The Commons hosts commentary from contributing writers across the political spectrum, advancing American Compass’s mission through discussion that combines intellectual combat and personal civility.
Paul Krugman famously called the federal government “an insurance company with an army.” In this, unlike most things, he is not entirely wrong. When it comes to domestic policy, the lion’s share of government spending is social insurance payments (Medicare, Social Security, the SSDI disability program, unemployment insurance) and social assistance via the safety net (TANF, food stamps, housing vouchers, the SSI disability program, and so on). Many of our most contentious political debates concern how and why to expand, contract, supplement, or reform these various programs: from welfare reform in the 1990s, Social Security privatization and Obamacare in the 2000s, entitlement reform (mainly Medicare “premium support”) in the 2010s, and now proposals for a child allowance or universal basic income.
My husband and I are proud to have two very intelligent and well-educated children. Yes, every parent thinks their kids are special, but they’ve always done well in school and our family paid a great deal of money to help cultivate their minds. We sent them both to college in hopes of them having the best opportunities for lucrative employment.
What did we get in exchange for four years of massive expenses, plus the extra years on their own dime, plus the many (far-too-easily-attained) student loans they will be working for years to repay?
If you thought a solid job opportunity and a pathway into the middle class, you’d be wrong.
Buried within the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation package is a provision to extend the recently expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) to undocumented immigrants. This would be a grave mistake, and I say that as both a supporter of the CTC expansion and as a proponent of more liberal immigration.
In their adoption of “progressive” agendas, both unions and corporations have ignored entirely the preferences and interests of workers. (Whether an agenda that abandons workers can rightly be called progressive is a question for another day.) Not What They Bargained For, the American Compass survey of worker attitudes, highlights the ways that the labor movement’s focus on progressive politics has undermined its own popularity and alienated the lower and working classes. Workers similarly disdain “woke” employers.
Some people believe the American Dream is dead and the game is rigged against them.
That isn’t my mindset or attitude. In order to fulfill your dreams, you must aspire to be what you desire. That is the American Dream, to me. And I think some people don’t understand what fulfilling that American Dream can take.
How Antitrust Failed Workers, by Eric A. Posner (Oxford University Press, 224 pp., $29.95)
In 1776, Adam Smith made perhaps the most famous statement linking monopoly power to labor. “Masters,” he wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate.” Today, however, rather than taking Smith’s maxim as a warning, most lawyers and judges have come to treat it as a guidebook. Read More
The Biden administration is trying to launder widespread support for emergency COVID relief into irreversible changes to the nation’s economic policy. Upon signing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March, President Biden explained that “everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation.” But within a week, he was celebrating that “this is the first time we’ve been able to, since the Johnson administration and maybe even before that, to begin to change the paradigm.” Fortunately, the American people are smarter than that, as their attitudes toward the expanded Child Tax Credit make clear.
Riding the wave of bipartisan enthusiasm for direct checks in response to the pandemic’s economic shutdowns, the ARP implements a one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit: nearly doubling its value, offering payments monthly instead of at year’s end, and, most importantly, making all families eligible regardless of whether anyone in the household works. (Previously, as the term “tax credit” implies, the credit was paid only to families with taxable income, as a credit against taxes paid.) Just a few months into the “temporary” program’s implementation, Democrats are proposing to include a multi-year extension in their budget package, with proponents daring anyone to rescind their newly created entitlement.
Voters are nonplussed. Separate polls in July by Morning Consult and YouGov both found support for the one-year program but opposition to making it permanent. Now, American Compass has released the results of a more in-depth survey that shows both how little COVID has shifted the nation’s permanent attitudes and how badly the idea of unconditional, unending cash subverts American principles of reciprocity and self-sufficiency. Read More
Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, by Vivek Ramaswamy (Center Street, 320 pp., $15.99)
Vivek Ramaswamy opens his book on the perils of woke capitalism by declaring himself a traitor to his class. He’s got the perfect elite resume: Harvard undergrad, partner at a hedge fund, Yale Law School, and founder of a biotech company today valued at $7 billion. He’s also, if not fully diverse by today’s standards—Indians, like Asians, are considered “white-adjacent”—at least not white.
Last year, however, Ramaswamy started writing op-eds for The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and National Review in which he said things that members of the ruling class are not supposed to. He denounced wokeness as a fundamentalist religion. He condemned corporate retaliation to Georgia’s new election laws. And after the January 6th riots, Ramaswamy did the unspeakable: he defended free speech for President Trump and called for an end to tech censorship. Read More
Opposition to globalization. Efforts to weaken intellectual property protections. Pushing for municipal broadband. Calls for the National Institutes of Health to develop drugs. What do these positions have in common? They are all examples of the recent turn toward anti-corporate progressivism. This shift is defined by a fierce determination to expand government provision of goods and services; to support small, locally owned firms; and to break up or heavily regulate big corporations.
So-called Big Tech companies face broad scrutiny these days from the media, advocacy groups, lawmakers, and regulators. But for most progressives, this anti-corporatism extends well beyond the tech sector. It has become a general operating principle: the go-to policy formula for righting wrongs. It’s a conviction so firmly held that it is no longer just the means to an end—for many, it’s the end in itself.
The Long Crisis: New York City and the Path to Neoliberalism, by Benjamin Holtzman (Oxford University Press, 331 pp., $34.95)
New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation, by Thomas Dyja (Simon & Schuster, 523 pp., $30)
New York’s four-decade success story is showing its age. Even before COVID-19 bared the city’s lack of resilience—a death rate of 400 per 100,000, more than twice as high as that of the nation as a whole, a murder tally that shot up by nearly 50% the moment people were left to fend for themselves, and a job-loss total that remains nearly four times as high as the country’s—thinkers were reconsidering Gotham’s self-forged millennial re-origin story. That is, that after the crisis of the 1970s, the city mended its profligate ways, cut crime, and saw a historic resurgence that benefitted everyone, from Park Avenue billionaires to just-arrived immigrants from the poorest countries in the world.
Two new books—Benjamin Holtzman’s The Long Crisis and Thomas Dyja’s New York, New York, New York—ditch the clichés, old and new, and use two starkly different styles of research and writing to arrive at the same conclusion, one that’s no less accurate for being yet another cliché. Ideologically, culturally, economically, whatever-ally, New York City is impossible to categorize. Read More