Without this third leg, the necessity, if not desperation, for employment needed to fulfill the first two legs of economic dignity can put workers at such a huge power imbalance that they can be forced to accept conditions that lead to humiliation, domination, abuse, and the denial of the basic joys of family. Unfortunately, many people in the economic world still seem to treat GDP as the end goal of economics. At a moment when the very capacity of modern capitalism to avoid accelerating inequality, a hollowed-out middle class, structural poverty, and growing economic insecurity is being questioned—and even the role of work in a coming age of A.I. But I do believe this ideal (however ignored or historically unrealized) to recognize the basic human desire to thrive, contribute, and pursue potential can be a unifying cause for Americans. When you look at this history, you see it rooted in the notion that capping someone’s potential to thrive would contradict both the national pursuit of a more productive economy and the inherent dignity of individuals feeling that they always have the opportunity to contribute. If we are to seek an economic metric worthy of serving as an economic North Star, it would have to analyze the cumulative impact of the economy and economic policy on human well-being. Economic Dignity is Sperling's effort to do just that - to frame our thinking about the way forward in a time of wrenching economic change. As MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee conclude in The Second Machine Age, “Technology is not destiny. Why? One can’t underestimate the degree that focus on these metrics can confuse our economic aspirations. There has also been justifiable anger in more recent years over the degree to which employers resort to crying “skills gap” in cases where higher wages and modest training could have punched the ticket. As important as progress on economic dignity in measurable areas like the poverty rate and median income is, many of the economic dignity harms suffered by millions of workers do not show up in any official metrics: They are the direct result of domination and humiliation in the workplace. Sperling directed the National Economic Council under both President Clinton (1997–2001) and President Obama (2011–2014). Giving all people a true first chance means taking on issues from pre-school to the accelerating inequality of opportunity that explodes as children of privilege gain every advantage of college preparation while children from poor urban schools have too little help getting on the right path, often with only one college adviser for every 500-1,000 students. What if this lack of paid family leave were simply a source of major economic unhappiness, with tens of millions of workers feeling that the need to provide for family robbed them of being able to experience many of life’s most precious and meaningful moments? Below are five guideposts that should inform that deliberation. The enforcement of economic rights through judicial channels forces us to question whether rights pertain to needs or democratic values. I also think that concentration has moved us in the wrong direction when it comes to basic spheres of economic dignity that should be guaranteed — and not subject to being trampled on due to unequal market power. And certainly, 2020 has been a landmark year in showing that the stock market is just a terrible measure of national well-being. This has received recognition as a first-tier economic issue, because it can be seen as negatively impacting a traditional economic metric — the labor force participation of women. Still I have to say that something about the nature of economic-policy debates can make you start to confuse the world of metrics, technocratic policies, and political strategies with your ultimate end goals. Economic Dignity is Sperling\'s effort to do just that - to frame our thinking about the way forward in a time of wrenching economic change. This focus on end impacts on people—as opposed to idealized assumptions about the values inherent in markets—forces a constant review of whether the structure of markets and competition is encouraging or undercutting economic dignity, and a commitment to take corrective action when it is the latter. “Double dignity jobs” are so promising because so many of the areas where our nation faces the greatest dignity gaps are ones that offer careers with ongoing innovation and the sense of purpose in serving others. . Economic dignity would mean being able “to care for your family and enjoy the most meaningful moments of family life, without economic deprivation taking … President Clinton’s statement that those who work full-time should not have to raise their families in poverty was a call for those of higher incomes to not see the working poor as an undeserving other, but as those who were sharing in the unifying tradition to work hard to care for family and thus a reason to dramatically expand the EITC. As we saw in the lead-up to the financial crisis, the spread of predatory practices in the housing market, for-profit education, and other areas can deliver assaults on economic dignity that can at times be as devastating as those relating to labor. There is no shortage of usages of the word “dignity”—from showing grace under difficult circumstances (“He handled the rebuke with great dignity.”), to the basic respect all people are due by