As even a Republican President like George W. Bush has recognized, we idealize the United States as “the land of second chances.” In the early 1800s, the United States was unique in its commitment to end debtors’ prisons and define the need for early bankruptcy laws not just to prevent creditor-rushes, but also to give the debtor “a fresh start”—a chance to still contribute, pursue potential, and find purpose. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … But there is little question that with wise and just policy, we do have the power to say to all our people that if you do your part, you can care for family, pursue potential and purpose without ever feeling that you have been given up on, and participate in our economy with a degree of fairness and respect as opposed to domination and humiliation. Skills that facilitate careers can be an important factor in the degree of job satisfaction many people have. And could you address some of the distinct challenges at play when even economists try to grapple with subjective qualities like joy, purpose, respect? As important as progress on economic dignity in measurable areas like the poverty rate and median income is, many of the economic dignity harms suffered by millions of workers do not show up in any official metrics: They are the direct result of domination and humiliation in the workplace. Low unemployment or rising median income are much better indicators of national well-being than the stock market for sure. The Economic Policy Institute. And yet, while there is deep truth to the saying that “The best things in life are free,” the reality is that economic deprivation, discrimination, flaws in market rules, and gaping holes in the safety net deny tens of millions of Americans these familial joys. We see this painfully illustrated in the rise of so-called “deaths of despair” from addiction and suicide. must be given in a manner that will respect the dignity of the life of service and labor which our aged citizens have given to the nation” [emphasis added]. Yet I do believe there is power in seeing these different policies under a unified national commitment to ensure that each of us has the economic dignity of receiving true first and second chances to contribute and pursue potential, and that no one feels their country has given up on or abandoned them. So, the Progressive Era no doubt drew force when people in factories started to say: “Hold it. That ideal (in never squelching human potential) must mean a true commitment to both first chances and second chances. This should make us open to an expanded economic dignity compact that includes contribution through personal care for family, service to community, or efforts to increase one’s skills. Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Gene Sperling for Democracy (A Journal of Ideas). I do think many progressives (most eloquently, Bobby Kennedy in 1968) have come to understand that GDP is nowhere near a proper end goal for judging whether economic policy is working to provide shared prosperity, happiness, and dignity for a nation’s people. Indeed, an over-reliance even on the best economic metrics can too easily make too many people and too much economic pain invisible. So what should, say, post-COVID economic restructuring prioritizing “double-dignity” occupations look like? Today, there’s greater focus on the lack of worker power and benefits for gig-workers. All labor has dignity.”. Sperling directed the National Economic Council under both President Clinton (1997–2001) and President Obama (2011–2014). It is possible that a greater focus on dignity might open up more minds to considering different solutions. It makes you think a little more about things like having a voice or power in your job. The last 20 years have clearly validated the progressive economists who made this point. Particularly vulnerable workers who are not unionized, or who lack language skills and reasonable options to exit abusive work conditions, are most prone to a denial of economic dignity that can be invisible under current economic accounting. Readers and donors like you make what we do possible. The latter goes to the design of benefits so that they go to virtually everyone, thus making them less prone to stigmatization and more politically bullet-proof in budget battles. This could be done through a combination of an automatically indexed $15 minimum wage, together with a major expansion of the EITC and child-care support—while ensuring some form of basic income grant, child allowance, or higher refundable tax credits for those with serious disabilities or for children living in the poorest households. Economic dignity, defined by these three pillars, represents a more full, complete, and stable definition that can stand strong no matter what variation or circumstance is considered. It is a recognition that there are spheres of dignity that should not be traded, trampled, or compromised by government or market players in pursuit of economic metrics or profits. On the legislative front, we need a new economic dignity compact that includes a higher minimum wage, a stronger set of civil-rights protections, paid sick and family leave, and of course health care. . Likewise, if a large percentage of women (and sometimes men) find that participating in economic life to support their families or to pursue their potential requires them to tolerate domination, humiliation, and the abuse of sexual harassment, should we only label that a major economic issue if it shows up in an employment metric? An economic dignity end goal should also elevate the focus on structuring labor markets in order to give more workers the leverage and voice needed for economic dignity on the job. Increasing the legal clarity around the fact that executives or boards of directors should, or at least can, prioritize the well-being of workers and the economics and environment of communities—as opposed to just maximizing shareholder value—is another example of how restructuring market rules can encourage or at least not undercut competition that promotes economic dignity. No one should be considered a Luddite merely for considering issues of economic dignity as we confront the ongoing threat of job polarization due to the acceleration of AI, robots, and automation. In the push to ensure a basic level of economic security regardless of the path of automation, robots, and AI, many have sought to de-link all government policies for basic economic security from the need to work or contribute. We'll send periodic reminders of what's new and what's coming. Government cannot guarantee happiness. That much—that basic promise of economic dignity for all—is something that is within our grasp. Economic dignity, defined by these three pillars, represents a more full, complete, and stable definition that can stand strong no matter what variation or circumstance is considered… His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. For now, economic dignity is an idea that Sperling