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Labor leaders from Mother Jones to Cesar Chavez, and civil rights icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, made clear that beyond the higher wages or better benefits that came with unionization or new civil rights laws was the sense of dignity won through those gains. 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? An economic dignity net needs to be able to adjust and expand to the changes in economic trends and social norms that go to the heart of ensuring a capacity to care for family and realize its greatest joys. All of this is good and right — but I think it’s important for us to note that even these better metrics shouldn’t be mistaken as an ultimate end goal. The textbook case that gives credence to this political argument for universal programs is the relative political strength of Social Security and Medicare, as opposed to Medicaid or SNAP. 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. 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. The enforcement of economic rights through judicial channels forces us to question whether rights pertain to needs or democratic values. While they are often discussed as if they were two completely different segments of America, what sadly links the laid-off white Rust Belt worker in his 50s to the low-income minority youth from a dysfunctional school and economically disadvantaged community is the dignity hit of feeling denied a real chance to pursue his or her full potential and purpose. An economic dignity goal makes the central focus of economic policy its end impacts on human well-being as opposed to an ideological or theoretical debate over whether services should be delivered by market mechanisms or government. See more. Patriarchy Prevents Women’s Economic Autonomy 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. GENE SPERLING: For someone like myself (and, I’d assume, for many people), you enter the policy world with a basic moral desire to promote a vision of economic justice — of basic fairness and racial justice. 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. And yet, while there is deep truth to the saying that “The best things in life are free,” the reality is that economic deprivation, discrimination, flaws in market rules, and gaping holes in the safety net deny tens of millions of Americans these familial joys. 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. Dignity definition: If someone behaves or moves with dignity , they are calm , controlled, and admirable . To read the complete article and check out others, please click here. Even in the development of the explicit compact in FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, individual responsibility is described as broader than just work: “the right to…command the necessities and amenities of life in exchange for work, ideas, thrift and other socially valuable service” [emphasis added]. But they still fall short of capturing the full measure of economic dignity. 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. For all the things we find time for in the ongoing economic policy debates I have seen or been part of over the last 30 years, there seems to me too little reflection on the most basic economic question of all: What exactly is our ultimate economic goal in terms of increasing human happiness and well-being? 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. © Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Inc. All right reserved. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead.” In his book on FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, Cass Sunstein indeed points out that New Deal policymakers were willing to opt for economic support through employment even if it was more expensive than pure cash relief, because it honored our American sense of a social compact. Low unemployment or rising median income are much better indicators of national well-being than the stock market for sure. An economic dignity framework, however, would still weigh the benefits of lower prices for workers trying to care for family, but as part of a full consideration of economic dignity, not as a rigid consumer welfare test. 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. 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. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can … 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. A full UBI plan that offered $12,000 per adult and $4,000 for each child under 18 would cost at least $3 trillion annually. This should make us open to an expanded economic dignity compact that includes contribution through personal care for family, service to community, or efforts to increase one’s skills. Particularly vulnerable workers who are not unionized, or who lack language skills and reasonable options to exit abusive work conditions, are most prone to a denial of economic dignity that can be invisible under current economic accounting. and robots is less certain—we should be stepping back to reflect on what is precisely the ultimate economic goal we aspire to. 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. Rather than a full UBI, we should call for a Dignity Wage as part of a UBED package. I’ve found myself stepping outside usual economic metrics to ask: What would people on their death bed say mattered most in their economic lives? But they can also come at a cost: It becomes too easy for too many of us to dig in on specific policies and strategies as if they were ends in themselves. Beyond policy positions, a major place where you can see this confusion between ends and means is the area of metrics. Progressive economists rightly try to shift the focus to broader measures of well-being: like low unemployment, underemployment, and median income. That much—that basic promise of economic dignity for all—is something that is within our grasp. STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Concerns about economic inequality have become a regular part of the political debate in the U.S. for the past decade or so. 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. The claim by Howard Schultz that a Medicare for All policy is “not American” is an unfortunate example of focusing on the means of delivery—in this case an all-government program—as opposed to debating what most effectively delivers the health security essential to economic dignity. And how might this focus on both first and second chances speak in unifying terms to, say, under-resourced communities of color and economically displaced majority-white communities? 