virtue of their common humanity recognized in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the respect for autonomy of the individual that Supreme Court justices from William Brennan, Jr. to Anthony Kennedy have found embedded in the core of the Constitution. Four issues a year, $24. If we are clear-minded that the achievement of economic dignity is the ultimate end goal for economic policy, then we don’t handcuff ourselves from seeing issues like a lack of paid family leave, or rampant sexual harassment, as critical, first-tier “economic” issues — regardless of whether they show up in a prominent metric. Satisfaction of this first pillar no doubt means at least achieving affordable health security for all, a more secure retirement, and a dignified wage. Yet, the decision to deal with our broken social compact by eliminating any sense of pulling one’s weight or doing one’s share is not the right road to universal economic dignity. For me, I would find myself in the White House just wanting to step back and ask: “At someone’s deathbed, what would they look back on as most important to their life and sense of fulfillment?” Asking this doesn’t perhaps tell you what the precise corporate tax rate should be, or anything like that. This end goal of economic dignity could possibly reduce some of the policy tribalism in the United States. The former goes to protections that are needed to ensure that all people have a guarantee of economic dignity. We’ve seen the corrosive effect of attacks on collective bargaining: a diminished minimum wage, growing economic concentration, practices like abusive non-compete clauses, and forms of wage theft that require fixing. There are still few things that affirmatively impact lifetime income as much as a college degree. While the cost of providing free college tuition could run as high as $75 billion a year, the major UBI proposals run 40 times larger. Even more inclusive economic metrics cannot replace an end goal like economic dignity. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. Yet while many of these experiences may fall under the “best things in life are free” category, we know that economic deprivation and economic inequality indeed deny these basic joys and sources of meaning to tens of millions of people in our country. But beyond these protections, you also need broader structural reform that restores workers’ power to organize, to bond together, to have tight labor markets that give workers “Take this job and shove it” power — the options to exit if they are being mistreated or unfairly underpaid at their job. If we expanded benefits and income eligibility up the income ladder to more middle-class levels, in light of increased economic insecurity, it would both increase that number, and, most likely, the political support for those types of programs without suffering the excessive costs of pure universal programs. All rights reserved. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … Looking back, I feel such great admiration for the work of people like Ai-jen Poo, and Dorothy Bolden before her, and many others fighting for the economic dignity of domestic workers. Hopefully, when you go to the doctor, your doctor remembers that their end goal is not promoting a favorite medicine, but looking out for your health. From the speaker's bio: must be given in a manner that will respect the dignity of the life of service and labor which our aged citizens have given to the nation” [emphasis added]. We need to ensure these workers have good pay, benefits, the rights to organize, the ability to take on more responsibility and to pursue stronger career paths. We are already seeing this expansion of what constitutes “doing your part” in the growing pushes for the Social Security benefit formula to recognize years raising children, for paying family members engaged in uncompensated caregiving, or for broadening the EITC to cover unpaid care workers and students. "Economic Dignity" By Gene Sperling ... measured economic success by metrics like GDP instead of whether the economy was succeeding in lifting up the sense of meaning… Of course, the hypocrisy is obscene when you consider that this all happened, at least for white Americans, during the time of slavery. The primary focus here will be upon the broader question of the meaning as… It seeks to lay out three essential, interlocking pillars that define economic dignity and argue that it should be the singular end goal for economic policy and basis for policy prioritization. An economic dignity goal would still weigh widespread consumer benefits in terms of the degree to which convenience and lower prices ease the goal of caring for family—it simply would not assume such consumer welfare calculations should be dominant regardless of other economic dignity considerations. That was one of the moments making me feel it was worth stepping back and asking more people, more policymakers, to reflect more on what should be the ultimate goal of economic policy. Participating in the economy without domination or humiliation need not refer only to work. monetized figures don’t always capture everything that’s at stake.”