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Friday, October 28, 2016

The rise of new progressive organizing is cause to believe that economic reform and a shift toward broadly shared prosperity are within reach.

Thomas Edsall, who now is capping off his long career writing insightfully about the relationship between economics and public opinion as a blogger for The New York Times, concluded a piece in late December by saying, “Progressives are now dependent on the fragile possibility that inequality and socioeconomic immobility will push the social order to the breaking point and force the political system to respond.”

Edsall’s bleak prognosis raises the biggest question facing not only progressives, but the future of our democracy: Is the political system in the United States capable of responding to the escalating crisis of stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, dissolving economic opportunity, and disappearing hopes of living anything that resembles the American Dream?

It is a question I ask myself every day. But I reach a different conclusion than Edsall, because for all his powers of observation, he misses the role that people play in changing history. I see a growing movement of Americans organized by progressives who are not waiting for the social order to break, but are instead forcing the political system to respond.

Edsall reaches his conclusion by way of two commentators, my colleague Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute and Harvard economist Ben Friedman. Konczal’s analysis of the quandary is cogent, as he provided “a two part description of the liberal state” in a 2011 post:

#1 you would have the government maintaining full employment, empowering workers and giving them more bargaining power, and #2 you would have a safety net for those who fell through the cracks… I think it is safe to say that liberals have abandoned #1 and doubled-down on #2… Without a strong middle and working class you don’t have natural constituencies ready to fight and defend the implementation and maintenance of a safety net and public goods. The welfare state is one part, complementing full employment, of empowering people and balancing power in a financial capitalist society.

Friedman’s contribution is to point out, as Edsall summarizes, that “during hard times people become less altruistic and more inclined to see the poor as undeserving.” Friedman says that when people are squeezed economically, rather than identifying with those still worse off, they “enter a period of retreat and retrenchment.” That is certainly what we are seeing now, with the government cutting unemployment benefits, food stamps, and a much larger swath of the safety net in a shrinking budget.

On the other hand, Friedman says times of broadly-shared prosperity encourage “greater generosity toward those who, through some combination of natural circumstance, market forces and sheer luck, have been left behind.”

When we look at the big periods of progressive change in the 20th century through this lens, we can ask, are we more similar to the soaring post-World War II middle class that led to the Great Society, or to the wrecked economy that led to the New Deal? After the Great Recession, that’s a no-brainer.

So is Edsall then correct in concluding that the only way to get to the next New Deal is waiting for another disintegration of the economy like we saw after the Great Depression? Or is even that a misreading of New Deal history, in which decades of building a movement of working people laid the groundwork for the New Deal laws that established the right to organize unions, fair labor standards like a minimum wage, and social insurance programs like Social Security and unemployment compensation?

If we have to wait, we’re in big trouble, because as we saw in 2008, we are much less likely to see another collapse like the Great Depression thanks to the progressive accomplishments of the 20th century. The aggressive use of the Federal Reserve and banking regulations prevented a total collapse of the financial system. The safety net – food stamps, Medicaid, etc. – and the social insurance programs of unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicare prevented widespread destitution. These measures allowed us to have a Great Recession rather than a second Great Depression.

But the Great Recession also deepened the three-decade-long trend of families seeing their incomes and lifestyles squeezed by stagnant wages, eroding benefits, and the rising costs of gateways to opportunity. As a result, we are seeing an escalation of the path to the next New Deal: organizing people to demand that we create a 21st century economy of broadly-shared opportunity and prosperity.

The past year saw the explosion of organized fast-food workers, from a handful of community-supported walkouts demanding higher wages a year ago to actions involving thousands of workers and supporters in some 130 cities in December. The growing movement earned national as well as local news coverage.

Less visible, but deeper, is the emergence of new forms of worker organizing, taking place largely outside of traditional unions and the national labor law, known generally as the workers’ center movement. Domestic workers, through the National Domestic Workers Union, have won passage of laws giving them new labor protections in California and New York. Tomato pickers in Florida, under the banner of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, have won higher wages by building consumer pressure against the supermarkets and restaurant chains that buy the crops they pick. Immigrant and low-wage workers around the country, at workers’ centers that are part of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, have resisted wage theft and won basic protections in day labor and construction. The examples go on and are analogous to the emergence of the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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  • Mark Forsyth

