A Collapsing Bridge Is Never Sexy
Yesterday Elizabeth Warren was on NPR fighting against the latest attack by Wall Street-owned politicians on the middle class. Her main emphasis was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the conservatives' toxic trade agenda, which David Dayen eviscerated at Salon yesterday.
"I have three objections," explained Warren. "The first is that the president is asking us to vote to grease the skids on a trade deal that has largely been negotiated but that is still held in secret. The second is that we know that corporations under this deal are going to get to sue countries for regulations they don't like and that the decisions are not going to be made by courts, they're going to be made by private lawyers. And the third problem is that he wants us to vote on a six-year, grease-the-skids deal."
Meanwhile, also yesterday, the Roosevelt Institute presented a report on the "link between the rapidly rising fortunes of America's wealthiest citizens and increasing economic insecurity for everyone else" from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. That was followed by Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren presenting their Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality. All of these underlie Bernie Sanders' presidential platform. Katrina vanden Heuvel took to the pages of the Washington Post to explain what all these proposals have in common and how they add up to the progressive agenda.
Public Investment to Create Jobs: All share a central strategy-- major, long-term public investment in rebuilding America; modernizing our decrepit roads, sewers and transport; creating good jobs in the process. Sanders, the Populism Platform and the CCC agenda also emphasize meeting the threat posed by climate change, investing in new energy and energy efficiency and capturing a lead in the green industrial revolution. The CCC agenda also pays needed attention to giving investment priority to the “poorest communities.”Let's go back to the very first point: investing in the country's future, which is, in great part, fixing America's crumbling infrastructure, that unsexy task John Oliver delved into in the video up top. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, writing for the Harvard Business Review, is worried about America's accelerating disunity and lack of a common will and a common vision. "Unless there's strong public will that translates into votes, a Congress elected every two years can't be expected to rally behind raising taxes to pay for big projects, despite the certainty that red states' bridges can crumble as readily as blue states'." She uses national Infrastructure Week as a backdrop to the "numerous problems [that] plague businesses and consumers: Goods are delayed at clogged ports. Delayed or cancelled flights cost the U.S. economy an estimated $30-40 billion per year-- not to mention ill will of disgruntled passengers. The average American wastes 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. This amounts to 5.5 billion hours in lost U.S. productivity annually, 2.9 gallons of wasted fuel, and a public health cost of pollution of about $15 billion per year, according to Harvard School of Public Health researchers. The average family of four spends as much as 19% of its household budget on transportation. But inequality also kicks in: the poor can’t afford cars, yet are concentrated in places without access to public transportation. To top it all, federal funding for highways, with a portion for mass transit, is about to run out."
Progressive Tax Reform: All call for raising taxes on the rich and the corporations not out of envy but to provide the resources for needed public investment.
Predistribution: Each agenda seeks to ensure that the rewards of growth are widely shared, by empowering workers to gain their fair share. That includes lifting the floor-- raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick and vacation days and family leave, funding child care, cracking down on wage theft, enforcing pay equity for women, revising overtime laws and more.
Most of the plans also emphasize empowering workers to organize and bargain collectively, arguing that the assault on unions has tilted the scales against workers. Both Sanders and the CAP committee also call for subsidizing worker-owned companies and cooperatives and for various forms of profit-sharing.
The Populism Platform, CCC agenda and CAP committee all call for redressing discrimination, including an end to mass incarceration and reform of our biased criminal justice system, comprehensive immigration reform, and pay equity and support for women. (“The Progressive Agenda” may soon include additional planks on debt-free college, expanding Social Security and criminal justice reform.)
Finally, all would curb the excesses at the top, cracking down on perverse CEO compensation schemes that give executives incentives to cash out their own companies.
Trade and Wall Street: Other than the more focused CCC agenda, all challenge the entrenched structures that fuel inequality, expressing opposition to current trade policies, and calling for curbing Wall Street excesses. Most would break up the big banks (with Summers an exception to that).
The Basics in Education: Most challenge the limits of our punitive education debate, focusing instead on basic investments in education: universal pre-K, investments in public education and various roads to debt-free public college.
Expand Shared Security: Most support expanding Social Security benefits. Sanders and Stiglitz emphasize Medicare for all. The CAP report calls for a new automatic program to provide jobs for the young in times of high unemployment.
The situation is urgent. But where is the sense of urgency? That’s what I set out to explore for the Harvard Business School U.S. Competitiveness project. I put aside work on a book about leadership to tackle the infrastructure issue. Then I realized that infrastructure led me straight back to leadership, but of a bigger kind-- leadership to look beyond one’s own business to think about solving big problems.
It’s often said that when the pain gets bad enough, people will support change. I’m not sure that’s enough. Change requires a vision of the future sufficiently compelling that people will overcome inertia and support investment. Change requires an awareness of common fate-- that everyone shares a piece of the suffering but can benefit from contributing to improvements.
American strengths in innovation and entrepreneurship offer numerous possibilities for upgrading infrastructure, and the transportation sector numerous possibilities for exciting business investments, if leaders see the future. Revitalized cities can have people-friendly streets, smarter roads containing sensors to improve traffic flow and spot repair needs, vehicles that can prevent accidents, apps to summon cars or find parking as well as tell blind people when they’ve wandered outside the lines at a street crossing (I call this a seeing-eye phone). Data analytics, such as the Weather Company’s Total Turbulence package, can reduce weather-related flight delays by providing real-time weather data.
Cross-sector innovation is also promising. Oregon is running an experiment with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee to replace gasoline taxes for roads and bridges, which anticipates the spread of electric vehicles such as the Tesla that use roads but don’t buy gas. Collaboration via public-private partnerships can potentially tap diverse forms of funding, combine expertise, and make it possible to get public-buy-in.
Unless there’s strong public will that translates into votes, a Congress elected every two years can’t be expected to rally behind raising taxes to pay for big projects, despite the certainty that red states’ bridges can crumble as readily as blue states’. That’s why leaders need to pitch a big tent. Inclusiveness means making infrastructure a family issue and women’s issue. It often seems to be a man’s world, but outstanding woman leaders, such as former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, DSC logistics company CEO Ann Drake, MIT robotics lab head Daniela Rus, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, and IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, prove that cars are not just toys for boys, and women can become sought-after engineers.
Events like Infrastructure Week sound the alarm. Then leaders must step in to give people reason for hope. To succeed, leaders need inspiring visions, strategic thinking, openness to innovation, and change processes that involve coalition building and uniting constituencies behind common goals-- the essence of leadership. It can come from corporate chiefs, enlightened officials, tech entrepreneurs, consumers, citizens, and activists who are informed and motivated to seek change. It’s time to move.
Moving doesn't mean moving towards more Clintons and Bushes in national leadership. Right now moving means... Bernie Sanders. Here are Bernie's 12 steps forward-- his agenda for America:
• Rebuilding Our Crumbling InfrastructureIt isn't just on the presidential level where we need help. P.G. Sittenfeld is the progressive candidate running for the Ohio Senate seat held by reactionary Republican Rob Portman. Sittenfeld was one of the first candidates in the country to sign on to De Blasio's manifesto. Watch:
• Reversing Climate Change
• Creating Worker Co-ops
• Growing the Trade Union Movement
• Raising the Minimum Wage
• Pay Equity for Women Workers
• Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers
• Making College Affordable for All
• Taking on Wall Street
• Health Care as a Right for All
• Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans
• Real Tax Reform