‘Free Markets’ Are Theory, Market Power and Structural Racism, and Remembering MLK

April 6, 2018

The Roosevelt Rundown is an email series featuring the Roosevelt Institute’s top 5 stories of the week.

1. How Companies Exercise Market Power

For The Week, national correspondent Ryan Cooper reviews the findings in Powerless, Roosevelt’s in-depth report on market power from Research Director Marshall Steinbaum, Program Manager Eric Harris Bernstein, and former Research Associate John Sturm. For nearly 50 years, misguided ideology distorted the theory of “free markets” to justify policy changes that drove the high-profit, low-wage economy we see today. But healthy markets depend on rules to ensure an equitable balance of market power between businesses, consumers, workers, and other stakeholders. When those rules skew that balance—as Cooper shows through the lens of mega-corporation Amazon—markets favor the most powerful to the detriment of all other participants.

2. How Market Power Reinforces Structural Racism

Roosevelt’s Eric Harris Bernstein was on WURD Radio’s Reality Check last weekend, during which he explained how our anti-competitive economy further reinforces structural racism. “The ramification of [concentrated market power] is that large corporations victimize the most vulnerable populations,” he said. As Roosevelt’s issue brief shows, the distortion of our economy hurts the majority of Americans, but for communities of color, the imbalance of economic power exacerbates racial inequality. Small business and entrepreneurship used to be a path to the middle class for many black Americans, for instance, but corporate consolidation by retail behemoths like Amazon has stifled independent, black-owned businesses for decades.

3. Remembering MLK

Wednesday marked 50 years since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For USA Today, Roosevelt Fellow Dorian Warren reflects on the vision and legacy of Dr. King, as well as Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. “It’s worth remembering what both leaders were advocating for when they were struck down,” he writes. Half a century later, economic inequality and racial injustice are still firmly fixed into our economy and society—but so too are bold ideas like a federal jobs guarantee to help finally overcome these ills. To advance big solutions, we must push ahead with the power and determination of those who came before us. Though their lives were cut short, the morality and strategic-thinking that defined both King and Kennedy should guide us today as we work to build a better society.

4. Release of Judge Knot

Over the last few months, the Trump administration has railed against what it sees as unfair international trade and investment rules. A new book from Roosevelt Fellow Todd N. Tucker is here just in time to help make sense of the ongoing trade and treaty headlines. Judge Knot: Politics and Development in International Investment Law examines the ways companies hijack investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS)—a system for investors to sue countries for alleged harmful practices—to evade justice. Unlike the president, Tucker proposes a path toward a more democratic and equitable global future. Read Roosevelt’s press release and order your copy today.

5. Rewriting Health Policy

In March, former Roosevelt Network Summer Fellow Cara Schiavone released a paper outlining the student health insurance problem at George Washington University (GW). Specifically, Schiavone made bold policy recommendations to rewrite the health insurance rules at GW, addressing inadequate access and rising health insurance costs.This week, the university announced initiatives to boost accessibility, including improvements to the affordability of health insurance on campus. To better align pricing with its peer schools—as recommended by Schiavone and the Student Health Advisory Council, which was formed alongside the production of the report—GW has changed the rules of enrollment for student health insurance, bringing premiums down from about $4,103 per year to $2,750 per year.

What We’re Reading

This week, Roosevelt Fellow Mike Konczal was featured in “The Vanishing Republican Agenda,” an examination of conservative majority rule during the Trump administration from Slate’s Osita Nwanevu. Elevating recent critiques from Konczal, Nwanevu notes: “Republicans seem strangely uninterested in strategically evaluating … how the party has spent its political capital.” Though right-leaning voters may view their party as a success, Republicans are showing that they don’t have any real solutions for the issues that define their platform.

What We’re Watching

tweet from government professor Don Moynihan was one of many in a wave that hit social media this week showing local news reporters across the country delivering the same script on air. The clip makes real what we argue in Powerless: As consumers of media, the information we receive is increasingly controlled by a small group of very powerful corporations—in this case, Sinclair News. Dan Rather, a world-renowned journalist and 2017 Four Freedoms Award recipient, called the footage propaganda: a “slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”