Last Thursday, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick kicked off the Roosevelt Institute’s new flagship initiative, Rediscovering Government, at an event with a keynote address from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Why are Americans so distrusting in government? Schneiderman’s answer is that we’ve been led to believe in the “magical market” that supposedly guides us to equality and prosperity. “Its like the conservatives are pretending they’ve found some missing pages of Genesis that the rest of us are missing,” he said. But in reality humans are to blame for profound changes — like skyrocketing income inequality — not supernatural forces. “The distribution of wealth is not determined by nature,” he said, “it is determined by public policy.”
Progressives’ efforts at making significant changes to the system after the financial crisis have mostly borne little fruit, he noted. We therefore “need to dig deeper” see how deeply the unfettered propaganda that less regulation leads to growth and higher taxes always create jobs has affected the American mindset and economy. We also have to aim for long-term, “transformational” change instead of the everyday “transactional” change we usually get bogged down in. We have to move past the election cycles and everyday battles to politics that involve working today to improve circumstances in the future and challenging the way that people think about issues in the first place.
But the importance of progressives’ efforts can’t be overstated. “Great strides in social justice don’t come out because of politicians, they come out because of movements.” The movement has to put pressure in all the right places — most importantly by reviving the fact that government plays a vital and positive role in every American’s life. ”By demonstrating that the government can and will enforce one set of rules for everyone, and protect the interests of all Americans, not just the most fortunate, we begin the process of transforming people’s awareness of themselves and our collective life,” he said. “And if we do this work, we can put to rest the deep fallacies that have allowed injustice and inequality to grow unchecked for so long, and we can begin to rediscover the potential of government to get us back in touch to start building, as our counterparts in the 1930s did, a more equitable, educated, healthy, and compassionate nation.”
The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.