    Clearly,the current crop of gop politicians and their corporate cronies have ignored and ultimately failed to learn the lessons from the Great Depression where the same tight fisted attitude held by a similar group of gop/corporatists caused an economic collapse.They repeatedly refused to spend money when they should have and ignored a very basic business concept that is,”You have to spend money to make money.” No wonder the unemployed masses of the day loved FDR. He spent money and created jobs,people went to work rebuilding the nations infrastructure with major capital gains projects and organizations like the old C.C.C..Is it any wonder that the New Deal occurred? It was absolutely necessary to restore the country.
    Now just because the ultra conservative far right element has proved itself to be a bunch of dull knives,does not mean that the rest of the American people are not sharp enough to perceive a problem and take action to fix it.We do not need to wait to take action when we are indeed The Government.We will force it to work for us or we will leave it in shreds as we have the Constitutional right to do
    We need to put the gop and capitalist corporate cronies as well as the Democrats who have been compromised by too much money,on notice.The days are numbered for those who refuse to comply with the will of the people and they will be replaced and the American People will indeed see both a New Day and a New Deal and a New Government that works for All the people.

    • Jambi

      Many historians criticize FDR and The New Dealers…they say that the New Deal didn’t end the Depression (WW II changed a LOT of things)…IT DID cut unemployment from 25% to 14% in 4 years! …If the current administration(s) would take a look at what has worked before, we might be in a better economic place right now…FDR “backed off” (of ND legislation) in ’37 due to advice from members of his staff…(and possibly “war clouds” in Europe and the Far East)

      • Mark Forsyth

        Many well to do people opposed FDR and his New Deal Policies.Social Security was deemed to be Socialism much as the ACA is regarded now.Just as it was back then there are those now who are no better at differentiating between socialism,fascism,or communism and view any government program designed to help the most people as perverse.
        The Morgans and Duponts went as far as to attempt the overthrow of the FDR administration with the intention of installing a fascist form of government.No surprises there when one realizes that they funneled cash to Nazi Germany by way of their favorite bag boy Prescott Bush.
        Corporate fascists have been trying to become the American government since the 1920’s.As you might know they have been alarmingly successful ever since the passing of Citizens United. Fascism is the same old piece of shit that it has always been and continues to hide beneath names that are designed to appeal to the people.Only fools continue to fall for it.Fascists hate it when the people stand up and exercise their humanity in a United Voice.

        • Allan Richardson

          FDR saved America from fascism TWICE: first at home with the New Deal, and later by defeating the Axis.

          • Mark Forsyth

            Absolutely true! Sadly,much like racism,you can cut down the tree but the roots grow deep and it keeps coming back to such an extent that one might begin to think that the greed involved is a natural human trait.Let’s hope that it is not.

        • ralphkr

          Well, Mark, it wasn’t just the well to do who opposed FDR. I was born and raised in a rock-solid Republican state and EVERYONE hated FDR (whole town shut down and had big celebrations when he died) while at the same time they were grabbing everything they could from the New Deal. My mother’s home town got new Court House, Post Office, Schools, & even a bridge and her parents & siblings were all getting money from WPA & CCC (& also very happy accepting food from that “d**n Democrat” my mother married when we went into town) but still had nothing but hated for Democrats. I was a teenager before I learned that FDR’s name wasn’t “That Damn Commie Roosevelt”.

          I would also like to point out that the New Deal did a lot to keep the US from having a Communist revolution because the times were ripe for the people to rise up and overthrow our government. It would have been more likely that the people would have prevailed over the US aristocracy and installed a Communist government instead of the aristocracy preferred Fascist government.

          • Mark Forsyth

            Some would say there would have been little difference other than who was in power owing to both forms of government being totalitarian.My old man fought the Nazis in the great effort to rid the world of fascism but still was fool enough to vote strictly along republican lines his entire life, and he too hated FDR. Turns out that many WW II vets came home,got jobs and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle while turning a blind eye to the fascism that was happening around them.Thus we have the corrupting influence of money.

          • ralphkr

            Oh, Mark, there is a huge difference between Fascism and Communism. Fascism is government by and for big business (Hitler even supplied businesses with slave labor and the “work camps” were run at a profit), i.e., the current Republican mantra. Communism is a government by and for the rulers with all the businesses run and controlled by the government.

          • Mark Forsyth

            I’m quite aware of the differences between fascism and communism,however both are totalitarian and as such are unacceptable.

      • Allan Richardson

        The only reason the New Deal didn’t completely cure the Depression was that EVEN FDR was too conservative (or lacked voter support) to do ENOUGH deficit spending to finish the job. The war gave him an excuse to do that spending that even CONSERVATIVES could not deny.

