More than a decade ago, Al Gore implored Americans to take action to confront climate change. “Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?’” he asked. “We have to hear that question from them, now.”
On Tuesday, for over half an hour in a ballroom several miles from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Senator Elizabeth Warren, also armed with a slick slideshow, laid out her pitch for fixing a badly broken economy.
“There’s some things we need to talk about that you can’t get into five minutes, 15 minutes, or 144 characters,” Warren told The Nation. “I was just hoping for a little bit longer arc of time, where I could do a little bit more in-depth discussion about where the economy is now, why it is where it is and what it is we can do about it.”
Warren has given this presentation a few times, and will continue to deliver it to audiences around the country. It’s a natural fit for a longtime professor at Harvard. “Remember, I was a teacher for a whole, whole, whole lot longer than I have been in any kind of political life,” she said. “The work that I was presenting, much of it really starts with my academic work. Stuff I have been working on for years and years and years.”
The major focus of Warren’s pitch is fixing the growing divide between the rich and the poor in the United States. “The story is pretty unambiguous,” she explained. “The reason working people are in financial trouble is not because of irresponsible financial decisions, it’s because of much larger economic forces. It’s because of an economy that no longer works for America’s middle class, for America’s working families, for people striving to pull themselves out of poverty.”
This is not a recent phenomenon. In a chart reminiscent of the hockey-stick graph in An Inconvenient Truth, Warren showed the increased costs facing families who are spending 57 percent more on housing, 104 percent more on health care, 275 percent more on college, and, in a bar reaching well beyond the top of the slide, 953 percent more on childcare.
This runs counter to the conservative myth that wasteful spending is the cost of our economic issues. While cost of living has skyrocketed, Americans have compensated by spending less on food, less on clothing, and less on appliances.
Warren makes the case that these changes are clearly the result of deliberate policy choices, designed to benefit the wealthy and powerful. Though his name was not mentioned during the presentation, Ronald Reagan clearly loomed large.
“Some change begins to happen in the mid to late ’70s, some of it carries over into the ’80s, but 1980 is a good demarcation point because, it’s right around 1980, around the time Ronald Reagan is elected, you see this shift in government,” she said, including lowered tax rates on the wealthy, widespread deregulation, and decreases in domestic non-military spending. Warren noted that there’s now a whole generation who only knows this type of economy.