Progressives Unveil Complementary Agendas To Address Inequality

At the National Press Club overlooking the White House and on the grounds of the Capitol, progressive leaders on Tuesday pressed agendas designed to end the era of extreme wealth concentration and replace it with economic growth built on shared prosperity.

The day started at the Press Club with the Roosevelt Institute’s unveiling of its latest report, “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy.” The report’s author, economist Joseph Stiglitz, called it a “very comprehensive agenda” that he hoped would be “the beginning of a discussion” about how a deliberate set of choices by policy elites led to the decimation of what used to be a robust middle class.

“For decades, economists have claimed that there is a tradeoff between inequality and economic growth; in other words, that we can only promote greater equality by sacrificing growth,” says the executive summary of the 116-page book. That sort of thinking is used to justify focusing on increasing income at the top rather than directing more income toward those at the bottom. In reality, the book says, “equality and economic performance are in fact complementary rather than opposing forces. No more false choices.”

The report calls for:

● “Taming the top” through such measures as ending the phenomenon of “too big to fail” banks, working to narrow the gap between CEO pay and that of average workers, and changing the tax code so that the wealthy and corporations pay a greater share of their income in taxes.

● “Growing the middle” through focusing both fiscal and monetary policy on full employment, particularly through public infrastructure investment; empowering workers by strengthening collective bargaining rights; and a broad range of economic security and justice issues, including universal preschool, affordable higher education, Medicare for all, universal paid sick and family leave, pay equity, a path to citizenship for undocumented residents and expanded Social Security.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who no doubt inspired the title of the report by her popularizing the understanding that “the rules were rigged” against working people by the rich and powerful, said, “We know who trickle-down works for, and we know that if we want a strong middle class, it is time for new rules.”

“This country is in real trouble,” she said. “The game is rigged and we are running out of time. We cannot continue to run this country for the top 10 percent. We can’t keep pushing through trade deals that benefit multinational companies at the expense of workers. Government cannot continue to be the captive of the rich and powerful. Working people cannot be forced to give up more and more as they get squeezed harder and harder. … We know what we have to do.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the report “gives us now a new and more powerful platform for the kind of discussion we have to have in this country and the kind of changes we have to make.” But he added that “there needs to be a movement that carries these ideas forward” – a movement that is already taking on such issues as a living wage. “Something is happening that is profoundly different here. There is a sense of possibility, a chance to rewrite the rules. … The people are there. We see it more and more.”

De Blasio was also the lead speaker at the Capitol event in the afternoon, flanked by labor leaders, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other supporters of “The Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.”

That agenda has three broad goals: lift the floor for working people, support working families, and tax fairness. Unlike the Stiglitz plan, which does not include raising wages as a major theme, the Progressive Agenda fully embraces the Fight for $15 movement, saying the federal minimum wage should be raised “so that it reachs $15/hour, while indexing it to inflation.”

It also adds trade, calling for opposition to “trade deals that hand more power to corporations at the expense of American jobs, workers’ rights, and the environment.”

It shares with the Stiglitz plan a call for universal paid sick and family leave, universal preschool, and changes that would mean wealth would be taxed at the same rate as earnings from work.

“This is a beginning, and there is more to come,” de Blasio said, promising that the agenda will be expanded to include Social Security expansion, debt-free college, and opportunities for people coming out of the criminal justice system.

“The Progressive Agenda comes down to a very simple concept,” de Blasio said. “We need to reward work again. Not wealth; work, and that’s a change that will have a profound effect on this country.”

Referring to the grassroots movements around the country agitating in various ways for changes that would make the economy work for working people, he said, “It is time to take that energy, and crystallize it into an agenda that will make a difference.”

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, is one of the supporters of the agenda and worked with de Blasio’s team to help shape it.

In April CAF unveiled a 12-point progressive agenda with National People’s Action, USAction and the Alliance for a Just Society. The Populism2015 agenda “for people and the planet” contains some themes not present in the other agendas unveiled Tuesday, but it shares with them a common message: Just as the age of extreme wealth concentration was ushered into existence by the policy choices of the rich and powerful, it must be dismantled by a new set of policy choices that favor working people and address their struggle.