a liberal economic framework

At 9:00 this morning, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Sitglitz, New York mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Elizabeth Warren will be participating in an event to mark the release of Stiglitz's new report Rewiting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity.

The report is put out by the Roosevelt Institute, where Stiglitz serves as Chief Economist. It is a comprehensive liberal economic agenda of the sort that, frankly, liberals have generally avoided for quite a long time. Stiglitz pointedly calls out the conservative supply-side and market fundamentalist philosophies as being responsible for much of the rise in inequality that characterizes the unpleasant economic reality for the last two generations of Americans. "Dominant economic frameworks over the past 35 years--like 'trickle-down' economics and the ideas that markets work perfectly on their own--paved the way for an onslaught of policies that decimated the middle class." To alter this course, the report calls for a wide array of new approaches, organized into categories with headings like "Rebalance the Tax and Transfer System," "Make Full Employment the Goal," and "Expand Access to Labor Markets and Opportunities for Advancement."

The report recommends a very large number of policies and programs. There is no giant proposal along the lines of a single tax on land that suggests some new prism through which the view the economy. But these many different commitments are united by an emphasis on the fact that the economy is a social and political construction. Thought this point might sound hopelessly complicated or academic, it is central to the liberal approach to economic issues. One can find the point in the speeches of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society and, of course, John Rawls's A Theory of Justice. But, by and large, liberals have been running away from this point ever since the "Reagan Revolution," presumably cowed by the political success of conservative attacks on the welfare state and the more recent infatuation with entrepreneurialism and technology. Stiglitz follows in the liberal economic tradition by arguing that "the rules and power dynamics" that characterize the last several decades "have prioritized corporate power and short-term gains and the expense of innovation and growth." These rules are not immutable economic laws, but the result of political decisions and cultural shifts that are very much within our power to change. "We can rewrite the rules that shape our economy to improve prospects for more Americans while also enhancing economic performance." Stiglitz ties the broader philosophical point to the historical, political and economic developments that he wants to address. This is, in my opinion, an effective rhetorical strategy that liberals would do well to copy in their presentation of economic issues.

From the looks of it, something similar is what the Roosevelt Institute has in mind. They have set up a website, rewritetherules.org that appears to function as a clearinghouse for the broader initiative. You can download a copy of the report there as well as watch a video of the release event.

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