Responsive Politics

Defining success as achievement of the outcomes that people value most

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Policymakers have depended in recent decades on an economic model that uses “consumer welfare” as its only measuring stick. In this way of thinking, policies are successful if they increase how much we can all consume. Whether income is earned through paychecks or redistributed through government transfers, whether communities thrive or collapse, whether inequality rises, whether families form, none of that counts. If everyone has more stuff, the market has delivered.

As a result, both economists and politicians ignored Americans’ growing frustration with an economy that offered big flat-screen TVs at door-busting prices, but shipped manufacturing jobs overseas. According to the economic theory, that was a great trade. Likewise, using government checks to make up for stagnating paychecks was widely celebrated as a solution, though most Americans saw it as a problem.

This is why economics needs politics. The market has amazing power to coordinate the actions of millions of individuals through price signals and freely chosen transactions. But the market has no power to recognize, let alone provide for, the many needs that are not reflected in price signals, even when they are more important to people’s lives and require greater coordination and cooperation.

No matter how much people want to see investment, growth, and job creation spread widely across the country, markets will concentrate it in narrow geographies or send it overseas if that provides investors the greatest return. No matter how much people care about forming and raising strong families in thriving communities, markets will value their efforts and the results at roughly zero. Identifying such priorities, and establishing public policies that force market actors to take account of them, is a task that only politics can complete.

At American Compass, we work to identify the values and priorities that Americans hold dear but markets ignore, and to ensure that the nation’s politics and policymakers do not ignore them as well.

We do this through a variety of projects that aim to bring forward perspectives missing from national policy debates. For example, The Edgerton Essays feature commentary from two dozen working-class Americans answering the question, “what do you wish policymakers knew about the challenges facing their families and communities?” Our in-depth surveys of thousands of Americans provide a novel view of their concerns and aspirations for their families and their careers. And our Atlas series highlights the data hiding in plain sight on the American experience and how it differs from the popular narrative.

For economic policy to succeed, policymakers must know what their constituents want them to accomplish. Economists have claimed to know people’s interests better than the people themselves, with disastrous results. Conservative economics accepts with humility that it can answer the question of “how,” but only after the nation has decided the “what.”

Start Here
8/19/2021
The Edgerton Essays

Perspectives from the Working Class

Featured Content

Collections

The Edgerton Essays

8/19/2021

Perspectives from the Working Class

Lost in the Super Market

6/1/2021

Navigating the Digital Age

What Happened: The Trump Presidency in Review

12/8/2020

Ross Douthat, Rachel Bovard, Oren Cass, and Arthur Bloom discuss what happened: the degree to which personnel is policy, how the economy performed during the Trump presidency, and what a forward-looking, post-Trump agenda should encompass.

Party Foul

10/13/2020

How the Left and Right Fail American Voters

Essays

With All Due Respect to the Experts

5/20/2022 • Oliver Traldi

We need and value expertise, yet our public square tends to amplify precisely those least worthy of our trust. How should we decide who counts as an expert, what topics their expertise properly addresses, and which claims deserve deference?

The Five Deadly Sins of the Left

10/13/2020 • Ruy Teixeira

Identity Politics. Retro-Socialism. Catastrophism. Growthphobia. Technopessimism.

The Three Deadly Sins of the Right

10/13/2020 • Henry Olsen

Market Fundamentalism. Snobbery. Hubris.

Surveys

The Family Policy Renaissance, Explained

2/8/2024

Republicans, Independents, and the working and middle classes respond to the pressures facing working families

How the Biden White House Cornered Itself

1/25/2024

The president’s polarizing policies are ones that divide Democrats and the upper class from everyone else

The American Rejection of Globalization

1/11/2024

While many economists continue to insist that globalization has benefited the United States, the American people do not agree.

Labor Market Not Yet Working for Workers

10/4/2023

New data on job quality and worker views on unions

The New Conservative Voter

9/27/2023

A realignment that focuses the Republican Party on pro-worker economic policy is well underway

Family Affordability Survey

2/14/2023

American families, across parties and classes, broadly share a definition of the middle class and concern with how the economy has made middle-class life harder.

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