Monday, July 28, 2008

America's New Social Contract

"[T]he 20th century's social contract is unraveling -- 8 in 10...yearn for a new bargain to help meet 21st century challenges."

Judith Rodin, The New Social Contract, Time, July 28, 2008.

Also reported in this issue of Time is the Time/Rockefeller poll in which "85% of Americans think the U.S. economy is off track." The Rockefeller Foundation has commited $70 million for a Campaign for American Workers that hopefully will shape "new poliy proposals and financial products that promote and protect savings, access to health care, and secure retirements."

Not mentioned directly in their discussion of our "implied" social contract is the divergence of U.S. productivity and compensation, experienced as a stagnation of wages for many working families. See: The State of Working America. How much progress can we make in equalizing risks without addressing this problem? Recent GAO reports underscore the seamy side of labor market deregulation and the role of the Department of Labor, even the use of immigrant child labor as reported in the New York Times.

A second concern I have relates to the trending patterns shown in a variety of polls and surveys, including the Time/Rockefeller poll, towards support for more government intervention and support related to the economy and poverty. The question for me is how do we translate public opinion and priorities into viable policy action. Do we need a social movement for a new social contract in addition to developing persuasive policy proposals? Remember Piven and Cloward's Poor People's Movements. What role can the Presidential race play in elevating discussion and action about economic insecurity and poverty?

We see growing movement locally and statewide for such policy changes as minimum wage, paid sick leave, and health insurance -- although change is becoming ovewhelmed by budget problems. And the unfortunate foreclosure crisis has provided an opening for bipartisan action about regulation and citizen protection as well as bail out. I guess the question for all of us is whether we will connect the dots to create a viable movement for enhancing economic security for all Americans?


Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

I would suggest the answer to your question -- how do we implement progressive policies that are supported by an increasing plurality of the people -- is political. The more we participate in primaries, donate to candidates and then follow up with the political side of governing which is lobbying, the more successful we will be. The more we stand apart from politics and governing as "a movement" and expect the elected officials to do their work separate and apart from us, the less successful we will be.

Bob Giloth said...

I worked in a progressive mayoral administration in Chicago during the 1980s -- for Harold Washington. My experience of making change underscored for me the important synergy among government leadership and executive capacity, politics, and grassoots advocacy and accountability. Obviously, this plays out differently at different levels of government. It is the rare "movement" in my experience that stands apart from politics and government. I more often have experienced elected officials who stand apart from citizens.