. Policymakers could take the Hanauer-Rolf idea to an even more sweeping level where a small fraction of any dollar paid for any work—including contractors, household employees, care workers, and “gig economy” workers—would go to individualized federal government accounts to ensure support for Social Security, Medicare Part A, unemployment insurance, and other new benefits like paid leave, with any extra funds automatically returned or sent to a dedicated, safe tax-preferred savings account for the worker. The latter goes to the design of benefits so that they go to virtually everyone, thus making them less prone to stigmatization and more politically bullet-proof in budget battles. Take the health-care debate. I do think many progressives (most eloquently, Bobby Kennedy in 1968) have come to understand that GDP is nowhere near a proper end goal for judging whether economic policy is working to provide shared prosperity, happiness, and dignity for a nation’s people. While public programs like Social Security can be viewed as positive or affirmative protections of economic dignity, measures that outlaw sweatshops, child labor, sexual harassment, and other forms of exploitation can be viewed as negative protections that place limits on the degree to which we permit markets to impinge on the basic integrity and autonomy of people due to power differentials. Bold proposals for college affordability—from free tuition to ending crushing debt to major expansions in Pell grants—are an essential but far from complete agenda. We have to seize this moment to make a true and tangible commitment to economic dignity for all. The debate over pre-existing conditions has been a prime example. It is rather one policymaker’s attempt to go out of the comfort zone of numbers to delve into this larger question. An economic dignity compact must ensure that those who do their part are able to care and provide opportunity for family—and enjoy the greatest, most incalculable joys that come with that role. Or that farmworkers were risking their lives to provide us food while half did not have health care. This could be through a combination of tougher independent contractor rules, more benefits flowing from government, or an arrangement that requires employers to pay a similar slice of benefits for anyone doing work for them—regardless of employment status—so there is no cost advantage to only having elite workers officially on the payrolls of large companies. As Harvard professor Lawrence Katz and others have argued, we must expand the number and enrollment of quality four-year and two-year public institutions of higher education—something that has been woefully absent as states have pulled back funding—and ensure that those offering technical credentials, particularly for-profit institutions, can show strong evidence they are offering quality and job-relevant education. The International Bill of Rights grew out of these traditions, and calls for all governments to make sure their citizens have human rights—civil, political, social, cultural and economic. Kant described dignity as essentially a commitment to never treat a person as purely a means to an end. It leads to higher wages, and it helps overcome so-called structural unemployment by giving companies more incentive to provide intensive training to potential workers. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. It means recognizing the value of developing trusted and widely utilized skill “credentials” that match the needs of existing and future job openings and, with additional incentives, help encourage more companies to choose skilled workers over automation. All labor has dignity.”. Economic dignity protections for those fearing loss of health-care coverage due to pre-existing conditions and measures that address crushing student loan debt will both encourage more, not less, risk-taking and entrepreneurship. When advocates successfully focused the debate on the end goal—no price discrimination against those with serious illnesses—as opposed to whether it was “big government” or not, voters across the political and ideological spectrum united in support of the policy. Yes, by protecting earnings with policies like wage insurance, but also by ensuring the income and child-care support necessary to take on intensive and long-term education and skills needed to pursue new careers or start new businesses. Dignity definition: If someone behaves or moves with dignity , they are calm , controlled, and admirable . This is the point missed so often by conservatives who say they prioritize self-sufficiency, but then allow their ideological objection to government to take off the table the intensive support needed for self-sufficiency that individual employers have too little incentive to fund. Skilling up such care jobs—As SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has long called for—can lead to higher wages, more satisfying careers, and can reduce national health-care costs. As important as this enhanced economic dialogue is, much of the hard work lies in design issues, trade-offs, and the prioritization that comes from pulling together the critical components of a compact for economic dignity. When I want to ask such questions, I pose them to Gene Sperling. It seeks neither to explore highly technical issues of economic measurement nor sort out competing theories of social justice. Economic historians have indeed noted that “[I]t is likely that overall economic inequality was considerably less in the mainland colonies than in England at the time.”