Peter Dreier: America’s Tomorrow, Promoting the “Growth-with-Equity” Agenda

This post is part of a series presenting equity leaders’ reactions to “America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model” — a new paper that challenges the nation to invest in our collective future. This post is written by Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. Click here to read other reflections

One hundred years ago, progressive thinkers and activists who called for women’s suffrage, laws protecting the environment, an end to lynching, the right of workers to form unions, a progressive income tax, a federal minimum wage, old-age insurance, the eight-hour workday, and government-subsidized health care were considered impractical idealists, utopian dreamers, or dangerous socialists. Now we take these ideas for granted. The radical ideas of one generation have become the common sense of the next.


The major idea of America’s Tomorrow – that a policy agenda centered on growth-with-equity is the best way forward – is hardly radical.  The entire report is full of practical, common sense remedies to the current economic crisis. It should be a no-brainer. But it isn’t, because there are political forces in our country that demonize the very idea of equality, who stigmatize government as inherently inefficient, who think that if families struggle to find jobs, earn a living wage, and pay the mortgage it is their own fault, and who believe that there is no such thing as the common good or the public interest. In recent years, these forces have gained ground in the political world and in the battle of ideas.


But recently these forces, including the Tea Party and its allies in business and politics, have been in retreat.  The Occupy Wall Street movement helped change the national conversation. At kitchen tables, in coffee shops, in offices and factories, and in newsrooms, Americans are now talking about economic inequality, corporate greed, and how America’s super-rich have damaged our economy and our democracy. The wide gulf between the richest one percent and the rest of Americans hasn’t changed during the past year, but Occupy Wall Street has made it a major topic of discussion across the nation.


The question now is whether a coalition of conscience can take advantage of the new mood in the country, which has created openings for unions, community organizations, faith-groups, and fair-minded elected officials to promote the “growth-with-equity” agenda. What’s need now is a broad movement that can translate the ideas in America’s Tomorrow into the world of politics and policy. Expanding much-needed public infrastructure, creating good, green jobs that pay a living wage, and advocating a progressive fair tax system should be the rallying cry of grassroots activists and the litmus test issues in the upcoming 2012 elections. The urgent ideas in America’s Tomorrow offer a blueprint for the next New Deal.  Can we seize the opportunity to make it happen?


Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. He is coauthor of Regions That Work, Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century, and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City.  His next book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, will be published by Nation Books in the spring of 2012.

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