Tuesday was quite a day for the emerging progressive offensive on economic issues. That morning in Washington the Roosevelt Institute, led by Nobel Laureate and Hillary Clinton adviser Joseph Stiglitz, unveiled an agenda to “rewrite the rules” of the economy to address the imbalance between concentrated wealth at the top and stagnation at the bottom. A few hours later New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stood in front of the Capitol, flanked by members of Congress, labor leaders, and activists, and unveiled his own 13-point plan to right the national economy.
Though the Roosevelt Institute’s agenda reaches farther than de Blasio’s, the two plans share many specifics, from national paid sick and family leave to immigration and tax reform to stronger collective bargaining rights. And they share the underlying premise that small tweaks to the economy won’t cut it—what’s needed is a comprehensive reconsideration of the full slate of laws, policies, and practices that determine who wins and loses.
To build support for this aggressive policy agenda, progressives know that first they have to change the way we talk about inequality and its origins. More than simply laying out ideas, the two plans are meant to galvanize “a coalition that can change the national debate,” as de Blasio put it. From a movement-building perspective, the benefits of putting forward an expansive, rather than narrow vision of economic transformation are obvious; low-wage workers, immigrants, criminal-justice reformers, working parents, students, and many others might find a natural place in such a coalition.
On Wednesday I spoke with one of the authors of the Roosevelt Institute’s agenda, Mike Konczal, about the report and what’s wrong with the prevailing narratives about the economy. (Konczal is also a Nation contributor.) “There is a huge policy agenda to [the report,] but it is equally about a story and a diagnosis, and from there we’re going to figure out how collectively we’re going to solve it,” Konczal said. He added that the Institute plans to release follow up reports that dig more deeply into the policy specifics.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
* * *
Zoë Carpenter: I want to start by talking about the political moment that this report comes in on. Several years after the recession, we hear from many politicians that the economy is growing and doing just fine. On the other hand, many people are still struggling, and populist voices are getting more attention. And campaign season is underway. How does this agenda fit in?
Mike Konczal: There are a lot of reports coming out—Bill de Blasio has one, [the Center for American Progress] has one, other people have one—trying to diagnose what’s going on right now. What jumped out at us was how changes to the rules of the economy—by that we mean the regulatory and institutional frameworks in which the economy operates—have really been the major driver of inequality.