Category Archives: CONGRESS WATCH

Crisis Of Globalization: Restoring Social Investment Is Key

By Robert Kuttner – Why is democracy under siege throughout the West? How much of the story is cultural or racial, and how much is economic? And can the slide into authoritarianism be reversed? I think it can.

In the remarkable three decades after World War II, the economy delivered for ordinary people and there was broad support for democracy. That era was unique in two key respects.

First, the economy not only grew at record rates for peacetime, but it also became more equal. Second—and not coincidentally—this was a period when raw capitalism was tightly regulated, on both sides of the Atlantic, economically and politically.

Banking was very limited in what products it could offer, and at what prices. It was almost like a public utility. There were no exotic securities like credit derivatives to deliver exorbitant profits and put the whole economy at risk. Globally, there were fixed exchange rates and capital controls, so bankers could not make bets against currencies and entire economies.

Organized labor was empowered. Unions were accepted as legitimate social partners and had substantial influence. This was true in both Europe and America.

In the years since then, political and financial elites have redefined trade agreements to mean not just reciprocal cuts in tariffs but broader changes in global rules to make it easier for banks and corporations to evade national regulation.

Laissez-faire, discredited and marginalized after 1929, got another turn at bat(ting). Hyper-globalization was a key instrument. And that reversion had economic and ultimately political consequences. more>

Trump’s Assault on American Governance Just Crossed a Threshold

By John Cassidy – Since Donald Trump entered the White House, American democracy has sometimes been described as dangerously fragile, but that isn’t necessarily true. Having survived for two hundred and forty-two years, American democracy is more like a stoutly built ocean liner, with a maniac at the helm who seems intent on capsizing it. Every so often, he takes a violent tug at the tiller, causing the vessel to list alarmingly. So far, some members of the ship’s crew—judges, public servants, and the odd elected official—have managed to rush in, jag the tiller back, and keep the ship afloat. But, as the captain’s behavior grows more erratic, the danger facing the ship and its passengers increases.

All that concerns him is discrediting the Russia investigation and saving his own skin. To this end, he will do practically anything he can get away with. And, judging by the deathly silence from the Republican leadership over the past couple of days, he won’t receive any resistance from that quarter. To repeat, the danger is increasing. more>

How to Save the Human Race

BOOK REVIEW

World Population and Human Values: A New Reality, Authors: Jonas Salk and Jonathan Salk.

By Gabrielle Levy – Until only recently, the whole of human history has been marked by population growth, first gradual and then, in the past two hundred years, a sudden explosion. But in the last decades of the 20th century, population growth began to slow, and eventually, it will plateau or even decline.

The moment at which growth goes from accelerating to decelerating, according to a theory posited by Dr. Salk is called an inflection point – and would be filled with turmoil and conflict, but also opportunity.

Salk characterizes the time before the inflection point as Epoch A, and in that period, people were focused on their own betterment and achievement as necessary to capitalize on the potential for great growth. But going forward, after the inflection point in Epoch B, people will need to be more collaborative and sustainability-oriented. This plays out now in issues like climate change, where the world must work together to combat the issue.

The book has a particular kind of resonance and a particular kind of relevance at this moment in time, because we’re really seeing the pull between two differing value systems, and making decisions as a species about how we’re going to deal with the future. It’s always been a meaningful book, but I think it’s particularly poignant at this moment in time. more>

We Don’t Have Elections

BOOK REVIEW

Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection, Autor: Jacob Silverman.

How tech companies merge with the nation-state
By Jacob Silverman – It should shock no one if Facebook emerges from its latest privacy imbroglio with a meager fine and a promise to do better—even as our elected leaders, whose lack of knowledge of Facebook’s workings reflected their advanced age, tut-tutted that this time Facebook has to do better.

The canon of American regulatory practices tends toward the ceremonial, with extreme deference shown toward corporations that may one day hire former regulators. Senator Lindsey Graham even invited Zuckerberg to submit possible regulations—an example of regulatory capture so blatant that “corruption” doesn’t even seem like the proper word.

Playing along, Zuckerberg expressed an openness to regulation, though he asked for a light touch, which, barring another data spillage, he should expect.

Beyond a few mild critiques, Congress’s overriding opinion of Zuck seems to be that he was a classic American success story, and perhaps—in his cunning acquisition of ungodly riches on the backs of others’ labor—he is.

To better understand Silicon Valley’s politics, we might return to the nation-state metaphor and consider technology companies as recently ascendant great powers. Endowed with impressive resources, making themselves known in assorted global capitals, their CEOs are greeted in the manner of heads of state. Their vast offshore cash reserves resemble sovereign wealth funds, whose investments have the power to shape politics. more>

It’s Time to Protect Identity Like We Protect Critical Infrastructure

By Andre Durand – With the past year’s record-breaking wave of breaches, it is now safe to believe that most Americans have had their personal identity information exposed—and analysis of the Hudson Bay breach has confirmed this knowledge is now being traded in dark markets.

The long-term ramifications are going to have an impact on every public and private sector organization that utilizes our identity to conduct business and to provide access to critical systems, which will create disruption in our day-to-day activities and even to our way of life.

Because business and government institutions that handle personal information are vital to our society, it’s time to designate “identity” as a new segment in the nation’s critical infrastructure, a set of 16 sectors the Homeland Security Department deems essential to the nation’s well-being.

