economic dignity meaning
Truthfully, it shouldn’t have taken the COVID crisis to make us realize how essential to our lives farm workers and front-line health professionals and those who care for our loved ones are. Over the years, I have found myself stepping outside of the normal metrics that define our national economic dialogue to ask myself: What would a person on his or her death bed say mattered most in his or her economic life? While some on the right do use notions of the social compact to seek to unfairly denigrate a class of Americans receiving benefits as unworthy and to call for harsh and unnecessary “work requirements,” a broader sense of social compact can help people from dramatically different backgrounds support each other based on their common value of everyone doing their part. While public programs like Social Security can be viewed as positive or affirmative protections of economic dignity, measures that outlaw sweatshops, child labor, sexual harassment, and other forms of exploitation can be viewed as negative protections that place limits on the degree to which we permit markets to impinge on the basic integrity and autonomy of people due to power differentials. Progressives, on the other hand, have shown an increased boldness in proposing new policies aimed at addressing economic dignity gaps. The enforcement of economic rights through judicial channels forces us to question whether rights pertain to needs or democratic values. 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. This has received recognition as a first-tier economic issue, because it can be seen as negatively impacting a traditional economic metric — the labor force participation of women. 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. Those like EPI’s Larry Mishel, who have long made these arguments, have been proven right following economic developments over the last two decades. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. Indeed, an over-reliance even on the best economic metrics can too easily make too many people and too much economic pain invisible. Yes, growth can be an essential means to our goals, but it is not an end goal in and of itself. Government cannot guarantee happiness. 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. Rather than a full UBI, we should call for a Dignity Wage as part of a UBED package. I give several examples in the book. I don’t think anyone intends for that to happen. Portrait of Gene Sperling above courtesy of Praise Santos. One point I try to make when talking to young economists is the degree to which the economics profession often doesn’t even recognize something as an “economic” issue unless it can be lodged in a major metric. This present conversation focuses on Sperling’s book Economic Dignity. And could you sketch a few striking manifestations of how this particular inequality plays out in everyday strains placed on American families — say with 70 percent of low-wage workers now required to keep their schedule “open and available” to suit their employers’ needs? Likewise, issues of economic dignity should be more front and center on trade—as opposed to taking a back seat to a consumer welfare analysis. Policymakers could take the Hanauer-Rolf idea to an even more sweeping level where a small fraction of any dollar paid for any work—including contractors, household employees, care workers, and “gig economy” workers—would go to individualized federal government accounts to ensure support for Social Security, Medicare Part A, unemployment insurance, and other new benefits like paid leave, with any extra funds automatically returned or sent to a dedicated, safe tax-preferred savings account for the worker. . We need to cultivate both worker skills and worker power — as a dynamic duo, not an either-or. While the political logic of universal programs is important and experience-based, making individual programs universal as opposed to using some targeting based on income, need, and deprivation of economic dignity needs to be a judgment call—not a decision rule. . Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … Historically, we measure economic progress first and foremost by growth. His argument combines moral and intellectual seriousness with actual high-level policy experience. Skills that facilitate careers can be an important factor in the degree of job satisfaction many people have. When advocates successfully focused the debate on the end goal—no price discrimination against those with serious illnesses—as opposed to whether it was “big government” or not, voters across the political and ideological spectrum united in support of the policy. One can’t underestimate the degree that focus on these metrics can confuse our economic aspirations. . It seeks to lay out three essential, interlocking pillars that define economic dignity and argue that it should be the singular end goal for economic policy and basis for policy prioritization. Again, this doesn’t mean we’ve ever faced some either-or choice. From an economic dignity perspective, a job creation program should focus on what I will call “double dignity jobs”—jobs that offer workers the dignity of a sense of meaningful skilled work in the cause of closing dignity gaps for others. Sign up for our print edition! While there is no escaping qualitative judgements in defining an economic dignity goal, if we’re in search of a more meaningful metric, it would be an evolving “Economic Dignity Index” that looked at the various end impacts on human well-being: health care, college opportunity, second chances, affordable housing, environmental quality, and worker participation. Economic dignity, Sperling maintains, can be … My answer to the end goal question is what I will define as “economic dignity.”