eloquently describes in his book. This can vary according to an individual's physical needs, the environment and prevailing cultural standards. Yet while many of these experiences may fall under the “best things in life are free” category, we know that economic deprivation and economic inequality indeed deny these basic joys and sources of meaning to tens of millions of people in our country. This is mainly the ideal that the accident of your birth shouldn’t put a limit or ceiling on your ability not just to rise economically, but to pursue some greater sense of potential and purpose. What makes paid family leave or rampant sexual harassment critical economic issues, “regardless of whether they show up in a prominent metric”? Whether you could be there for your children and parents when they needed you most. It is this rationale that should be seen as a core component of the CFPB’s mission and of consumer regulations that seek to prevent predatory practices in areas like mortgage origination, payday lending, and for-profit education. April 29, 2019. Three, we need both expansions of traditional unionization through ending abuses to the collective bargaining process, and support for the wider degree of grassroots, laboratory-of-democracy approaches for those often left out by formal collective bargaining—including the domestic workers bill of rights legislation spearheaded by people like Ai-jen Poo and David Rolf in places like New York and Seattle by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and other groups. For your third pillar of economic dignity, concerns of abuse, domination, and humiliation stretch from the acutely personal forms of workplace harassment highlighted by recent #MeToo campaigns — all the way to economy-wide concerns of entrenched monopolistic firms treating employees, small-business suppliers, and consumers as little more than sources of profit margins. None of this is suggesting we can or should want to stand in the way of disruptive innovation and economic change, if that change brings widespread progress, new jobs, and new industries as well as bold solutions to climate change—the equivalent of impeding the development of the automobile industry, for instance, to protect the economic dignity of those in the horse industry. That is the question that guides this essay. In addition to bolstering economic security, this type of broader safety net has simplification and pro-growth benefits. * * * We must not lose sight of what economic policy is all about: allowing people to lead dignified lives. While a general investigation of the meaning of life is far beyond the grasp of this article, it will instead attempt a much more modest task, but one which it is believed will be valuable: to seek the legal meaning of the term ‘life’ in its use in international and regional human rights treaties, most typically in the protection of a ‘right to life’. Rather than a full UBI, we should call for a Dignity Wage as part of a UBED package. Nor should it hamper debates over when we should favor people over robots in sensitive areas of our lives and democracy, or when some form of cross-subsidy between job-reducing technology and new publicly funded jobs and wage subsidies should exist. I have called such a universal skills proposal “Basic Income to Rise.” It also means that, as well-intentioned as a sweeping program for guaranteed temporary low-skilled jobs may be (and perhaps essential for the long-term unemployed and during serious downturns), it is intensive skills-building and wrap-around services that can prove most critical to actually fostering careers with purpose for those dealing with economic and educational disadvantage, long-term absence from the labor market, a prison record, or a disability. Social Security was based less on “giving old people money” than it was on the compact values that “[o]ur old-age pension system . All rights reserved. We should, however, be open to broadening the sense of compact beyond just formal jobs, as the deeper value at stake is carrying your part of the load. Yes, growth can be an essential means to our goals, but it is not an end goal in and of itself. At a moment when the very capacity of modern capitalism to avoid accelerating inequality, a hollowed-out middle class, structural poverty, and growing economic insecurity is being questioned—and even the role of work in a coming age of A.I. From the speaker's bio: See more. You also make the persuasive case for how a “dignity net” can provide a secure base from which to innovate our way to future flourishing. Progressive economists rightly try to shift the focus to broader measures of well-being: like low unemployment, underemployment, and median income. Photo courtesy of AFL-CIO CC 2.0. Below are five guideposts that should inform that deliberation. It’s not good enough to call these workers heroes, and applaud, and then just allow an economic framework to continue that denies them basic dignity. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be seen as resting on three pillars. A Conservative Economics of Dignity The dean of Columbia Business School is a tax cutter and free trader, but he says economists must address ‘real economic concerns in the heartland.’ One can’t underestimate the degree that focus on these metrics can confuse our economic aspirations. While there are no doubt areas, like public education and criminal justice, where the public mission compels a government-run approach, some on the left see government as always inherently fairer, and make provision by government an end goal in itself. Millions of workers still face domination, humiliation, and abuse. Market fundamentalists on the right too often see the use of market mechanisms as the end goal due to their belief that it is inherently more efficient and promotional of freedom. Take the health-care debate. Some progressive economists feared that, in the 1990s, too strong a focus on human capital led to a minimization of the importance of structural issues concerning markets, economic power, and full-employment policies to ensure tight labor markets. Even the metric of job volume can lead policymakers to make the faulty assumption that the minimum wage should be capped precisely at the point it might result in even a very marginal reduction in jobs, without consideration of the economic dignity benefits of higher wages to tens of millions of families and the potential to compensate for small reductions through simultaneous increases in national service or infrastructure or green economy jobs. Legislative victories on these items truly can alter the power balance, can help to transform domineering or humiliating workplace situations into respectful and fulfilling arrangements, all while reducing wage inequality. But I do believe this ideal (however ignored or historically unrealized) to recognize the basic human desire to thrive, contribute, and pursue potential can be a unifying cause for Americans. Economic Dignity has been released in a time of massive upheaval, and it asks us not how we can get back to normal, but rather how we can imagine an economy that works for human beings in a way that hasn't always seemed like a priority or even measurable. Whether you felt you could give your children the chances you wanted them to have. They are also right in suggesting that recent interest rate trends create more skepticism about the degree that higher U.S. public borrowing will “crowd-out” private investment and affordable mortgages. It is in this sphere that we see the degree to which economic dignity has served as a mediating force in our nation’s historic tension between collective justice and untamed individualism. Some like Joe Stiglitz and Heather Boushey have done admirable jobs in seeking to create improved metrics that better measure inequality. That is, no doubt, important. