Higher Education Doesn’t Pay for Itself, the New NAFTA and Big Tech, and the Collapse of Sears

October 19, 2018

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

1. Higher Education Doesn’t Pay for Itself

As tuition has risen over the last several decades in the U.S., student loan debt has ballooned. In The Student Debt Crisis, Labor Market Credentialization, and Racial Inequality, Roosevelt Fellow Julie Margetta Morgan and Research Director and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum investigate the individual and societal effects of student loan debt by focusing on trends in higher education and the labor market. Ultimately, the paper challenges the dominant literature and conventional “wisdom” that drive the pursuit of higher education, concluding that student debt exacerbates racial inequality and outsized employer power and threatens broader economic stability.

2. The Student Loan Industry Is a Failed Social Experiment

Following the release of their paper, Morgan and Steinbaum spoke to numerous media outlets about their findings. In an exclusive for Marketwatch and articles for VICE and the Hechinger Report, our experts explain why the student loan industry is a failed social experiment. “We are making several policy decisions right now based on the idea that student debt is essentially a benign mechanism for funding higher education,” said Morgan. “Our research suggests that is not, in fact, that case.” On Thursday, Morgan and Steinbaum joined Generation Progress and Higher Ed, Not Debt for the “Mapping Student Debt” event with the Center for American Progress.

3. New NAFTA and Big Tech

The debate over the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deal is ongoing. For Quartz, Steinbaum, Roosevelt Fellow Todd N. Tucker, and Great Democracy Initiative’s Policy Director Ganesh Sitaraman examine how the new NAFTA is a profound setback in fighting monopoly power and why we need to rewrite antitrust law to reflect the 21st century economy. Trade policy is not neutral. It can challenge concentrated economic power, as demonstrated by the European Union, or it can exacerbate it: “NAFTA 2018 is no exception, and if it is adopted, its provisions are likely to deepen our age of monopoly power.”

4. The Collapse of Sears

On Monday, former retail giant Sears filed for bankruptcy. For VICE, news editor Matt Taylor reached out to Roosevelt’s Marshall Steinbaum to discuss what the collapse of Sears says about the broader economyThis “is more of a corporate governance story than an antitrust story, but it highlights the important relationship between the two,” he said. Steinbaum explained further on The Majority Report with Sam Seder: By design, flawed corporate ideology and anticompetitive behavior, both of which America’s lax antitrust system exacerbates, are entrenching an economy that only works for the few—including fewer firms.

5. Unionize the Financial Sector

In a column for The Nation, Roosevelt Fellow Mike Konczal calls for unionizing bank workers to improve the working conditions of everyday employees. Solutions to address our skewed economy and democracy often center a top-down approach—taming the power of the financial sector by curbing rampant bank consolidation, for instance—but as Konczal shows, progressives must also consider countervailing methods, such as bolstering worker power from the bottom up. “Workers should be organized for the sake of their own agency,” he writes. “But it’s an added bonus that unionizing the finance industry would also help stabilize the sector itself.”

What We’re Reading

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) wants to repeal and replace the Republican tax law. For The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey writes on Harris’s “Trump-size tax plan.” The senator wants to take back the tax cuts given to corporations and the already wealthy and redirect that cash to the Americans who are struggling to get by. “Last year, Congress gave a trillion dollars in tax breaks to corporations. That money should have gone to American taxpayers who need it instead of handing it over to corporations and the top 1 percent,” said Harris.