This week several of our best progressive thinkers came together for a conversation about how to move beyond resistance towards a bold alternative vision grounded in dignity and rights for all our people. A New Social Contract, which you can listen to here, was hosted by NESRI and the Social Justice Institute at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at the New School, and drew a full house.
Dean Michelle Depass from the Milano School at the New School set the scene in her introductory remarks, clarifying the root causes of economic inequality and precarity:
None of this inevitable. Inequality and exclusion have been created by policy choices and we can choose a different future.
Our discussants made clear that we have powerful alternatives and no shortage of concrete solutions. Professor Michael Lewis discussed the potential impact of a universal basic income, for example, and Professor Darrick Hamilton argued passionately for a 10-point policy plan, with a strong emphasis on the importance of a universal federal job guarantee, that all the discussants agreed would change our current economic terrain.
The conversation also raised big questions, and some disagreement, about whether we should strive to make capitalism work for everyone or whether we need an entirely different economic model. But they all agreed that we needed to rewrite the goals of our economy, and that today’s driving goal of growth is “suicidal.” Instead, Professor Hamilton argued, we should adopt Amartya Sen’s goal of ensuring human capabilities and self-determination as the goal of any economy.
To change the economy, Professor Duggan insisted, we must also change our culture, valuing cooperativeness and egalitarianism over competition and growth. And this begins, according to journalist Imara Jones, with “a radical re-imagination of everything, and that starts with who holds the microphone.” We must listen, he urged, to marginalized communities.
Everyone agreed that building a just economy and protecting human rights requires universal programs, but that all programs must be equitably targeted to dismantle injustices and meet every community’s needs. Writer and organizer Jesse Myerson noted that universal public programs do not breed the resentment that more narrowly defined programs can, and Alyssa Battistoni, an editor of Jacobin magazine, pointed out that universal programs, such as social security, are much less vulnerable to attacks by opponents.
But all agreed that people live their experience of class through their experiences of race and gender, among other identities, so that any universal program must address economic injustice in a way that responds to racial and gender inequities. The key, everyone agreed, is a race and gender conscious targeted universalist approach focuses on the needs of the most marginalized. And what’s more, noted Myserson, social movements are already defining this vision through inspiring policy platforms like the Vision for Black Lives and the BYP 100 Agenda for Black Futures.
How do we actually achieve this vision? According to several discussants, the answer lies in the decentralized, broad and inspiring grassroots response to the Trump administration. We can all talk to people we know, learn together, and take collective action. Change must necessarily come from everywhere, and we must all be a part of it.