. Some progressive economists feared that, in the 1990s, too strong a focus on human capital led to a minimization of the importance of structural issues concerning markets, economic power, and full-employment policies to ensure tight labor markets. The power of GDP and productivity growth ultimately lies only in the degree that they improve human happiness, fulfillment, and dignity for the many. A person’s race, gender, or lack of labor market power could no longer be used to deny her the basic respect, autonomy, and agency she should possess by virtue of her effort and humanity. This can be an effort to encourage more employer responsibility through stricter definition of contractors, or proposals like Nick Hanauer and David Rolf’s Shared Security System, which is a thoughtful effort to ensure work-connected benefits for all regardless of the type of employment. We have to seize this moment to make a true and tangible commitment to economic dignity for all. Perhaps a better way to think of “universal” is not whether it is the same for everyone, every year, but whether a set of critical programs and benefits are universally available to all when their economic dignity is at risk—with the understanding that the increased strains of economic insecurity means greater inclusion of vulnerable segments of the middle class. Readers and donors like you make what we do possible. Today, there’s greater focus on the lack of worker power and benefits for gig-workers. While there are no doubt areas, like public education and criminal justice, where the public mission compels a government-run approach, some on the left see government as always inherently fairer, and make provision by government an end goal in itself. Economic Dignity Britain's Leading Independent Book Distributor. 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? Certainly there are areas beyond Social Security and Medicare where a universal approach may be compelling, but that cannot be a mandate for a universal approach in every case. In crafting policies, it is important to distinguish between the principle of universal basic economic dignity (UBED) for all people and the strategy of designing particular programs to be universal—giving relatively equal benefits to all people regardless of income or need. 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. The primary focus here will be upon the broader question of the meaning as… Unfortunately, many people in the economic world still seem to treat GDP as the end goal of economics. But the intensity has increased as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to near-record unemployment figures in many states. 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. How can 4 percent growth be declared an end goal, when that tells you nothing about whether the gains all went to a royal family or to only the top 1 percent of 1 percent, while perhaps also masking declines in the standard of living of most of a nation? 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. We’ve seen the corrosive effect of attacks on collective bargaining: a diminished minimum wage, growing economic concentration, practices like abusive non-compete clauses, and forms of wage theft that require fixing. The accident of one’s birth for those without wealth or stature was less of a limit on mobility and pursuit of potential, and there was greater capacity for autonomous work to care for family without the domination of a feudal lord or government monopoly. This isn’t to downplay the importance of metrics, numbers, evidence, and rigorous analysis. Whatever the exact costs and details, strong proposals by Ro Khanna and Sherrod Brown, as well as Kamala Harris, all move in this direction, as do state efforts like those led by Joe Sanberg in California. Low unemployment or rising median income are much better indicators of national well-being than the stock market for sure. It is to our deep national shame that these ideals often have not extended to the majority of our population for most of our history—through slavery, cruel and lingering racial discrimination, closed doors and glass ceilings for women, and the harsh reality that fewer than one in ten people from low-income families earns a bachelor’s degree. Take the health-care debate. Without this third leg, the necessity, if not desperation, for employment needed to fulfill the first two legs of economic dignity can put workers at such a huge power imbalance that they can be forced to accept conditions that lead to humiliation, domination, abuse, and the denial of the basic joys of family. Referring to economic, social and cultural issues as "rights" uses the legal framework developed under international law, and gives individuals legitimate clai… 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. But what if paid family leave didn’t show up in such a prominent economic metric? Progressive economists are on strong ground in arguing for giving greater priority to major initiatives to address economic insecurity and inequality over traditional fiscal discipline concerns and budget rules—especially when those constraints are so constantly and blatantly ignored by Republicans as soon as they get a chance to pass supply-side tax cuts. Prioritizing economic dignity over economic statistics like GDP embodies the maxim that it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. Yes, by protecting earnings with policies like wage insurance, but also by ensuring the income and child-care support necessary to take on intensive and long-term education and skills needed to pursue new careers or start new businesses. The Economic Policy Institute. An economic dignity perspective can also provide an important alternative paradigm to assumed consumer welfare goals. When President Obama and his regulatory director Cass Sunstein chose to include considerations of dignity in cost-benefit calculations, it reflected both a recognition that while dignity “couldn’t easily be turned into monetary values . 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. To my mind . It is this rationale that should be seen as a core component of the CFPB’s mission and of consumer regulations that seek to prevent predatory practices in areas like mortgage origination, payday lending, and for-profit education. Economic Dignity is Sperling’s effort to do just that – to frame our thinking about the way forward in a time of wrenching economic change. . What COVID did, I think, was to force more national cognitive dissonance over the injustice of seeing nursing aides risking their lives to care for someone in our family, while knowing they couldn’t normally take a paid week off to care for their own ill loved one. As we saw in the lead-up to the financial crisis, the spread of predatory practices in the housing market, for-profit education, and other areas can deliver assaults on economic dignity that can at times be as devastating as those relating to labor. 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