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. 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. 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. This essay seeks to go beyond those invocations. An economic dignity end goal should also elevate the focus on structuring labor markets in order to give more workers the leverage and voice needed for economic dignity on the job. “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, 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. . Ensuring a quality higher education for one’s children has become more essential for economic security and mobility, so has ensuring such education for one’s children become a more essential component of economic dignity for parents—as it has become critical to the economic security and mobility of their children. In addition to putting at risk existing safety-net programs, UBI could crowd out the full set of measures needed for UBED—including bold new proposals on green infrastructure jobs, expanded Social Security and health care, and free or affordable college. 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. From Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of Social Security in the 1930s, to Ai-jen Poo’s advocacy for a revolution of care more than 80 years later, as the head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the notion of a “dignified retirement” has been invoked by countless political leaders. This present conversation focuses on Sperling’s book Economic Dignity. Millions of workers still face domination, humiliation, and abuse. Politics and policy are hard, even brutal at times, but I have never lost that special feeling of working with a team committed to doing something bigger than ourselves. . We need to cultivate both worker skills and worker power — as a dynamic duo, not an either-or. Referring to economic, social and cultural issues as "rights" uses the legal framework developed under international law, and gives individuals legitimate clai… He founded the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, has been a senior economic adviser on multiple presidential campaigns, and was a consultant on NBC’s The West Wing. As even a Republican President like George W. Bush has recognized, we idealize the United States as “the land of second chances.” In the early 1800s, the United States was unique in its commitment to end debtors’ prisons and define the need for early bankruptcy laws not just to prevent creditor-rushes, but also to give the debtor “a fresh start”—a chance to still contribute, pursue potential, and find purpose. And we need to start seeing these jobs as what I call “double-dignity jobs” — jobs that promote dignity both for workers, and for those who benefit from this work. This risk can be most easily seen in the case of Universal Basic Income (UBI). In the realm of economic policy, dignity is often invoked with power and eloquence to refer to a higher, more spiritual impact on individual integrity and self-worth beyond dollars and cents—especially related to work, retirement, and civil rights. In it, he argues that economic dignity should be our national north star -- and that it should include a commitment to a stronger social compact for economic security and pursuing purpose and meaning, while ensuring that workers should have more rights and power to be free from the "forces of domination and humiliation." Yet there are few areas where our past and present realities have diverged so dramatically from our ideals. Market fundamentalists on the right too often see the use of market mechanisms as the end goal due to their belief that it is inherently more efficient and promotional of freedom. A country’s Gini coefficient—which measures income inequality—could “improve” if incomes for the top 1 percent fell 30 percent while other incomes plunged only 20 percent, though few would think human fulfillment had improved. The consistent ideological focus by conservatives on smaller government, thinner safety nets, and less regulation blinds them from acknowledging both the threats and necessary public policy responses to economic dignity. But you can see how people start locking into a defense or critique of a specific policy, or political strategy, or particular metric as if these were the end goal themselves — as opposed to means or guideposts to some higher aspiration for economic policy. We clearly do not have that floor, that universal capacity to enjoy these moments which should come equally to all people. If we can experience, in such a short span, a revolution in matching romantic partners over the Internet, certainly we can do better in better informing and training workers for the skills they need to meet the criteria for jobs in demand in the present and near future. It’s not good enough to call these workers heroes, and applaud, and then just allow an economic framework to continue that denies them basic dignity. 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]. When I want to ask such questions, I pose them to Gene Sperling. Take the issue of paid family leave. Or that farmworkers were risking their lives to provide us food while half did not have health care. One only has to read Ida Tarbell’s description of how her father and friends in Pennsylvania felt that “dignity and success lay in being your own master” and yet “were entirely at the mercy” of monopoly and dishonesty to know that protecting the economic dignity of small business owners and suppliers in the face of domination and humiliation was at the emotional core of those who first challenged John D. Rockefeller. Skills that facilitate careers can be an important factor in the degree of job satisfaction many people have. 