Running off to a meeting but allow me to offer a quick reflection on something that came up in two recent endeavors.
1) I went to an excellent conference by the Brooking’s-based Hamilton Project last week on “addressing America’s poverty crisis”—check out the link and peruse the materials (I’ve got a piece coming out soon on the session in which I participated).
2) I just finished a draft of a long paper on wage trends in the US, which included a bunch of thinking on policies to address real wage stagnation and increased earnings inequality.
As I listened to scholars at the conference run through many strong and thoughtful ideas to fight back against poverty, and as I wrote the concluding paragraph to my wage paper (below), I couldn’t help but wonder, “why are we all talking about these ideas as if they have any traction in the near or medium term? How can we ignore the political realities that will block these ideas for probably years to come?”
Finally, it may fairly be argued that the policy discussion above implied the existence of functional politics implemented by fact-based policy makers interested in tackling these issues. Such an implication was unintended, as I am well aware of the limits of our current political system to deal with the wage problem or any other pressing economic challenge. However, though that particular constraint looms large in my thinking, it is well beyond the scope of this analysis.
Trust me when I tell you that these sentiments are not meant to sound depressing or dejected. If you can’t take the dysfunction get out of the capital. I’m in this for the long game and have often stressed the importance of rolling the best ideas out of the hanger even if the runway is miles long (sorry—in a rush—no time to unmix metaphors!). Also, who knows what’s possible, even in the near term? Another also: as I’ve stressed many times, states and localities can’t kick back and wait for DC to find its functionality–they’ve got to deal with problems in real time.
Still, I’m not at all comfortable with the idea that those of us working on progressive policy can blithely ignore the politics, assuming someone else will fix that, while in the meantime, we can just run another specification of the model!
I don’t know the answer to this. Everybody’s got their skill sets, and certainly, one point of this blog and that of others with greater reach (e.g., Krugman) is to inform the debate with fact-based analysis and shine as bright a light as we can on those who are busily shooting out the lights. It’s just that more so than other periods in my working life, and I’ve been on this beat for decades, facts and smart policy are on the run.
Clearly, money in politics—more precisely, the toxic mix of increased wealth concentration and the increased role of money in politics—is a big, growing factor here, as the powerful are more than ever able to buy the think tanks, “research,” and policy outcomes they want.
All’s I’m saying is that unless we’re interested in a very insular conversation between like-minded wonks, we need to think and act more in ways that will hasten the day when facts and smart ideas targeted at significant and growing problems are once again welcomed outside the conference room and inside the halls of power.