The entire identity chain must be strengthened to prevent these criminal activities. Birth certificates, which can be used to open bank accounts, are still administered by hospitals that are ill-equipped to manage security. Our government devotes huge resources to ensuring that currency can’t be counterfeited, yet it pays scant attention to documents that can be used to obtain multiple forms of ID. Every physical document we use to prove our identity should be made far harder to duplicate.

We can then move onto our digital systems. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why policy makers should nudge more
By Alex Verkhivker – When policy makers around the world want to influence their constituents’ behavior, they have a few options. They can offer a carrot, such as a tax incentive, stipend, or other reward. They can use the legislative stick by passing a mandate or a ban.

But research suggests they should turn more often to a third tool, a “nudge,” which in many cases is the most cost-effective option.

Nudging is the word used in behavioral science for structuring policies and programs in ways that encourage, but don’t compel, particular choices. For instance, requiring people to opt out of rather than into a program, such as a retirement savings plan, might nudge them toward participating. So might reducing the paperwork necessary to enroll. more>

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From a nation at risk to a democracy at risk: Educating students for democratic renewal

BOOK REVIEW

How Democracies Die, Authors: Madeleine Albright, Ronald Inglehart, Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

By Fernando Reimers – Public schools were invented to prepare people for self-governance, and to work with others towards the improvement of their communities and for the betterment of society. These were the arguments Horace Mann used, in the 1830s, when he led a successful advocacy campaign to launch public education in Massachusetts. Since then, schools in America have in many ways provided students the capacities necessary to engage civically, to collaborate with others, across lines of difference, in making society better.

As American democracy has evolved, so have the ways in which schools embrace their civic mission. For much of their history, our public schools did not hold women and men to similar expectations, nor did they adequately educate African Americans and other ethnic minorities. It was only when social movements, such as the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, broadened our collective understanding of who should be included in the opportunity to participate in this democratic experiment of self-rule, that schools, in turn, broadened their focus to prepare women and minorities for civic engagement and leadership.

The global democratic setback is the most severe since the end of World War II.

It is time to replace the powerful compact and narrative that A Nation At Risk provided to guide our schools three decades ago, with a more capacious vision for how our schools can help our students stand up for a democracy that is very much at risk. more>

Capitalism Redefined

BOOK REVIEW

Theory of Value, Author: Gerard Debreu.
The Origin of Wealth, Author: Eric Beinhocker.

By Nick Hanauer and Eric Beinhocker – For everyone but the top 1 percent of earners, the American economy is broken.

Since the 1980s, there has been a widening disconnect between the lives lived by ordinary Americans and the statistics that say our prosperity is growing. Despite the setback of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy more than doubled in size during the last three decades while middle-class incomes and buying power have stagnated. Great fortunes were made while many baby boomers lost their retirement savings. Corporate profits reached record highs while social mobility reached record lows, lagging behind other developed countries.

These facts don’t just highlight the issues of inequality and the growing power of a plutocracy. They should also force us to ask a deeper set of questions about how our economy works—and, crucially, about how we assess and measure the very idea of economic progress.

How can it be that great wealth is created on Wall Street with products like credit-default swaps that destroyed the wealth of ordinary Americans—and yet we count this activity as growth?

Likewise, fortunes are made manufacturing food products that make Americans fatter, sicker, and shorter-lived. And yet we count this as growth too—including the massive extra costs of health care.

Global warming creates more frequent hurricanes, which destroy cities and lives. Yet the economic activity to repair the damage ends up getting counted as growth as well.

Great debates rage about whether to raise or lower interest rates, or increase or decrease regulation, and our political system has been paralyzed by a bitter ideological struggle over the budget. But there is too little debate about what it is all for.

Hardly anyone ever asks: What kind of growth do we want? What does “wealth” mean? And what will it do for our lives? more>

How the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation empowers digital civic engagement


By Hollie Russon-Gilman – The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is scheduled to take effect on May 25. While companies who serve customers in the EU have to adhere, there are numerous applications for civil society, journalists, academia, philanthropy, and the private sector as well.

The GDPR represents an important step forward for envisioning a civic life where citizens are empowered not only as data producers but also data owners. Any conversation of leveraging data, technology, or innovation to enhance civic life or governance should seriously consider how such a framework could more deeply empower citizens in the United States.

Several core components of the GDPR are relevant for broader governance and civic conversations around the world. First, having a clear sense of who collects your information and what information they collect. This reflects a demand to look under the hood at how your personal information is used and what is shown to you in turn. The GDPR requires notification if a breach has occurred within 72 hours.

Understanding the implications behind algorithmic decisionmaking begins with understanding what data is being generated and how that information is being collected, used, disseminated, and re-packaged both to the user and others.

Second, having a right to be forgotten. If I want my data to be removed from a company, the GDPR provides this opportunity. One of the most exciting aspects of the GDPR is the concept of “data portability.”

Third, enhancing data protection responsibilities. The GDPR aims to foster better practices from the onset with privacy in mind.

As communication moves almost entirely to networked online technology platforms, the governance questions surrounding data and privacy have far-reaching civic and political implications for how people interact with all aspects of their lives, from commerce and government services to their friends, families, and communities. That is why we need a discussion about data protections, empowering users with their own information, and transparency. more>

America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People

BOOK REVIEW

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Author: Peter Temin.

By Lynn Parramore – America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success.

They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector.

Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all.

Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in.

While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.

The result is profoundly disturbing. more>