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. We need to strengthen the right to organize at every level. if you’re looking at a rule for veterans to get access to a building . . A UBI grant de-linked from work or income or wealth drives its cost to astronomical levels. Government cannot guarantee happiness. It makes you see economic goals more in terms of what matters to people’s dignity and sense of themselves and their role as parents, workers, sons and daughters. By observing, respecting, and adhering to the goals of economic justice, government actions toward protecting human dignity transition from aspirational to productive. No one should be considered a Luddite merely for considering issues of economic dignity as we confront the ongoing threat of job polarization due to the acceleration of AI, robots, and automation. We saw this with the Supreme Court, as it went from striking down minimum wage laws in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital in 1923 to upholding them in 1937 in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish. The ultimate responsibility to ensure that citizens can obtain dignity falls on government, even if the delivery mechanism chosen to provide those ends might sometimes be the market. Even metrics like low unemployment or modestly rising wages don’t measure whether jobs give people voice, whether these jobs facilitate them being able to be there for their families in life’s most precious moments, or whether these jobs cause them to be treated with respect or abuse in their work and economic lives. Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes explicitly recognized the potential loss of economic dignity for vulnerable workers—particularly women—because “bargaining power is relatively weak, and…they are the ready victims of those who would take advantage of their necessitous circumstances.” New collective bargaining laws upheld by the Supreme Court in this same period represented a clear rejection of the formal view of an individual employee and an individual company engaged in equal freedom to contract, and a recognition that without the freedom to organize, “workers often had to accept employment on whatever terms employers dictated” due to “the bargaining power imbalance workers faced,” as Justice Ginsburg wrote in her recent dissent in Epic Systems v. Lewis. We must not lose sight of what economic policy is all about: allowing people to lead dignified lives. An economic dignity goal makes central policies’ impacts on well-being as opposed to ideological debates over market versus government. . Economic dignity would mean being able “to care for your family and enjoy the most meaningful moments of family life, without economic deprivation taking … 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. For now, economic dignity is an idea that Sperling eloquently describes in his book. 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. Instead, this is about building an economic dignity net that does not accept that the price of change must be indifference to job quality and grievous economic harms to a segment of working families simply because they were in the wrong job in the wrong industry in the wrong region at the wrong time. Such negative protections draw on Kant’s definition of dignity: that people should never be treated as only means to an end, but as ends in themselves. Legislative victories on these items truly can alter the power balance, can help to transform domineering or humiliating workplace situations into respectful and fulfilling arrangements, all while reducing wage inequality. This isn’t to downplay the importance of metrics, numbers, evidence, and rigorous analysis. On the legislative front, we need a new economic dignity compact that includes a higher minimum wage, a stronger set of civil-rights protections, paid sick and family leave, and of course health care. One thing I think everybody in a governing situation goes through is learning that effective policymaking often doesn’t just mean what you are for or believe is right — but what is most important: what should be most prioritized in a budget, or State of the Union, or on the legislative calendar. I think of the Fight for $15, for example, as the single most exhilarating, powerful, pro-worker grassroots movement I’ve seen in recent decades. Today, even some commentators on the right have questioned the virtue of loyalty to market fundamentalism that seems blind to morality or fairness. 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. was National Economic Adviser and Director of the National Economic Council for both President Obama (2011-2014) and President Clinton (1997-2001). What makes economists so often “confuse… technocratic policies, and political strategies with… ultimate end goals”? What makes paid family leave or rampant sexual harassment critical economic issues, “regardless of whether they show up in a prominent metric”? The foundation of all Catholic Social Teaching is the inherent dignity of the human person, as created in the image and likeness of God. First, some sense of a social compact is rooted deep in the American character, as is a sense that working to care for family provides many with a sense of purpose and a vehicle to pursue potential. All of that makes you see why something like health care security and protecting people with pre-existing conditions, or the right to organize and have paid leave, can be core issues for how people look at their economic lives — again, regardless of how much these concerns show up in GDP. It is a shame that it took urban elites focusing (and relying) on Uber and Instacart to indirectly help raise to the fore the working conditions and economic insecurity that more vulnerable populations like domestic, care, and other contract workers have faced for decades. Much of the great disillusionment today exists not because people are expected to work or in some way contribute or do their part, but because they feel they did and were denied the basic measure of economic dignity that they thought they had a right to expect. One can’t underestimate the degree that focus on these metrics can confuse our economic aspirations. There are still few things that affirmatively impact lifetime income as much as a college degree. 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? Likewise, if a large percentage of women (and sometimes men) find that participating in economic life to support their families or to pursue their potential requires them to tolerate domination, humiliation, and the abuse of sexual harassment, should we only label that a major economic issue if it shows up in an employment metric? Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … 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.

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