A New Farm Economy, a Global Green New Deal, and Bridging the Digital Divide

August 9, 2019

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

1. The Dirt on Big Agriculture

Through “A New Farm Economy,” an agricultural policy plan released this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) aims to dismantle the concentrated power of Big Agriculture, replace federal subsidies with a supply management program, and pay farmers to combat climate change. In a blog post published earlier this year, Roosevelt Fellow Susan R. Holmberg and Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy argue that such structural fixes are vital both to save America’s farmlands and preserve the planet. “Any set of climate policies, including a Green New Deal, must simultaneously curb the power of corporations and Wall Street to control farming on their terms, and redirect the federal government to economically empower independent family farms over global agribusiness,” they write.

2. A Global Green New Deal

Reiterating the case that good policy is good politics, a New York Times piece documents the success of progressive activists in elevating aggressive climate action—like a Green New Deal—to priority status for voters. The next step: solving this global problem with global solutions. In a recent working paper, Roosevelt Fellow Todd N. Tucker makes the case for a global Green New Deal to remake a trade infrastructure in crisis and decarbonize the global economy in a socially sustainable and equitable way. “Although many specific routes are open, it is vital that the campaign for a new economy be accompanied by new and more just economic rules—both at home and abroad.”

3. Student Debt in Sheep’s Clothing

Expanding on her recent blog post about the student debt crisis, Roosevelt Fellow Julie Margetta Morgan comments on income-share agreements (ISAs) in a new MarketWatch article. As explained in the piece, an ISA is a controversial financial tool by which students pledge a percentage of their future incomes to funders, rather than taking on more traditional loans. Though “ISAs seem like an appealing solution when they’re pitched as an interest-free, debt-free way of going to college,” notes Margetta Morgan, the agreements are effectively loans by another name. “It’s just a symptom of how bad college affordability and the student-debt crisis has gotten.”

4. Bridging the Digital Divide

The digital revolution has left millions behind, as explored in a 2017 Roosevelt report. About 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet, for example, compared to 2 percent  of those in urban areas. This week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) proposed a targeted digital divide plan that, among other measures, would allocate $85 billion in federal funds to develop broadband networks. Though high-speed internet access is a fundamental necessity of American life, telecommunications monopolies and deregulatory policies have exacerbated historical and systemic inequities along racial and urban-rural lines. To bridge the digital divide, we must confront both corporate power and racial injustice.

5. Curbing Stock Buybacks

On Tuesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Stock Buyback Reform and Worker Dividend Act, the latest legislative effort to curb stock buybacks and raise worker paySince Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cuts, stock buybacks have become a trillion-dollar practice, while wages for most workers have barely increased over decades. Sen. Brown’s bill would require companies to address this outsized gulf by paying a lump sum to workers: $1 for every $1 million spent on stock buybacks. JPMorgan Chase, for example, spent $20 billion on buybacks in 2018, so the company would have to pay employees $20,000 each. As Roosevelt Senior Economist and Policy Counsel Lenore Palladino argues in a recent working paper, “Pragmatic reforms to the rules that govern stock buybacks and to corporate governance are achievable and will benefit not only employees but also the long-term prosperity of corporations themselves and our economy at large.”

What We’re Reading

This week’s merger of America’s two largest newspaper publishers, Gannett and GateHouse Media, will create a media powerhouse owning hundreds of daily, weekly, and community papers. According to the Nieman Lab, it is also likely to spark a new era of consolidation in the journalism industry. If past is prelude, this concentration of power could threaten the free flow of information and hemorrhage jobs. As mentioned in the New York Times, “In recent years, GateHouse Media has shrunk newsrooms while pursuing shareholder value, in part by consolidating operations in regional hubs and merging newspapers. Gannett, which has been in the news business for nearly a century, laid off journalists all across the country earlier this year.”