or despair or frustration), as perhaps our most meaningful form of measuring whether society has provided basic economic dignity? While they were not components of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, support for child and elderly care and paid family leave should today be seen as essential to this first pillar—an ability for workers to bond with a new child or care for an elderly parent lies at the heart of economic dignity. We need to cultivate both worker skills and worker power — as a dynamic duo, not an either-or. GENE SPERLING: For someone like myself (and, I’d assume, for many people), you enter the policy world with a basic moral desire to promote a vision of economic justice — of basic fairness and racial justice. We have to fight on two levels to restore that kind of labor power. Whether our policies protect people from evictions or loss of health care in the worst of times. Economic Dignity As faithful people, we believe first and foremost in the dignity of work. was National Economic Adviser and Director of the National Economic Council for both President Obama (2011-2014) and President Clinton (1997-2001). As even a Republican President like George W. Bush has recognized, we idealize the United States as “the land of second chances.” In the early 1800s, the United States was unique in its commitment to end debtors’ prisons and define the need for early bankruptcy laws not just to prevent creditor-rushes, but also to give the debtor “a fresh start”—a chance to still contribute, pursue potential, and find purpose. In the realm of economic policy, dignity is often invoked with power and eloquence to refer to a higher, more spiritual impact on individual integrity and self-worth beyond dollars and cents—especially related to work, retirement, and civil rights. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can … This should make us open to an expanded economic dignity compact that includes contribution through personal care for family, service to community, or efforts to increase one’s skills. It is a shame that it took urban elites focusing (and relying) on Uber and Instacart to indirectly help raise to the fore the working conditions and economic insecurity that more vulnerable populations like domestic, care, and other contract workers have faced for decades. My answer to the end goal question is what I will define as “economic dignity.”. Whether you felt you could give your children the chances you wanted them to have. The enforcement of economic rights through judicial channels forces us to question whether rights pertain to needs or democratic values. This has received recognition as a first-tier economic issue, because it can be seen as negatively impacting a traditional economic metric — the labor force participation of women. Sign up for our email newsletter! . 18 June 2015 The ICRC defines economic security as the ability of individuals, households or communities to cover their essential needs sustainably and with dignity. An economic dignity perspective can also provide an important alternative paradigm to assumed consumer welfare goals. As MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee conclude in The Second Machine Age, “Technology is not destiny. The International Bill of Rights grew out of these traditions, and calls for all governments to make sure their citizens have human rights—civil, political, social, cultural and economic. As important as this enhanced economic dialogue is, much of the hard work lies in design issues, trade-offs, and the prioritization that comes from pulling together the critical components of a compact for economic dignity. Much of the great disillusionment today exists not because people are expected to work or in some way contribute or do their part, but because they feel they did and were denied the basic measure of economic dignity that they thought they had a right to expect. For example, more and more major companies hardly flinch at contracting out for food, janitorial, and data service jobs. It may have started as an effort to get a sectoral bargaining agreement with the fast-food industry, but it then developed into a national movement that has deftly operated city by city, improving economic life for tens of millions of people — all while weakening the national case against a higher minimum wage, and fueling collective bonding around progressive policy reforms. But the intensity has increased as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to near-record unemployment figures in many states. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be seen as resting on three pillars. Labor leaders from Mother Jones to Cesar Chavez, and civil rights icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, made clear that beyond the higher wages or better benefits that came with unionization or new civil rights laws was the sense of dignity won through those gains. Even the metric of job volume can lead policymakers to make the faulty assumption that the minimum wage should be capped precisely at the point it might result in even a very marginal reduction in jobs, without consideration of the economic dignity benefits of higher wages to tens of millions of families and the potential to compensate for small reductions through simultaneous increases in national service or infrastructure or green economy jobs. Economic Dignity (Book) : Sperling, Gene B. : "When Gene Sperling was in charge of coordinating the shaping and execution of the US government's economic policy in the Obama White House, he found himself surprised and dismayed when serious people in Washington worried out loud to him that the Obama focus on health care was a distraction because it was "not focused on the economy." His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. In it, he argues that economic dignity should be our national north star -- and that it should include a commitment to a stronger social compact for economic security and pursuing purpose and meaning, while ensuring that workers should have more rights and power to be free from the "forces of domination and humiliation." Sperling directed the National Economic Council under both President Clinton (1997–2001) and President Obama (2011–2014). But those laws make it obvious that without mandates, high subsidies, or required pooling, any market approach will leave devastating holes in health security. If we are clear-minded that the achievement of economic dignity is the ultimate end goal for economic policy, then we don’t handcuff ourselves from seeing issues like a lack of paid family leave, or rampant sexual harassment, as critical, first-tier “economic” issues — regardless of whether they show up in a prominent metric. And could you sketch a few striking manifestations of how this particular inequality plays out in everyday strains placed on American families — say with 70 percent of low-wage workers now required to keep their schedule “open and available” to suit their employers’ needs? We should, however, be open to broadening the sense of compact beyond just formal jobs, as the deeper value at stake is carrying your part of the load. The foundation of all Catholic Social Teaching is the inherent dignity of the human person, as created in the image and likeness of God. In other words, the process by which countries with low living standards become nations with high living standards. Would that mean we shouldn’t consider paid family leave a first-tier economic issue? . See more. One can’t underestimate the degree that focus on these metrics can confuse our economic aspirations. When you look at this history, you see it rooted in the notion that capping someone’s potential to thrive would contradict both the national pursuit of a more productive economy and the inherent dignity of individuals feeling that they always have the opportunity to contribute. Economic development is the process by which emerging economies become advanced economies. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … We clearly do not have that floor, that universal capacity to enjoy these moments which should come equally to all people. The power of GDP and productivity growth ultimately lies only in the degree that they improve human happiness, fulfillment, and dignity for the many. When President Obama and his regulatory director Cass Sunstein chose to include considerations of dignity in cost-benefit calculations, it reflected both a recognition that while dignity “couldn’t easily be turned into monetary values .
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