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead.” In his book on FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, Cass Sunstein indeed points out that New Deal policymakers were willing to opt for economic support through employment even if it was more expensive than pure cash relief, because it honored our American sense of a social compact. There’s no reason you cannot have a strong market economy that has policies ensuring everyone a basic level of economic dignity. But it makes you think differently. Of course, the hypocrisy is obscene when you consider that this all happened, at least for white Americans, during the time of slavery. Patriarchy Prevents Women’s Economic Autonomy Unfortunately, many people in the economic world still seem to treat GDP as the end goal of economics. This focus on end impacts on people—as opposed to idealized assumptions about the values inherent in markets—forces a constant review of whether the structure of markets and competition is encouraging or undercutting economic dignity, and a commitment to take corrective action when it is the latter. That clear and agreed-upon end goal reduces the degree to which a doctor would hesitate changing long-prescribed medicine or treatment, if evidence emerged of a better means to promote your health. It is the power of economic dignity — which, he argues, should be “the singular end goal for economic policy.” It’s an important essay, because … This has received recognition as a first-tier economic issue, because it can be seen as negatively impacting a traditional economic metric — the labor force participation of women. Economic Dignity is Sperling's effort to do just that - to frame our thinking about the way forward in a time of wrenching economic change. Would that mean we shouldn’t consider paid family leave a first-tier economic issue? was National Economic Adviser and Director of the National Economic Council for both President Obama (2011-2014) and President Clinton (1997-2001). The claim by Howard Schultz that a Medicare for All policy is “not American” is an unfortunate example of focusing on the means of delivery—in this case an all-government program—as opposed to debating what most effectively delivers the health security essential to economic dignity. Yet, being right on the importance of addressing structural issues, tight labor markets, and exaggerated skills-gap claims cannot be a reason to downplay the importance of an all-out skills agenda geared toward helping more Americans—especially those facing economic disadvantage or dislocation—gain the capacity to pursue their potential, purpose, and dignity through work. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes explicitly recognized the potential loss of economic dignity for vulnerable workers—particularly women—because “bargaining power is relatively weak, and…they are the ready victims of those who would take advantage of their necessitous circumstances.” New collective bargaining laws upheld by the Supreme Court in this same period represented a clear rejection of the formal view of an individual employee and an individual company engaged in equal freedom to contract, and a recognition that without the freedom to organize, “workers often had to accept employment on whatever terms employers dictated” due to “the bargaining power imbalance workers faced,” as Justice Ginsburg wrote in her recent dissent in Epic Systems v. Lewis. We clearly do not have that floor, that universal capacity to enjoy these moments which should come equally to all people. Participating in the economy without domination or humiliation need not refer only to work. Policymakers could take the Hanauer-Rolf idea to an even more sweeping level where a small fraction of any dollar paid for any work—including contractors, household employees, care workers, and “gig economy” workers—would go to individualized federal government accounts to ensure support for Social Security, Medicare Part A, unemployment insurance, and other new benefits like paid leave, with any extra funds automatically returned or sent to a dedicated, safe tax-preferred savings account for the worker. Rather than starting with an automatic preference for market or government delivery, an economic dignity test would require each to show that they are in fact more effective in providing the components of economic dignity in different areas—a decision to make the proof in the pudding. The debate over pre-existing conditions has been a prime example. Democracy Is an Act—One That Doesn't End on Election Day, Higher Ed: Protect Students from Predatory Colleges, Employment: Three Strategies to Advance Equality, Looking Ahead: Enforcement For the Many, Not the Few. The primary focus here will be upon the broader question of the meaning as… if you’re looking at a rule for veterans to get access to a building . Such protestations are welcome, but they have little substance without a willingness to deploy public policies and regulations to structure market competition and foster economic dignity. It means Americans will retain their capacity to thrive and pursue potential even after economic downturns and individual accidents — and even after making mistakes. . From Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of Social Security in the 1930s, to Ai-jen Poo’s advocacy for a revolution of care more than 80 years later, as the head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the notion of a “dignified retirement” has been invoked by countless political leaders. What if this lack of paid family leave were simply a source of major economic unhappiness, with tens of millions of workers feeling that the need to provide for family robbed them of being able to experience many of life’s most precious and meaningful moments? The impact has been millions losing benefits and no longer sharing in the economic gains of major companies—a significant component of job sorting that economists estimate has contributed about one-third of recent increases in earnings inequality. It can also extend to protections against abusive or predatory practices impacting people in their roles as consumers, renters, and borrowers.