What’s Preventing Climate Action

November 8, 2019

Reclaiming public power can combat a neoliberal crisis.

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

How Neoliberalism Drives the Climate Crisis

“Our best chance at tackling the climate crisis may well be to transcend neoliberalism,” Roosevelt Fellow Mark Paul and Colorado State University’s Anders Fremstad write in a new Roosevelt report. As they argue, three core neoliberal tenets have prevented meaningful action: the decentralization of democracy, the defunding of public investment, and the deregulation of our economy. “As the excitement builds around a Green New Deal, it is clear that confronting climate change will require us to confront the ideological system that helped create it,” they write. Read on.

  • Another angle: “If the 2008 financial crisis failed to make us realize that unfettered markets don’t work, the climate crisis certainly should: Neoliberalism will literally bring an end to our civilization.” Read more from Roosevelt Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz in Project Syndicate.
  • Why this matters: “Ultimately, our ability to halt the climate crisis is limited by the reality that its effects are largely irreversible—natural resources cannot be recreated; warming cannot be undone, only slowed; and melting ice caps, causing rising sea levels, cannot be refrozen,” Roosevelt Senior Associate/Research Assistant Kristina Karlsson writes for the blog.  “Outsized market and corporate power will continue to hinder a solution unless we shed the ideology that empowers and enables these forces to act in their own interest.” Read on.
  • Good policy, good politics: The 2020 candidates are betting big on climate action—and the politics are as sound as the policies. “Climate change is increasingly on Iowans’ minds, according to an August poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. About 70 percent of Iowa voters polled said they were worried about climate change, and 74 percent said they were concerned about the impact to the state’s agriculture. And it’s a trend nationwide; a Public Policy Institute of California poll from July 2018 found that 54 percent of Californians in the state said the issue was very important to them, and half said they’d be willing to pay more to reduce the effects of global warming.” Read more from Vox.
  • Moving forward: In response to the Trump administration’s formal notice of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement this week, the United States Climate Alliance—a coalition of 25 governors—has reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement’s goals. As the group wrote in its press release, “. . . we have demonstrated that economic growth and climate action go hand-in-hand. Alliance states have reduced emissions faster than the rest of the country while growing per capita GDP three times as fast. Climate action is a driver of—not a deterrent to—innovation and economic strength.”

The Costs of Being Poor

As a new report from the Groundwork Collaborative and the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University explains, we may be underestimating poverty in America—by 3 million people. The reason: inflation inequality. “Just as aggregate measures of GDP may mask variation in economic growth at different points in the economic distribution, aggregate measures of inflation may mask the fact that the prices and price changes faced by the poor may be fundamentally different from the prices and price changes faced by the middle class, which in turn may be fundamentally different from the prices and price changes faced by the rich.” Read on.

United States of Inequality

Record-high inequality is not an accident. With a historical timeline, Capital & Main examines the labor, trade, and tax policies that got us here—with help from Roosevelt Fellow Todd Tucker. “Every time Democrats would gain a little bit of power, they would try to introduce legislation to help workers,” said Tucker. “But then the Supreme Court would knock it down or would make an interpretation that would weaken it after the fact.” Read more from Fast Company.

How the Tax System Makes It Worse

One of those inequality-exacerbating policies: preferential tax treatment for capital gains. In a Squawk Box debate with the American Enterprise Institute’s Alex Brill, Roosevelt Fellow and Groundwork Collaborative Executive Director Michael Linden makes the case that capital gains and corporate tax cuts have neither grown the economy nor improved life for most Americans. Watch here.

  • Coming soon: Next week, a report from Roosevelt and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) will outline the hidden rules of gender in the tax code and the ways that they’ve harmed women’s economic security. Our report is one of a three-part series from the NWLC on why tax justice is gender justice.

A Progressive Plan for Growth

“There’s a renewed interest in how you have a more active role of government in promoting key industries,” Roosevelt Vice President of Strategy and Policy Nell Abernathy tells Vox. For more from Abernathy, Stiglitz, and Roosevelt Fellows Darrick Hamilton and Mike Konczal, explore “The Progressive Vision for Economic Growth, Explained.”

  • Reclaiming public power: Rebuilding our economy and democracy requires renewed civic power, as authors K. Sabeel Rahman and Hollie Russon Gilman write in their new book. As Roosevelt Communications Director Kendra Bozarth tweeted during a Demos Twitter chat about the book, “We handed our government over to markets and handed our markets over to corporations. Power-building policymaking can reset the rules of the game and restore economic security and dignity to the people.”
  • We can afford it: This week, a briefing hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center reiterated a key pillar of that vision: We can afford more federal spending. “Our current economy stands only to benefit from increased public spending. It should be seen as a #FeatureNotABug of future economic policymaking,” the Roosevelt Institute tweeted.

What We’re Reading

Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis – K. Sabeel Rahman and Hollie Russon Gilman

Most of Nation’s Top Public Universities Aren’t Affordable for Low-Income Students – NPR

‘The Fabric of America Is Being Destroyed.’ Why This Ex-Trump Official Says Student Debt Needs to Be Cancelled – CNBC

Early Decision Harms Students of Color and Low-Income Students – Center for American Progress

Fed Says $500 Billion in Losses Show the Economic Threat of Climate Change – Bloomberg

It’s Too Late for a Carbon Tax—It’s Time for a World War Against Climate Change – Fast Company

Young Voters Helped Push Democrats to Victory in 2018. Can They Swing the 2020 Vote? – USA Today