      • RobertCHastings

        The current administration,contrary to your apparent assumptions, HAS taken a long and hard look at what worked for the US under FDR. And one of those things WAS the back to work projects in rebuilding our infrastructure. Unfortunately, the money Obama has been able to pump into these projects is less a quarter of what would be effective, thanks to the knuckle-draggers who control the House. Rebuilding our infrastructure would create jobs that would be around for years (unlike those that would vanish with the Keystone Pipeline), and they would avoid catastrophes like the collapse of the Interstate bridge in Minneapolis. Infrastructure improvements are needed in EVERY aspect of transportation, and the longer they are put off, the more they cost in the long run.

        • sigrid28

          The American Jobs Act has been on the table since xxxx, but the Speaker of the House just refuses to bring it to a vote. Designed to create as many as 2 million jobs, it was designed to combine public and private funds for infrastructure projects throughout the country.

      • ralphkr

        And, Jambi, when FDR listened to the anti-deficit morons in 1937 the US slid into a recession but FDR had enough clout to be able to reverse course, increase deficit spending, and strengthen the US economy. Before we became the arms dealer to the world and long before we entered WW2 FDR had cut unemployment by half and had more than doubled GDP.

    • Gary Graves

      It is the old problem, greed, the right doesn’t want the problem fixed, they just want more money, their moto to hell with America.

  • 1olderbutwiser1

    Our labor force will not have improved prospects till we get a handle on illegal immigration, unfair dumping designed to lift then rest of the world from their own levels of poverty, energy costs , and gov debt spending. Many other factors of course, but I view those as the most pressing factors. We have an unresponsive government who looks to keep enriching themselves with a printing press, but have no idea of the meaning of valued work, and a days pay for a day’s work. Seeing all the regulations constantly cranked out for gov by people with no true work experience shows the true value of a printing press…it’s a detriment to freedom…..we need a balanced budget amendment now, not at some indeterminate distant date.

    • WhutHeSaid

      Well, at least you got the older part right.

      Why would anyone talk about anti-immigration and hard work in the same breath? Who do you think does the hard work that enables the record windfalls on Wall Street? Immigration has fueled this country’s economy for centuries.

      This is an immigrant country, and I’m guessing that your family immigrated too — am I right?

      • 1olderbutwiser1

        Yes, we immigrated here to work in the coal mines for peanuts, which was still much better than Ireland at the time , and Germany at the time as well, also Yugoslavia, some welsh in there, Some Polish too. I am a hunky if there ever was one. My favorite dance, the Polka. I had two distant relatives killed in the civil war fighting for the north, but for some strange reason, black people I have been mugged by seemed to think I am a plantation owner, or some strange equivalent thereof. The slavery in the south was an enormous national mistake, Lincoln corrected this. I noticed Obama championed mandela while he did not visit the Lincoln Memorial. mandela’s claim to fame was,, “Kill the whites, kill the whites”. Obama has been a huge mistake. Dr. Ben Carson would be on my short list as a presidential candidate, but I can’t help but wonder if he is just another Obama? Deception is the name of the game in politics, they are just about all hopeless liars of the worst degree. The government did not keep and coddle my ancestors, they earned their way, no welfare, no food stamps, no hospitalization, etc., as the immigrant workers you refer to, have today. Enormous difference. And, they became citizens legally.

        • WhutHeSaid

          Plantation owner or ‘some strange equivalent thereof’? Have you ever considered your disposition at all?

          Yes, yes — I hear it all the time: All European immigrants claim that their family immigrated ‘legally’ and it was all due to their ‘hard work’. Can you think of any reason why Native Americans and the descendents of slaves ridicule this type of talk?

          • Mark Forsyth

            Blame it on convenient memory,at least for starters.

          • 1olderbutwiser1

            Slaves after the emancipation proclamation were automatically granted citizenship. The right to vote was delayed due to prejudice, I admit that. And can’t you see the justification for my disposition? Very few slaves left the plantations to work in coal mines. Also note working in coal mines was a more dangerous job in WWI and WW2 was considered more dangerous than front line combat shootouts? And yes, this talk is ridiculed due to the white man not seeding the clouds while the natives were dancing around the fire, to make it appear the rain dances were successful? . And the wonder medicines that save lives were of course inferior to the medicine man? And while the tribal leaders in Africa were selling the tribes to slave traders after rounding up their own people. I confer the slave traders were inhuman creatures, but I had no sayso in those situations, the slaves did, but they were stupid enough to listen to their tribal leaders and be sold off. The life of a slave was terrible, there is no doubt…..but it takes two to make a deal, you know? And your racial resentment toward me, simply because I have white skin, is totally UNFOUNDED. Maybe I should move Ben Carson off my short list of who I would vote for, for president, simply because he has dark skin? That would be both stupid, and racial as well. A few years ago, I saw a published report where “backwoods” Africans who had AIDS were having molestation sex with babies under a year old, the premise being it would cure them of AIDS> The education system developed by the white man has advanced civilization to where moonshots are possible albeit that success being German oriented. I can continue for many wasted hours contemplating the incredible success the white race has advanced into mainstream of all races. But for a short period of American history, that being slavery, people of color have maintained an attitude all whites were involved and justified those actions. I believe all people wee created equal, but after creation, innumerable factors come into play and those who want to thump their chest and proclaim falsehoods as reality, playing a race card, are out to lunch. Open your eyes, we even have a black president, if that’s not proof enough for you, I am surprised you walk upright.