. Four, we need measures to combat all forms of racism in the workplace, as well as the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault unearthed by the #MeToo movement. Even the metric of job volume can lead policymakers to make the faulty assumption that the minimum wage should be capped precisely at the point it might result in even a very marginal reduction in jobs, without consideration of the economic dignity benefits of higher wages to tens of millions of families and the potential to compensate for small reductions through simultaneous increases in national service or infrastructure or green economy jobs. There’s no reason you cannot have a strong market economy that has policies ensuring everyone a basic level of economic dignity. It instead forces you to continually examine whether, in light of changing evidence, in light of global or national or technological or political trends, new policies or positions would be more effective in promoting economic dignity for all. This essay seeks to go beyond those invocations. He’s hoping that in several months it could become the guiding principle for a new presidency. Prioritizing an economic dignity end goal over economic statistics can embody the maxim that it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. While some on the right do use notions of the social compact to seek to unfairly denigrate a class of Americans receiving benefits as unworthy and to call for harsh and unnecessary “work requirements,” a broader sense of social compact can help people from dramatically different backgrounds support each other based on their common value of everyone doing their part. . See more. That much—that basic promise of economic dignity for all—is something that is within our grasp. Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Gene Sperling for Democracy (A Journal of Ideas). Skills that facilitate careers can be an important factor in the degree of job satisfaction many people have. But it makes you think differently. © 2019 Los Angeles Review of Books. If we are clear-minded that the achievement of economic dignity is the ultimate end goal for economic policy, then we don’t handcuff ourselves from seeing issues like a lack of paid family leave, or rampant sexual harassment, as critical, first-tier “economic” issues — regardless of whether they show up in a prominent metric. Truthfully, it shouldn’t have taken the COVID crisis to make us realize how essential to our lives farm workers and front-line health professionals and those who care for our loved ones are. The dignity of the human person, realized in community with others, is the criterion against which all aspects of economic life must be measured. Trends over the last few decades have clearly created a set of incentives that have fostered a competitive advantage for those companies who are best at contracting out for jobs that were formerly in-house. Economic dignity, defined by these three pillars, represents a more full, complete, and stable definition that can stand strong no matter what variation or circumstance is considered. It is to our deep national shame that these ideals often have not extended to the majority of our population for most of our history—through slavery, cruel and lingering racial discrimination, closed doors and glass ceilings for women, and the harsh reality that fewer than one in ten people from low-income families earns a bachelor’s degree. For your third pillar of economic dignity, concerns of abuse, domination, and humiliation stretch from the acutely personal forms of workplace harassment highlighted by recent #MeToo campaigns — all the way to economy-wide concerns of entrenched monopolistic firms treating employees, small-business suppliers, and consumers as little more than sources of profit margins. All human beings, therefore, are ends to be served by the institutions that make up the economy, not means to be exploited for more narrowly defined goals. Economic Dignity has been released in a time of massive upheaval, and it asks us not how we can get back to normal, but rather how we can imagine an economy that works for human beings in a way that hasn't always seemed like a priority or even measurable. The search for the ‘meaning of life’ pursued in this article is not as ambitious as it may at first appear. Indeed, increased economic volatility means that programs targeted to such hard-pressed working families will benefit a higher percentage of families at some point in their lives. How might mapping this broad range of exploitative practices help to trace certain spheres of dignity that we need to carve out as exempt from economic hierarchies and market-driven calculations? Perhaps that is why, even though Medicaid and the EITC have been attacked repeatedly by Republican majorities in Congress, both have been actually significantly expanded over the last 25 years. My personal journey on this issue led me to the view that our North Star for economic policy should be the three pillars of economic dignity that I lay out in this book: first, people having the capacity not only to care for their family (as they define family) but to experience life’s most precious moments; second, people having the capacity to pursue purpose and potential and meaning in one’s economic life (and receiving first and second chances to do so); third, people being able to work and participate in the economy with respect, free from domination and humiliation. 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