          • WhutHeSaid

            You know, it’s always amusing when you unwashed heathens wander out of your trailer parks and decide to get up on a soapbox.

            The white man not seeding the clouds? Perhaps they were too busy putting people on trial for being witches at the time. None of this excuses redneck goobers from the wanton ignorance that they display daily in the New KKK (a/k/a Tea Party) in 2014. Perhaps your family was involved in slave trading, and that’s the source of your endless search for excuses, yes?

            So now just to provide comic relief (and, of course, affirm the IQ of rednecks at large) you waddle out into public and rant against immigrants even though that’s exactly where you came from? Do you ever just look in the mirror and wonder why nobody really takes you seriously? You may stop wondering now.

            This is The National Memo — not some redneck trailer park. We don’t wear tin-foil hats here, we don’t hump our own sisters, and we all use soap. I’m telling you this for your own good; to spare you some embarrassment. So go back to your trailer park, feed the chickens, and clean yourself up. Next time you come back remember to be sober.

        • sigrid28

          Troll alert #2.

    • charleo1

      When did the T-Party capture you, suck half your brain out, and pour in their
      claptrap? If all 12 million illegal workers were working for less than minimum
      wage, which they are not. More than half pay income tax, and many own
      their homes, and run profitable businesses, that real American Citizens work
      at. But regardless, 12 million people have not, and can not drive down wages
      of a 200 million person labor force. You realize they’ve got you parroting the
      same old corporate line they’ve used for years. Spending is no problem for
      the Right Wingers, because after all they lard it out to the wealthy. But, when
      Wall Street nearly destroys main street, and a Democrat is elected, here they
      come harping on the debt. Well, they’re just printing money. Right? And when
      did that start? Trillions for a useless damn war. But Americans out of work
      their jobs gone, sent out to cheap labor, and a world wide recession. Well,
      they’re just going to have to suck it up! No one, especially the profiteers on
      Wall Street owe them a living, bye God! Screw ’em. Isn’t that what you think?
      Has Wall Street everything they need? Good, now let’s balance the budget!

    • sigrid28

      Troll alert #1.

  • howa4x

    I think the major difference between what has happened before and now is the ability to transmit ideas to millions in seconds. Once Obama speaks on the issue of income inequality it will be heard by millions. Elizabeth Warren’s we all built this together Speech went viral on U-Tube. As more and more feel disconnected from the larger pie they will have their antenna up to hear these messages. Also the young 20-30 something’s were raised in a multi cultural environment and will be less susceptible to the race baiting of the republicans. Even young evangelicals see the sermon on the Mount as a calling to help the less fortunate and middle class people are less inclined to see a homeless person on the street and say they are the cause of economic stagnation, especially when he turns on the news and sees the stock Mkt pass 16,000. it isn’t hard to realize the haves from the have not’s. In NJ raising the minimum wage was put to referendum. Christie the governor campaigned against it as well as the chamber of commerce. It won by a landslide. If all republicans have is another tax cut for the wealthy when corporations are sitting on piles of cash, they are in big trouble.

    • sigrid28

      Also among the 20-30 somethings to whom you refer are many veterans who will be appalled at the numbers of veterans counted among the homeless.

      On a related topic, when you lose your home to foreclosure, it takes a few years of scrambling to get on your feet. I wonder whether the numbers of Americans who lost their homes will vote against Republican candidates who did nothing about the collapse that brought that on, and still refuse to vote for measures to improve the economy at a faster pace.

      • howa4x

        That depends on people who are still stuck in the right wing media bubble even if they lost their home. People who watch FOX have a distorted view of reality. so it will be interesting to see how many thinking people are out there

  • Howdy Boyz

    Liberty and free markets free us from the shackles of collective agreement that bound bands of our ancestors to their primitive instincts.